Shoebox Train Wreck: A Review

Here is my review of Shoebox Train Wreck by John Mantooth, published by ChiZine Publications (March, 2012).

Get a copy of this book now.  Or read the review first. Then get the book.
Get a copy of this book now.
Or read the review first.
Then get the book.

In September of this year, while at Dragon*Con, I stopped by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) table for a chat.

It just so happened that they had two stacks of books that were free for the taking to anyone that was interested.  Since I’m always interested in a book, I took one from the stack on the left. (I didn’t grab both because I didn’t want to be greedy…)

The book I chose was Shoebox Train Wreck by John Mantooth.

And let me tell you, I chose correctly.

16 short stories in one volume, based in the backwoods of the South. These stories are harsh and staggering in not only their violence, but also in their realism.  Mantooth’s characters are people you know, but don’t want to admit that you do.  They are hard and furious; eager to destroy innocence wherever they find it. But they are written with a fluidity and elegance within the grit.

Shoebox reminds me of a quote from James Baldwin: The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live here, and have lived here, are so ugly. Mantooth writes stories that knock the wind out of you and leave you jonesing for the next punch, vibrating with impact. I can’t explain it better than the tagline for the book: “The living haunt the dead…”

Single author anthologies give you the chance to experience the many of the moods of one writer. To get a sense of where their imagination takes them—and in turn you— all while staying snug and cozy in the hands of an entrancing storyteller. However, they are rare to find.  Reading this title makes me want to find more of them.

I think I know why single author anthologies aren’t more popular with publishers. One reason many publishers don’t do single author collections often is that they can be hard to classify into one genre.  This is the case with Shoebox. Horror, thriller, dark fantasy, paranormal, and literary are represented. While that may be a nightmare for a publisher, it’s a real treat for a reader. I won’t mention any specific story.  Read them all. More than once.

ChiZine publications has a winner in the resonant Shoebox Train Wreck. You can find a copy of it here.

Highly recommended.

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An Interview with Dawn Napier

Here’s my interview with Dawn Napier, author of “Nine Lives”, one of the stories featured in the horror and dark fantasy anthology, “In the Bloodstream”, now available in eBook and paperback from Mocha Memoirs Press.

 ER: Give us a short blurb about your “Bloodstream” story. How did you get the idea?

DN: I wrote it during a very hot summer.  There was a major drought going on, and every lawn was yellow and brown, except for a few ambitious souls who kept their sprinklers running constantly.  It looked very creepy and surreal, and that was the opening image of “Nine Lives.”  The rest of the story just grew organically from there.

ER: Why did you start writing?  What drew you specifically to horror?

DN: I couldn’t tell you why I started writing; I wasn’t more than five or six.  When I was eight or nine I wrote my first ghost story and managed to scare myself.  From a very early age I was drawn to the adrenaline rush of a good scare.

ER: Is writing horror different from other genres? What makes a great horror (or dark fantasy) tale?

DN: I don’t think it’s really all that different.  In every story the writer should be looking for the emotional reaction.  If it’s a sad story, the writer wants to make the reader cry all over the page.  If it’s a romance, the reader should want to start planning a wedding.  With a horror story, the writer wants to make the reader leave a light on at bed time.

Good horror should frighten rather than nauseate.  It should be an emotional reaction, not a physical one.

ER: Do you have a day job or do you write full-time? Would we be surprised by what you do for a living?

DN: I do work a day job, and people familiar with my stories would probably not be surprised that I work with children for a living.  Most of my best work features a child as a major character.

ER: What scares you?

DN: Wasps, maggots, and large unfamiliar dogs.

ER: Tell us a joke.

DN: Schrodinger’s out for a drive when a cop pulls him over.  The cop searches his car and says, “Do you know you have a dead cat in your trunk?”  Schrodinger says, “Pft, well I do now!” (ER: *Snort*)

ER: What’s your next project? Will you share with us?

DN: I’m about halfway finished with the first draft of Magicland, which is the sequel to my recently released dark fantasy, Storyland.

ER: What’s missing in fiction?  What (and who) do you like to read?

DN: Female writers are underrepresented in mainstream horror and science fiction.  I know they’re out there, because we belong to a lot of the same Facebook groups, but for some reason there aren’t a lot of women on the bestseller lists outside of traditional “feminine” fiction genres.  I love Joyce Carol Oates and Daphne Du Maurier as well as Stephen King, Brian Keene, and Chuck Wendig. (ER: I agree, Dawn.  That’s one of my causes: Women in Horror.  Check out the WiHM website  to find out more about women involved in making horror come alive in writing and in film.

