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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • “Dear Time Traveler,” by L. Joseph Shosty


On December 21, 2017, Bruce wrote an op-ed titled “It’s Amazon’s World, We Just Rent Space in It.” In it, a friend of Bruce’s asks (paraphrasing and perhaps embellishing a little), when the market is glutted with small presses, self-pubbers, and ancient reprints hoping to capture evergreen status in this new frontier, how do you stand out in the crowd?

I answered that question about a year or two ago by mostly walking away from the Internet, at least for the time being. See, I’ve tried giveaways, blog tours, and begging overworked critics to review my books; just about everything the internet says you absolutely *must* do to sell your books. This included getting a Twitter account [shudder], but that’s a tale for another day. Suffice it to say, none of it has worked in the long term, and most of it has been more a drain on my time than anything else. I participate on Goodreads, keep a Facebook page, and that’s it.

Instead, I have a little project called The Microcosmic Bookshop, which is essentially a mobile store dedicated to selling my books and related merchandise. It’s not much different than selling at a con, only it’s done on a much larger scale. First of all, I have yet to do a convention as a seller. They’re too expensive, and writers, especially obscure ones, are up against two things at such a place: a finite amount of money being spent, and the far more outlandish events, guests, and vendors drawing attention away from you. More to the point, when John Scalzi is signing books two stalls away as part of some packaged merry-go-round of SF authors, when The Fifth Doctor is charging $75 for a photo op, and fans are paying to meet Jake “The Snake” Roberts before he’s the next famous ex-wrestler to drop dead, your quiet, introspective fantasy novel is hardly going to make a splash. It’s too much competition, even with 10,000 attendees milling about.

My business model works a little differently. Instead of cons, I drive around to flea markets, arts and craft shows, and the like, pay my small fee, and set up a stall. The best part: I’m generally the only author there. It makes me more attractive, even if the customer has never heard of me, and they’re more likely to buy. Also, the low overhead means I turn a profit quickly. That’s really the whole secret. Low overhead, less competition, higher profits. It also means I can be somewhere every weekend if I want to be, sort of like a permanent book tour, if you will. For 2018, I will be working at least forty weekends out of fifty-two.

To make this work, I buy wholesale through Createspace. My books cost about $3.50 per copy to print. Say, about $4 per after shipping. My prices start at $12, but of course, I’m happy to work deals, especially if someone is buying more than one. I can do that because the books are my property, not a publisher’s. So, I make about $8 per sale of my books, not factoring in the rental fee, which is hardly ever above $50 for a weekend. Other merchandise, like my hand-made dice bags for role-playing gamers or used books, generally take care of the rental fees. By comparison, two of my titles wound up in a local Barnes & Noble by sheer twist of fate. I only made $1.50 from each of the thirty books B&N purchased, to the tune of $45. I can do similar sales at events and walk away with $240. I don’t have to make a hundred sales in a weekend. I can put twenty books into the hands of customers, over a three-day period, and that’s all it takes to call the venture a success.

I also don’t do “the author thing,” as I call it. I worked in bookstores for years, and I watched the authors come in, construct a wall of books between them and their public on a banquet table, and then sit there like a bump on a log, waiting for the mountain to come to Mohammed. My designs tend to be more fluid, depending on the shape and size of my work area. Generally, I construct a u-shaped array of tables with my books and related merchandise placed prominently, surrounded by used first editions and other books I’ve collected over the years. I then stand outside of my area. Customers are encouraged to walk into my stall and look around, just as if I were selling glassware or pottery. It’s a comfortable feeling, and it works because I’m not sitting there, with my books laid out in a confrontational way between us, with me staring at people while they try to peruse what I’m selling. I greet them as I see them, and I’ll even walk over to other stalls and engage people, hand out bookmarks, or whatever, and encourage them to come visit me.

There are a number of advantages to this philosophy. Take, for instance, the way crowdfunding has become such a big deal over past few years. From Kickstarter to Patreon, it’s clear the public is enthused at having a greater say in what is being published. Despite the negativity of some Internet cave trolls and IP thieves, far more people want to be patrons of the arts, to be the Medicis of the Information Age, a few dollars at a time. And while I have been a champion of electronic media dating back to the mid- to late-90s, it’s impossible to deny that readers still want print books. They want the heft, the smell, and the comfort such brings. While most like the convenience of online stores, they want to go to places to obtain what they want, and if you’ve ever listened to someone who’s dealt with automated menus over the phone, they want real people to talk to with whom they can connect.

Abandoning the Internet gets me down among the customers and allows me to give them every one of those things they seek. I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had since starting this venture, and how many nice people I’ve met. It’s also given me a number of contacts. Since starting TMB, I’ve gotten interest from privately owned businesses who want to carry my books. As I write this, I either am or will be carried in three local shops, one of whom has multiple locations. The real world is a far more positive place than Facebook ever will be, and an infinitely better place than the media would have us believe. Part of it is I’m giving customers what they want, but there’s also a nostalgic feeling here for something that’s dying by inches: tangibility. I’m a shopkeeper, standing outside my place of business, nodding to folks as they pass by, smiling at children, and being friendly to those who want to browse the physical things I’m selling. No electronics, no LCD screens pounding people with push marketing directing them to my Patreon account they’re trying to read book blurbs, and no attempts to trade electrons for currency. It’s all very low-tech, to the degree that most of my business is cash, though we do take credit cards if we’re in a place with wi-fi. It sounds hokey, but I’ve even considered getting a shop apron with a Microcosmic Bookshop logo on it, both to build brand recognition and to also further that nostalgia.

In modern business terms, I’m creating a regional brand. My little corner of Texas stretches from the Louisiana border west to Austin, and north to Dallas, though I seldom have reason to go any further east than my hometown of Beaumont or Houston to the west, but there’s plenty of room for expansion. The idea is to go where the readers are and put books straight into the hands of those people who want to be patrons. This has an added benefit some of you have probably already realized. Because what are we talking about when we’re sitting around, grousing about Internet marketing? We’re talking about getting the word out, bringing in new readers, and getting reviews. My model handles the first two, and if you create new readers in this way, the third is likely to follow. Full disclosure: so far, it hasn’t resulted in many new reviews for me, but the potential is there. We need x number of reviews for Amazon to take notice so that they’ll aid us in marketing on their site. The more books we sell, the more potential for reviews we have. The more reviews we have, the greater the potential for more online book sales. It’s the old snake biting its tail trick. This is what I mean when I say I’ve almost abandoned the Internet. Being a bestseller in The World Amazon Made is still a major goal of mine, but I’m going at it in a counterintuitive way. I’m starting in the real world with an eye towards using the raving fans I create there to fuel interest in the electronic world, the way brick-and-mortar companies who made successful leaps onto the Internet did in the 90s and early 2000s.

I originally revealed my model to Bruce a few weeks ago in hopes he could perhaps mine it for useful ideas in growing Rampant Loon, particularly Stupefying Stories, a publication of which I’m quite fond. But he made the bigger gesture by asking to publish it, and I believe that’s the right move. We have a real task ahead of us, you see. Like that hypothetical writer at the convention who’s struggling to compete with TV stars and wrestlers, fiction as a medium is in the throes of a long defeat at the hands of TV, social media, and video games. If we’re to keep books alive for subsequent generations, we have to create more readers. To create more readers, we have to get more books out there and into the hands of the right people. To do that, we must push into places where we’re least likely to be found, in my opinion, and that’s why I’m delighted to share what I can with you. Have no illusions. This model hasn’t gotten me great success. No one is beating down my door to offer me million-dollar contracts (not yet, anyway). Hollywood isn’t holding on line two while I finish writing this article. And as always, your mileage may vary, should you try what I’m doing. If I have a hope, it’s that you’ll see this as an alternative to the Internet grind, or perhaps you’ll mine something from here and turn it into a big success. If nothing else, perhaps you’ll see that you’re not trapped into doing the same things other writers are doing and go find new ways to get the word out about what you’ve written.

Good luck to you all.

 


 

L. Joseph Shosty’s first ebook appeared in November, 2000, back when ebooks were still being published on CD-ROM. A long-time champion of digital media, he’s been reviewing and waxing poetic about the potential of electronic literature in particular ever since he saw his first e-zine in 1997. He’s the author of two novels, two novellas, a supplement for writers, and four story collections, the most recent being Trouble My Bones. For more about him, visit his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/shostyis1337) where he can be found daily, writing about writing, the publishing industry, fiction markets, and occasionally oversharing about his personal life. Currently, he lives in Beaumont, Texas with his wife, son, and a tennis ball return apparatus shaped like a Jack Russell Terrier.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Today on SHOWCASE

Fiction • “Quality of Life,” by Alexandra Renwick




Good afternoon, Mr. Jones. First let me thank you for coming peacefully when our field agents brought you in. I’m sure it was inconvenient to have been interrupted at dinner, and at such an elegant, expensive restaurant, too. A date, was it? Well, I’m certain our agents apologized to your lady friend on your behalf, but the issue of plummeting credit prognostication is of utmost importance to modern society, and we at the Bureau monitor this vital element within our population in the interest of public financial health. A wealthy country is a healthy country after all, Mr. Jones.

I assure you it wasn’t personal. You were simply remotely evaluated and deemed in need of immediate credit intervention and counseling. Our field agents are equipped with the latest in credit prediction technology. With the Credit Endangerment Act and other Credit Viability Legislation, all questions of privacy violation are moot. Soon every local governing body will host a branch of the Bureau, and every Bureau agent will carry a portable C.R.E.D.

Oh yes, Mr. Jones; despite what you may have read in the news, all Credit Rating Evaluation Device testing phases are complete. No, you haven’t heard much about the program, I’m sure; our government’s corporate underwriters wanted to be absolutely certain the portable C.R.E.D. was fully developed, accurate beyond ninety-nine point seven-eight percent in ninety-eight point three percent of cases ninety-six point nine percent of the time. You have to admit, Jones—that’s enough nines to satisfy even the most rigorous of today’s quality control pundits.

There, there. No need to get upset. I’m sure you do think your credit is excellent. I’m sure you do think you have nothing to worry about and, by extension, I’m sure you think we have nothing to worry about regarding yourself. Nobody’s accusing you of not being a conscientious, upstanding citizen. It’s your—and our—very dedication to this great nation which brings us together today. Allow me show you how the C.R.E.D. works.

Beg your pardon? Well yes… I suppose it does look a little like a ceramic doughnut. I’d never noticed. But make no mistake! That smooth frosted exterior hides the finest modern microtechnology, computer components too small to see with the naked eye, taking remote readings from up to twenty meters away. Data transmits wirelessly to centralized computers in orbiting satellites, and complex extrapolations are performed using your posture, the quality of your attire, your current activity, retinal patterns and heartbeat, even the tone of your voice, laughter, and breathing. All crucial factors are run against a background of previously collected data—about you, and others with your same socioeconomic characteristics, psychological makeup, and spending habits. We’ve been collecting data for decades, you know, all in the public interest.

So. I point the—no, I won’t start thinking of it as a doughnut—I point the C.R.E.D. your direction, using a general sweeping motion (it’s all in the wrist). And with no discernible delay, numbers appear on the small readout here and… Well look at that! Just bringing you into this office today has raised your future aggregate probable credit rating by three points. Three points!

Excellent work, Jones. Forewarned is forearmed, and that’s exactly what we’re all about. Remember we’re fighting a war; a war against an unlendable population. We all do our civic duty to ensure the long-term health and safety of this great nation by keeping ourselves and each other lendable. This country was built on revolving credit, and no responsible citizen should ever forget it.

Reliable? Of course it’s reliable! Associate degrees in Probability Calculation and Lendability Prediction are available from reputable colleges and universities coast to coast. I hold degrees in ProCal and L-Pred, myself! The ding to my future credit ratings from student loans was well worth it, I assure you. What better way to spend one’s credit potential than on the things which most improve one’s quality of life?

It’s that very quality of life we here at the Bureau endeavor to preserve—for ourselves, for our children. We’re simply the custodians of the future. We have a legacy to pass on, the legacy of unlimited future spending capacity, the inalienable right to leverage every penny our children may ever earn in advance, so they might pass to their children the glorious wealth and security only unbridled consumption can offer. Would you hobble them, Jones? Would you deny them the very comforts you yourself have come to expect and enjoy, all because of a few careless missteps, a lack of established credit or poor repayment habits or even, worst of all, limited credit availability?

…Please excuse me. I apologize. I’m a new father myself, so I tend to get passionate about such things. I keep a picture right here on my desk, see? Cute little guy. Three months old. I see him at least an hour every night. His mother and I are very proud, though she had to go work overseas shortly after his birth. I’m afraid my wife overextended her personal credit in her prenatal enthusiasm, though neither of us regret the expenditures; we don’t want our little boy to miss out on anything life in this country has to offer. The latest crib with every technological advance; the nursery microsensors regulating air temperature, humidity, and sterility; the hundreds of pre-programmed toys and books and all the clothing we bought… he’ll have the headstart he’ll need to begin building his own credit rating as soon as he’s able. He’ll thank us one day, when he passes these values on to his own children.

Yes, Mr. Jones, I sleep very well at night, knowing my descendants will have the absolute best future that borrowed money can buy.



Alexandra Renwick is a Canadian & US writer with stories in Ellery Queen’s & Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines, Asimov’s, The Baltimore Review, and various Years Bests. She lives in downtown Ottawa’s historic Timberhouse, previous headquarters of the Canadian Legion War Services, the Canadian Forestry Association, The Regional Sommeliers Guild, and the Ottawa Handheld Photography Club. More at alexcrenwick.com or @AlexCRenwick.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Today on SHOWCASE

New Fiction • “600 Years Ago, Today,” by Michael W. Lucht •

By 2134, every memory chip had been networked. Otherwise CRUD, the Commission for the Removal of Unremarkable Data, could not have existed. As things stood, no backup copy was safe from their high-level iterative deletion algorithms. Unless, like Hinckley, one had managed to obtain a rare vintage memory card without integrated wireless access.

Hinckley slotted this highly illegal device into a wireless adaptor to link it with his terminal. That done, a slight gesture was all it took to instruct the computer to copy 2.4 terabytes.

At that moment Javert, senior CRUD manager, appeared at the entrance of Hinckley’s cubicle. The security cam footage shows Hinckley flinching; after all, he had never committed a criminal act before. Hastily, the contraband vanished deep inside his pocket.

Uninvited, Javert strutted inside, grabbing the backrest of Hinckley’s chair. “Deleted Jodie yet?”

“Please reconsider,” Hinckley pleaded. Later, in court, he claimed that he’d still held out hope of changing Javert’s mind.

“I’ve read your report. She’s an ord.”

“She’s anything but ordinary!” To make his point, Hinckley played a section from her video blog on his terminal. It showed a pretty teenager, with tousled hair and intense brown eyes. “Life is a gift,” she declared in a melodious voice. “I shall not waste mine. I will make a difference!”

