Sunday, November 28, 2010


I wanted to take some time to give a shout out to the folks at Duotrope. This is one of the best services for writers around--for me, it's been an invaluable source of information. The search function alone is worth the cost of membership (which is free, although donations keep it that way). I use their submission tracker, which alerts you when you should query an editor about your submission. Also it's an easy way to keep records of how successful you've been submitting material.

Duotrope keeps track of the acceptance/rejection rate of each publication, as well as how quickly publications respond. For example, I'm not going to bother submitting to a publication that doesn't respond to 25% of submissions they receive. And for some publications, Duotrope offers interviews with the editors, who offer specifics about what they're looking for. It's one of the only lights in the dark forest that is sending out your work. (Ugh, that's a bad metaphor, but you know what I mean--the waiting game sucks!)

Part of the reason I bring this up is it seems that Duotrope is more popular with literary and horror writers than crime fiction writers. The more people who use Duotrope's submissions tracker, the more accurate their numbers are, which is essential to how useful the site is.

So how about you--have you ever used Duotrope?

And for the editors out there, do you think Duotrope is a good thing? Does it just add to the number of bad submissions you receive, or does it help weed out material that doesn't fit?

Friday, November 26, 2010


Ian Ayris recently posted about the importance of coming up with a good short story title. I have to agree with him--it can almost make or break a story for me. Electric Candyland, the new Matthew McBride story at Darkest Before the Dawn, not only has a kickass title that rolls off the tongue, but sets you up for a wild, meth-induced ride.

There some blazing lines in here, like: "He stared lost into his own reflection, hard pressed to recognize the man he used to be. His eyes were a spiderweb of red lines that connected to deep black pupils which were as dead as a starless night." I love how he takes a cliche--bloodshot eyes--and totally reinvents it. The entirety of the opening scene with Fish examining himself in a mirror, unable to wrap his head around the most simple of facts, is both surreal and terrifying.

Then when two meth-addict cops show up looking to score, things go completely haywire, leading to an ending that's like a chorus of screeching violins. McBride seems to be everywhere lately (Crimefactory, Plots with Guns, A Twist of Noir, Needle's winter issue), and this is another fantastic addition to his body of work.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things I'm Excited About

So I finally got around to downloading the Do Some Damage collection Terminal Damage. It's eight stories by eight top-notch authors set in an airport for a grand total of 99 cents. Great idea--I think these kinds of depressing, everyday settings are ideal for noir. And for some reason airports have always fascinated me--the people watching, how airports all the same yet different, how you can get trapped there for days.

While I was at it, I downloaded Chris F. Holm's Eight Pounds. I checked out The Hitter in Needle (excellent) and A Rip Through Time: The Dame, The Doctor, and The Device at Beat to a Pulp (most fun you can have at your computer with you clothes on... or you can read it naked) and I heard that this collection rocks. And it's only 99 cents. Instead of buying half a cup of coffee, I bought his book. So two downloads for a total of less than two bucks, which I look forward to reading.

In the stuff I've actually read portion of this post, Nigel Bird has a tragic and beautiful tale up at Beat to a Pulp, Taking a Line for a Walk. No fancy-schmancy plot trickery or witty banter here--just a cold, unforgiving snapshot of reality. As AJ Hayes said, bring the tissues!

And to end with a question: Which airport do you hate the most?

I'll go with Moline, Illinois, where I usually fly from. It's small, dingy, flights never leave on time due to snow, and the woman who works the only post-security eatery is the definition of surly. Though I guess I would be too if I worked at MLI...

Close second: LaGuardia. Trudging through those terminals, I can't help but think of cattle being led to slaughter.

Friday, November 19, 2010


At Thrillers, Killers 'n Chillers, Pete Risley has a darkly humorous ghost story.

Roger has woken up early and is sipping a cup of coffee when he sees ne'er do well--and very dead--Martin rummaging through the garbage outside. He calls out to Martin, who runs away like the coward that he is, only to end up cornered in the garage. Apparently Martin has done enough awful things that Roger and his family never want to see him again--even in ghost form.

What I really liked about this story is how Roger takes the whole thing in stride, like it's nothing out of the ordinary, and Martin is still the same shifty, pathetic character that he seems to have been while alive. It's a really imaginative take on a stale genre (ghost stories in general never did much for me) and Risley's masterful dialogue carries the piece.

While you're at, you should also check out Risley's post at the Crimefactory blog. I dig his idea that crime fiction should explore human perversity--to me that's the essence of what I appreciate about the genre.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


... has recently published two excellent stories.

Disability, Inc., appears in this month's edition of All Due Respect. Stan and Chas are two stand-up guys just doing their best to get a free ride. Sketchy shrink Dr. Z is pivotal to their life goal of not doing stuff. When he asks for their help offing an old woman who's become a problem, they're more than ready to help. And fuck everything up in the process. It's set in what I'll refer to as Redneck California and injected with dark humor and cracking dialogue. A unique and sharp story with populated with hilarious/depressing moments.

