Tag Archives: short stories

More news about NIGHTSCAPE!

My new short story collection, NIGHTSCAPE is now available in Paperback!

You can get a teaser of what’s in the book here

If you’re a fan of the Twilight Zone, or if you like a dash of Clive Barker, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury or Stephen King in your dark fiction. check out the short stories below. You can also buy the gorgeous hardback edition from Parallel Universe Press!

 

NIGHTSCAPE is available from the following retailers by clicking on the links below:

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2u5RRNz

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/2tQEKo9

Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/2hhnBhu

Parallel Universe Publications  http://bit.ly/2uR0pdf

 

NIGHTSCAPE!

Today I’m very proud to announce that my latest collection of horror short stories, NIGHTSCAPE, has been released by Parallel Universe Press in this glorious hardback edition!

In this collection of nine unsettling stories you will read about…

A  man who returns to his childhood home to find that there’s something very wrong with the family pet…

A woman with schizophrenia who becomes enamoured with an abandoned children’s toy…

A Roman legion which marches into first century Scotland only to come face to face with terrifying creatures from ancient myth…

Three outcasts who are waiting to be sacrificed to a monstrous creature after a nuclear war has wiped out civilization…

A widower who turns to black magic to bring back the lover he lost in a horrific car crash…

A troubled married couple who inherit a cottage once owned by a legendary Leicestershire witch…

And more!

So if you love horror short stories in the vein of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Clive Barker, you’ll enjoy NIGHTSCAPE. And who knows, maybe it will enjoy you!

Currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and direct from Parallel Universe Publications.

Focus on the short story: Ray Bradbury’s “The Emissary”

Today, I thought I would focus on a short story for a change.

What I really like about Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” is that he suggests that authors should only write when they feel a white-hot passion…. a burning idea that just has to be let out. For me, that has never been a problem. I have too many ideas and too little time. However, he also says that he started out writing by simply listing nouns…. writing down phrases like “The Skeleton” or “The Jar” and letting the story write itself. I was amazed to read this, as I did the same thing myself when I began writing in my teens. These days, however, I begin more often than not with an idea. But using this kind of word-association game can be a useful way to dodge writer’s block for those afflicted.

Which brings me to my favourite Ray Bradbury story, “The Emissary”.

 

 

Bradbury wrote tons of gold. You’ve probably heard of “The Martian Chronicles” or the film made from one of his short stories “The Beast from 20,000 fathoms”. He also wrote the screenplay for “Moby Dick”, a few “Twilight Zone” episodes, as well as the Rod Steiger classic “The Illustrated Man”, and the dark fantasy novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

But for me it’s his collection “The October Country” that is my fave. The preface states it is about:

“… that country where it is always turning late in the year… whose people are autumn people thinking only autumn thoughts.”

It still sends shivers up my back. Rumour has it one story, “The Homecoming” was the seed for “The Addams’ Family”, especially as Charles Addams himself illustrated the early editions of the book.

“The October Country” contains some great stories like “The Jar” and “The Scythe”. But for me “The Emissary” is the best of the lot.

 
It’s a story about a boy who is sick in bed and whose dog is his only link to the outside world. Dog is an explorer, and he always comes back carrying the scents of everything he comes into contact with. One night, Dog goes missing. Then he comes back. But he’s not exactly alone…

 

The Emissary – from the Ray Bradbury Theatre TV show!

 

Here’s a sample:

“Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer, acorn-husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoals shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh-grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it at all, this incredible beast was October!”

The story combines childlike innocence and beautiful prose with an eerie dread. It’s the kind of story you grasp instantly, but you still get more out of it on repeat readings. The exquisite prose reminds me of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It twists language to create new words out of old. But more, Bradbury captures the exuberance of sheer living. His exclamation mark at the end could be either the boy’s viewpoint or our own.

 

Martin makes sure anyone who finds his dog knows where to come looking for its owner…

 

For me, Bradbury evokes a kind of timeless, 1950’s era America of small towns that was about as foreign as you could get from inner-city Manchester where I grew up. His America is a place of wonder, mystery, nature and a million fabulous scents, smells and activities. A kind of Fourth of July of the mind. “The Emissary” conveys all this in one brisk paragraph. The rest of the story is even better. I encourage you to read it. And then to read everything else Bradbury ever wrote.