“Isn’t that profound for an eighteen-year-old?” Hinckley asked.

“With experience you will come to realize that most teenagers share this particular delusion.”

“Her life would have been extraordinary, had she lived!” Hinckley asserted with unshaken conviction. He had spent the past two months following her digital footprints on the highways, roads, and back alleys of the ancient World Wide Web: her YouTube channel, flickr pictures, WordPress blog, reddit and Facebook posts, Twitter feed, and Amazon reviews. To Hinckley, Jodie was beautiful, witty, sexy, prolific, and wise beyond her years.

“Unlikely, and she didn’t. Good riddance!”

Hinckley balled his fists. “And erase from history the pictures of her lovingly carrying her cat? Proudly holding her diploma?” Reverently, Hinckley lowered his volume. “Happy at the beach?”

Expertly Javert brought up her Facebook post about the beach trip. “Pretty and not at all shy,” he leered. “That’s common enough.”

“She died,” Hinckley’s voice cracked, “the very next day.”

“Shit happens! Let me help.”

Thanks to the security cam footage we can witness the panic in Hinckley’s eyes as Javert, with a few practiced sweeps of his hands, initiated the ‘Erase From History’ sequence. Hinckley’s vintage memory card was still plugged into the wireless adaptor, and therefore subject to deletion instructions. Abandoning all caution, Hinckley blatantly dug inside his pocket with both hands, pulling the bits of electronics apart.

A moment later would have been too late. At the speed of light, all traces of Jodie (except official government records) were being deleted from hundreds of backup servers from around the world. Her ambition of becoming a veterinarian, her dream to save what was left of the Amazon, her joy at winning the netball championship, her shy love for the leader of the debate team, and so very, very much more. Gone. Forever.

Except for the contents of Hinckley’s pocket.

Fatefully, his urgent fumbling had not escaped Javert’s attention. “Take it out!” he demanded. We know that this was the third time that one of Javert’s subordinates had created an illegal backup, so he knew the signs. When Hinckley failed to respond, Javert added, “Must I call security?”

Hinckley extracted the wireless adaptor.

“The card!” Javert tapped the desk.

Gently, Hinckley placed the memory card on the table. “Is this really necessary?”

Javert picked up the card by his fingertips. Squinting, he examined it from all sides. “For as long as her record remains, there will be people willing to squander their time on her. It’s human curiosity; we can’t help ourselves. We’ll now prevent that from happening.”

With his free hand, Javert pulled out a pair of scissors from Hinckley’s pencil holder.

“So what if people choose to spend a few hours remembering Judie?” Hinckley demanded, sweating.

“One life, even a thousand lives, would have been okay,” Javert explained. “But Jodie is one of twenty billion lives bequeathed to us, full of self-indulgent tripe. Before the digital age, nine-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine people out of ten-thousand were forgotten a hundred years after their deaths, and that was a good thing. Instead, we now have the chatter of the dead drowning out the thoughts of the living. It’s CRUD’s mission to mine this rubbish heap for nuggets of accomplished, remarkable, or just unusual lives. The rest we delete permanently, ensuring that no one will ever again waste their time on them.”

Javert placed the card between the blades, their pressure holding it in place.

Without uttering a word, Hinckley grabbed the handles, shoving his index finger between them, preventing Javert from closing. Javert held on. Hinckley got out of his seat, twisting around to face his adversary. We don’t know why Javert kept tugging, even as the blades were pointing at his chest.

All of a sudden, Hinckley went from pull to push. The scissors missed Javert’s ribs, piercing his heart.

At his trial, Hinckley explained that he would have done anything to prevent Jodie from ‘dying’ a second time. A murder committed for a girl who had been dead for a century: extraordinary! Hinckley’s life, and the life that had inspired his mortal obsession, had become noteworthy.

And that is why the records of Hinckley and Jodie remain preserved, six-hundred years after the murder. There is little doubt that Hinckley would have been pleased with this turn of events. How Jodie would have felt about the cause of her digital immortality has been the source of much speculation.



Michael W. Lucht is a predominantly Australian writer residing in Hobart, Tasmania. When not writing, he has been known to lecture in mathematics and computing.
With twin ambitions of publishing a fantasy novel and creating artificial life, he is currently prioritizing the novel (which might come as some relief to the world). Said novel should be completed in 2018. If successful, it will be followed by sequels until everyone begs him to, please stop already!

His fiction has appeared in Nature Futures, The Drabblecast, Alternate Hilarities 3 & 4, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Island Magazine. With respect to non-fiction, he has heterogeneously contributed to: The Journal of Chemical Physics, Artificial Life, The Skeptic, and Cracked.com.
For more details, see: http://www.michaelwlucht.com. For even deeper dives into the science behind this story, see “The Unstoppable Rise of the Facebook Dead” and “The Hard Drive You Can Make Self-Destruct With a Text.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

Media Relations

Podcast • Storypunks Interview •



I did an interview with Cindy Grigg at Storypunks.world a few weeks back. It’s now up on YouTube, iTunes, and wherever else it is that podcasts go to reach the world. Personally, I’m afraid to watch it—I have a painful “second guess” reflex, and whenever I watch or listen to a recording of myself later, I’m always hearing all the things I should or shouldn’t have said—but you may find it interesting. Here’s the link:

https://storypunks.world/2017/10/27/interview-cyberpunk-with-author-bruce-bethke/

Enjoy!
~brb

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • “2018: Where We Stand,” by Bruce Bethke •



We began with a Kindle.

That sounds much better than, “We began with a series of expensive blunders, some of which continue to this day.”

A decade ago, when we first incorporated Rampant Loon Media LLC, I really had no interest in becoming an SF/F fiction publisher. At that time I’d already spent about 30 years in the publishing business, on one side of the desk or the other, and in the end, I’d walked away from genre fiction with no regrets.

Or so I thought.

When we launched Rampant Loon Media—and note the name; “Media,” not “Press”—I was most interested in exploring this emerging new world of electronic publishing, and I wanted to do non-fiction: especially cookbooks.

There, that’s a trade secret for you: if you want to tell stories, write fiction. If you want to make money, and write a book that people will treasure for years, return to often, give as gifts to friends, and pass down to their children, write a good cookbook. Say, Gourmet Kosher Vegetarian Stir-Fry on a Budget. Seriously. That and the Hmong Church Ladies’ Potluck Recipe Book were to be our first two titles. Ever seen the movie Gran Torino? The way it portrayed the traditional Hmong ‘Ordeal by Food’ was exactly right. Mm-mmm. Sticky rice, sweet pork, and spring rolls. Wish I could still eat them without blowing my glycemic index to hell and gone.

Excuse me. I really must learn not to write these columns before breakfast.

While digging through our files recently, I stumbled across our original mission statement:
“Rampant Loon Media LLC is a small, privately owned Midwestern company dedicated to the seemingly radical proposition that if we produce high-quality work, conduct our business dealings in an open and ethical manner, and always treat our partners and contributors as we ourselves would wish to be treated, we can successfully bootstrap a New Media company from the ground up without swearing fealty to some political faction, joining a religious order, begging for corporate sponsorship, groveling before foundation grant committees, or publishing work we’d be embarrassed to have our parents or children see.”
Hmm. “New Media:” well, that certainly was pretentious enough. But not a word in there about launching a pulp revolution, changing the face of science fiction, making genre fiction great again, or anything that smacks of a manifesto, is there? In fact, from the outset, I was determined to avoid having the company take any sort of public political stance, as I thought it was irrelevant to what we were trying to do, which was to educate and entertain.