First Man Falling is a killer boxing story in the last issue of Beat to a Pulp. Angel Martin is trying to pry his way into the world of big-time professional boxing, despite forces conspiring against him--which in this case is everyone in his life. He enters the biggest fight of his life against fan-favorite El Mudo, who is deaf. The attention to detail in this story is startling. It really feels like you're the one getting your ass kicked! And Angel is a very well constructed character who I was definitely rooting for.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

At Pulp Metal...

In their last two issues, Pulp Metal Magazine has some killer material. Two of my favorites:

Do it quietly, Smitty, by BR Stateham. An imaginative, unconventional mob hitman story. Crisp writing and  a quiet intensity that builds through this brief but powerful piece.

The Stalker, by David Price. Beware of the guy hanging around the kiddie's playground... An efficient, disturbing, violent tale with a cool twist.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Writing 623 Words

I'm not going to lie: When I signed up for A Twist of Noir's 600-700 challenge, I was nervous. I'm terrible at writing to prompts or from a given scenario--or, for that matter, to a specific word count. I don't know why. I'm not one of these "Oh, it totally kills my muse" type of writers. It's just not how I roll.

So I was ecstatic when a couple of days after I signed on I was able to bang out a flash idea that--without any attempt to edit--was 630 words. Awesome! Chop out a few adjectives and there ya go.

But it had major problems. Had to put it on the back burner.

This is about when I started to panic. I threw around a couple of other ideas that never even made it to the page.

Then I had a crafty idea. The first crime fiction piece I'd ever written (first short story since I was in high school, actually) was a total mess. It was this 6,000-word monstrosity about this loser who's addicted to swiping mundane shit off store shelves. It had some interesting characters, nice turns of phrase, blah blah blah, but there were like five plotlines.

But it did have this opening scene that I really liked. So I decided to hack that off, make some changes. And, to my surprise, it wasn't half bad, and it was about 700 words. Sent it out to the good people at Flasher's Dozen and Crimeficwriters, who made it way better. And now, to my delight, it's found a home at ATON. (By the way, will be writing more on this in the future, but this 600-700 challenge is fascinating. Loving it--to me, it's the core of ATON--fast, violent, and dark crime fiction.)

So, anyone else writing in the series have stories to share about how they hit their magic number? How about writing with restrictions? Does it work for you?

Monday, November 8, 2010

WEDDING NIGHT by Peter Swanson

I was first introduced to Peter Swanson with his novella-ish length piece in last issue of Mysterical-E, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, a really memorable and engaging story. His latest in the fall issue of Mysterical-E, Wedding Night, is perfectly executed--the kind of story that once you race to the end, you'll want to go back and read it again.

It starts with Michael Keyes who is on his honeymoon in Mexico, but his bride is laid up with a case of stomach flu. So he heads down to the hotel bar and meets Alex Dahl, the kind of chatty, quasi-suave alcoholic who seems to fit right in at the beach resort atmosphere. Through Alex, he meets a woman who changes his life in unexpected ways.

Swanson possesses a natural, fluid style that I really gravitate to. And I love how the ending opens more possibilities instead of closing them off. I hope to see more of his work floating around the web in the future.

Friday, November 5, 2010

MAKER'S AND COKE by Jake Hinkson

So there's a whole bunch of killer stuff in the new anthology Beat to a Pulp: Round One--including some great work by a lot of my favorite authors lie Patti Abbott, Chris F. Holm, Kieran Shea, and Charles Ardai. (Naomi Johnson has a good review here.)

Round 1 kicks off with Maker's and Coke by Jake Hinkson--a writer I hadn't heard of before checking out this story. And, wow, what a way to open. This profoundly unsettling story knocked me on my ass. The main character, a recently divorced cop-turned-alcoholic, comes fully to life in this piece. His loneliness and hopelessness feel very real. Take this passage:

Once I though about it, I realized no one else loved me, either. I sat there and considered it. There was no one left on this earth who loved me. That wasn't self-pity; it was match. My world had gotten smaller and smaller, year by year, and now that Ellie was gone, it was a world of just me.

Jesus Christ, that's chilling.

In a story where other writers might have let their main character remain passive, Hinkson throws him into a shitstorm. He's behind a gas station in his car trying to numb his feelings when two guys try to rob the place. His alcoholism comes to bite him right in the ass--as he's scrambling to stop this crime in progress, he spills his drink all over himself and accidentally discharges his gun into the roof of his patrol car. Genius stuff.  Just one fantastic entry in an epic collection.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


The folks at Southern Fried Fiction are looking for a few good writers to submit tales of the underworld. Here's a taste of the kind of they go for, a cracking and nasty flash piece by David Henecker called On Account.

And here's what Editor Ellis LaCroix has to say: