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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Discussion: Input Wanted

I have a problem with prescience: to me, it’s always been useless. There are days it seems as if I’m condemned to live in the future I envisioned, with absolutely no hope of changing its course.

For example, today, I’m going to get all self-referential and—well, reference myself, or more specifically, this interview I did with Lynne Jamneck for Strange Horizons more than 13 years ago.

Lynne Jamneck: What's your opinion on the current state of SF writing?

Bruce Bethke: I believe you've actually asked at least three questions here. In terms of pure writing, the current state is better than it's ever been before. Compare any current issue of any major magazine to the clunky prose produced by the Grand Masters during the Golden Age or the psychotic fugues whipped out by the Young Turks during the New Wave, and I think you'll agree that for sheer literary quality, there are more highly skilled writers working now than ever before.

In terms of the market, on the other hand, things right now are as bad as I've ever seen in my adult life. From what I've read, you'd have to go back to around 1960 to find a time when the paying market for new SF was as tough.

What this means for writers, then, is that there are a lot of very talented people doing a lot of extremely good work, and publishing it in some pretty marginal venues. It's a difficult time to be trying to earn your living as a professional science fiction writer.

Lynne Jamneck: Are you seeing any interesting avenues in which the genre finds itself expanding?

Bruce Bethke: I think it's a mistake to talk about "the genre" as if it were a monolith. There may have been a time when it was possible for a dedicated fan to read a good sampling of all the new SF being published, but that time—if it ever really was—was long ago. What we've been going through for at least the last 30 years has been a sort of literary cladogenesis, with "the genre" fragmenting into dozens of related but distinct daughter-genres and microgenres.

The interesting part of this is that, between print-on-demand publishing, e-publishing, web publishing, and all the other emerging technologies, it's now at least semipractical to publish fiction that has no hope of ever appealing to a mass audience. If you wanted to, say, launch an e-zine devoted exclusively to publishing stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama, you could do it, and do a very professional-looking job of it. Not only that, but thanks to the Internet, you would actually stand a pretty fair chance of reaching the 500 people in the world who want to read nothing but stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama. So there's more fiction being published than ever before.

The downside for the writer, though, is that there's no money in it. The general interest magazines appear to be following the general interest anthologies into extinction, and extreme specialization and small-niche marketing seem to be the shape of things to come. Readers now have unprecedented power to find only exactly the types of fiction they want to read, without risk of accidental exposure to anything else. I suppose they've always had this power—I can think of entire years when I subscribed to Asimov's and only read two or three stories in each issue—but at least with a general interest magazine, there was always the possibility that after you'd read the Michael Swanwick and Lucius Shepard stories, you might take a chance on Karen Joy Fowler.

But this trend towards extreme narrowcasting—it's both fascinating and disturbing. When the reader can exercise such fine control over the input he receives, how does a writer crack through that protective shell?

Well? Your comments, observations, and/or suggestions? The lines are now open. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

BREAKING NEWS: Disney to Remake Outlaw King!

Just kidding. You can resume breathing. Yes, we did watch Outlaw King this weekend: my wife, because she finds Chris Pine to be pleasing eye-candy, and me—actually, she kind of dragged me into watching it. I’m already quite familiar with the story. Robert the Bruce is a distant ancestor, after all. It was not by accident that my Dad named my older brother Robert, and me... Well, you know.

But once I started watching, I did get thoroughly hooked by the story, and I really enjoyed this movie. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers actually made a significant effort to get the history right, and did not make the traditional Hollywood botch of the thing.

Which got me thinking: what if...

Hence today’s gedankenexperiment*: what if, say, Disney had gotten hold of this property? How would it have been different? Obviously, the first place to start would have been by casting Idris Elba as the Black Douglas, and then giving Queen Elizabeth a big boss-fight duel with the Prince of Wales atop the battlements of Berwick Castle. But what other horrible things would they have done to it, in order to make it a proper Hollywood movie?

The lines are open. Let the conversation begin.

* gedankenexperiment: German for, “no funding available”

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 2018

A century ago today, the guns on the Western Front fell silent, and “the war to end all wars” came to an official close. That wasn’t exactly what really happened, of course: on the Eastern Front, the Great War segued into the Russian Revolution, followed by the Polish-Soviet War and then the Russian Civil War. On the Greco-Turkish front, the fighting continued until 1922, and in a sense the world today is still dealing with the fallout from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire then. If you read German sources, you’ll learn that the German military leadership at the time considered the 11/11/18 Armistice merely an opportunity to fall back, rest, reorganize, re-equip, and get ready for the next war with France.

But never mind that now. Let’s accept that on November 11, 1918, “the war to end all wars” officially came to an end. The older I get, the more poignant this anniversary seems to become to me, while at the same time the more horribly sardonic H. G. Wells’ 1914 propaganda phrase—yes, H. G. Wells, not Woodrow Wilson, coined the expression, “the war to end war”—becomes as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Friday Challenge: 11/09/2018 Edition

Posting on Saturday morning, because to be honest, by the time I got done with all the work that absolutely needed to be done by E.O.B. Friday, I just wanted to relax, enjoy dinner, and then kick back with a glass of wine and watch Incredibles 2.

Good movie, by the way. If you enjoyed The Incredibles, this is one of those rare sequels that picks up from where the first one left off and actually improves on it. If you’re overloaded on Marvel superhero movies, then you really need to watch Incredibles 2, to remind yourself that superhero movies can actually still be fun once in a while.

Right. This column is supposed to be about the new Friday Challenge. Back on topic, then.

Being capable of learning from experience, we’ve decided to change things up a bit this time out. First off, the challenge this time is to write a funny flash-fiction story—longer, this time; you can go up to 500 words if you must, although you should probably try to keep it under 250, and if you can do it in 100 words, that’s fantastic—about something Thanksgiving holiday related.*

Friday, November 9, 2018

Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest: AND THE WINNER IS...

After taking an entire week longer than originally planned to reach a decision, and after doing my best to pawn the responsibility off on someone else recruit celebrity judges to help guide our decision-making, I am delighted to announce two things:

1. That after a surprising amount of debate, we finally have settled on a clear winner for the Bad Imitation Lovecraft Friday Challenge, and

2. That doing the Friday Challenge one more time turned out to be fun, so we’re going to repeat it and issue a new challenge later today.

Before we do so, though, I’d like to direct your attention one more time to the entries we received and the readers’ comments thereon: contest entries and comments. As you consider the entries and read the comments, please remember that the Friday Challenge is both a penny-ante writing contest and an audience participation feature. You need not have submitted an entry in order to read and comment on the entries.

Are we all clear on that? Good. Then, in the thoughtful, considered, and unappealable decision of the judges, the top entries are, in win, place, and show order:

Thursday, November 8, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Nights Over Ganymede,” by Victoria Feistner

Three days of riots.

Three days of burning, coughing gutter-smoke, air-hoarding. Watching gauges on tanks like it’s a bartender pouring your first legal drink. Three days of gunfire, leaping at shadows, holding your breath while the god Jupiter stares down on us.

Jupiter doesn’t care.

Half the time I want to be out there with them, shouting and throwing trash from the barricades. Half the time I’m holed up in my cube, table against the door. Half the time it’s just normal life, and the three halves make as much sense as anything else these days.

The king has to die before the new king can rise; I’ve read history and seen the movie, but living it is another thing all together.

SHOWCASE: “The Last Interview,” by Chris Dean

The man’s face is gone, shredded and pasted into white mosaic. His eyes are blue-pink with despair as he strolls with arms jouncing into my office. He has on the ugliest affable smile I have ever witnessed. It is a puerile, disturbing act, this bravado. “May I?” His tone is perfectly suited. He may, I gesture, and he is careful to place himself into the chair in the most correct manner possible.

He portrays himself as outgoing, dependable, forthright, and many things. Unctuous, sycophantic, and obsequious, that’s what I’m hearing. A talker, this one. The chatter becomes a buzz and his hopping pink mouth a blur. His voice begins slicing and whining like mad. He knows I’m not listening. The festering desperation inside him is starting to spill out.

We both know that he’s begging for his life. For independence. That’s what a job is in the 22nd century and you can’t drive, get credit, or have children without one. I quite literally hold this young man’s future in my palm.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Night Shift,” by David Hann

Rick Clayton wiped the sweat off his brow. It was after eight in the evening, the factory doors were open to the night air, but it was still in the mid 90s. Rick hated July. Rick, to be fair, hated a lot of things. Right now it was humidity, heat, and the weight of the boxes he was shifting that dominated his thoughts, but given time he could think of a great many other things he hated.

“I hate this job,” he said.

“You always say that,” replied Paul Matthew, hefting another box onto the pallet, and sliding it into the correct position. “Next time I’ll let you take the pallet and cling-wrap it. Just for the variety.”

“Why do we have to do this crap anyway?” Rick asked. “Surely machines could do this.”

“Maybe,” said Kari Morris, the other worker packing the pallet with them, “but machines cost more than we do. Besides, folks like us, what sort of job are we going to get if not in a factory? How are we gonna get the money to buy stuff?”

“She’s got you there, man,” said Paul, easing the pallet truck under the pallet before flicking the switch to raise it. “I’m taking this outside to the wrapper. At least it’s a little cooler out there.”

He gently eased the pallet out the door.

“Bet he stops for a smoke,” growled Rick, grabbing a pallet and placing it beside the packing line as Kari picked up the next box and started the bottom layer of the pallet.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Re the Bad Imitation Lovecraft Challenge

As of the Saturday deadline, we’d received six viable entries for the Bad Imitation Lovecraft challenge. Another entry was disqualified for exceeding the 100-word limit—by a factor of 40X, which in itself is impressive overachievement—and as for the Lovecraft limerick we received...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Hunter’s Moon,” by Edward Ahern

“You headed out tonight, Otis?”

“Got to. Clear sky, full moon. None better.”

“Maybe not. Tom Sizemore went out two year ago, never come back.”

“Tommy was a drunk.”

Otis reached up to the gun rack and lifted off a Savage lever action .308. He was forty years old, and the gun was a lot older than he was. As he mounted a flashlight atop the barrel, he talked to it. “All right, buddy, let’s go jack a deer.”

Marlou knew better but tried again. “Pond’s froze over already, Otis. Wait till it warms up tomorrow morning.”

“And the wardens have finished their coffee. You know better. Deer moving now, enough light to spot ‘em. I’ll hunt from my perch, they’ll never see me till they get shined.”

Otis pulled on insulated hunting boots, lined black pants, an insulated camo jacket and a black stocking cap. He stuffed insulated gloves into his pockets. Bulkier than he liked, but sitting still for hours he’d chill down bad, and if he was shivering he’d be apt to miss. He put a drag harness over his shoulder, grabbed the gun, and looked over at Marlou. They didn’t talk much anymore, just screwed some.

“Be going out the back cellar door, in case somebody’s watching. Don’t turn on no lights unless the wardens show up. If they do, turn on the back door light so I can sheer off.”

“It ain’t worth it, Otis. We’ll get by.”

“Hell we will. We don’t get deer meat we starve sweetie. I’m off.”

Otis went down to the basement and out the ground-mounted cellar door. Despite stepping gently, the autumn leaves rustled as he moved, the only sound in the night still. It was just after midnight, and in the cold, clear winter air the moon drowned out the stars.

Friday, November 2, 2018

One More Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest Update

Just a quick reminder: the Bad Imitation Lovecraft contest is still open for submissions. The official deadline for submissions is midnight Central time tonight, but as usual, the Snowdog Rule* applies. See this post for more information.

[* Briefly stated, the Snowdog Rule holds that while the official deadline may be midnight tonight, the practical deadline is whenever I wake up and check my email tomorrow, as there ain’t no way I’m staying up to watch for submissions and standing ready to enforce a hard cutoff.]

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Talking Shop

re pseudonyms (cont’d)

One argument in favor of using a pseudonym is that life can get very weird when you become a public figure; even as minor a public figure as a published writer. There is a small but determined subset of the species who seem to believe that because they’ve read and liked something you’ve written, you’re their new best friend, and you would be just absolutely delighted if they were to phone you up at two in the morning to tell you that, or show up on your doorstep one day expecting to be invited in for tea and biscuits, or in one particularly memorable incident, to walk right into your house, in the delusional belief that you would be thrilled to see them and eager to drop everything and start talking about whichever story of yours it was they wanted to talk about.
[Luckily, that particular incident happened many years ago. I wouldn’t try it now. The current Mrs. Bethke is the daughter of a Marine Corps combat veteran who in subsequent civilian life became a career cop, and he taught his daughters to apply .357 Magnum first and ask questions later.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Talking Shop

“To Be, or To Be Someone Else” • by Bruce Bethke

As new books move into the copy-editing and production phases, an old question keeps coming back up. “Should I use my real name, or a pseudonym?”

The answer, as is so often the case, is, “That depends.”

When I first started writing, I made the decision to publish everything I wrote under my real name, mostly because my ego was very tightly tied up in what I was doing. For many years that seemed to work well. I wrote; I published; my ego saw my byline in many places and was made glad.

In retrospect, though, I wish I’d used at least one pen name. This is because:

Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest Update

Yay! We’ve got some entries! Read ‘em and then try to beat ‘em!

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Son of The Friday Challenge Returns Again for the Last Time...Again!

Okay, I know, I said we were never going to do another Friday Challenge...

But then, last week’s discussion of Lovecraftian horror got us talking. What if what the world needs right now is yet another writing contest? Specifically, a Lovecraftian horror writing contest? But not just any contest, no: what we want to do is go full Bulwer-Lytton on this thing. Ergo, Rampant Loon Press is appalled to announce...

The First Annual Rampant Loon Press Bad Imitation Lovecraft Writing Contest

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write one paragraph—beginning, middle, or end of a story, we don’t care—of truly rancid, turgid, clotted prose, in the inimitable and yet all-too-often imitated style of the legendary H. P. Lovecraft. Throw everything you’ve got in there: Arkham, Miskatonic, pustulence, ichor, eldritch, sunken R’lyeh—get it all out of your system. Give it the whole fnlakghing works. Extra credit for making it all one single ghastly run-on sentence; double extra credit if you can correctly identify this kitchen utensil and work its properly Lovecraftian name into your contest submission.

But, there’s a catch. Your contest submission can be no more than 100 words long, at the most. We are looking to capture the distilled and pungent essence of Lovecraft—everything about his style that makes us cringe—in a single paragraph.

So think about it. Let the unspeakable soul-crushing horror of it all burn. Then enter your submission in the comments section of this post—or if you can’t get past the captcha, email it to and we’ll post it for you—and on Saturday morning, November 3rd, we’ll announce either the winner or the finalists, depending on the quantity and quality of the entries we receive. The deadline for entries is midnight Friday, November 2nd. The author of the winning submissions will get all the honor, glory, and recognition commensurate with winning such an auspicious competition.

Oh, what the hell: and a $25 Amazon gift certificate, too.

Sound like fun? Then on your mark, get set... Start writing!