Here in 2018, is it even possible to avoid assuming a public political posture anymore? Must one pledge allegiance to the Big Endian faction and denounce those vile Little Endians, or vice versa, and thus immediately write-off half your potential market? I no longer know. I only know that last year felt like 1969 all over again, and that worries me, because I remember 1970 much too well.

One last observation re our original mission statement: bear in mind that it was written as I was ending my ten-year term on the Board of Directors of yet another Section 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and after serving on the BoDs of three different 501(c)(3)s I had profound antipathy for the whole idea of non-profit corporations and their effects on the arts. But that critique is best saved for another time, if ever: suffice to say it’s why Rampant Loon Media was born as a for-profit corporation, not a non-profit.

And then, Stupefying Stories


Rampant Loon Media backed into being a genre fiction publishing company with the 2010 launch of Stupefying Stories—which, to be honest, was mostly a lark, expected to be a one-off, and an outgrowth of the original Friday Challenge. We thought it would be fun to see if we could duplicate the look and feel of an old-school SF pulp magazine—and we could, and it was—but it was expensive fun, so we decided not to do that again. However, if you want to see, feel, and smell how the experiment turned out, we still have a few copies left in the warehouse, and they’ve probably aged enough to have that proper musty-but-not-mildewy scent by now.

GRATUITOUS PLUG! BUY THE BOOK! BUY IT FROM K&B BOOKSELLERS!

And this is where the Kindle enters the story. Literally between the time we signed off on the printer’s galleys and the time the bindery delivered the finished books, my wife was diagnosed with advanced lobular invasive breast cancer. After recovering from the surgery she began daily chemotherapy, and being someone with a four-novel-a-week reading habit, she quickly found that schlepping around her usual bag filled with traditional print books and magazines was exhausting. So purely to save weight and wear and tear on her, I bought her her first Kindle: one of the (now) old, E-Ink, grayscale models.

That little gizmo was a revelation. Up to this point I’d been thinking mostly in terms of web and media (e.g., CD, DVD) delivery of content. I’d tried most of the pre-Kindle e-readers, but none of them worked well enough to pursue further. That first Kindle, though, showed me that it might—just might—be possible to publish genre fiction in a way that made some kind of economic sense.

A year later, Stupefying Stories was reborn, this time as a direct-to-ebook title. Rather than natter about the next few years, though, I’ll just point you to our old Publications Catalog, which to my surprise is still online. You might find the author index mildly amusing.

Stupefying Stories was doing reasonably well until issue #11, after which things went off the rails big time. Since then we’ve had a long string of false starts, attempted reboots, discursions into blind alleys and bad ideas (e.g., Theian Journal, Putrefying Stories, Tales from the Wild Weird West, etc., etc.), all of which are now filed under Expensive Blunders.

Why not just call it quits? I’m not entirely certain. Pride? Hubris? Pig-headed stubbornness? Perhaps it’s some warped form of personal integrity. I only know I’ve made a lot of promises to a lot of people, and I’m determined to make good on those promises. I’m not ready to shut it down just yet.

2018: The Road Ahead


As we roll into 2018, though, it’s clear that we must make a lot of changes in the way we do business. What used to work no longer does. In 2011-2012 we were pioneers on the digital frontier, and could pretty much fling anything out there and have it succeed. Now, the landscape has changed. Hell, the devices have changed. My wife’s latest Kindle Fire HD 10 looks and works nothing like her original Kindle (which she’s quite forgotten how to use). There’s a lot more competition out there, a lot more books, a lot more authors—not many more readers, apparently—and a lot more we could be doing with the technology. We now need to think very seriously about look, feel, marketing, positioning, the “reader experience,” and branding. Just what does the Rampant Loon Press brand mean, anyway?

I heard that. Someone in the back of the room said, “The Henry Vogel Publishing Company.” Well, yes, that’s been true, and Henry’s books have kept RLP alive, for which we’re grateful, but we’ve got to expand beyond that, and in 2018, we will.

We also need to figure out what the Stupefying Stories brand means, and that’s where it gets sticky, because up to this point, what it’s mostly meant is, “stories Bruce Bethke likes.”

Oh. I’ve never considered myself as a brand before. And when I do—when I turn it around, and consider what I would think of myself if I was a writer, dealing with myself as an editor—well, I don’t much like what I see, especially on the “always treat our partners and contributors as we ourselves would wish to be treated” front. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

So that will change. Fortunately, I think there’s still time to fix that, and make it stand for something good, and not, “Now what?”

I won’t say all our problems are fixed and we’re back in full production again. I’ve been burned—and have burned other people—too many times by saying that. But with #18 released and selling, #19 releasing next week, #20 copy-edited and in final production, and #21 well in-progress, I’m beginning to feel cautiously optimistic.

No Free e-Book Friday this week. Instead, we’ll be doing a free e-book promo next week, in conjunction with the release of #19. Watch for it.

And in the meantime: PLEASE BUY OUR BOOKS!




In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Friday Challenge: Reminder



Just a gentle reminder here, that:

A.) The 12/22/17 Friday Challenge, “2018: The Year in Review,” is still open for submissions, and

B.) “Arfour’s Complaint” is still on the autopsy table.

Meanwhile, we’re still expecting to release Stupefying Stories #19 on Monday, January 1st, so if you’ll excuse us, we’ll get back to work.

P.S. And buy some of our books, wouldja?

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Talking Shop

 

Op-ed • “The View from the Field,” by Eric Dontigney •


I’m a writer.

That is one of the loneliest sentences in the world, for a host of reasons. Tell someone you’re a doctor or an accountant, they get a decent picture of what you do. The details might be wrong, but the gist is accurate. Tell someone you’re a writer and it evokes images of Hemingway in Paris or that pale, creepy guy hunched over a laptop at Starbucks. Cue the explanation that almost no professional writer fits those stereotypes.

Paris? Hell, Starbucks is out of the price range of many working writers. The median salary for journalists is around $40K a year, assuming you can get the job. Copywriters do a little better. Fiction writers? Ha! The average novel advance runs between $5K and $15K before taxes. Short stories? 6 cents a word is the professional pay rate. Of course, you must write the novels and short stories first. Then try to place them with magazines, agents or publishers.

You do most of it alone. You write by yourself. You revise by yourself. You develop query letters by yourself. You get rejection letters by yourself. You’re probably poor while doing most of it, so you beg off social engagements that cost money. You beg off free events because you need to write. It’s a lonely, lonely business.

Hi, I’m Eric. I’m a writer, and I feel your pain.

I’ve been writing in the non-school assignment way for around 20 years. It’s been my main occupation for about 10 years. My passion is fiction writing, but the bulk of my income comes from ghostwriting blogs and articles. I’ve also written ad copy, white papers, and ebooks for clients. I self-published a few novels. I made many mistakes along the way. With luck, I can help you avoid the worst of them.

First things first, let’s talk about college. If you want to be a scientist, an engineer or a lawyer, you must go to college. If you want to be a writer, though, college is optional. Get a library card and subscriptions to The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and Popular Science. Pick up copies of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, King’s On Writing, and Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Spend four years soaking up everything those resources offer. Read every day. Write for two hours a day. Forget that adverbs exist.

You will become a better writer and save a lot of money.

While you’re doing all of that, join a writing group. You don’t like people? You hate social situations? Join a writing group anyway. Social contact supports your mental well-being, a notorious weak spot for writers. Exposure to other writers helps you identify and correct the flaws in your writing. It also forces you to develop a thick skin. That’s important and you’ll need it later.

Now, we come to the hard part. Did you just blink? Yeah, all of that other stuff was just the pre-game. You must submit your work to magazines or send query letters to agents and editors. You will get rejected over and over again. I know. I still have a folder somewhere stuffed with rejection letters.

Now, for the love of God, don’t do what I did. I’d reached the point where editors were sending personalized rejections to my short story submissions. For the record, that’s a good indication that you’re close to producing publishable work. I was too inexperienced and my ego too fragile to internalize that fact. I never developed that all-important thick skin. The rejections wore me down. I all but quit writing fiction for years. I went college. I racked up a staggering amount of debt.

Fast forward to after college. An aunt brought NaNoWriMo to my attention and I decided to give it a go. I wrote a book, or most of one, in 30 days. By some miracle, I wrote a novel that hung together on a plot level. The characters were, if not original, original enough. It was okay. Then, I made a bunch of mistakes.

What the book needed was about 5 more drafts and input from a genre-conscious writing group. It got none of that. I also never bothered to query agents about it. Nope, not this guy. I went straight to self-publishing. Blame it on a dysfunction cocktail of ego, fear of rejection, and raw impatience. I’d written a book. I wanted it out in the world where people could read it. The book wasn’t ready and I knew nothing about marketing. Predictably, family and typo-tolerant friends were my only readers.

I wrote two more books in the same world out of pure love for the characters. Both sequels are vast improvements on the first. Unfortunately, committing that first book to self-publishing condemned the sequels to the same fate. While some people make self-publishing work for them, it’s a hard road with lots of pitfalls. I suspect I fell into most of them.

Traditional publishing is no picnic to break into, either. The process is rife with rejection letters. Take it from a guy shopping a new novel around to agents. If you can break in, though, it gets you access to a support mechanism. You might not get a full spread ad in Publishers Weekly, but you also aren’t responsible for every last detail. You get professional feedback. Someone else handles cover art. Someone else turns that Word document into something Kindle-friendly. It becomes a team effort.

It makes saying, “I’m a writer,” a lot less lonely.

 


 

Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, and his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #20.

 


 

“Talking Shop” is an ongoing conversation in which writers talk about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and what it takes to make it as a writer here in the 21st century. If you’d like to join the conversation and write an article, please send a query first to Bruce Bethke at submissions@rampantloonmedia.com.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Did you get a new Kindle for Christmas?

Are you looking for something to read on it?

Then you’re in luck, because right now we are giving away the Kindle editions of these two ebooks absolutely free for the cost of a click.



In a galaxy where psychics are hunted outlaws...


Matt Connaught’s parents have vanished. He knows that they are still alive. But powerful people want them to stay vanished, and if Matt reveals how he knows what he knows, his life as a free man is over.

To rescue them, and save himself, he must become…


DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW

BETTER YET, GET THE ENTIRE SERIES

ALSO AVAILABLE ON AUDIO BOOK

THE FUGITIVE PAIR IS ALSO ON AUDIO BOOK


(The audio books, it’s worth noting, are typically free with an Amazon Audible trial subscription.)

(It’s also worth noting that if I was writing a review of this book, I’d begin by saying, “Imagine if Robert Heinlein had written Slan,” as that really does pin the idea down in one succinct phrase. A pity no one has used those words in a review, yet.)



Stupefying Stories #12


Our first attempt to expand Stupefying Stories to a “2.0” format (which, if you’ve been wondering, is why we kept using the “1.xx” issue number format until #18), Stupefying Stories #12 has more and longer stories than any issue before and most of the issues since. It’s also going out of print when this promotion is over, so get it now, because this is your last chance to download it. Includes:

“All the Beautiful Lights of Heaven,”" by Russ Colson
“Showing Faeries for Fun and Profit,” by Julie Frost
“Indigene,” by Lawrence Buentello
“Cottage Industry,” by Evan Dicken
“The Robot Agenda,” by Samantha Boyette
“The Wrong Dog,” by Kyle Aisteach
“The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross
“The Last Unit,” by Judith Field

And of course our cover story, the unabashedly old-school alien world sci-fi pulp adventure, “For the Love of a Grenitschee,” by Mark Wolf

DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW


P.S. As a special treat, you might also want to read, On writing “The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross, in the soon-to-disappear Stupefying Stories SHOWCASE #4.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Seemingly Oligatory Christmas Column

Nonfiction • “Christmas Eve, 2017,” by Bruce Bethke •



I had a column I used to recycle every Christmas Eve. It was a mopey, sentimental thing about my Dad and the 8mm movie camera he used to take to every family gathering when I was a kid. The technology of the times required that he use a battery of photoflood lights if he wanted to shoot color film indoors, so we have a lot of footage of my relatives raising their hands and cringing before those floodlights, like vampires cowering at the first rays of sunrise.

Sometime in the late 1960s my Dad got the idea to edit all those Christmas clips together into one reel, although for reasons he never explained he decided not to put them in chronological order. The result is a fascinating home movie that skips back and forth in time between the early 1950s and the late 1960s, and shows the members of my extended family going from being young children, to having children of their own, and back and forth again.

Some years back, when DVD was new, I got the idea to transfer that movie to DVD, dub in a soundtrack of period Christmas music, and then make VHS copies of the result and send them to all my living relatives. The tapes were a hit. But... VHS.

A few days ago I was talking by phone with my brother in Texas, and the subject of that tape came up again. Yes, he still had it—somewhere—but couldn’t remember how long ago he’d junked his last VHS deck. Yes, he thought it would be a great idea if I was to redo it, this time on DVD, and for a few minutes, I was excited about the idea. With the software tools I have now, I could do a much better job of transferring the images, cleaning up the frame sync problems, tightening the editing, and layering in a new soundtrack.

But then I realized: the number of people now living who would recognize any of the people in that film has gotten much smaller since I did the VHS version, and it’s getting smaller every year.

Time travel is one of the grand old ideas of science fiction. When we’re young, we love to imagine things like, “What if we could go back in time to December 6th, 1941, and take along the U.S.S. Nimitz?” Or, “What if we could travel into the distant future, and then come back to now with everything we learned there?”

A little later in life, it becomes more personal. We start to imagine, “What if I could go back in time just a few years, and fix just one terrible mistake I made when I was younger?”

When you get to be my age, you start to realize that actually having time travel would be a nightmare, and the worst nightmare of all would be to travel into the future and get stuck there, in that strange world where no one speaks your language. Our world is already full of time travelers who are traveling into the future at 1X speed and getting stuck there. We call them ‘old people,’ and at our best, we tolerate their continued presence.

This year, we are the grandparents our children are taking time from their busy schedules to come visit, and we’re grateful for their company. But every year, the roll call of our fellow time travelers gets shorter, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town becomes more poignant.

“Thornton Wilder?” the youngest asked. “Our Town? The class play my senior year was that old classic, The Rocky Horror Show.”

The. Rocky. Horror. Show.

Yes. Please. Just one more time.

Let’s do the time warp again.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Friday Challenge • Judgment Day: The Appeal

After the decision in the 12/08 Friday Challenge was announced, one author filed an appeal. We promise not to make a practice of doing this, but in this one case, after discussion with the author, we have agreed to conduct a test. Herewith, a link to the story in question:

» “Arfour’s Complaint,” by S. Travis Brown


Now, in the column to the right, please note the associated reader poll. What did you think of this story? You have until midnight, Thursday, January 4, to register your opinion. You can select multiple responses and change your vote right up until the poll closes.

Thank you for your participation. Results and implications to be announced after the poll closes.

P.S. Why the cat? Because nothing draws eyeballs on facebook like a cute photo of a cat.

The Friday Challenge • Judgment Day



The votes are in, and the winner of the 11/17 Friday Challenge, by an overwhelming margin, is “A Once a Year Gig,” by James Westbrooks. We’ll have more to say about that one in a bit, but first off, congrats to James for the win!

Now, as promised, here are our comments on the other finalists.

» “No Christmas Without Santa,” by Gary Cuba

What can we say about this one? Gary Cuba has been a regular contributor to Stupefying Stories and SHOWCASE since “Oogie Tucker’s Mission” appeared in issue #3, and as always, this story does not disappoint. In the space of 250 marvelously succinct words he delivers a complete and horrifying little tale of a Christmas gone terribly wrong, and proves once again that ending a story with the anticipation of impending doom is often more effective than actually putting that doom onstage. Very well done.

» “The Real Saint Nick,” by H.L. Fullerton

H.L. Fullerton is another longtime contributor whose name we were happy to see in the inbox again, and had this one come in as a regular submission and not as a Friday Challenge entry, I probably would have accepted it and published it anyway. The story of a fairy princess and her husband, a dryad, banished to the mundane world and trying to make sense of Christmas—well, that alone is charming and funny. But then add in the element of a wife trying to let her intelligent but not altogether perceptive husband know that they are going to have a baby—well, that won me over. This one is charming, and funny, and sweet, and sentimental, and all in all, a perfect fantastic Christmas story. Personally, this one was my pick to win. I guess that says something about my quirky sense of humor.

» “Grodie and The War on Christmas,” by James Rye

James Rye is a stalwart member of the original Friday Challenge crew, going back to the dawn of time, or at least to “Armstrong” in the original print-only incarnation of Stupefying Stories, and it was great to find his name in the inbox again. This story is not as well-polished as some of the other submissions we received, but he does a terrific job of taking the tired “war on Christmas” meme and turning it into a snarky first-person-shooter action/adventure story. Great fun!

» “A Once a Year Gig,” by James Westbrooks

Finally, the winning story, by relative newcomer and previous Friday Challenge winner James Westbrooks, provoked some interesting debate around here. It’s well-written, and a classic crossover mashup—of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” plus Star Wars, with a faint whiff of Dune—of the sort that’s defined humorous SF ever since Isaac Asimov was a teenager. Most of us found it pleasant, amusing, and deserving of the win.

But that’s where the discussion took an interesting turn. While most of us liked it, the Token Generation Z member of the panel said, “I hate it. It’s yet another fan-boy inside-joke crossover story, and those were old before I was born. My Dad likes those stories. It’s the kind of story every freshman creative writing student cranks out because it makes her professor laugh and gets her an easy A.”

Well. That certainly was an unexpected reaction. But it got us thinking...



As regards the 12/08 Friday Challenge, we had the very unusual result of the judges opting for "no award." The rules do allow for this, in the event that we receive no entries deemed worthy of the win. For the 12/08 challenge, the TGZ’s arguments carried the day: the few entries we did receive were mostly "robot noir" crossover mashups and extended fan-boy insider jokes, so this was declared to be a Lousy Challenge, and I have been forbidden to use it ever again.

However, after further discussion, we have decided to put the TGZ’s proposition to the test, and in a few minutes we’ll be posting the second part of this experiment.

...to be continued...

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Friday Challenge • 12/22/17

While the judges are evaluating the entries received for the 12/08/17 Friday Challenge, it’s time to announce today’s challenge. This one is very simple. We call it:

2018: The Year in Review



Yes, that’s right. While everyone else in the media world is staring intently into the rearview mirror and writing articles looking back at the events of 2017, I want you to imagine it’s exactly one year in the future, and you are looking back at the events of 2018. Specifically, I want you to focus on something positive that happened in 2018, that made the world a better place for all concerned.

Then, I want you to write a short news article talking about this terrific discovery | scientific breakthrough | whatever, and what it means for the future of humanity. Remember, what we’re looking for here is optimism. The challenge is to describe something positive, that gave the world cause for hope.

The deadline for this one is midnight on Thursday, January 4th, 2018. Think it over, then write up your idea and send it to submissions@rampantloonmedia.com, with the subject line of 12/22 Friday Challenge.

Now put on your optimistic mindset and start daydreaming!






P.S. I can’t believe I need to say this, but absolutely no assassinations or obituaries! I don’t care how awful you may believe someone to be. If the only way you can imagine the world becoming a better place is by way of the untimely death of some other human being, please, get professional help.

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction • “The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross •



We have a sort of a double-header in today’s SHOWCASE archive selection. First off, I’d like to direct your attention to On writing “The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross, in SHOWCASE #4, which is a really good non-fiction piece about how Mark went from an idea, to a story, and then to a published story. If you want to write fiction, this is a good read.

Then, I’d like to direct your attention to Stupefying Stories #12, which is where you will find the published story, “The Music Teacher.” From now through Christmas Day, we’re giving away the Kindle edition of Stupefying Stories #12 for free. When this promotion is over, though, #12 goes out of print, so this is your last chance to get it.

DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Free eBook Friday

It’s another FREE EBOOK FRIDAY!

Beginning at midnight tonight, and continuing through Christmas Day (because who knows, maybe Santa is bringing you a shiny new Kindle?), we are giving away the Kindle editions of these two ebooks absolutely free for the cost of a click.



In a galaxy where psychics are hunted outlaws...


Matt Connaught’s parents have vanished. He knows that they are still alive. But powerful people want them to stay vanished, and if Matt reveals how he knows what he knows, his life as a free man is over.

To rescue them, and save himself, he must become…


DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW

BETTER YET, GET THE ENTIRE SERIES

ALSO AVAILABLE ON AUDIO BOOK

THE FUGITIVE PAIR IS ALSO ON AUDIO BOOK


(The audio books, it’s worth noting, are typically free with an Amazon Audible trial subscription.)

(It’s also worth noting that if I was writing a review of this book, I’d begin by saying, “Imagine if Robert Heinlein had written Slan,” as that really does pin the idea down in one succinct phrase. A pity no one has used those words in a review, yet.)



Stupefying Stories #12


Our first attempt to expand Stupefying Stories to a “2.0” format (which, if you’ve been wondering, is why we kept using the “1.xx” issue number format until #18), Stupefying Stories #12 has more and longer stories than any issue before and most of the issues since. It’s also going out of print when this promotion is over, so get it now, because this is your last chance to download it. Includes:

“All the Beautiful Lights of Heaven,”" by Russ Colson
“Showing Faeries for Fun and Profit,” by Julie Frost
“Indigene,” by Lawrence Buentello
“Cottage Industry,” by Evan Dicken
“The Robot Agenda,” by Samantha Boyette
“The Wrong Dog,” by Kyle Aisteach
“The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross
“The Last Unit,” by Judith Field

And of course our cover story, the unabashedly old-school alien world sci-fi pulp adventure, “For the Love of a Grenitschee,” by Mark Wolf

DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW


P.S. As a special treat, you might also want to read, On writing “The Music Teacher,” by Mark Niemann-Ross, in the soon-to-disappear Stupefying Stories SHOWCASE #4.

Talking Shop

Op-ed • “It’s Amazon’s world, we just rent space in it,” by Bruce Bethke •



I got a query from an old friend the other day. And by old, I mean old: this is someone I’ve known for more than forty years. After a long and successful career as a teacher and writer of non-fiction books he retired, and decided to try his hand at writing a novel. In the fullness of time he actually finished his novel, and then to compound the miracle, he found a publisher who liked it well enough to accept it for publication and pay him a modest advance. After another fullnessity of time, spent working through the development editing, copy editing, proofreading, dust-jacket marketing copy development, and all that stuff, his novel was at last released...

