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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Whispers of Gaps in My Genre Education, and a night With Tom Monteleone & F. Paul Wilson: P1

Been thinking about a TON of stuff lately.  Most of it regarding my future as a writer.  What I want to accomplish (the crazy, pie in the sky goals), what I'd be happy/content to accomplish (spritzed with a dose of reality), what I want to spend my time doing, where my energies would best be expended.  This is pretty weighty stuff, so I'm splitting it into Part 1 and 2.

I recently stepped down as Shroud's Review Editor.  After over five years of reviewing, I simply came to the end.  Satisfied I'd installed a durable system at Shroud, I realized it was time to leave.  

I'm not done with Shroud, however.  I've pitched at least two more issues to Tim Deal, The Terror at Miskatonic Falls is on its way, and I'll revisit Hiram Grange eventually.   Shroud has become like family, and that'll never change.

Recently, however, I hit a milestone: a phone pitch interview with a senior acquisitions editor at a New York Publishing House. Then, several months later, I met with said editor in person, discussed my pitch, and handed this editor a series synopsis, the synopses for the first two installments plus the first four chapters of each, and a brief overview of the third installment.

I came away changed.   This experience clarified many things.  First of all, since the publication of my first story - for cash - four years ago, I've done okay.  Sold five fiction shorts to decent markets for at least semi-pro pay, six creative non-fiction pieces to very good markets for really good pay.  

Attended Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp two years consecutively.  Wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote a pretty decent novella that's gotten good reviews, even notched some Stoker Recommendations, though it fell short of the preliminary ballot.  Edited a very unique anthology in The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, as well as Shroud's 2010 Halloween Issue.  

Along the way, I attended a few cons, met some awesome people who have not only been great help, but also great friends.   I started receiving some short story solicitations, so I geared up to write those, another Hiram novella, some Hiram flash, a novel or two, and then...

I stopped.

Looked around.

Realized that I as happy as I was with what I'd accomplished...I wanted to go further.

So, believe it or not, I actually turned down most of those story solicitations.  They just weren't for me.  I also realized that I'd sold myself a lie.  I'll never be a prolific short story writer with hundreds of short stories to my credit.  Just don't have it in me.

When things started "happening" for me, I got really excited.  Couldn't wait until I published enough stories for my first short story collection.   My credits were decent enough.  Had enough good reviews and blurbs, and here's the quirk that POD publishing has brought the small press horror market, for good or ill:  the acceptance of a novel or short story collection through a small or micro horror press no longer hinges on an author's marketability or selling power.  This sounds like a good thing.  More freedom.  More open doors to new voices and fresh writers.  It MUST be a good thing.

I'm becoming ever more uncertain of this.

Especially in the case of short story collections.  What's the logic behind publishing a collection of a writer's short stories?  The motive?  The more I chewed over this, the less appealing the thought became.

You don't publish a collection of your short stories simply because you've racked up enough "readable", "good" stories published in "good" markets.  In fact, it could be argued (let's leave self-publishing ebooks out of this,  for now), that a writer shouldn't publish his own short stories at ALL.

A publisher - of any kind, specialty, small, or micro - should approach  the writer, say to them: "We love your work.  People love your work.  You've done great things.  Won awards.  Have a name and a following.  We'd LOVE to put together a collection of your shorts."

This past week Tom Monteleone and Paul Wilson visited my Creative Writing students, conducted a workshop with them.  I'll just say this now: I love Tom and Paul.  I love Tom's short work, I love Repairman Jack, and both of these guys have left indelible stamps on my writing, thanks to two years at Borderlands' Bootcamp.  So when they asked me to hang out with them and a friend of theirs who lived in Binghamton, I jumped at the chance.

I can't detail that evening here.  That will be Part Two.  Suffice to was better than any Con I've attended yet, (except Borderlands), I kid you not.  It blew my mind.   Overwhelmed me with how little I knew of genre fiction's past.  Most of all?

It humbled me.  Left me in awe. And from my viewpoint, that has crystallized the undeniable negative that POD publishing has brought to the horror genre.

A lack of humility.  Of patience.  Why commit yourself to a dream that will require hard work, patience, and a thick skin?  Why work to be better?  Why suffer rejection from those big, bad, uncaring New York Houses, when we can just self-publish ebooks or publish collections through small presses?

Understand, I'm not slamming small presses.  Cemetery Dance, Apex, Shroud, Thunderstorm and Maelstrom, Belfire, Deadite...all quality publishers.   And places that I'd be happy sending my work, but....

I've been aiming at the bottom of the ladder (and not in quality, just in size and distribution and marketing and name).    Ignoring the top and even the middle.  Convinced myself I wasn't good enough, maybe.  Maybe impatient, also.  Because to hit the top, I need to do two simple things: WRITE.  AND WAIT (and try and try and try....woops.  That's like five things.)  

Maurice Broaddus once wrote a blog entitled "A Fate Worse Than Being Unpublished".  In it, he shared that if he couldn't be published WELL, he'd rather not be published at all until such a time came that he did publish well.

Of course, there's no guarantee of hitting the top or the middle.  Ever.  Maybe - MORE THAN LIKELY - no specialty house will EVER approach me for a collection of my short fiction.  Very possibly, I'll NEVER land a deal with a New York House.


And I'm willing to wait.  For however long it takes to happen.  I'm willing to weather as many rejections as it takes.  As Norman Partridge asked recently in some BRILLIANT blog posts about publishing for the newbie writer: "Have you tried New York? I mean, really tried?"  


No, I haven't.

So I've slowed things down.  I'm still working on my novel, but have no immediate plans to publish it, simply because of THIS awesome piece of advice, also by Norman Partridge: the only magic bullet in publishing success is the writing itself.

I stepped down from Review Editor, and I've accepted a position as a slush reader.  

Slush reader?  

Isn't this a step backward?

No.  It's a HUMBLING step.  One that will teach me SO MUCH about what makes an excellent short story.  I'm also going back to "bone up" on my horror:  Charles Grant. TM Wright.  Ramsey Campbell.  The Whispers anthologies.  So many others I missed because my focus was too narrow.  

And of course, all my current favorites: Gary Braunbeck.  Rio Youers.  Tim Lebbon.  Neil Gaiman.  Norm Partridge.  Norman Prentiss.  Nate Kenyon.  Ronald Malfi and Mary Sangiovanni.  T. L. Hines and Travis Thrasher.  Of course, Tom Monteleone and Paul Wilson. And I need to check out other folks, like Laird Barron and Tom Piccirrilli.

Looks like I'm going back to school.

I've got lots of work to do.


  1. This was refreshing to read, Kevin. I'm in a similar spot as you, minus the editorial experience. My work is currently being read in New York by a major house, but the process is so slow, not to mention uncertain, that I've often questioned if a smaller press may be the way to go. But would I ever be really happy just to see my novels in print, but only selling a limited number of copies because of small marketing budgets? The answer, after the initial rush wore off, is probably not. Things are different for, say, Keene because he already has a following from Leisure. But for us guys who have not had that opportunity, marketing is a tough road.

  2. I hear you, Justin. Based on my experience so far, the small press is a great market for novellas, collections, and special edition novels. Not so much novels, though. And hey - if I've knocked on every New York/Midlist door and no one's answering, then it makes sense to work my way down. But I'd been limiting myself, not even trying to hit the top first. I wasn't even trying, and that's what I want to do before I move down the ladder.