Update 10/29/18: If this all seems like something of a mystery to you, please consider this outstanding example of the idiom: “Harbinger of Doom (for the Home Team)” by Dan Micklethwaite.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Book, and its Contents

I continue to be surprised by the analogies between writing fiction and performing music. Putting together an issue of Stupefying Stories is exactly like working up a set list for a bar band. You want to open with a bang, to get the crowd’s attention—get ‘em up off their butts and out on the dance floor, at least in a metaphorical sense—mix it up good, alternating fast and slow numbers and short and long numbers so that you don’t tire ‘em out too soon—build to the big dance party number that’s the climax of the entire set—and then cool ‘em down gently, while leaving them happy and eager to stick around for the next set.

And not coincidentally, leaving them thirsty, so that when they leave the dance floor, they go back to the bar and buy another round of drinks. After all, that’s why the bar hired your band in the first place, innit? To keep the customers dancing and thirsty?

That’s where the analogy breaks down: we can’t sell you a six-pack of Rampant Loon Brew or a bottle of Château Rampant Loon rosé to help you better enjoy the stories. Maybe Barnes & Noble is on to something with all their big mall coffee shops and snack bars that also happen to sell books...

Right. Let’s get back on topic.

So, to build your set list, you dig into your inventory and start picking out pieces that go together. We don’t exactly do “theme” anthologies, but we do seek commonalities in subject, mood, and tone. These two stories obviously need to be together; those two are too much alike be in the same book. These three taken together constitute a sort of mini-trilogy, but those two go together like sand and Astroglide. Ouch!

Eventually, we wind up with something vaguely like a theme—for Stupefying Stories #22, it turned out to be “Pirates, Magic, and Monsters”—and a short list of fifteen or so candidate stories. Then, we start whittling down the shortlist. The objective is to end up with nine stories that go together in something that starts to feel like a flow, and that taken together come in at the length of a short novel: between 40- and 50-thousand words.

Why nine stories? Because Amazon. It’s a stupid, arbitrary limit and we’re working on ways to get around it. Why 40~50K words? Because that’s what we’re comfortable with producing right now. Once we get production running smoothly, we expect to grow to 60~75K words per issue.

For Stupefying Stories #22, I also insisted on one other criterion: at least half the stories had to be ones we’ve had in inventory since the Great Acquisition Binge of 2015. The last time we thought we had all our production problems solved, I made a lot of promises to a lot of people, and insofar as possible I intend to honor them. If you’re a writer who has had a story accepted by us, no matter how long ago, we will publish it, if you’re still willing to let us do so.


Eventually, after all the give-and-take and reshuffling and horse-trading, we ended up with this set list for #22. This is still subject to change: we’re still waiting for some author sign-offs. But as of today, the TOC for #22 is:

“Groundskeeper,” by Kirstie Olley
A beautiful princess, kidnapped and locked away in a sorcerer’s tower. A deadly labyrinth, filled with traps and monsters. So, Mr. Handsome Prince, before you go charging in there with your sword in hand, did it ever occur to you to wonder who maintains the labyrinth?
“Rain Charmer,” by Gef Fox
Gef is one of our original contributors, beginning with “A Wolf Like Leroy” in  Stupefying Stories #8.
Gef was also the first person to interview me who was more interested in talking about Stupefying Stories than in talking about a certain story I wrote 38 years ago, and for that I will always be grateful. “Rain Charmer” is a wonderful funny little contemporary fantasy story about... well, about rain. And about being careful what you wish for.
“Ohōtsuku-Kai,” by NM Whitley
Our association with NM Whitley goes back even further, to the days of the original Friday Challenge, when it was just another feature on the old Ranting Room blog site. I don’t believe we’ve ever officially published a story by him, but we’re making up for it with this one, which is a terrific next-century science fiction tale set in a world in which the United States is still recovering from the effects of the Second Civil War, the Japanese, Koreans, and Russians are all jostling for position in the Chinese shadow, and someone has discovered a new power source that seems too good to be true.

