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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Stupefying Stories Lives!

I say this because it seems Duotrope has pronounced us dead again. This doesn’t bother me a great deal: the people who follow Duotrope don’t appear to be folks who actually buy and read fiction, but rather mostly writers seeking editors who will read and buy their fiction.

So to be very clear on this point right up front: we are not reading unsolicited submissions at this time. We’re still cleaning up the wreckage left behind by our 2019 open reading period.

I’m also just slightly irked that they don’t consider STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS to be proof that we’re still alive and  publishing—admittedly it’s not the strongest proof, but it’s proof nonetheless—but then we went through the same problem with them when we were doing SHOWCASE as a webzine. More than 170 new stories published (as well as dozens of original novels), but because we were putting them online and not putting them out in books with the Stupefying Stories logo on the cover, it didn’t count.

Sigh. Shrug. Move on.

I’ll concede that the events of the past ten weeks have been incredibly disruptive to us, as they have been to everyone else all over the world, but they weren’t a knockout blow. When we released SSP #1 three months ago we had great things planned and in the pipeline for continuing the STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS line, and we still have those plans and projects in place: we just had to throttle back for a bit, while waiting to see exactly what COVID 19 meant for us.

Well, now we know. And knowing this, we can move forward again.

So first up, watch for STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS #2, releasing June 1st. Behind it in the pipeline is STUPEFYING STORIES #23, which has assumed nearly The Last Dangerous Visions proportions but is now moving forward towards a June 15th release date.

And after that: well, keep watching for the new StupefyingStories.com web page, which I’m told will be going live Real Soon Now and will fix all the problems we’re currently having with this blogspot site and with the domain forwarding failing from time to time.

Upward and onward,
Bruce Bethke

Friday, May 1, 2020

Stupefying Stories is currently closed to unsolicited submissions

Just a reminder that we are not reading unsolicited submissions right now, as we’re still tidying up loose ends from our 2019 open reading period.

That, and we’re working to get new book production restarted, as that is why we exist: to publish new fiction in new books. Much as we’d love to teach creative writing, that’s not what we do—at the present time. If there’s sufficient interest, that may change.

In the meantime, if you’re hoping to sell a story to us, please look at what we’ve published previously. Stupefying Stories #18 through #22 are free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, as is SHOWCASE #1. To get an idea of what we’d like to see, read what we’ve already liked enough to buy and publish.

» SHOWCASE #1
» Stupefying Stories #22
» Stupefying Stories #21
» Stupefying Stories #20
» Stupefying Stories #19
» Stupefying Stories #18

Monday, March 30, 2020

40 Hours Left!


Just a quick reminder that you have less than two days left in which to take advantage of our 99-cent sale on Henry Vogel’s Scout novel series—


Or to get Stupefying Stories issues #16 and #17 absolutely free, before they go out of print forever at midnight on March 31st.



P.S. So why the cat? Because a.) nothing attracts eyeballs on the Internet like a photo of a cat, and b.) because we already paid for this illo when we bought it to use it with Jason Lairamore’s story, “This Cat Must Die!” on the old SHOWCASE webzine site, so we may as well get some more mileage out of it.

P.P.S. Speaking of the SHOWCASE webzine, that returns beginning this week, and we may even have the site redesign finished in time for the rollout. Watch for it!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Advice for Writers: Three Movies



As we transition from normal life to cowering in terror and hiding indoors mode, Friday dinner-and-a-movie night has transitioned from “What’s playing at the local twenty-screen cineplex?” to “What’s streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime that we haven’t watched a dozen times already?” Two weeks ago, when this change in lifestyle really began, my wife had already chosen the movie before I asked the question, and with her usual puckish sense of humor she’d picked out—