Creepy little girls... Being creepy for a good cause.
Creepy little girls…
Being creepy for a good cause.

ER: Do you listen to music while writing?  What’s on your playlist?

DN: I don’t really listen to anything while writing, because my brain is a million miles away.  But listening to music while editing helps me stay on task.  I like Queen, Guns N Roses, Heart, and The Who.

ER: What’s the most difficult part of writing? What do you love most?

DN: Editing is the hardest part, but a close second is about the three-quarter mark, when I’m in the home stretch and my inspiration starts to lag.  This is when I usually have to take a break from the Internet and recharge my creative batteries.

ER: I always picture writers with a beverage close at hand.  What’s your poison?

DN: Coffee or Dr. Pepper.

ER: Any suggestions for aspiring writers out there?

DN: Grow a thick skin, listen to constructive criticism, examine all criticism and know objectively what’s helpful and what’s not, and KEEP TRYING.

ER: Can’t say it better than that.  Find more of Dawn’s wisdom at the link below:

cinnamonbrown

http://convozine.com/moms_secret_horrors

https://www.facebook.com/DawnNapierAuthor

https://twitter.com/Rosered97  (@Rosered97)

Interview with Shaun Avery

“Watching the Eater” is Shaun Avery’s unsettling story in the horror and dark fantasy anthology, “In the Bloodstream”, now available in eBook and paperback from Mocha Memoirs Press.

ER: Tell us a bit about your background and what makes you tick.

SA: I started writing at an early age, sold a couple of non-fiction articles to a local newspaper in my early twenties and then came runner-up in a prose fiction competition  a few years later.  It wasn’t until I started writing comic scripts that my writing life really started to gain some momentum, though.  Have I mentioned that I love comics? No?  Well, yes, I do – I love them very much indeed.  That said, I really believe that it’s not a bad thing to want to work in many mediums.  They all make your writing come out in a different way, and help improve you as a writer.

ER: Give us a short blurb about your “Bloodstream” story. How did you get the idea?

SA: Anyone who knows me would tell you that I quite like food.  I like writing about food, too.  And it’s a long-held belief of mine that there are no lows that TV channels won’t sink to in order to get viewers for their shows (a theory that MTV seem to be doing their best to prove correct, with their plethora of series with the word “Shore” in the title.)  Put that all together, and you get “Watching the Eater.”  (ER: I hold that same belief about what lengths TV will go to for ratings. That’s why I refuse to put a reality TV program picture here.) 

ER: Do you have a day job or do you write full time? Would we be surprised by what you do for a living?

SA: I’m a bookseller – which is a great job for a creative book loving type to have!

ER: You’re going to the gallows. What’s your last meal?

SA: At the risk of sounding like The Eater, probably a kebab.  One that’s dripping in garlic.  It’ll make my breath smell, but if I’m facing the gallows that’s probably the least of my worries. 

Now this, I will post a picture of.  Totally worth the onion breath...
Now this, I will post a picture of.
Totally worth the onion breath…

ER: What’s your next project? Will you share with us?

SA: I’ve been invited to turn a short story submission I made into a longer novella.  I’m looking forward to starting on that one.

ER: What authors/artists inspire you?

SA: If I had to pick my favourite writers, I’d go for Bentley Little, Ed McBain, Richard Laymon and Garth Ennis.  But generally I’m inspired by everyone I read, both good and bad.

ER: I always picture writers with a beverage close at hand.  What’s your poison?

SA: Red Bull or Pepsi Max – depending on how much sleep I’ve had the night before.

ER: Any suggestions for aspiring writers out there?

SA: Try to get into anthologies.  Being surrounded by so many other great writers really makes you up your game. (ER: I love this suggestion. And I agree. Here’s one…)

31 authors, 5 countries, and 31 tales of dark fantasy and horror
31 authors,
5 countries,
and 31 tales of dark fantasy and horror

ER: Do you dream?  If so, do you use it in your writing? What’s the craziest dream you ever had?

SA: I’ve had a few ideas come in dreams – the craziest one was probably about a horde of homicidal maniacs that actually turned out to be frogs masquerading as humans.  I tried my best to get that one to make sense in a prose format, but it wouldn’t stick.  Sigh.  Maybe I’ll take another go at that one some day . . .

ER: What’s your goal for your writing?

SA: To be a cross-medium success.  Wish me luck.

ER: Good luck, Shaun!  Sounds like you’re making progress. Thanks for chatting.  Now back to your coffin…

Shaun Pic

https://www.facebook.com/shaun.avery

An Interview with Tony Flynn

ER: Welcome to the blog, Tony.  Let’s jump right in. Give us a short blurb about your “Bloodstream” story. How did you get the idea?

TF: My “Bloodstream” story is entitled, ‘The Averish House’, and it tells of the terrible fate which befalls a young girl who makes the foolish mistake of stealing candy from a strange house belonging to a couple of witches on Halloween night.

I remember seeing this photograph by Diane Arbus, which showed an elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a witches Halloween mask, and I remember just being really drawn to the image. It had that really unsettling quality which is common in an awful lot of Diane Arbus’ photography, and I remember just thinking that the woman in the photograph would make a fantastic character for a horror story. Their was so much mystery behind her, and all that mystery fed into the character which would become Penny Averish in my story, and the idea just built from there.

ER: Why did you start writing?  What drew you specifically to horror?

TF: Initially, the first thing I was really interested in writing was screenplays. I was (and still am) a major film geek, and I remember when I was about 13 years old I was given a DV camera by my mother, and I used to write and direct these short movies with a gang of friends I was in school with.  I remember the first two short films I ever made were horror movies. One was called ‘Restless Deep’, which was essentially a thinly veiled ‘Friday the 13th/ I Know what you did Last Summer’ rip off, and the second was called ‘Revelations’ and was without any doubt the very worst film ever made by a human being ever! I’m pretty sure I still have a VHS copy of both films somewhere.

I think I always had an interest in horror, even when I was very young. I remember my dad was a huge fan of old Hammer horror films (Horror of Dracula; The Curse of Frankenstein etc.) so I was aware of those movies and those characters from a very young age and I think that interest and that attraction to the genre has been with me ever since. (ER: Classics!  That reminds me of a song I heard once. See the caption below:)

Peter Cushing  lives in Whitstable I have seen him on his bicycle I have seen him buying vegetables...
Peter Cushing lives in Whitstable
I have seen him on his bicycle
I have seen him buying vegetables…

ER: Is writing horror different from other genres? What makes a great horror (or dark fantasy) tale?

TF: I think that there’s a purity to the horror genre which makes it very special. As opposed to a genre like Drama, which is so vague and can have so many different meanings, horror is almost mathematical in its simplicity. Something will either scare you, or it won’t. A story is either frightening, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, then it’s not a horror story. I love the puzzle of horror. I love trying to figure out what combination of story and character and atmosphere will result in a story which is genuinely chilling.

I think the most important thing in a horror story is character. Horror is a genre which specialises in putting characters in peril, and the horror of a given situation will only really have impact if the reader is interested in the characters who are under threat.

ER: What scares you?

TF: Almost everything scares me, which is why I think I’m attracted to the horror genre. I’m an arachnophobic, so that would probably be top of my list. Trees also freak me out. I’m not sure why. Also the sea scares me. So do cities at night. And being alone. And being with too many people. I’m a terrible coward all round, really. (ER: I see where you get the attraction to writing horror. It’s a way to control the fear…)

ER: What do you do when your muse deserts you? How do you stay inspired?

TF: I think that the most important thing when you’re not sure what to write, or if you get stuck on a project, is to just power through and write something. Write anything, even if you’re convinced what you’re putting down on paper is rubbish. Just get words on the page, and don’t be afraid to screw up, because you can always fix it later. There’s nothing more demorilising than just staring at a blank computer screen, or wandering around doing something else, wishing you knew what to write, so I would say just keep getting words on the page.

ER: What’s your next project? Will you share with us?

TF: I just recently started working on my first novel, which will be a horror story called ‘The Lost Ones.’ There’s not an awful lot I can say about it at the moment, because there’s still so much I don’t know, but I’m really excited about it.

Aside from that, I have a couple of projects which have yet to be released. A poem I wrote, entitled ‘The Burning Man’, is set to be released as part of the ‘Darkness ad Infinitum’ horror anthology from Villipede Publications, while another, entitled ‘Where the Lost Ones Dwell’, is set for release as part of the ‘Fossil Lake’ horror anthology from Daverana Enterprises.

I also co-wrote a horror/ fantasy film, entitled ‘Taryn Barker: Demon Hunter’ which is currently in production and is being directed by Zoe Kavanagh, who co-wrote the film with me, so I’m really excited to see how that turns out. I think it’s going to be a great movie. (ER: That sounds fantastic! I’m excited for you.)

