Author Archives: Catherine Grant

Dominoes Wins a DRAWA!

We are excited and humbled to announce that Dominoes has won a Written Backwards Award, also known as a DRAWA. These awards are given by Michael Bailey, editor of Chiral Mad, and seek to “celebrate the recognition of a literary marvel,” which leaves our very own John Boden in some impressive company that includes Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Joe Hill.

As Bailey said in his announcement: “The following works were admired greatly, and can forever be considered literary marvels from this point onward.” Go to his blog for the full list of winners, as well as recipients of the Presence, Inspiration, and Voice DRAWA.

Congratulations, John Boden, on this recognition of your talents. We’d also like to share this award with illustrator Yannick Bouchard, who was the other half of Dominoes, with a creative vision that complimented John’s prose and made our “Little Horror Book” complete.

Dominoes can be purchased via Amazon or our webstore.

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Membrane

I came across the Dreadful Cafe website while looking for markets on Duotrope. The site is very shiny and well made and advertises that it is “a boutique press” and the editors “purveyors of fine, hand-crafted fiction.” My interest was piqued, so I solicited a reviewer’s copy of their first anthology, Membrane, edited by Rick Wayne.

I apologize, it isn’t an “anthology” but an “anthologie,” as the cover advertises. I raised an eyebrow at the avant-garde misspell, but pressed on. The art on the front was striking and kept me flipping through to the first story, “The Whiteface Plague,” by Paul Lorello, a tale of an alternate world where a “plague” of clowns has overrun humanity and created a set of very unique issues.

“Mechanical Cannibals,” by Aaron Renfro, is a dark science fiction short. What would humanity would be reduced to if everyone replaced their organic bodies for artificial ones—and then the manufacturer went out of business? Brian is trying desperately to find the right part so his wife can walk again, but it will cost him. What is the point of being immortal if spare parts are discontinued?

My favorite is another dark SF story, Danny Knestaut’s “The Last Hedonist.” Spuddy is the last human on earth and he is suffering from Huydak’s disorder, a plague created when humanity tries to make themselves immortal using nano technology. Despite the repeat theme of the cost of immortality, the descriptions in this short are breathtaking and artful. The main character of Spuddy is both amusing and sympathetic.

Membrane advertises on the back cover: “This book is not like other books. This book is different. It’s chock-full of amazing art and boundary-crossing, far-out fiction…” With this kind of promise upfront, I have to admit that this “anthologie” was not that mind-blowing. The rest of the stories were difficult for me to get into and suffered from very common writer pitfalls—not having a good hook, too much dialogue, too much exposition, not enough description for me to visualize anything. There were some enjoyable moments, but they were eclipsed by issues that should have been edited out.

The art was fun, and the “cover” art for each story was a nice addition, but the pieces chosen sometimes felt random and disjointed from the stories. In an anthology or a magazine the art should enhance the content within, not distract from it. Even the back cover clowns, while referencing “The Whiteface Plague,” threw me off because they were so different thematically from the front cover.

While this is a good first effort from The Dreadful Cafe, I don’t know if I’d pick up a copy of their next anthology. I don’t mind a publisher that toots their own horn, but they need to deliver as advertised, and I just don’t see enough “boundary-crossing, far-out fiction” in Membrane to draw in repeat customers, which confuses me. I know from working the Shock Totem slush that there is plenty of amazing fiction out there. I’d encourage Rick Wayne to dig a little deeper for the next installment.

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Blackbirds

I became a fan of Chuck Wendig after reading his book 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer. He has built a following online for having biting, hard-hitting advice on writing and the publishing industry. It is a tradition of mine to read the first book of anyone I take writing advice from, and then read a newer work to see how they improve over time. After reading Blackbirds, I’m very excited to tear into the copy of Under the Empyrean Sky that I purchased this Fall.

There are few antagonists who get to me like Miriam Black, the namesake of the series that starts with Blackbirds and continues on with Mockingbird and the newly released The Cormorant. Miriam is a complete kick in the balls—a foul mouthed, cigarette-smoking, booze-guzzling hitchhiker that is just looking for the next unfortunate person that will die and leave behind their cash and credit cards. I love her.

Don’t be mistaken, Miriam isn’t a murderer. She can see the time and circumstance of a person’s death, as long as she makes skin-to-skin contact. When she meets Louis Darling, she sees that within a month he will die while saying her name. Miriam might be tough as nails, but her soft spot for Louis will take her right in the path of his killers and, possibly, lead to her own death.

Blackbirds is on the shorter side and very quickly paced. If you’re looking for a long, sprawling narrative and complicated plot-points, this is not the right book for you. The action is not the focus of the book, but rather Miriam herself takes center stage, her growth and discovery the most engrossing conflict. Admittedly, the sequences where Miriam is interviewed are my least favorite, but are well written, and give Wendig the chance to really let Miriam show who she is and where she came from.

Wendig is an excellent writer, and that skill makes the prose a joy to read. His use of language and imagery is masterful and his characters breathe on the page, brought to life by humorously placed flashbacks, descriptions, and some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to dive into some more of his work, and there is a lot as he’s quite a prolific penmonkey.

The Miriam Black novels are available through Angry Robot. For more of Chuck Wendig’s work, some free short fiction, his advice on writing, and a kick-ass recipe for Pho, please visit terribleminds.com.

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Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu

When I read the title of the new novella by Mercedes M. Yardley, I itched to begin reading and find out what the two names meant and how the characters would find each other. “A tale of atomic love,” the cover promised, and that drew me in ever further.

Having read Yardley’s short story collection, Beautiful Sorrows, I thought Apocalyptic Montessa would be rich and sweet, like dense chocolate cake with a bitter, poisonous frosting. The opening was touching, a mother walking in a graveyard, naming her special child after a headstone that struck her—“Montessa.” Then the unborn baby grew up, and became a stripper named Ruby.

You’d think that’s where the sweetness stops, and to an extent, you’d be right. The beginning of this novella is heart-wrenching to read, although the pacing is so fast and engrossing that I had to force myself to put down my Kindle to do things like eat or sleep. Yardley’s use of language and imagery is unparalleled, and Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu brings that in spades, as well as a rhythm to the prose that kept me enraptured.

The characters of Montessa and Lulu are lovely, broken demons that both drew me in and repelled me at times. It takes true skill to make characters that do such terrible things sympathetic, and I tip my hat to that deft hand. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more tension, the sweetness returns, and as a reader, I felt a bit guilty at the joy I felt for the two star-crossed lovers. Every second of that conflict is delicious.

Pick up a copy of Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu for yourself. It is available through Ragnarok Publications.

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Support the Community

A push toward small, locally owned establishments has become more mainstream in the last five years. I support this movement, because the individuals behind small businesses are often passionate, hardworking people that by default enrich the community around them.

This statement couldn’t be more true for Patty Cryan, owner of Annie’s Book Stop of Worchester. She has owned the book store for the past three years and in that time has become a well-loved member of the literary community. Her support of local authors is stalwart and her dedication toward horror writers specifically deserves mention.

Due to unforeseen medical expenses, Patty needs help from her community, our community. Please consider donating toward an establishment and a business owner who has so passionately supported those around her. Even a small amount would help.

If you cannot donate, please share this post with those who can. There are four days left of the fundraiser, and this Totemite would love to see Patty reach her goal.

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Staff Spotlight: The Exquisite Death Audiobook

Several Totemites make an appearance in the Exquisite Death audiobook, which was released by In Ear Entertainment on August 13, 2013.

The book features “Ray the Vampire” and “The Exquisite Beauty of Death” by Mercedes M. Yardley, Shock Totem staff member and contributor to Shock Totem #1.

Cate Gardner, featured in Shock Totem #2, is represented by “Opheliac” and “Reflective Curve of a Potion Bottle.”

Also included is “The Plumber,” by Anthony J. Rapino (interviewed here on the Shock Totem blog) and Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s “Chester” and Todd Keisling’s “Radio Free Nowhere” complete the collection.

What’s even better? Using the code TearsOfBlood will get you 15% off the purchase price, making the audiobook less than $5.

Click here to purchase in GBP (£). 
Click here to purchase in USD ($).
Click here to purchase in Euro (€).

Enjoy.

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Sunday Digs: On Last Words, Coven Trailers, and Halloween Horror Nights

Here are a handful of goodies from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

The State of Texas has been apparently saving the last words of every death row inmate since 1982. Most claimed innocence, apologized to their victim’s families or thanked their loved ones for years of happiness and good memories. Others were not so poignant—such as a 1999 inmate that said, “Adios amigos,” before asking to be taken away.

I love the American Horror Story trailers. They’re almost creepier than the actual show.

Nick Carter is making a horror movie. Before you go Google who this new director is, I will confirm that it is boy band Nick Carter, from Backstreet Boys. I would love to see some reactions on this.

If you’re in the Orlando, Florida or Los Angeles, California area, pop into Universal Studios for the Halloween Horror Nights from September 20th–November 2nd. The park will feature haunted houses, mazes, street attractions, and shows from films like American Werewolf in London, Cabin in the Woods, and Evil Dead.

There is a movie adaptation of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in the works. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Then I found out today that Universal is courting Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to screenwrite. I geeked out so hard I nearly passed out.

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Resurrecting the Backlist: The Dead Book LIVES!

As a reader, the first time I came across a new edition of a backlist book was Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. First published in 1983, it was full of wonderfully outdated references that, as an 80s child, I felt right at home with. In 2003, Duane re-released the series under a “New Millenium Edition,” complete with bonus material and updated technology like cell phones. I didn’t understand it, so I dismissed it as a marketing gimmick.

My second exposure to the subject of backlist books was as a writer this past July at Necon. I attended a panel moderated by Lynne Hansen, where she, Christopher Golden, Lori Perkins, Heather Graham, and John Douglas discussed the act of “resurrecting” the backlist and general marketing advice for one’s writing. The panel not only interested me as a writer, but also as a reader. Established authors dusting off their “old” novels creates a library of undiscovered stories released either before I was old enough to read them, like Young Wizards, or that just escaped my attention.

Lynne Hansen, owner at Lynne Hansen Designs, specializes in “book covers that tell a story” and helping authors resurrect their backlist titles. Her clients include Christopher Golden, Amber Benson, James A. Moore, Owl Goingback, Jeff Strand, and Rick Hautala. When I asked Lynne about the top benefit for an author to look at their backlist, her answer echoed my own excitement as a reader: “When a fan discovers you for the first time, you hope that they’ll love your work so much that they’ll want to read your other books. The more books you have in print, the more they’ll have to love.”

In the past few years, many veteran authors are discovering that they are sitting on a gold mine of backlist material. Of course, the reason for books to go out of print is that bookstores can’t carry new releases, classics, and backlist titles in brick-and-mortar stores. However, with the emergence of e-books and the Amazon marketplace, space is no longer an obstacle. Many midlist authors are hoping to again have the luxury of cultivating a fan base without the insane pressure to either hit decent sales numbers or see their books out of print.

Throwing books out of print after a short sales period is a publishing practice that pushed veteran authors like Holly Lisle over the edge in favor of self-publishing their work. On her site, Lisle echoes the sentiments of many authors. “Now,” she says, “frontlist is all that matters, backlist dies, and writing fiction for a living has become not building a career but playing the lottery.”

However, Amazon has kept up with it’s reputation for driving change in the industry and has become the best place to find “new” backlist titles. “I don’t think readers look for re-released titles the same way they look for discount e-books,” said Hansen. Sites like Amazon ensure that multiple editions, “paperback, hardcover, audiobook, etc., are all linked together,” which has been a benefit to authors and a convenience to consumers.

Hansen is passionate about her work, not just for her clients but for readers who “say they’ve wanted to read a book for years but could never find it, and they just downloaded the e-book. And I’ve heard folks say they’re re-reading a book, or even an entire series, now that it’s available electronically. That’s a nice bonus.” As a reader, I appreciate Hansen’s dedication. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new author that has a vast catalog that can be ordered with the click of a button.

Of course, one of the largest benefits to authors using a print-on-demand (POD) service like Amazon and Createspace is “you don’t have to print 10,000 books and store them in your garage just to get an affordable per-copy rate. Companies like Smashwords make it easy for you to upload a single Microsoft Word document and get your e-book distributed to a gazillion different retailers.” As Hansen also mentioned, it isn’t so much the format of the e-book that has made maintaining a backlist possible again, but rather the affordability of the process and the accessibility of those titles to readers.

I’ve heard varied arguments for or against self-publishing. There is an impression that “indie pub” has created a market flooded with unedited first drafts, thrown up for public consumption by amateur writers that are not doing their homework, which is making good writers look bad. Hansen has a much different view: “People like to think that self-publishing is The Great Leveler, but it’s not. Good books still rise to the top and bad books still (generally) fall into obscurity. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there are also a lot more challenges, especially when you’re faced with the prospect of having to do all the production work yourself.”

Fortunately for readers, there is a level of professionalism and dedication that an established author possesses to do it right. The writer seeking to resurrect their backlist has intense work ahead of them in order to re-launch and market their title, which is where Hansen comes in. “If your car breaks, you don’t pop the hood and start checking wires unless you have those skills.” Authors are great at writing books, but a lot more goes into releasing a backlist title for a new market. Obtaining the needed components to resurrect a backlist title take time and energy. This energy is better spent doing the most important task to a writer—actually writing.

“That being said, reissuing a book isn’t as simple as pulling up the Microsoft Word document and adding a copyright page,” said Hansen. “You need to make certain you have the final, edited version of the manuscript and have incorporated any line edits that came from the original publisher. You need the dedication, introduction, acknowledgments, afterword, bio, and links to your online presences.”

Hansen also suggests hiring a cover artist. “You want your name and title crisp and readable, and an image that is striking when it’s small. Most importantly, your book cover needs to resonate with the readers of your genre. If it’s a thriller, it needs to look like a thriller, not like a horror novel. You need a designer who understands marketing, because ultimately, your book cover and blurb are the best marketing tools in your arsenal.”

One difficulty Hansen has faced with marketing her client’s backlist books is “they’re not new books. They’ve already been reviewed and promoted and odds are that your die-hard fans have already read them.” Even authors with an established platform would still need to promote their backlist to a new audience. This might be as easy as appealing to a new generation of fans or hitting the market with the right book at the right time, such as Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala’s Body of Evidence thriller series, featuring young protagonist Jenna Blake.

“In today’s marketplace, the Jenna Blake books would be categorized as ‘new adult’ and is much more likely to be read by adults than by teens. It’s a category that didn’t even exist when the books were being written. For the re-issues, I designed covers that were more familiar to thriller readers than to young adult readers, and we tweaked marketing descriptions to reflect the new focus. It’s really helped the entire series reach many more readers.”

One way that authors can promote their backlist titles might seem obvious: “Backlist books are the gravy, not the meat,” said Hansen. “The best way to promote an old book is to write new ones.”

Personally, I’ve snapped up quite a few backlist titles that were released on Amazon in the past year, including Strangewood by Christopher Golden and The Wicked by James Newman, the latter released by Shock Totem in May of 2012. I was also excited to find Closed Circle Publications, a site created by award-winning sci-fi and fantasy authors C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to market their backlist titles.

Keep an eye out for the above authors and their amazing, high-quality re-releases coming to an Internet near you. I personally will continue to forgo the trip to Barnes & Noble (which I’ve never been a fan of, honestly) in favor of staying at home with a beer, or a coffee if it’s early enough, and scouring Amazon and Google in search of new backlist titles from veteran authors. So far, my purchases have been more than worth it and have exposed me to stories that would have otherwise gone unexplored.

If any Shock Totem readers have questions about specific backlist projects, please e-mail Lynne Hansen or visit her website for further information.

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Sunday Digs: Dracula’s House for Sale, Tattoos, and Cthulhu for Children

A country home in the UK, used as a film set for the 1958 Dracula starring Christopher Lee, is now on sale. The 118 bedroom mansion was also used as Frank N Furter’s castle in Rocky Horror Picture Show and several Hammer Films due to its close proximity to the studio.

Looking to get in shape this summer? Use the Zombies, Run! app for the extra motivation. Convince yourself that hundreds of lives are at risk from an undead horde and the energy to run an extra mile is just there. It’s better than caffeine.

This time of year seems to get people antsy for new ink. Here’s a lovely gallery of scifi/fantasy/horror themed tattoos. My favorite has to be the zombie Princess Leia.

Artist R.J. Ivankovich, also known as “DrFaustusAU” on DeviantArt, has combined an H.P. Lovecraft classic and illustrations eerily similar to favorite Dr. Seuss picture books to create The Call of Cthulhu—for Beginning Readers.

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Warm Bodies In the Flesh

Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, was a breakthrough in 2011, a beautifully written genre-bending horror romance about an undead named “R” who falls in love with a living girl, Julie, after he eats her boyfriend’s brain. He even saves her from being devoured by his friends. So sweet and considerate, right? I was intrigued by the premise and bought a copy on Kindle, expecting a fluffy, easy read. Instead, I found a complex love story from a very unconventional point of view. What impressed me immediately was Marion’s prose and the fluid skill he used to give R a voice that many, dead or undead, could sympathize with.

The move adaptation last year opened to an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After loving the book so completely I went into the theater with a bowl of popcorn and a cup of skepticism, expecting watered down emotions and overblown special effects. The trailer looked good, but don’t the trailers always look good? I was pleasantly surprised that Jonathan Levine stayed true to the novel, with help from Marion, and preserved the innocent, Edward Scissorhands-like persona of R and his journey to connect with Julie and become human again.

This past month, advertisements began running every fifteen minutes for a new BBC America miniseries, In the Flesh, from debut creator and writer Dominic Mitchell. The first episode premieres tonight, June 6th, which happens to be two days after the DVD release of Warm Bodies. Some have said that BBC is attempting to imitate Marion’s romantic tale of undead meets girl, but from the clips I’ve been able to watch, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although, without it’s predecessor, I doubt a zombie drama could have been greenlit. What the BBC has done, like Marion, is use an overdone horror trope with a fresh twist to tell a meaningful story with new perspective.

The trailers and sneak-peaks from BBC reveal a much starker zombie apocalypse than Warm Bodies, although both divert attention from the traditional monsters and create villains from apathy, prejudice and ignorance. The stories don’t focus on humanity surviving among monsters, but instead take the more complex approach of humanizing the traditional villain and exploring the darker side of the human condition. In these stories, the “rotter” can be the good guy. Although zombies in both periodically eat their neighbors, they feel conflicted about it, and doesn’t that count for something?

The undead of In the Flesh, called PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers, could be a metaphor for the mentally ill or any other group with societal stigma that are feared and alienated. Two characters, Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) and Rick Macy (David Walmsley), are not only dealing with PDS prejudice from their community, but are exploring their connection to one another and struggling with the possibility of additional rejection from their parents and friends. They’re “partially deceased” and coming to terms with their own sexuality, a dual conflict which will make for multi-layered storytelling. Without going into each one, most of the characters of In the Flesh, both human and PDS sufferer, are equally as complex and compelling.

Although Isaac Marion has said he is not a horror writer and will not return to the genre, if the BBC series becomes even a moderate success, the market for similar zombie fiction can only grow exponentially, especially coupled with ratings boon The Walking Dead. However, I’m burnt out on the traditional zombie tale offered by Frank Darabont and company, and will be supporting In the Flesh by watching it tonight, June 6th, on BBC America at 10PM EST/9PM CST.

If you don’t have cable and can’t join, go pick up a copy of Warm Bodies, out on DVD as of June 4th.

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