And there are pirates, of course.
“Upon the Blood-Dark Sea,” by Auston Habershaw
Speaking of pirates, here is a tale of dark magic and darker deeds, spun by master storyteller and occasional “Talking Shop” contributor Auston Habershaw, whose name you may recognize from his appearances in F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy’s Edge, or from his many epic fantasy novels. One of his very first published stories, though, was “Thief of Hearts” in Stupefying Stories #7, and his most recent appearance was “The Great Work of Meister VanHocht” is Stupefying Stories #13 (which surprisingly is not in the catalog). Over the past six years, it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to watch as Auston’s awesome writing Jedi powers have developed.

Issue #13 also marks the first appearance of Eric Dontigney in our pages. I really need to get that catalog updated.
“The Fisherwoman,” by C. J. Paget
Pirates, ghosts, kids on a summer adventure: what’s not to like? Loads of fun.
“The Yin-Yang Crescent,” by Ian Whates
A magical mystery—oh, great, now I’ve got that stupid Beatles song stuck in my head—a paranormal mystery, set in a world in which parallel versions of London exist in overlapping space/time, but only those with the gift can cross between them.
“The She-Dragon of Bly,” by Jason D. Wittman
Jason first showed up in our pages in Stupefying Stories #5 with “Emissaries from Venus.” When “The She-Dragon of Bly” showed up in my inbox, I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this good. In an alternate timeline in which the Soviet Union won WWII, England is now a Soviet satellite, some magic actually works, and Premier Kruschev is going eyeball-to-eyeball with President Patton, the last surviving member of His Majesty’s Dragonslayer Corps is pulled out of retirement, because it seems dragons are not extinct after all and one has taken up residence in a prominent Politburo member’s country estate. Here there be dragons, indeed!

As we were putting #22 together, once we decided to include this story, everything else seemed to coalesce around it, and we knew this 9,000-word novelette was going to be our cover. Now all we needed was the right illustration...
“With Possum, You Get Free Were-Fi," by Mark Keigley
Mark Keigley, under the pen name of “Mark Wolf,” first appeared in our pages in Stupefying Stories #11, with “Tiny, Tiny Hungers.”

With Stupefying Stories #12 he got the cover with “For the Love of a Grenitschee,” an outstanding old-school alien planet pulp adventure—and not coincidentally, chapter 1 of his novel Trader’s Profit, which we’re going to be releasing Real Soon Now. Honest.

With “Possum,” Mark reverts to his real name, and delivers a terrific hard-SF generation ship story with his usual totally out of left field “Whoa, didn’t see that coming!" Keigley twist. Clever ideas; great fun—albeit with a dark edge that should stick with you long after you’ve finished the story.
“Glamour for Two,” by Judith Field
Finally, we end the set with “Glamour for Two,” another sweet and clever little contemporary fantasy story from Judith Field. I’ve been in love with Judith’s writing ever since “The Prototype” first showed up in my inbox, and subsequently in Stupefying Stories #6. She’s been a regular contributor to both Stupefying Stories and SHOWCASE—heck, we practically created the Theian Journal concept around her story, “The Fissure of Rolando”—and she writes wonderful little stories about life and love and characters who find magic even in the most mundane places. I like her stories so much, I’ve published a book of them, and if you haven’t read The Book of Judith, this story will be a good introduction. If you have read The Book of Judith and enjoyed it, you’ll be happy to know that this is a brand-new “Court & Anderson” story. how we settled on the cover...

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Book, and its Cover

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Everyone says that, but does anyone actually believe it? Yeah, sure, there may be a few edge cases out there who ignore the cover art and withhold judgment until they’ve actually read a good portion of the content—and of course, there’s the National Library Service braille and audio book library, which I wholeheartedly support—but most prospective readers judge books...

a.) first, by the recommendations of their friends—
b.) then by prior experience with the author, if any—
c.) then by recommendations from famous media personalities—
d.) then by published reviews and online ratings—
e.) then by the reputation of the author, if they have no prior direct experience—
f.) then by a quick glance at the cover art—
g.) and then, God willing, by actually reading a significant portion of what’s behind that cover.