One of things writers sometimes forget about is that writing should be fun. It should move us, make us laugh or weep. We live out our fantasies and our nightmares in our writing. So be like Bradbury, who said : “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”

Stay drunk!

The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

My top 20 horror novels of the past 70 years!

As it’s almost Christmas, here is a list of my own favourite horror books. These are books that either inspired, terrified me, or made my jaw drop at the sheer beauty of the writing. These are all personal choices, so feel free to disagree. But without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order…

 

rats

The Rats James Herbert

British writer James Herbert was strangely underrated during his lifetime, which is a shame, as he is one of the most frightening horror writers of the 20th century. “The Rats” burst on to the scene in the 1970s, and it still packs a punch today. The huge list of characters, the violence, and the incredible imagery make this a must-read!

Cabal Clive Barker

In the 1980s Clive Barker appeared as a breath of fresh air with his promise to show what other writers only hinted at. Not satisfying with having the monster carry off the maiden, Barker wanted to reveal what happened afterwards. Cabal is his most solid novel, a tale of a man who believes he is a psychopath and takes refuge in a hidden underground city of monsters. The result is a Grand Guignol of the surreal and unnerving. Filmed as the uneven but imaginative “Nightbreed” with David Cronenberg as the bad(der) guy!

 

king

The Stand Stephen King

My first Stephen King entry is the author’s dark take on the apocalypse. It begins with a whimper and ends with a bang.  Filmed twice with varying success, this is some of King’s finest writing. So depressingly realistic that at first I had to give up on it and came back when I was in a lighter mood!

IT Stephen King

The second Stephen King entry on my list is, I think, undeservedly ignored, thanks to a forgettable TV movie. But make no mistake, the novel is King at the peak of his powers. The characters are rich but archetypal, the town of Derry both nostalgic and terrible. And the monster, ah, the monster..!

 

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell

 

A peculiarly British atmosphere pervades this book, set in the poor end of Liverpool. There is a particularly nasty antagonist, but what makes it so memorable is Campbell’s description of urban neglect. Wherever the characters go you feel the empty eyes of forgotten tenements glaring at them. A unique little tale.

bradbury

The October County Ray Bradbury

Few can deny that Ray Bradbury is the American master of the short story. But did you know that this anthology contains an early possible prototype of the Addams Family? These American Gothic fables contain such memorable tales as “The Jar” and “The Emissary”. Packed with gorgeous prose, this is both horror and literary… and funny to boot!

Domain James Herbert

The last entry in the “Rats” series sees survivors of a nuclear holocaust eking out an existence in London’s rubble. Until they find an army of mutated rats waiting for them! Superlative suspense fiction. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. Surely a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to be made!

The Vampire Tapestry Suzy McKee Charnas

A unique take on the vampire genre sees Suzy Charnas’s ancient and wily vampire take on the challenges of the modern world. Never has a vampire been presented in such a detailed psychological light.

The Books of Blood Clive Barker

Yes, all of them! It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary Barker’s fiction was when it first surfaced. These short stories run the gamut from the epic (In the Hills, The Cities) to the eerie (Skins of the Fathers), the surreal  (The Body Politic), the funny (The Yatttring and Jack) and the downright weird (Son of Celluloid). Some have become movie fodder, such as the unforgettably bizarre video nasty “Rawhead Rex”. Others are allegedly in the pipeline. But nothing can prepare you for Barker’s very personal vision of a contemporary world that’s as dark and corrupted as Dante’s inferno!

Interview with The Vampire Anne Rice

The book that launched a publishing legend. I still remember getting lost in the luxuriant Gothic prose. Anne Rice creates a vivid fantasy fever dream that is both like and unlike the movie version. A true masterpiece of fiction.

triffid

Day of the Triffids John Wyndham

British writer John Wyndham’s most well-known book is an example of the “cosy catastrophe”. But that’s why I like it! It’s interesting to see stiff upper lips drop as British society falls apart under attack from some walking plants with the aid of a meteor shower!