ER: Do you listen to music while writing?  What’s on your playlist?

TF: Yes, I find music really helpful when writing. Most of the time, I find myself becoming obsessed with a particular piece of music while working on a project, so that sort of becomes my soundtrack for the work. I remember while writing ‘The Averish House’ I listened to a piece of music from an Irish instrumental band named 3epkano. The piece is called ‘They Are Flying’ and is from their album ‘At Land’

ER: What authors/artists inspire you?

TF: I think with ‘The Averish House’ I really wanted to give it a Brothers Grimm/ Hans Christian Anderson fairytale quality. The thing I always loved about those stories is, they’re essentially morality tales, trying to teach children how to be good human beings, but they were always so violent and vicious, and had such a strong horror element to them. It’s a shame that they tend to be so watered down and sanitised for children these days, because when you take the horror out of those stories you really lose the point.

Aside from that, I think if you’re working in the horror genre you are working in the shadow of Stephen King, and when he’s on top form he’s absolutely untouchable. I also love John Connolly (Nocturnes; Every Dead Thing) and John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In; Little Star)

ER: What’s the most difficult part of writing? What do you love most?

TF: I think the hardest part of writing is just the discipline it takes. It’s so hard to sit down at a computer or a typewriter and commit to the work, when it’s so easy to just watch TV or play video games. Avoiding procrastination is the hardest thing, I think.

What I love most about writing is the feeling when it’s all going well. When you’re thinking faster than you can type and are so full of energy that there is just no stopping yourself from getting those words down on the page.

ER: I always picture writers with a beverage close at hand.  What’s your poison?

TF: I start off with coffee, and then depending on how the work is going proceed to drinks with a higher and higher alcohol content.

Thanks for chatting, Tony!  If you’d like to keep up with Tony (and see that film) check out his social media site:

Tony Flynn pic

http://www.tonywritesstuff.tumblr.com

https://www.facebook.com/tony.flynn.397

http://vimeo.com/tonyflynn

“In the Bloodstream: An Anthology of horror and dark fantasy” is available in eBook and paperback from Mocha Memoirs Press.

That Rejection May Not Be (Completely) Your Fault

This post was originally released on Bella Harte’s blog over the Halloween weekend. But I’ve noticed several friends receiving rejections letters (emails) lately and I thought it was a good idea to repost it here:

We’ve all been there. Getting a rejection from a publisher.  I’m not sure which is worse: waiting or receiving a rejection. I’ve experienced both and have learned to deal with them.

For the first time, however, I’ve had to send out rejections. As submissions editor for a small press, I now have an additional viewpoint on the rejection process and there are two types of reasons your story may get rejected.

Those you can control and those you can’t.

The ones you can control are what you read about in almost every how-to writing guide out there.  Easy things that all writers should do:

-Check for your work for spelling and grammar issues before you submit.

-Send in work that is in the genre that the publisher publishes.

-Format your manuscript the way the publisher asks.

-Send your submission or query with a professional, yet personable cover letter/email.

I’ve spoken with editors that will reject your work solely for not doing the above.  It seems harsh, but there are a lot of people that do follow the presented guidelines and publishers tend to take following their rules as a sign that you’ll be easy to work with. (Who doesn’t want that?)

If only this button did what it claims to...
If only this button did what it claims to…

Other things you can control that are not so easy:

-Craft a fresh, interesting, well-paced story with engaging characters.

-Ruthlessly self-edit to make your dialogue snap and your plot “un-put-downable”

-Find the time to read (in and out of your genre) to improve your exposure to styles and literary devices used in fiction.

However:

Words of wisdom. Not just for writing.  Heed them...
Words of wisdom.
Not just for writing.
Heed them…

There are reasons your story will get rejected that you have zero control over.  And once you’ve assessed the above, your rejection may be because of one of the following:

-Your story is too similar to one the company has already accepted for publication.

-Your story doesn’t have the tone the publisher prefers. (Publishers are looking for an intangible element that is impossible to put into words. It’s a “I’ll know it when I see it” sort of thing.)

-Your story doesn’t “fit” with the others they’ve already chosen for an anthology.

-Editors don’t like to read some things. They’re human. It may be a particular point of view or tense or a certain period in history. Most times, a call for submissions will state absolute no-no’s for the publication like no profanity or no child endangerment.

But there’s more. There are editors and slush readers that prefer not to read phonetic spellings or don’t want to see another shape-shifting macaw. Again, these are impossible for you to control unless you are told what the editors don’t want to see.

out-of-control Pc

One such list you may have seen before is from the submissions page of Strange Horizons’ website.  Strange Horizons is a well-regarded online speculative fiction magazine and their list of “Stories We’ve Seen Too Often” has been referenced and reprinted by many publishers of speculative fiction. http://www.strangehorizons.com/guidelines/fiction-common.shtml

It isn’t all-inclusive and it doesn’t hold true for all publications, but I’m using it as an example that there are storylines that won’t appeal to certain publishers, even though your story is otherwise well put together.

So take heart when you get a rejection.  It isn’t always you.

Receiving a rejection does mean you’re finishing and submitting your work and that’s something to celebrate.

Happy writing.

Interview with author Rie Sheridan Rose

Author Rie Sheridan Rose is talking with me about writing. Rie’s story, “The Madness in Her Eyes” is featured in the horror anthology “In the Bloodstream” published by Mocha Memoirs Press (MMP).

ER: Hi, Rie. Thanks for chatting with me. Tell us a bit about your background and what makes you tick. (*Curls hands around a soy cappuccino*)

RSR: I have wanted to be a writer all my life, but really started to work hard at it about the end of the 90’s. When I was “downsized” right before my wedding in 2002, my husband was generous enough to tell me I could do it full-time, so  I have been working on that ever since. Still not good at buckling down yet, but getting better with practice.

ER: Give us a short blurb about your “Bloodstream” story. How did you get the idea?

RSR: My story, “The Madness in Her Eyes” is about a group of college kids who decide to play Hide-and-Seek in a graveyard. It is based very closely on an incident from college. Right up until the long-term results of the outing, it is the truth – names changed to protect the foolish. 🙂

ER: Why did you start writing?  What drew you specifically to horror?

RSR:  As I say,  I have always written. I just love putting words together. I wouldn’t say I am drawn specifically to horror, though I have experimented with it a great deal. I love trying to scare the reader. That ability is not easy to come by, but lovely if you manage it.

ER: What scares you?

RSR: Stephen King has given me quite a few thrills through the years. Charlee Jacobs knows how to push the metaphorical buttons. I like cerebral stories like Poe and just plain over the top stuff like Jeff Strand too. I think a good build up to a surprise or a hidden monster is most likely to get me.

ER: What do you do when your muse deserts you? How do you stay inspired?

RSR: Read, watch TV, play a video game. I direct my attention to something else for awhile. Also, reading random links my husband sends me is often good for inspiration. Wikipedia articles, for instance, can be a great source for inspiration.

ER: You’re going to the gallows. What’s your last meal?

RSR: Steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, and lemon meringue pie – with lots of Dr. Pepper. Might as well enjoy it. 🙂

(ER: A friend of mine once called Dr. Pepper “The nectar of the gods”. I understand.)

The world trembles before me. Or is that me shaking?
The world trembles before me.
Or is that me shaking?

ER: What’s your next project? Will you share with us?

RSR: My next big project is the second volume in my Steampunk series, The Conn-Mann Chronicles. I have been putting it off to write a lot of short stories this year, but it is time to take advantage of NaNoWriMo and finish the first draft.

ER: What do you do when you’re not writing?

RSR: Housework…and way too much goofing off on Facebook. 🙂

ER: I always picture writers with a beverage close at hand.  What’s your poison?

RSR: Dr. Pepper, but I am trying to cut down, so I’ve been drinking a lot of Peach flavored water. If you mean harder stuff, either a margarita, a rum and coke, or an Amaretto sour. (ER: Rum and cake?  Oh… Coke…)

ER: Any suggestions for aspiring writers out there?

RSR: Just write. It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad to start. You can never get better if you don’t practice. Put your first thoughts down on paper. You can always edit and smooth it later. Let it be rough and jagged to start with. And NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a great way to learn to write to a deadline, to a word count, without self-editing.

ER: Do you dream?  If so, do you use it in your writing? What’s the craziest dream you ever had?

RSR: I rarely remember my dreams, but when I do, I have used them in various pieces. I think the craziest dream I had was when I was about 12 and dreamed that Lily Munster had taken a fancy to Ben Pepper from The Five Little Peppers, and I was his sister Polly trying to save him…

ER: What’s your goal for your writing?

RSR: I have decided I want to win a Hugo. Wish me luck. 😉

Best of luck, Rie!  If you’d like to read some of Rie’s work, check her out here:

Rie Sheridan Rose

website: www.riewriter.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rie-Sheridan-Rose/38814481714

Twitter: @RieSheridanRose