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Based on the pioneering 1969 novel by the late Michael Crichton—that’s Doctor Michael Crichton, by the way, MD Harvard, who did post-doc work at the Salk Institute before turning to a career as a novelist and screenwriter—this nearly 50-year-old movie remains a surprisingly taut and effective thriller. Despite my having read the original back when it was this exciting new first novel everyone was talking about written by this new guy no one had ever heard of before—actually, it was Crichton’s seventh novel; he’d been writing novels under a variety of pseudonyms for a few years before The Andromeda Strain and had three more such novels in the publication pipeline when The Andromeda Strain became his breakout bestseller—

And despite my having watched the movie in the theater during it’s original theatrical run, and several times since in various video formats—

This one still works. It sinks its hooks into you early, builds slowly, layer by layer, establishes characters whose fates you care about, and everything in the film goes towards hitting a nail-biting dramatic crescendo at just the right time, followed by a short denouement that wraps up those few loose threads that still matter. Admittedly, there are some clunky moments in it: for example, when one of the characters gets to deliver a grumble about “The Establishment” that must have seemed terribly relevant back in 1969 but seems pretty fatuous now, or the occasional use of split-screen in what seems to me an ostentatious Sixties art cinema technique, but to an audience raised on 24 and CSI might seem perfectly normal.

Still, it works, and fifty years later, it still seems fresh and original. Recommended watching.

So to compare and contrast, the next week, my wife picked out—

Outbreak (1995)
Oh. My. Fricken. God. All-star cast. Made on a budget of $50 million. Ostensibly based on Richard Preston’s bestselling non-fiction book, The Hot Zone, although having read Preston’s book I believe the only thing this movie has in common with that book is the occasional use of the word “ebola.” Not to put too fine a point on it, this movie is such an enormous, expensive, stinking steaming pile of formulaic crap I had to go back to IMDB twice, to make certain I hadn’t missed Roland Emmerich’s name somewhere in the credits.

Interestingly, while Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain are almost exactly the same length, watching Andromeda seemed like an accelerating headlong rush to a dramatic climax, while Outbreak felt like a slow and extremely painful slog through the swamp of timeworn screenwriter’s clichés. Which got me to wondering: just why is it that The Andromeda Strain seems so very good, while Outbreak seems so very, very, very bad?

The answer, I think, lies in what I wrote above: The Andromeda Strain takes the time and takes special care to establish characters whose fates you care about. Everyone in this movie, even in the minor bit parts, is in the story for a reason, and you find yourself rooting for them to succeed, or at least to survive. The major characters are for the most part military and scientific personnel, facing a crisis of catastrophic proportions, and for the most part they face this crisis with the serious intelligence, dedication, and competence I’ve seen time and again in these kinds of people.

In contrast, the major characters in Outbreak are also a mix of military and scientific personnel, facing a similar crisis of catastrophic proportions, but—well, to be blunt, they face it like a bunch of actors. They scream. They shout. They posture, threaten, and issue ultimatums. They argue about their personal relationship problems at the most inopportune possible times. There is not one single character in this movie who behaves as if he or she is rational, much less an intelligent professional facing a life-or-death crisis. This movie is two straight hours of drama queens in slap fights, and it’s exhausting to watch.

You know what I said earlier about the characters in The Andromeda Strain all being people whose fates you care about? By the 90-minute mark in Outbreak you’ll be wishing all these characters would just catch the virus and die already, and then you’ll want to withdraw and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

So for last night’s movie, my wife picked—

Contagion (2011)
Which was probably a mistake.

It seems like a promising movie. Good cast. Good script, from what I saw of it. Really well-done multi-threaded storylines narrative technique.

But to be honest, we didn’t even make it to the halfway mark in this one. Perhaps it was simply because by this point we were suffering from disaster movie fatigue. Or perhaps it was because at some point I switched to my Team America voice and began saying “Matt Damon” every time his face popped back on-screen. But in any case, watching this movie very quickly devolved into a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of experience, as we filled in the obvious gaps in the dialog with snarky and sarcastic quips, and then it became impossible to take this movie seriously. The commentary during the Gwyneth Paltrow autopsy sequence in particular was brutal, in very poor taste, and (to us at least) very funny.

