Guest Blog: Lee Thompson Discusses Ways to Measure Your Success (Plus a Giveaway)

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

Welcome to Lee Thompson’s A Beautiful Madness blog tour!

This stop is a special one since I love Shock Totem magazine and the people who have made it such a monumental success, which strangely enough is what this post is about. They’re beautiful people over at ST, and so are the stories they publish, and the covers that grace their issues.

Since I’ve been in two issues, in addition to one person winning a paperback copy of my novel, I’ll also be giving away two copies of Shock Totem! Issue #4, which featured my story “Beneath the Weeping Willow,” and issue #6, where I have a story called “The River” and was interviewed by K. Allen Wood (the publisher and sexy beast). Very neat, yes? To win, make sure you leave a comment and share the link on Shock Totem’s website, lovelies.

(Note: We will also be adding a hardcover copy (19 of 150) of Lee’s limited edition Delirium Books novella Down Here in the Dark.)

Ways to Measure Your Success (Expect and Accept Change)

There’s not much worse than for five years to go by and for you to look back over those years and feel that nothing has changed. Especially since it’s our responsibility to learn, adapt, and change things. No one else makes our choices for us once we’re an adult. But did you know what you wanted back then? Did you have a clear, specific goal? Did you have steps to carry yourself to that goal, or did you keep doing the things you were doing and expect to conjure such success from thin air?

If so, you’re not alone. But where have you succeeded? There has to be some area, doesn’t there? Look deep, look back, be objective. If you haven’t made strides, it might be time to start from scratch and rethink the way you’re approaching your writing career. You’re going to have to change for the better.

Expecting to succeed—to sell your first novel or first pro short story, or to get interviewed in the paper, or whatever—without studying the craft and just winging it, is like a guy swinging a golf club and expecting to be a pro golfer in five years. He can be doing a dozen things wrong in his swing and practice those wrong techniques ten thousand times, but only hurting himself.

A great way to measure your success is to pay a pro for feedback. (Tom Piccirilli offers an editing service.) Look at their feedback and go through it one point at a time, through your whole book, looking for the places they’ve marked as red flags and learn to understand why those things hurt your story instead of help it.

You can measure your success by comparing yourself to your peers. But it’s a trap filled with frustration. They can only write what they write and you can only write what you write. You might be a better networker but they might write better stories, or vice versa. They might be getting what appears constant praise while you can barely get someone to review your first novel. They might be single like me and have very few distractions while you might have a job and a family to dole out time and energy. There are too many variables, and comparing yourself to your peers isn’t very healthy. If you find yourself in this trap, it wouldn’t hurt to slap some sense into yourself.

You can measure your success by reviews. Reviewers read a lot of books so they can usually spot big flaws and what doesn’t work for them pretty quickly. They’re also passionate about the genre they’re reviewing. I like measuring my success this way. If someone loves reading they’re going to offer something useful I can use to improve.

You can measure your success by word count. I’ve never worried about this, but it seems to be a popular thing among writers. It seems a double-edged sword, though, telling yourself you have to hit a certain number, shifting, at least in the back of your mind, from writing a quality story to worrying about how many individual words you finished today. And then there is a lot of guilt in this approach too. I’ve seen tons of writers cry and beat themselves up because they fell behind on their word count that day or week or month. It’s a distraction, if you ask me, that doesn’t have many benefits. If you ignore the word count altogether and just write the story with as much passion and skill as you can, it will end up whatever length it needs to be.

You can measure your success by the project. Each novel you write will be different in critical ways. I like to experiment and break rules. When I began brainstorming A Beautiful Madness I knew I was going to break one of the big rules, and I did it, and knew it would and did work. The challenge each novel creates is fun to face. If you’re testing yourself on each individual story, to try new characters, new storylines, new ways to manage the POV shifts, and searching your heart for the little details that make the story familiar but fresh, there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

You can measure success by hitting deadlines. I like to set myself a deadline and have been doing so for years. (You’ll have to start doing that to be a professional writer, so why not start now?) I usually take a week to brainstorm the characters and the major beats of the novel and then write down the date I want to finish the first draft. Normally I have two deadlines. I set a high goal of six weeks. And then I set a more relaxed deadline of three months. Usually I hit somewhere around two months for a first draft but have finished some novels in two weeks. They’re all different.

You can measure success by copies sold. I’m setting a goal of moving 10,000 copies of A Beautiful Madness in the first year of its release, mostly because I want to gain a hefty new fan base and secure myself a position as a Crime writer to go to for a certain type of story.