Hence the problem for the indie publisher, and especially an indie publisher like Rampant Loon Press, which likes to focus on new and upcoming writers who are just beginning to build their reputations. If the author doesn’t already have an established rep (scratch b and e), and we don’t have the budget for the kind of publicity and advertising campaigns needed to get major traction with c and d, that leaves us with a, f, and if we’re very lucky, a little d, mostly in the form of online reader reviews, as tools to use to coax prospective readers along to point g, which is the entire objective of this exercise.

As for going bigger on d: no, seriously, we don’t have the budget for that, and thanks for offering to help, but it isn’t just a matter of coming up with another $50 or $100 or so. It costs a minimum of $425 to get into Kirkus Reviews, and the costs of a serious advertising campaign just go up from there. Online advertising is nominally cheaper, but not very effective: for all the money we’ve spent on Facebook and Amazon ad campaigns, we’d be better off if we’d just heaped dollar bills in a big pile and set fire to them. At least then we’d be warm. 

As regards a, that’s something you can’t buy or force to happen, no matter how much money you throw at it. You can only try to build a community of people who might eventually become friends, and that in a sense is what we’ve been trying to do, with greater or lesser degrees of success, ever since the launch of The Ranting Room back in February 2005. (Hmm. There’s still some good stuff out on that site. I should loot it and recycle it here.)

But—building a community of writers, and people who like to read? To build a community of people who are by nature quiet, reclusive, introverted, and averse to communal activities?

Well, it’s certainly a challenge. And for my next I trick, I shall enter the Iditarod with a sled pulled by a team—of cats!

I suppose I could go the c route, or rather the pseudo-c route, and pretend to be a famous media personality. That could work. If you make your pond small enough, it’s easy to look like a big fish. If I claimed to be leading a literary movement—or better yet, a revolution!

Nah. No. That’s not me. I’ve been resisting that siren’s call for 35 years, and it’s been the source of much tension around here. Stupefying Stories: it’s not about me. It’s about the writers whose stories I want lots of other people to read, because they’re writing great stories.

Which brings us, in a rather longer and more roundabout way than I’d planned, to item f, and to Stupefying Stories #22: how we planned it, how we picked the stories we wanted to include in it, how we decided on the cover story, and how we wound up choosing between two potentially terrific pieces of cover art: be continued...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Status Update: 10/23/2018

With the 2018 reading period all wrapped up, we’re deep in the throes of book production. If you submitted a story to us in 2018 and have NOT received either an acceptance or a rejection from us by now, please query, as it means something has gone off-track.

If you’ve received an acceptance from us and have replied to it, the next step is that we will send you a contract.

Friday, October 19, 2018

And that’s a wrap

“...good luck placing it elsewhere.

“Kind regards,
“Bruce Bethke
“editor, Stupefying Stories

Hmm, hmm, re-read it one more time to avoid the ohnosecond*, looks okay, click Send, and...

We’re done! Okay folks, we have now responded to every short story submission sent to us in our 2018 reading period. With a few exceptions—and if you’re one of those exceptional people, you already know who you are—if you sent us a story this year, you should by now have either an acceptance or a rejection in-hand.

If you have NOT received either an acceptance or rejection from us, please send a query to, as it means something’s gone askew.

Now, on to contracts and copy-editing—which may take a little longer than planned, as Adobe unleashed yet another insufficiently tested “upgrade” on Adobe Sign users this week, crippling our e-contracts system and causing a mob of customers with torches and pitchforks to try to storm their office.

Well, I suppose we could always go back to paper contacts and US mail... 


* ohnosecond: the period of time that elapses between the instant you click ‘Send’ and the instant you realize, “Oh no, did I really send that?”

