Detonation #9 – First Impressions

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

People are boring, living their monochrome little lives at their monochrome shitty jobs in their sad monochrome existences. Endless lists. Vague descriptions. Random numbers.

Devoid of personality.

How do I know? Because Noggy just spent the last two days reading hundreds of resumes, that’s why. And if I have to judge people, which I’m emphatically willing to do whether I get paid to do it or not, then I’m going to give it to you straight. What the absolute fuck? Does anyone ever take a step back, look at their resume, and think “Wow, amazing! I’m amazing. People are going to read this and shit themselves trying to hire me.”

Short answer: NO.

There’s blame to go around of course, all the job site optimizers and expert self-help influencers that tell you how to game the system. How to include every damn industry buzzword, stat, skill, tool, process, and methodology which, I discovered, almost always involve the word ‘cucumber’, so to better fool the modern yet stupid AI enhanced job placement fit scanners. These sorts of resumes don’t give you an actual picture of the person you’re looking to hire, they’re more like D&D character sheets without the bio and background part filled in.

But I guess there’s no room for colour when the ‘experts’ insist on mashing your life into a single page, reducing ALL resumes to the SAME resume. Which means that once it does get picked out of the labour carnival bin-o-fun by the claw and deposited on my donut crumb crusted desk, I get riled up enough to write another one of these fucking articles.

Look, I’m not saying you ARE necessarily boring, but your public business persona probably is. All I ask is that you find ways, even simple and subtle ways, to give me some idea about who you are and why I should spend any energy hiring you. Give me an interest, give me something you’re proud of that doesn’t involve this particular capitalist self-sacrifice. Present yourself differently. Show personality. If I see a flicker of light, where you casually mention in your soft skills section, that you’re drilling a hole to the hollow earth in order to find a dinosaur husband to add to your polyamorous collective, I can guarantee, given a minimal required skill set, that I’ll be booking an interview.

***

I’m sure you’re asking what the fuck this has to do with writing and why the hell you forced yourself to suffer through four hundred words of old man yelling at clouds?

Everything. It’s exactly the bloody same.

I have a question for you.

“How do you present yourself to first time readers?”

Unless you are already an established author with a solid fan base, or a true phenom, you’re constantly mining for one of the most valuable commodities on the planet. I’m talking, of course, about attention. Every author desires it. Every author strives for it. Few get more than a few grains, sluiced from the meandering, braided river of current public trends and interests. A river brimming with other prospectors, elbows up, trying to stake their claim and eek out a passable existence, hoping to hit the mother lode and strike it rich.

Let’s, for the sake of simplicity, focus on one particular type of author: the eager up and comer, one with a couple of stories ‘out there’ in the weird wide world, one who doesn’t have an agent or a contract or a big-name publisher. An indie author. Our aspiring literary star wants to gain attention, has to gain attention if they don’t want to get washed away.

As with resumes, authors fling themselves and their creations into the world. They toss the dynamite and thousands, if not millions, of eyes see the resulting explosion.

Boom!

Then what?

There are a couple of co-mingled elements at play here. The author and their writing. Not the same thing, though they eventually merge together as time goes on.

But the important part is the First Impression.

So, I ask again, “how do you present yourself to first time readers?” When they pick up your book and lick the cover, fondle the spine, devour the backmatter, gape at your bio, and leaf through a few pages, what impression are you leaving? Does your bio invoke awe? Does your writing speak for you, providing amazeball feelings? When they come across you on social media or your website or at book events or conventions, do they think “Holy fucking shit, this author is the cat’s ass, I want to be them, I want to be with them, I might even read their book if I can get it on sale.”?

You’d better hope so.

Every second another hardscrabble author picks up their pan and wades into the mayhem working on just that. Sure, you can slave away, slowly building up your claim, and maybe, just maybe you’ll eventually get lucky or at least modestly successful. But if you wait for a break or let poor work speak for itself, it may be a long dreadful bitter life.

So do yourself a favour, take a step back, look at your resume and make it as fucking interesting as possible, even if it’s only eighty percent honest. Oh, and don’t forget the cucumber.

The Nightshade Cabal

Strange things are afoot in 1880’s Halifax, the likes of which you’ve never seen. Isaac Barrow – full time technomancer and inventor, part time investigator, and, I think, aspiring curmudgeon (if he lives long enough) – is thrust head first into the thick of the action against the sinister necromantic Nightshade Cabal while searching for a missing young lady.

Isaac is a resourceful fellow, it must be said, clever yet fallible, with both old friends and new watching his back, but that might not be enough to see him through when his poking around dredges up enemies possibly higher than his pay grade. But that’s half the fun, seeing if he’s up to the challenge. The other half is, of course, immersing one’s self in a magical, steampunk infused Halifax. A place of light and darkness, shadow and intrigue.

A fabulous first novel for Chris, well worth picking up. And of course, be sure to check out a pair of short stories featuring our stalwart technomancer: “A Murder at Carleton House” in Enigma Front: Burnt (Analemma Books, August 2016) and “The Wolfville Horror” in in Enigma Front: The Monster Within (Analemma Books, August 2017).

I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Isaac Barrow, and for that I’m glad.

5/5

About the Author: Chris Patrick Carolan

Chris Patrick Carolan is an author, editor, and hovercraft enthusiast whose stories have appeared in the Enigma Front anthology series (Analemma Books, ExitZero Books), 49th Parallels: Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures (Bundoran Press), Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Coffin Hop Press), and Alchemy & Artifacts: Tesseracts 22 (EDGE Science Fiction).

Publisher: The Parliament House

Detonation #7 – Smart Resolutions

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

So, it’s that time again, the commencement of yet another cycle around the sun, marked by a semi-arbitrary date that doesn’t quite align with cosmological anchors. Like how hard would have been to just set New Years on the Winter Solstice? It’s the sort of thing that grinds Noggy’s OCD something fierce. And don’t get him started on why months have their fluctuating number of days.

Fucking Romans.

It’s a happy time none-the-less. A chance to wash away the sickly stains of a cursed life with overpriced and underwhelming champagne. Maybe reminisce about the highlights you captured with your goddamn selfie stick. Eat loads of crap. Socialize with friends, enemies, frenemies, or in all probability, yourself, pantsless and eating pie in the backseat of your Pontiac Aztek or garbage filled K-car.

Call it what you want. Tradition. Ritual. Self-loathing and/or self-reflection. It’s a transition, that’s the important part. From one oozing nugget of time to the next. When you crawl out of your cocoon sometime early January, you know it’s a clean slate, you know that everything that came before is last year’s news. You made it. And this year will be different.

Special.

Energized.

Productive.

You heard right. Productive. Whatever writing or editing or design or marketing or publicity or publishing you did last year, you’ll surpass it this year. More. Faster. Better.

Why?

Because you made a fucking New Year’s Resolution, that’s why.

You’ve resolved one or possibly many things. It may be a vague decree like “I’m going to write every day”, or more explicit, like “I’m going to a thousand words every day.” Or it might be ambitious like “I’m going to write and publish three novels this year.” Or ethereal like “I’m going to procrastinate less this year.”

Kinda bullshit.

I’m not saying those aren’t worthy goals, because they totally are. They’re just soft. And squishy. Moist even. Soft resolutions are like ideas. Everyone has a billion of them, but at the end of the day, rather small and limp.

The concept of “I’m going to write more” is pretty vague, and the more vague and fuzzy the resolution, the harder it’ll be to stick with. What is “more”? What is “less”? If you can’t quantify progress, if you just jam your thumb or tentacle or mating appendage in the air and guess that you may be doing more of what you said you’d do, you’ll rapidly fall into the same old lull you’ve always fallen into.

Imagine meeting up with your writing partner at the end of January.

“How’s the novel going,” asks Lola, stuffing a grinning orifice with crisp Kale salad. “You talked big at NYE before I left you rotting in the dumpster.”

“Meh,” says Noggy. “My resolution was to write more than last year. I’m spitting out words.”

“How many more?”

“Well, more… Way more… I think. It feels like way more at least.”

“So, you’ll be done by summer?”

“I have absolutely no idea. How about you? I sort of recall you mentioning you had serious resolutions of your own this year.”

Lola slides her tongue under her lip to clear out a yard of astroturf, swishes her mouth with rosé. “Yeah, got some killer ones. Turning the hot tub into an alcoholic sex cauldron three times a week for six months and drowning anyone who doesn’t like it. Then, I’m going to ruin two marriages by seducing spouses in Japanese love hotels. Targeting one every three months, but I’ve built in a month overlap contingency.”

“Uh, I meant writing resolutions.”

“Exactly. I’m taking copious notes for my book, which will be done by year’s end. Next tub is Monday by the way, you should come.”

***

Noggy can do better. If he can stimulate his Bourbon soaked brain cells for two minutes, he’ll realize he just needs to be smart like Lola is. That’s smart as in SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. While maybe the concept has been around forever, George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham first formalized it in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. The exact definition of each element has shifted over time, but SMART goals tend to have these elements:

Specific – Pick an unambiguous writing/editing/publishing objective.

Measurable – Make it something you can quantify with a number and keep track of progress. Spreadsheets baby!

Achievable – Make sure you can actually do it. We can go into BHAG’s, Big Hairy Audacious Goal’s, in another time and space, but don’t set yourself up to fail. And don’t include qualifiers that are out of your control – specifying that you want to sell X number of stories or novels is grand, but perilous since that’s in the hands of someone else.

Relevant – It should be an actual writing/editing/publishing goal. Sometimes I wonder about Lola…

Time-based – Choose an end date, and/or dates to measure progress by.

***

Boom!

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even literary science (which, if that isn’t already thing, it is now). Now repeat after me:

“I’m going to write at least three hundred words a day for the next month.”

“I’m going to write six short stories this year and submit them to markets until they are sold.”

“I’m going to complete my novel by the end of May, have it edited by August, and query a dozen agents by year end.”

Rinse and repeat.

***

So, call them what you want. Resolutions. Goals. Objectives. Just remember to be SMART and don’t be caught with your pants down in the back seat with only pie for company. We won’t judge unless it’s Saskatoon Berry.

Detonation #5 – Ending It, One Way or Another

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

If you’re a rational human bean you undoubtably spend more than a trivial amount of time contemplating the end. It’s inevitable, right? Everything has a beginning and an ending. Everything. It’s a fundamental law. The universe began with a singularity programmed by an alien basement dwelling nerd and will succumb to painful, spasmodic, heat death, billions of years in the future.

Entropy is a bitch, and there is no appeasing her.

So yeah, everything ends, and the literary landscape is no exception. Books have beginnings, middles (we’ll delve into those horrid soggy messes another day), and endings. When you spend your ill-gotten lucre on that piece of trash dead tree, recommended by someone you’ll never trust again, you’re invested. You dive in, praying you can figure out what the fuck those metaphors actually mean, and crawl along, double checking the back copy every fifteen minutes to make sure you’re actually reading the right book. Maybe you’ll put it down so you can re-enter your pointless existence for minutes, days, or in rare cases, years, but you will eventually finish it. You will! Unless it blows chunks, or the book is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. At twelve hundred and sixty-six pages, you’re likely to kill yourself first.

And the end, after you’ve put in so much time and energy, has an excellent chance of not meeting your expectations, and in many cases, just plain disappointing. There’s a ton of reasons for that of course, the primary one being that writing awesome finales is hard. Like brutally hard. Authors are vicious, emotionally conflicted monsters when they write, and unless they’re pumping out four shitty, cookie cutter books a year, they want their books to be award winning masterpieces from start to finish. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re capable of doing just that.

Here are a few bits we dislike about endings, in no particular order except metaphysically.

It’s better to Burn Out than Fade Away: Chuck Wendig swears even more than Noggy, and that’s saying something, so when he talks about the third and major climax of the book needing to hit Holy Goatfucker Shitbomb! magnitude we tend to agree. Too many endings fall short by not exceeding what came before, ramping down instead of up. The last thing a reader wants to find when they’ve clawed their way to the top of Mount Doom is that the eagles got there first and those idiot hobbits could have retired to the Prancing Pony for ale and weed.

John doesn’t Die in the End: You’ve set the stakes high. The moment arrives where everything is on the line and you pull the punch right before it lands, striking a glancing blow or missing all together. On purpose. WHY? A poet-musician has to die, or at least be brutally maimed, or your reader is going to break the spine and use the pages to line their neurotic parrot cage. If your book says Poet John has to die, you better bloody well kill the bastard.