With three years of publishing history, I can tell you that book sales spike and plummet if you have a small audience (there will be more on this in another guest post). Since there are such peaks and valleys, I’m shooting for the yearly goal of copies moved instead of a monthly one. If I’m six months into it and have only sold a quarter of what I want to get out there in readers’ hands, then I will have to get creative and up my game to hit my goal. It’s nice motivation. I think it’s doable too, with the publisher I have, and the fans I’ve gained over the last three years. And since A Beautiful Madness is my first Crime novel, it will always have a special place in my heart no matter how it’s received.

You can measure success by reader feedback. I’ve got awesome fans. They’re so warm and intelligent and funny. I wouldn’t move any copies if it wasn’t for them and my publisher because I’d rather be writing and reading than spending time online trying to pimp myself. A lot of them have become friends over the last three years too, although at one time they were complete strangers, opening one of my novels or novellas for the first time. It’s pretty cool. I measure my success in this way a lot, because it’s tangible, and if you ever feel down there are always people there shooting you an email saying they just finished your book and loved it and recommended it to their friends. They thank you, which is weird, but I get it because every time I read a great book I want to thank the author for taking the time to write it too.

You can measure success by professional feedback. I was fortunate the last four years to receive feedback from professional editors and agents and writers. I think it was important for me to have those people tell me I had talent and imagination and energy, but needed to work on characterization. Listening to them is what helped me start selling fiction.

You can adapt an attitude of I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Readers, editors, reviewers, some will love your work, some will hate it, some will never be more than lukewarm about it. You can just write for yourself if you want, like you probably did when you first started and you were thrilled by simply writing and finishing something. There’s no pressure in that. And it’s your life. Do what you want, what you feel is right, for you and your work.

How do you measure your success?

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Kindle): http://amzn.com/B00K36ITGS

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Paperback): http://amzn.com/1940544297

Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A Beautiful Madness (August 2014), It’s Only Death (January 2015), and With Fury in Hand (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.

Visit Lee’s website to discover more.

There will also be a grand prize at the end of the tour where one winner will receive A Beautiful Madness and four other DarkFuse novels in Kindle format! Simply leave a comment on this blog and share the link.

Thanks to those who participate.

Happy Reading,
Lee

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Guest Blog, New Releases, On Writing, Recommended Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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.

Posted in Alumni News, Staff News, Staff Spotlight | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congratulations, Damien Angelica Walters!

The TOC for the Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1, edited by Michael Kelly and Laird Barron, has been released. We’re very proud to announce that Damien Angelica Walters’ “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” from Shock Totem #7 made the final cut. Well deserved indeed.

So a huge congratulations, Damien!

And though hers is the only Shock Totem tale included, she is not the only Shock Totem author. Also appearing will be A.C. Wise (Shock Totem #4) and Kristi DeMeester (Shock Totem #7). Congrats to you both, as well!

Here is the full TOC:

* “Success” by Michael Blumlein, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov./Dec.
* “Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester, Shimmer #17
* “A Terror” by Jeffrey Ford, Tor.com, July.
* “The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass” by John R. Fultz, Fungi #21
* “A Cavern of Redbrick” by Richard Gavin, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
* “The Krakatoan” by Maria Dahvana Headley, Nightmare Magazine/The Lowest Heaven, July.
* “Bor Urus” by John Langan, Shadow’s Edge
* “Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
* “Eyes Exchange Bank” by Scott Nicolay, The Grimscribe’s Puppets
* “A Quest of Dream” by W.H. Pugmire, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley
* “(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror” by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Lovecraft eZine #28
* “Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron” by A.C. Wise, Ideomancer Vol. 12 Issue 2
* “The Year of the Rat” by Chen Quifan, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August.
* “Fox into Lady” by Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Darkscapes
* “Olimpia’s Ghost” by Sofia Samatar, Phantom Drift #3
* “The Nineteenth Step” by Simon Strantzas, Shadows Edge
* “The Girl in the Blue Coat” by Anna Taborska, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol. 1
* “In Limbo” by Jeffrey Thomas, Worship the Night Ranger“Moonstruck” by Karen Tidbeck, Shadows & Tall Trees #5
* “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks” by Paul Tremblay, Bourbon Penn #8
* “No Breather in the World But Thee” by Jeff VanderMeer, Nightmare Magazine, March.
* “Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?” by Damien Angelica Walters, Shock Totem #7.

As you can see, a brilliant lineup! Congrats again, ladies! And to everyone else who made the final cut, of course. =)

You can read more about this collection here.

Posted in Alumni News, New Releases, Recommended Reading, Sales | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And the January 2014 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is…

J. Kyle Turner

Kyle won with his story “Everybody Needs.” And on the one-year anniversary of his last First Place win!

The prompt for this month’s contest was this discovery of century-old negatives found in the Antarctic. For this contest, I asked the authors to tell us about one or more negatives from the past that, when found in present time, reveal something much more sinister. Though I asked that the setting be a “wintry” one, they were not required to set their tale in the Antarctic or 100 years in the past.