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Letters to the Editor

Quentin Walker writes:
“I am a writer in my free time and an avaricious reader [...]”
(Good opening. We like writers, and always need more readers. And if you’re a writer who writes without also reading, you’re probably going to be a lousy writer. I think you meant voracious, though, not avaricious.)
“When submitting short stories, do you accept anything with horror Lovecraftian themes? Or do you just like straight science fiction and fantasy?”
First off, if you want to know what we like to see in submissions, our Submission Guidelines are always a good place to start. If you take a quick look at them, the first thing you’ll notice is that we are CLOSED to unsolicited submissions right now. At the moment we’re in the last stages of cleaning up after our 2018 open submissions period, deeply into contracts & copy-editing mode, and down to the last two acceptances and six rejections I need to write and send.

But as for Lovecraftian horror in particular

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • "Horatio Alger Got It Half Right," By Eric Dontigney 

Hard work matters for anyone trying to make a living as a writer. Hard work matters a lot. You can’t phone it in day-after-day. You can’t do it just when you feel like it. You have to show up every day and put in a real effort. This is the basis of the Horatio Alger stories and the foundation for the Horatio Alger Myth.

Not familiar with Horatio Alger and his myth? Here’s the backstory, in brief. Horatio Alger, Jr. was a writer from the mid-to-late 1800s. He wrote books that glorified the Protestant work ethic and moral virtue. The general theme was that hard work and moral fortitude would transform the hard-working poor into the middle class or even upper class.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Status Update: 10/15/18

Just a few metrics for you this morning. Of the more than 800 submissions we received during our 2018 reading period—I don’t have a solid final number at this moment, as we had some issues with submission tracking and stories being sent to old email addresses and such that we didn’t get fully nailed down until June—we are down to the following numbers.
  • ACCEPTED - 52 stories
    • Contract pending - 10
    • Standalone novellas - 1
    • Accepted for SHOWCASE - 19
    • Already published - 7

    • For SHOWCASE - 3

    • Standalone novellas - 4
    • For SHOWCASE - 5 (probably to be accepted)
    • Main sequence stories - 28
With 76 stories already accepted or tagged as to be accepted—counting those accepted for SHOWCASE separately, which we should have been doing all along—basically, we have 28 “main sequence” stories in the final bin and the space and budget to accept 14 at most.

We should be finished making our final choices by this evening.


P.S. I’ve had some authors ask if their story was silently rejected. I know we’re from Minnesota, The Passive-Aggressive State, but we don’t do silent rejections. If you submitted a story to us this year, you will receive a response.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Playing God,” by Matthew A. J. Timmins

The bio was just a bright orange marble rolling around in her backpack. I probed it with a finger. It was soft and sticky. I rolled it back and forth, but when I pulled my hand away a pseudopod stuck to my fingertip.

“Ow!” I pulled my hand out and the bio came with it, dangling from my finger like a booger.

“Hey,” Lumi hissed. She pulled the creature loose and tossed it into her backpack, looking quickly around the room. “Watch it!”

She was right; bios weren’t allowed in school.

“It bit me!” I said, examining my purple fingertip.

“Don’t be a baby.” She zipped her backpack shut and slung it over her shoulder. “It was hungry. It’s just a baby. If you come by after school, I’ll show you a full-grown one.”

SHOWCASE: “Bootleg Bees,” by Laura Jane Swanson

The bees were dying again, dropping like the proverbial flies all over the garden and the yard. “Metzger must have gotten some fancy new seeds again,” Emil sighed. It had to be Metzger; Hammond and Anderson down the road were too cheap to keep buying crazy upgrades that grew their own pesticides. Bad enough that the whole neighborhood had to keep upgrading their bees to keep up, not to mention the ridiculous price of brand-name bees.

“We need that Heirloom Protection Act,” Hannah sighed. Without it, Indiana’s right-to-farm laws meant people could plant what they liked, even if it killed the neighbors’ bees.

“Well, until that pig grows wings, I guess I’d better ask Metzger what upgrade to order this time.”

“AgriCorp will engineer actual flying pigs before they’ll let that law pass,” Hannah said, sweeping dead bees from the porch.