Kiss Kiss Roald Dahl

Not just the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s short stories were laced with an acerbic wit and grisly imagination. A bit like fairy tales for adults, with added poisoning, brain surgery and insect/baby hybrids!

Ghost Story Peter Straub

Possibly THE great American ghost story. Peter Straub writes far too little horror these days. But this fantastic novel – described by Stephen King as “a tiger tank of a book” – contains virtually every twist on the ghost tale that you can imagine. Oozes atmosphere and quiet menace!

legend

I Am Legend Richard Matheson

With episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and numerous TV movies such as the unforgettable “Duel” and “The Night Stalker”, Richard Matheson inspired a generation of writers.  This is his probably his most famous work – filmed as the languid Vincent Price chiller “The Last Man On Earth”,  the action-packed and very Seventies “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston, and lately as the CGI-heavy Will Smith popcorn flick, this tale of a man alone in a  world of vampires  has still never been done right. Which is a shame. It’s a fine novel.

The Haunting Shirley Jackson

One of the great ghost stories ever written, it’s amazing how the writer delivers so many effective scares without ever resorting to gore or shocks. Shirley Jackson’s story is a snowball rolling downhill, gathering chills as it goes. Also one very good and one very bad movie.

Teatro Grottesco Thomas Ligotti

Ligotti is one of the writers of the “new weird” – modern authors in the cosmic horror tradition of HP Lovecraft. This collection showcases his unique prose style – a style of flatness and repetition – that lends his words a peculiarly terrifying banality. “The Red Tower” was a particularly fine story. Have fun unpacking the symbolism!

Hour of the Oxrun Dead Charles L Grant

Overlooked by many, Charlie Grant’s Oxrun Station stories all take place in the same sleepy Connecticut town – that just happens to attract all manner of evil! Perhaps it was because these are classic supernatural stories that came out just as writers like King were modernizing old horror tropes. But these are creepy tales, laced with luscious prose. The old TOR versions had the best covers – each one a gorgeous Halloween-themed scene. Ideal for a creepy night in!

grant

Last Call of Mourning Charles L Grant

My favourite Charlie Grant story keeps you guessing all the way through. The plot sounds simple enough – the heroine returns to Oxrun Station to find her family ‘changed’. They don’t bleed, keep out of the sunlight, and have strange nocturnal habits. But the truth is something you’ll never guess. A masterful book that drips atmosphere and charm.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All Laird Barron

Barron has erupted onto the horror scene in recent years. This volume represents many of his Lovecraft-meets-Raymond-Chandler style of stories. But that is to do him an injustice. True, “Hand of Glory” is an effective pulp/horror mashup. But other stories show a genuine ability to expose our innermost fears. His eye-catching imagery cannot be easily forgotten.

The Vampire Lestat Anne Rice

Anne Rice second entry in my list is, I think, the most rich of her vampire stories. While I loved the epic scale and sheer ambition of “The Witching Hour”, “The Vampire Lestat” beats it because of the wonderful ironies the author employs. Here we learn who Lestat is, where he came from, his complicated (to say the least) relationship with his mother and his first meeting with Armand. We also learn more about Rice’s vampire mythology. This is both epic and deeply personal. Lestat feels like a living, breathing person. In all of horror, I can’t recall a more well-rounded, charismatic character!

Afterword

What’s missing from this list? Plenty. This is not my “Top 20”. Nor is it meant to be any kind of definitive list. These are just books I’ve loved. Pure examples of the horror genre that are original stories. I’ve not included anything by any “classic” author such as HP Lovecraft, Mary Shelley or Edgar Allen Poe, because everybody knows all about them anyway. Hopefully you feel the same or similar about some of these titles, or if not, I hope you seek them out and find them to your liking!

Enjoy!

Link

Hi folks! Just wanted to let you know the deadline for submissions to the Manchester Speculative Fictions group’s anthology, “Revolutions” is fast approaching! The closing date is May 1st and there are still some spaces available.

You do NOT have to be a member of the group to submit. Submissions are invited from everyone and everywhere.