Second Place winner was Shock Totem #7 author Amberle L. Husbands, and Third Place went to Aimee Blume. Kyle’s story will now go into the running for the overall winner for 2014, to be determined later this year.

So a big congratulations to all the winners!

Posted in Alumni News, Contests, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

And the September 2013 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is…

John Guzman

John won with his story “Scene Stealers.” He previously won our May 2012 contest. That story, “Magnolia’s Prayer,” was then chosen as the overall winner for the year and was published in Shock Totem #6.

The prompt for this month’s contest was the following image:

The rules were simple: What is it for? Where does it lead to? What’s it’s like on the other side? Who—or what—is over there at the end of the line? Because obviously this isn’t a normal roller coaster.

Guzman had a very decisive win, but let’s not forget Second Place winner Paul Edmonds, who won with his story “My Father’s Construction.” And Michael Wehunt placed once again, with “Always Hold Your Loved Ones Close.” This is Michael’s eighth top three finish in nine contests, three of which placed first.

John’s story, plus this year’s four previous winning stories, will be judged by a neutral reader (someone who is not on the staff and has not participated in any this year’s previous contests), and the story he or she chooses will be published in issue #8!

So a big congratulations to all the winners throughout 2013!

Posted in Alumni News, Contests, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Alumni News, Market News, Staff News, Staff Spotlight | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wolves and Witches: A Fairy Tale Collection

I’m a sucker for fairy tales. We all know that. But I’m not particularly impressed by the fiercely sanitized, Disney-esque fairytales of today. I like the original ones. Grimm and Anderson and fairly dripping with darkness. The wolf gets hacked open by an axe in order to release Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. Blackbeard keeps all of his dead wives behind a special door. Cinderella’s sisters chop off pieces of their feet in order to fit into the glass/fur/metal slipper. This is the true essence of a fairytale.

So imagine my joy when I picked up Wolves and Witches: A Fairy Tale Collection, a wonderfully dark collection that eschews the frilly Princess fairy tales that I’ve come to expect. Amanda C. Davis, author of “Drift” from Shock Totem #3, and Megan Engelhardt have put together a book of appropriately whimsical and sorrowful fairy tales.

It’s a diverse collection, full of poems, different retold fairy tales, and the occasional story told in the second-person. Even two retellings of the same story, “Rumpelstiltskin,” had clever twists to them and ended up completely different from the original and from each other. One filled me with hope, and the other with delightful despair.

Many of the tales are written as if they were being told to the reader, and I found this to be very effective. The language is beautiful and simple. The writing is sometimes light and breathy, but often has a solid, almost grim cadence to it. This is something that I would definitely read aloud to somebody else.

My favorite of all was “A Letter Concerning Shoes,” which is written by a poor cobbler for one of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Full of charm and melancholy we see her story from his point of view. There is a clever tie-in at the end that links this cobbler to other fairy tales.

Wolves and Witches was an absolutely delightful read, and I look forward to seeing other works from the authors.

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fangoria Reviews Shock Totem #6

John Skipp has reviewed Shock Totem #6 on Fangoria’s website.


Shhh…listen!

“[Jack] Ketchum and I are in firm agreement that Shock Totem is living proof that we’re in a golden age when it comes to the short horror story. Some of the best stories ever written are being written right now.”

To read the full review, click here. Have you picked up your copy yet?

Posted in Alumni News, Magazine Reviews, Reviews, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Metalnomicon: James Newman

We here at Shock Totem HQ are big fans of Decibel Magazine, and we’ve been very privileged to have a fan in one of their writers.

Shawn Macomber has featured Shock Totem on the Deciblog in the past, and just recently he invited James Newman to stop by and drop some knowledge on writing and music for his Tales from the Metalnomicon feature.

Looking for inspiration? Click here.

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Music, On Writing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One of Our Own Journeys North

We’re very proud to share that our great friend Robert J. Duperre, who also occasionally writes for Shock Totem, has just signed a three-book deal 47North, Amazon’s publishing imprint. The deal is for three books, all to be co-written with fantasy author David Dalglish.

The first book, Dawn of Swords, will be released in January 2014, with Wrath of Lions and Blood of Gods to follow.

Yes, these are fantasy novels, but we read widely here at Shock Totem HQ and are very much looking forward to these books. And you should as well.

If you want to sample some of Duperre’s writing and would rather something a bit closer to horror, check out his four-book Rift series—The Fall, Dead of Winter, Death Springs Eternal, and The Summer Sun. If you don’t want individual books, buy the entire series as a very affordable digital omnibus.

You can also check out The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair, which not only features three stories by Duperre, but also a story by Mercedes M. Yardley and yours truly.

You can read more about this deal on Duperre’s blog, The Journal of Always.

Posted in Alumni News, Staff News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment