Market Update: Brain Harvest

I like flash fiction. I like it on my lunch break. I like it in between appointments on my I-touch. I like writing it and reading it and critiquing it and using it as a teaching tool in my classes at the college.

And I especially like it when it's creepy and well written. Enter Brain Harvest: An Almanac of Bad Ass Speculative Fiction.

They pay pro rates and the stories have been strong. Take a quick look at that front page piece, "I Like to Tease People," by Martin Meiss.

Good stuff, and there's more in the archives...


Publishing and the Economy

There's no getting around the fact that we're living in rough economic times. At the top of the food chain, we see leading economic indicators like construction spending, retail sales and approved credit applications tanking. On the local level, we see schools slashing their budgets and wholesale job losses among our friends and neighbors. We look up and down the block and see the foreclosed homes with the tangled yards and yellow auction notices posted on the front doors.

And on an individual level, we feel it in our disposable income. It hits us where we live in terms of how we spend those few rare dollars we have for entertainment. One of the places that it's being felt hardest, it seems, is in publishing.

I won't rehash the dearth of open markets out there right now in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror. No sense in that, as it's been done to death in the last month on the internet. I will, however, thank editors Eric Marin and Chris Cevasco for their dedication to advancing our little corner of the literary universe over the last few years. Their magazines, Lone Star Stories and Paradox, respectively, will be sorely missed.

Anyone with a stable of active submissions knows the market is just extremely tight right now. Slush wranglers must be going nuts with the glut of submissions pouring into the few markets that are taking submissions right now, and it all makes for a competitive situation for us writers.

Here's the sentiment found in the introduction to Year's Best SF 14, written by editors David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer:

Basically, SF book publishing is being forced into a contraction by rising costs without rising sales, and it is likely that fewer books will be published in the genre by trade publishers--at least for awhile...there is a collapse in advertising expenditures, that affects the internet as seriously as it affects print media, and is driving some mainstream print media to the brink of bankruptcy.

The editors go on to lament the shrinking landscape for publishing speculative fiction, which begs the question: What will you do to adapt?

The last time we saw the bottom fall out like this, publishing adapted. Maybe they started a flawed business practice after the Great Depression in creating the returns system, but they did adapt to the economy and they did weather the storm.

With the growing popularity of push-button publishing, podcasting, PDA readers, Kindle and print-on-demand technologies, the contemporary writer needs to be agile and market savvy. Web hosting sites like Scribd are now featuring Simon & Schuster titles and Amazon's DTP technology has been the talk of the internet for the last month, thanks to experimentation by writers like Joe Konrath.

There's the direct support method that has worked well for some. Who knows where revenue streams will come from in the future, but the contemporary writer needs to tinker with formats to find out, I think.

I think the contemporary writer needs to explore all of these avenues while still pursuing the carrot of being published by the big boys in New York. I've got one story coming out on a podcast in a few weeks, and another that will be featured on the net and delivered to a huge number of phones and PDAs. I'm looking at how I might best use Amazon's DTP, and I'm working on draft zero of a book I'm hoping my agent can bring to publishers before the holiday season this year.

And I'm holding on to a lot of my work. With so few magazines taking submissions, I'm just being very judicious about where I send my fiction. I'm writing my ass off, but when it comes down to the process of researching submissions, I'm spending more time looking into alternative platforms and writing cooperatives as other options.

Times are rough; we all know that. But let's be honest--writers don't stop writing stories and, if they want those stories to be read, they'll have to find a way to introduce them to the world...



This film is available on youtube in its entirety. And here's a little dust storm, to tide you over...


At Night They Dance

The old clapboard house sits on concrete stilts, shifting an inch or two every year toward the promise of the saltwater there in the low country.

It was a happy place once, though that's hard to tell by the state of the neglected building standing at the end of that weed-strewn road today.

In the years before the Seminoles had reduced the sugar refinery to so many smoldering embers, the Bullows had hosted sophisticated country balls in the great hall on the first floor.

There had always been a meal at dusk--roasted hog and smoked alligator tail and seasoned crawfish and snap beans, straight from the vine. The trees hummed wth cicadas and the party-goers would assuage the week's toil over beer and rum, making small talk beneath the stretch of that live oak in a tongue so lively and beautiful it was a song unto itself.

When everyone was full and on the far side of tipsy, the music would begin. Skinny John Holtzbrink brought his players--a motley assortment of the best pluckers and jugmen on the peninsula. The music blossomed and the dancers swooned and the floor buckled with their vitality.

In that fine fashion, many a Saturday evening was passed in the marsh country.

But, as is natural in life, there came a decline. The loss of the refinery was merely symbolic--the final wall to tumble--as John Bullow had already lost his fortune, his family and his station.

What was left for him, but the comforts of that great live oak there in the corner of the picture?

But, as is also natural in life, they came back. The legend says that, on those nights when the moon swings out over the marsh, so close to the indigo forest that you can leave your flashlight in the glovebox, the great hall on the first floor of that place gets to rattling all over again.

What's that? A full moon? Well, yeah, I suppose it is. Nice and round--you bet. You want to take that walk we were talking about? Sure--let's just take this road right here.

What's that? Oh, it's just a little music! Sounds pretty good, don't it? Skinny John really has those boys working tonight.

Come on, it's just around this blackberry bramble here. Just around the bend, as the saying goes.

Hope you brought your dancin' shoes, darling, because we just might be in for a long night...

This image is courtesy of the
Florida Memory Project. Sorry, I had to remove my bombastic Florida love (sensitive Oregonians!)...


Pat Frank and Alas Babylon

As something of a bookworm and literary voyeur, I'm always interested in various authors' lives, writing processes and working environments. With such a bounty of literary treasure here on the peninsula, the opportunities abound for interacting with top writers. I've met a number through readings and writers' groups. I've had them speak at the college.

And I've seen Jacksonville show up in stories by Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, but I never knew science fiction writer Pat Frank lived and worked out in Atlantic Beach.

We go there all the time. We just got back an hour ago from dipping a toe there in the Atlantic (96 today--stinking hot!).

Writer and film critic Matt Soergel is a kind man and a very good writer. He stopped by a section of the film class I teach at the college last year (I met him at a reading; go figure) and spoke with my students for an hour on the topic of writing about film. He's a perceptive critic and I like his taste in films, but his feature writing is probably his strong suit. He just covers a lot of territory easily and his work is very fluid.

Take a look at this piece. It's an excellent look into the life of an eccentric writer and an important voice in the sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction. Alas Babylon just turned fifty, but it sounds like it's had some tremendous staying power. I'll be reading it soon and writing it up when I'm finished...



Accomplished television director Rodrigo Garcia takes his talents to the silver screen with 2008's Passengers, one of the rare films that delivers in the first and third acts, but creaks along a bit in the second installment.

Those reading my film reviews here on the blog know that I rarely vivisect a bad movie. Generally speaking, I adhere to that old advice: If you don't have something nice to say...

And this is a good movie: solid 'B'. The cast is strong, with the type of ensemble cast that makes you want to go back and look at these actors' finer pieces again. I see Andre Braugher and I want to go get The Mist (very good film). I see David Morse and I want to grab The Crossing Guard again. I see the solid Patrick Wilson and I'm reminded that Lakeview Terrace wasn't too shabby.

And Anne Hathaway is very good; she has a compelling on-screen presence, with that juxtaposition of fair skin, dark hair and super-red (not a real word, of course) lips. She emotes well and, not unlike Hilary Swank, she dominates most scenes she appears in. She's been nominated for an oscar, and I think it won't belong before she gets one (probably more). She plays the naive academic pitch-perfect, which makes the payoff in her epiphany all the more worthwhile. I've added Rachel Getting Married to the queue and I'm pretty excited to see it now.

The opening scene is arresting; there's been a plane crash and, miraculously, a number of singed survivors mull about the accident site in a daze. Hathaway's Claire Summers, a doctoral student in psychology, is tapped to lead group therapy sessions to help the survivors cope with the tragedy.

As members of her group begin to disappear and shadow figures begin to stalk the remaining patients, things become tense. A sense of paranoia is established well, but it fizzles in the center of the film when the pacing bogs down. The doctor crosses a line with one of her patients, Wilson's charismatic Eric, and the romance isn't contrived here--it serves a very satisfying conclusion.

I'll refrain from spoiling it, but the climax and resolution are very strong. You'll see it coming; Jeanne called it way before I did. But that doesn't make it any less powerful.