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What We Want

Stories should have some connection to Manchester, England. They should also contain some element of either science-fiction, horror or fantasy.  When we say “should”, we mean “must”!

Stories should be 1,500-6,000 words long.

Here’s what we’ve noticed so far…

Some stories have absolutely no connection to Manchester.

Some stories have no ending. The story starts out well, and then suddenly stops dead. Or nothing happens at all. It doesn’t have to be full of action, but a story should have some kind of point or resolution.

What You Get 

£10 payment per story accepted. Payment is by Paypal. Electronic publication. See my previous post here [https://ericiansteele.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/submissions-call-for-new-anthology-revolutions/] for a full list of terms and conditions.

How to Submit

Stories should be sent as Word attachments in standard manuscript format to msfantho [at] yahoo [dot] com. In the subject line please put: “SUBMISSION: [Story Title] by [Your Name]”.

Submissions call for new anthology – Revolutions!

We at The Manchester Speculative Fiction Group are publishing an anthology to showcase speculative fiction with a Mancuian theme. The anthology, titled “REVOLUTIONS” will contain a mix of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction. Submissions are currently open, and anyone over 18 years of age can submit.  You don’t need to be a member of the group. We welcome submissions from anywhere and anyone (see rules below).

 

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The theme is Manchester. All stories must be linked in some way to the city of Manchester, England. In all honesty, we really haven’t worked out anything beyond that. We’re hoping that a clear link between all the stories chosen will reveal itself. You don’t have to live here, but each story should have a flavour of the real Manchester.

Manchester is more than just a name. Like it or loathe it (or both!), it’s a place – a very wet place – full of lots of different people. In the Nineteenth century it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cotton mill town in the world. The city is still criss-crossed by canals where barges used to tow cotton to the factories. Its damp climate was specifically chosen so that the cotton remained moist. Manchester was also the scene of several historical incidents such as the terrible Peterloo Massacre, plagues, and the invasions of both Bonnie Prince Charlie and William Wallace. Dig a little further, and you can find traces of the original Roman town. The city has changed a lot in recent years. Its fame as a city of football is worldwide. The British Broadcasting Corporation is based here. It’s also one of the most multicultural cities in the United Kingdom.

But why am I doing your job for you?

Dig deep into the inkwells of your imagination to provide us with stories of thrills, technological marvels, alternate realities and urban fantasies. Does some of this sound contradictory? Yes? Well, that’s the point! If in doubt, write it out.

Please read ALL of the guidelines BEFORE you submit:

1. Closing Date

Submissions window is from now until 1st May 2015.

2. Eligibility

Anyone over 18 can submit from anywhere in the world.

3. Theme

All submissions must be in a speculative genre (sf/f/h/df/uf/slipstream) and must have some link to the area that is Greater Manchester, England. The final decision about whether a story is to be included in the anthology will be the editors’ within their absolute discretion. Don’t think you can just change the place names in your old stories. We notice things like that!

4. What we give you

£10 payment per story accepted. Payment is by Paypal.

5. What we get

First Print Rights and Electronic Publishing Rights for 12 months. We reserve the right to archive your story online indefinitely. Please bear in mind that most publications will not publish pieces that have been published in print, eBook, or on the web, so for all intents and purposes after your work is published by us it can only be marketed as a reprint, which severely limits the number of markets that will accept it, and drastically reduces the pay rate it can receive. It is up to you, the author, to decide if this is what you want to do.

6. Word Count

Short stories of between 1,500 to 6,000 words. Please query for anything longer. Please do not send us your novels or poems. We only want short stories. Honest.

Please send only one story until you receive a response. You may then submit another story, and so on.

No poetry or non-fiction.

7. Distribution

The anthology will be made available in e-book format via Smashwords and print copies will be available as POD. Tentative publication date is the second half of 2015.

8. Format

Stories should be sent as Word attachments to msfantho [at] yahoo [dot] com. In the subject line please put: “SUBMISSION: [Story Title] by [Your Name]”. Submissions should follow Shunn formatting. If in doubt, click on the link!

Good luck!