Whereupon it promptly sank without a ripple. Not even a nice satisfying ker-ploonk! as it hit the surface of the literary world and went under. Two weeks after the gala release party, it was as if his novel had never existed.

Prompting his query to me: here in the 21st century, how in the Hell do you get your book noticed?

The truth is, I don’t know. I’m a time traveler from the past as well. I began my career as a fiction writer about forty years ago, and am intimately familiar with the way the fiction publishing business used to work. But in the here and now? In 2017, very shortly to become 2018?

Beats me.

It used to be hard to get published. Now it’s easy to get published, but really hard to get anyone to notice or care. When Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous, but only for fifteen minutes, he was perhaps being unreasonably optimistic. Here on AmazonWorld—or as I prefer to call its electronic manifestation, in NatterSpace™—ADHD seems to be a communicable disease, and the question of how to catch and hold someone’s attention for longer than the three seconds it takes them to glance at a tweet or “like” a cute photo of an annoyed cat in a pink bunny costume—

Well, that is the challenge, isn’t it?

It doesn’t seem to help that your every step in NatterSpace is tracked, your every like and dislike recorded, studied, and turned into data to drive further push-marketing. The Amazonification of the marketplace is fast approaching its apotheosis, if not already there. You live your online life surrounded by a cloud of tiny invisible digital spies and servants, all eager to push you into buying lots more of whatever it is that you’ve already proven you’ll buy. So if it seems to you that there is a certain dreary sameness in the product recommendations you see...

There is. You are in the process of being bored to death by robots. Not out of malice, or even out of misguided virtue, but because that’s the easiest way for their masters to take your money. There’s probably a great SF story hiding in this idea, waiting to be written.

Years back, a fairly bright person said in an interview
I think it’s a mistake to talk about the “genre” as if it were a monolith. There may have been a time when it was possible for a dedicated fan to read a good sampling of all the new SF being published, but that time—if it ever really was—was long ago. What we’ve been going through for at least the last 30 years has been a sort of literary cladogenesis, with “the genre” fragmenting into dozens of related but distinct daughter-genres and microgenres.

The interesting part of this is that, between print-on-demand publishing, e-publishing, web publishing, and all the other emerging technologies, it’s now at least semi-practical to publish fiction that has no hope of ever appealing to a mass audience. If you wanted to, say, launch an e-zine devoted exclusively to publishing stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama, you could do it, and do a very professional-looking job of it. Not only that, but thanks to the Internet, you would actually stand a pretty fair chance of reaching the 500 people in the world who want to read nothing but stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama. So there’s more fiction being published than ever before.

The downside for the writer, though, is that there’s no money in it. The general interest magazines appear to be following the general interest anthologies into extinction, and extreme specialization and small-niche marketing seem to be the shape of things to come. Readers now have unprecedented power to find only exactly the types of fiction they want to read, without risk of accidental exposure to anything else. I suppose they’ve always had this power—I can think of entire years when I subscribed to Asimov’s and only read two or three stories in each issue—but at least with a general interest magazine, there was always the possibility that after you’d read the Michael Swanwick and Lucius Shepard stories, you might take a chance on Karen Joy Fowler.

But this trend towards extreme narrowcasting—it’s both fascinating and disturbing. When the reader can exercise such fine control over the input he receives, how does a writer crack through that protective shell?
Quelle surprise! The person who said that was me!

And twelve years later, the problem not only remains but has intensified: how do you get readers to take a look at books that do not conform to Amazon’s algorithmic predictions for what they should like?

Hence this column. I was going to call it “So You Want to be a Writer,” but Aislinn Batstone informs me that that title is already taken, so we will just call it what it is: “Talking Shop.” In the weeks to come I want to continue this conversation—conversation, not monologue—so this is an open call for guest columns that delve into one simple topic: What works for you?

Remember, I’m a time traveler. I come from the past, where they do things differently. I am eager to learn the ways of this strange new world.

Over to you.



In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.

From the SHOWCASE archives...


Fiction • “On the Pond,” by Jake Doyle •


Look at our breath rise in the crisp, cold air. Look at the moon reflecting off the black ice. Look at the snowflakes melt into the ice. Look at that ice, there’s something about it. It’s bumpy, with an occasional crack. It’s not anything like man-made ice—it lets you know where you are, let’s you feel the bumps and cracks transfer from your blades to your shoes to your feet. Listen to the sounds—the sweet, sweet, mellifluous sounds of our skates gliding, slicing and cutting as they draw abstract art in that rough, frozen pond. Listen to the sounds of our wooden sticks—with snow on the blades and tape dangling from the shaft from hours and hours of use—echo off the woods to the north as they slap against the ice, the puck, or other sticks. Watch the way we all have our signature way of shooting and passing and skating. Watch the way a game can go from serious and intense to laughs and jokes in a matter of seconds. Or watch Andy Potter skate that Saturday morning in early January, when his blades did more dragging than slicing, almost like the wind was the only thing pushing him along, and you would know, from that day on, that playing pond hockey would never be the same.

That first day of pond hockey. Joy is a feeling that comes to mind. Not Christmas joy, not Easter joy, not Thanksgiving joy, rather, the first-day-I-met-my-brother joy. We wait and wait and wait, staring at the little thermometer hanging from the homemade bird feeder west of the pond. Is it under thirty-two? we’ll ask. It’s a bucket full of memories that we reminisce about on those beaches or around those bonfires during the summer months. You must think we’re crazy! How could anyone enjoy such a horrid time of the year over such a sun-filled, beach-living season? How could anyone think about memories from winter while sitting around a bonfire wearing shorts and flip-flops and tank tops?

Well, maybe we are crazy, for waking up at the crack of dawn to shovel the snow off a freshly frozen pond in the middle of December. Maybe we are crazy for playing till two, three in the morning just when our toes are on the edge of frostbitten and we have no choice but to stop. Maybe we are crazy because we don’t wear shin guards or elbow pads or helmets. Logan Campbell will agree. He crushed his left elbow and tore his ACL in the same day on the pond. Nicholas Pano will tell you we’re crazy and he’ll smile as he says it. He’ll tell you we’re crazy because four years ago all ten of us rushed him to the hospital in Andy Potter’s dark green Jeep as blood painted his brown hair after his skull crashed into the January ice.

But maybe it’s the only time of the year we get to do that one thing that we think about every time someone brings up the dreaded, frigid Michigan winter. Pond hockey...

» Read the rest of the story »


Photo credit: “Eishockey auf dem Backsteinweiher,” by Immanuel Giel • Used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Friday Challenge Reminder

Gentle reminder: the Friday Challenge deadline cometh.

This post is to remind you that you have about two and a half days left in which to vote for your pick to win the 11/17 Friday Challenge. You can read the four finalists right here.

Likewise, you also have about two and a half days left in which to submit your entry for the 12/08 Friday Challenge. If you need a refresher, you can read the challenge statement and submission guidelines right here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Release! Free eBook Monday!

To celebrate the escape release of Stupefying Stories #18, we are giving away the Kindle edition of this book absolutely FREE, but only for the next 24 hours.