Give Passengers a try if you'd like to take a look at a decent film that delves into the metaphysical to strong effect...

(hope you enjoyed the foreign-language poster; if you did, click here)


Found Magazine

I adore the assorted detritus of the writing life. Today I wrote, in no particular order:
  • a letter of recommendation for a student;
  • 750 words on a novel in progress;
  • preliminary revisions on a short tale I'm working on;
  • two thank-you cards;
  • two lesson plans;
  • thirteen e-mails of varied length;
  • a blog post;
  • a brief on a committee I'm serving on.

These tasks add up, and they speak for us in ways both large and small--in the here and now and well into the future. I was looking through a stack of magazines in my bedroom and I found the mother load of cards and notes that we've received from friends and family since the birth of our little girl.

Man, if you could bottle the goodwill and hope in those cards...

Perhaps my favorite short story on these literary byproducts is Stephen King's "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," a sad tale about a suicidal businessman whose hobby is collecting limericks from highway rest stops throughout his sales territory.

I read it a few weeks ago, and since then I've amused our little girl with this charming triplet: Poopie doopie, you so loopy. She loves it, and who could blame her. The cadence there...it just rolls off the tongue.

Now there's a magazine that captures many of these forgotten pearls. Found Magazine posts a find of the day, and the magazine's editor, Jason Bitner, produces a yearly anthology of the best finds. We're talking cards, love letters, grocery lists--you name it.

Like I said, this stuff kind of fascinates me. If you've got a minute to burn on the Internet (of course you do--that's why you stopped by here, right?), check out Found...


Eleven Ounces

Our little girl is in the midst a growth spurt. I was on the case today while her mom attended Forrest High School's graduation, and that little lima bean put down eleven ounces of milk in under three hours. That's unbelievable.

That's like eating the meal of many meats, all by oneself. Then polishing it off with a meatball sundae and a barbecued-shrimp Blizzard.

Crazy! But the upside is that she'll be strong when the dead pitch up out of the earth and stumble through the streets, trying to nom my grey matter...


Yes Man

I like romantic comedies--no apologies on my man card here. I've always enjoyed them, and there was a time, early on in courting my wife, when we watched like three a week.

I managed a video store, so don't look at me like that. The vids were free of charge.

If Lucy Fell, Bed of Roses, The Brothers McMullen--we watched them all. Some of them were decent. One Fine Day and Sleepless in Seattle come to mind.

Most of them, though, are utterly forgettable. You can't even remember the characters after your post-flick nightcap.

Here's the formula: Some man suffers from angst. There's a lot of ennui. Or he's a total slacker or idiot (I'm looking at you Mathew McConaughey). He meets a woman--usually a sprite or a free spirit or whatever--whose charms lift him above his meager station. He sees the light, then does something she thinks is unforgivable, until we cue the score and there's a big kiss scene after she inexplicably forgives him.

Shoot. Tired of that, my friends. Exhausted, really.

I hoped this film would stay away from that, because it has its moments. Yes Man could have been twice as good if they'd not included the late plot wrinkle. Why not focus, for once, on the fact that this existential schlub (Jim Carrey as Carl Allen) had a legitimate epiphany? Why contrive that argument between Allen and the character played by the mildly charismatic Zooey Deschanel? Why not just let the fact that this guy finally started participating in his life be the focus, not the fact that he has to contrive some way to get the girl back?

It's not a terrible film. Rhys Darby continues to slay me. That man is wholly watchable. And Carrey is good in a number of scenes--he does a fine job here, overall. The face-taping sequence feels weird, given his character, but it's ok. I love the homage to his scooter odyssey in Dumb and Dumber in the scene when he takes over her ride.

It's ok, but it follows the formula, and the formula might be tried and true, but it stinks for those of us who have looked at it two...thousand...times.


I read a few pages of Cell last night to my little girl. We firmly believe there's no time like the present to prepare the little ones for the zombie revolution.


Earth 2100

"If we keep cutting down live stuff and turning it into dead stuff and calling it economic growth, we're going to look back and call these the good old days."

Earth 2100 is a neat concept. I'm watching, and I'm hooked...


A Crazy Salad

What do the swine flu, a global population dieback, Martian parasites and former all-around basketball stud Tom Chambers have in common?

Nothing, with the exception that they collide in a sad little story I'm working on about the end of the world...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...