Too much of a Known Thing: Noggy and Lola step out for ice cream. One thing leads to another and they’re racing down the blacktop, police cars and angry spouses and various aggrieved parties hot on their trail, a famous yet poor life choice thriller writer bouncing around in their trunk. And then? Off the preverbal cliff, nose diving two thousand feet into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The end of the road, both figuratively and literally. Everyone suspected it would end that way, hopefully with some inspired screaming.

Entertaining? You bet. Unexpected? Not at all. You, the reader, knew they were going to going to be eating fireball sandwich the moment they snatched the drooling lush from his opulent digs and roared away in their Pontiac Aztek. At least set the damn story in Gloucestershire with a subplot involving a cheese wheel race for god’s sake.

Overstaying your Welcome: While the climax and end of your story aren’t technically the same thing, we’re in the camp that feels they should be close together. If your heroine slays the dragon and gets the girl and then goes home and bakes cookies for a hundred pages, there better be something sinister about those cookies. Just because Tolkien got away with it at the end of Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean you can. After a world spanning adventure of epic proportions, he earned it (though the movie version destroyed a generation’s worth of bladders).

Best to leave the bar before they toss you out.

Ends that Aren’t Ends: While standalone books need hard, satisfying endings, the current genre writing trend is trilogies (which, contrary to the laws of mathematics, can comprise anywhere between two and fourteen books) where endings are often just transitions to the next episode. This is often extremely unsatisfying. Every book should stand on its own, with an ending that wraps up the story the book is telling, even if there is MORE ending at the absolute end. And don’t get us started on cliff hangers if there’s a better than average chance of abandoning your baby, or dying of old age before you write the next one (I’m talking to you George. And you, Lola…).

***

Call us negative Nellies if you must, but yeah, so many bad endings. Can we explain what makes a good one? Sure. Avoid writing a bad one. As we said, not easy, but honestly, not THAT difficult. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and every one of them has potential for a horrible, gruesome, unhappy ending. So get writing.

A Body of Work, Colleen Anderson

Colleen Anderson is one of those versatile authors who can write in any form and any genre and you know it’ll be solid, entertaining, and probably oddly disturbing, even if you’re not entirely sure how or why.

This collection from Black Shuck Books is case in point, sixteen short stories spanning the gamut of science fiction, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, and outright horror. As with any collection, some stories claw into your brain more than others, but I enjoyed them all, even the ones that left me thinking WTF.

My favourites? In no particular order: The Collector (I loved how the elemental magic worked, and I’m a sucker for soul reaping spirit stories), The Blade (who doesn’t enjoy a self serving intelligent sword?), A Book By It’s Cover (Virtual nirvanas are never what they seem and really, really be careful what you wish for, it might come true), Red (There’s ALWAYS a bigger predator in the forest), Season’s End/The Brown Woman (A pair of excellent Green Man tales), and The Book With No End (A little Indiana Jones, a lot ‘this is going in a very sinister direction and I’m not sure what direction that is.. exactly.’).

Great stuff – track down a copy, worm your way into your blanket tent, and prepare to be entertained.

4/5

The Author: Colleen Anderson

The Publisher: Black Shuck Books

Dreams of Lake Drukka & Exhumation, by Mike Thorn

If you’re looking for someone to deliver impactful short sharp shocks, you’ve come to the right place. Mike Thorn has crafted two delightfully dreadful stories demonstrating that family secrets are best kept buried and once you leave home, there’s no going back.

Dreams of Lake Drukka: Two sisters return to the scene of a sinister family mystery and learn the true price for success.

I loved the sister’s strained, yet connected, relationship with both each other and their father, and the atmosphere built up as they discover what’s waiting for them in that cold, grasping lake.

Exhumation: A man returns home after many years to attend a family funeral – and gets way more than he bargained for.

This one is creepy as hell and reminded me why the next funeral I’ll go to is probably my own. Really. Don’t go to funerals and talk to people you don’t remember. Don’t!

Mike impressed me with his fabulous collection Darkest Hours, and these two tales are a solid addition to his body of work. Well worth your time! (and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Short Sharp Shock’s series – great stuff)

5/5

About the Author: Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours.

His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep Podcast, DarkFuse, Unnerving MagazineTurn to Ash and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film StageThe Seventh RowBright Lights Film Journal and Vague Visages

He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. 

Publisher: Demain Publishing