DOWNLOAD NOW

Always fun and exciting, never predictable, Stupefying Stories is the terrific new reading you've been looking for! Stupefying Stories #18 features:

AI, ROBOT • by Joel David Neff
PRINCESS NICOTINE • by John Skylar
A RING, A RING O' ROSES • by Simon Kewin
FROZEN TEARS • by Frances Silversmith
350 K IN MY SHADES • by Karl Bunker
SLOW STEPPER • by Juliana Rew
THE NORTHERN RECESS • by Fred Coppersmith
WHAT THE WITCH WANTS • by Aislinn Batstone
THE LIFE TREE • by Jamie Lackey

Whether your tastes run to hard SF, cyberpunk, steampunk, fantasy, alternate history, or I don’t know what the heck “350 K in My Shades” is but I know I love it, this is the ebook you want. Tell your friends! Tell your relatives! Tell completely random acquaintances!

But tell ‘em soon, because at midnight this offer ends, and then you’ll be left sitting there in the middle of a smashed pumpkin, surrounded by dazed mice and clutching your one remaining glass slipper.

DOWNLOAD NOW

P.S.Authors and publishers really appreciate it when readers take the time to put in a good word for a book they like. It’s not just for our egos: word-of-mouth helps sell books. If you take a free ebook and you like what you read, please, please, please take a moment to give the book a good rating, or put in a good word for it on Goodreads, or maybe even write a quick review of your favorite story. The authors you like will appreciate it, and they will show their appreciation by writing even more great books and stories for you to enjoy!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A little something for the weekend...

Star Wars: The Last Jedi • Movie review by Bruce Bethke •



Saw this movie, we did. Long, it is. Impossible to write a substantive review without including spoilers, it may be. Nonetheless, try I will.

In the interests of full disclosure, though, I must lead off this review by pointing out that I contributed not one but two essays to David Brin’s Star Wars on Trial, the first arguing in favor of the original Star Wars trilogy as a watershed moment in cinematic history and the second absolutely slagging the prequel trilogy as childish tripe. So I come into this review with a long history as both a consumer and critic of Star Wars entertainment products, and I will put my greatest heresy on the table right now:

Star Wars is not science fiction.

Sure, it looks like science fiction. It sounds like science fiction. And based on that guy in the wookiee costume who was ahead of us in the concession line, it even smells like science fiction, or at least like the third day of a furry fandom convention.

But Star Wars is not science fiction. It’s a long-winded heroic magical fantasy saga that happens to take place in a world cluttered up with lots of sci-fi props and set dressings. If considered as science fiction, there is not one thing in the entire Star Wars universe that bears close scrutiny, because if you think about it at all seriously, the seams split and all the nonsense comes pouring out.

Therefore the proper way to critique Star Wars: The Last Jedi is by using the conventions of heroic/romantic magical fantasy, and then it’s just a matter of running down the checklist. Reluctant hero with a magical sword? Check. Cackling termagant of a boss-monster villain? Check. Star-crossed (potential) lovers? Check. Old wizard and/or wise woman to provide backstory via exposition? One each, check and check. Unnecessary side-plots to pad the story for length? Check. Vast army of faceless and apparently mindless minions who serve the villain without a single thought of self-preservation? Check. Slightly smaller army of loyal cannon fodder serving the needs of the heroes/heroines with equal selflessness? Check. Moments of high drama when just one person thinking clearly instead of emotionally could have resolved the entire plot right then and there? Check, check, check, and… Too many to count, actually.

Then there are those special checklist items for the subset of romantic magical fantasy known as Disney Princess Movies: talking animals? Check. Comic relief characters? Check. Thoroughly sanitized violence? Check. (It’s amazing, really. Considering all the minions who get slaughtered in this movie, there are never any bodies laying around.) Saintly abused children living in damn near Medieval conditions? Check. Guest appearance by Mr. Toad? I think so, check. Preachy dialog about how bad rich people are? Check. The heroine breaking into a song that you’ll be hearing in your heart for years to come?

Thankfully, no.

That exception aside, though, The Mouse is strong in this one. There is not one frame of this movie that does not include some cool new toy waiting to be merchandised; not one new planet that is not home to some adorable new creature that’s just begging to be made into a plush toy. There is a reason why this movie was released now, and you’ll find it on display in the toy department of every retailer in the world, most likely on the endcap. So, if you approach Star Wars: The Last Jedi with that in mind: that this is a heroic magical fantasy movie, made by Disney, and meant to move merchandise and be watched again and again by 10-year-old children—

(Children with iron bladders, I might add. This is one seriously long movie. Don’t let the little buggers buy pop at the concession stand or you’ll be walking them to the bathroom at least twice before the movie’s over.)

—then it’s a great movie. My grandson is going to love this one when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

But if you’re an adult, then it really comes down to just one question: either you really love the way J. J. Abrams makes new movies for the new generation by mashing up scenes, samples, and even entire set pieces lifted whole from movies you loved when you were young—only bigger, longer, and louder in the Abrams Remix—or you don’t. If you loved what Abrams did with the recent Star Trek reboot, or loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will love this movie. If not—

Well, it’s still a fun ride and worth watching, but wait for the Blu-Ray. Your bladder will thank you.



In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.

Bruce blogs here, from time to time, but if you’re looking for more of his pop culture commentary, you’ll find plenty of links on brucebethke.com.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Free eBook Friday / Book Release

It’s another FREE EBOOK FRIDAY! 

Today and tomorrow only, we’re giving away the Kindle editions of these two books free.



A generation ship, lost in space for more than a thousand years.

A shipwrecked combat pilot, desperate to survive.

A case of mistaken identity, that will spark a revolution...


DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW

DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO BOOK NOW


While you’re at it, you might also want to consider buying the sequel, which Amazon does not link to the first book, which probably explains why it doesn’t sell nearly as well as the first book did.

BUY THE SEQUEL! PLEASE!




Also available free for today and tomorrow only: Stupefying Stories #14, which features:

50 FOOT ROMANCE, by Eric J. Juneau
CITY OF OPPORTUNITY, by Jānis Zelčāns
THE ALIENS WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA, by Peter Wood
THIRTY NINE, by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett
RIGEL’S MISSING TAIL, by Antha Ann Adkins
THE BONE POINTER, by Chuck Robertson
GODS ON A HILL, by G. J. Brown
THE ANNIVERSARY GIFT, by Gary Cuba
MASTERS, by Jason Lairamore
WATER PRESSURE, by Anna Yeatts
EMISSARY, by Matthew Lavin
THE GHOSTLESS MACHINE, by Austin Hackney

If nothing else, get this one for “The Aliens Went Down to Georgia,” so that you’ll have an idea of what you’re getting into when we release Pete’s Diner in 2018.

(Oops. Was I not supposed to mention that one yet?)

DOWNLOAD THE FREE EBOOK NOW




Releasing today: Stupefying Stories #18


But here’s the clever thing: do not buy this ebook today. Instead, as soon as the Amazon listing goes live, we are going to set up a free ebook promotion to run on Monday, December 18. Got that? For 24 hours only, on Monday, December 18, you will be able to get the all-new Stupefying Stories issue #18 free for the cost of a click. Got that? 18 on the 18th?

Well, it sounded like a really clever idea in the Marketing Planning meeting...

Tell your friends. Tell your relatives. Tell completely random acquaintances. 18 on the 18th. Let’s make that download counter spin!



And one more thing...

Authors and publishers really appreciate it when readers take the time to put in a good word for a book they like. It’s not just for our egos: word-of-mouth helps sell books. If you take any of these free ebooks, and you like what you read, please, please, please take a moment to give the book a good rating, or put in a good word for it on Goodreads, or maybe even write a quick review. The authors you like will appreciate it, and they will show their appreciation by writing even more good books and stories for you to enjoy!

Thank you.