Any time you’re watching what’s supposed to be a thriller but finding yourself laughing more than gasping in shock and fright, it’s time to turn off the movie and go play Scrabble.



So given that I set out to write an advice column for writers, what are some lessons to be learned from these three movies?

1. Your readers need to care about the fates of the characters who inhabit your story. If they don’t care about your characters and what’s to become of them, they’re unlikely to care about anything else that’s going on in your story, no matter how brilliant your writing skills.

2. Positive engagement is stronger than negative. In The Andromeda Strain, you find yourself rooting for the characters. In Outbreak, you’ll mostly find yourself rooting against characters. Donald Sutherland’s General McClintock, in particular, is damn near a mustache-twirling villain straight out of a silent movie. It’s easy to make your readers hate a straw-man villain, but it’s weak and lazy writing.

3. Don’t be so in love with your original concept of your characters that you’re afraid to change them. In Crichton’s original novel Dr. Peter Leavitt is pretty much a spear carrier, there to advance the plot by making one key mistake at a crucial moment but otherwise irrelevant. For the movie, the character was changed to Dr. Ruth Leavitt and given a backstory, and every time I re-watch the movie, I appreciate her more. The addition of a tired and cynical middle-aged woman to an otherwise all-male cast rescues the movie from being a manly men doing manly things sausage fest, which I’m sorry to say, the original novel kinda was.

4. Model your characters and their dialog on real people! That is the single biggest problem with Outbreak. Everyone in it speaks and behaves like an actor who knows they’re playing a role in a movie, and it’s all conflict and drama, all the time. If you find yourself giving your character lines that sound like they could be dialog from Outbreak, throw them out! They’re no good!

5. Finally, sometimes a story, no matter how good in concept and how well-executed, is just the wrong story at the wrong time, like Contagion. I predict that in about six months YouTube and Netflix are going to be flooded with low-budget “last person on Earth” movies shot using iPhones on selfie sticks and with all the fine production values of The Blair Witch Project, and at about the same time every fiction magazine slush pile in America will be overflowing with stories set in post-Apocalyptic wastelands following a viral plague. Don’t be the person who writes one of those stories or makes one of those movies. There’s already an adequate supply of “me too” formulaic dreck in this world. Don’t add your contribution to that vast and stinking heap.

Kind regards,
~brb

Friday, March 27, 2020

Free e-books! Who can resist free e-books?


All good things must come to an end, or in the case of these two books, reach the end of contract life and go out of print. Ergo, from right now until midnight on Tuesday, March 31st, we are giving away the Kindle editions of Stupefying Stories #16 and #17 free for the cost of a click.

But get ‘em now, because come Wednesday morning, they’re gone forever. 

CONTENTS:

#16 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XD4QXD3

I LIVE THE WARRIOR’S LIFE • by Robert Lowell Russell

No one knew how Mel summoned Brother Crow to this world, but the trickster was delighted to help Mel with his practical joke. Then, because Crow loved a good prank, he left the door to the spirit world open, and everything changed…

THIS IS NOT WHEN YOU SAID THAT YOU WOULD MEET ME • by Robert Dawson

When she went into cryosleep, her husband promised to wake her as soon as they found a cure. He was a sweet and loving man, but he’d always been the forgetful sort.

IRENA PESTROVICH • by Thomas K. Carpenter

She was a special kind of FBI agent, with a special set of skills—which was good, because this was no ordinary murder.

ONE SAFFRON THREAD • by Sarah Bartsch

It’d been years since the Royal Mages had visited the orphanage, seeking children with the gift. Sativa would do anything to make sure she was the one they chose.

LONG COLD WISH • by Laura DeHaan

Never, ever, drink from a wishing well. You just don’t know what else might be down there.

PROVINCIAL AFFAIRS • by Alter S. Reiss

The Lady Adinara Rvellin was a complete disgrace to the Imperial Service, and she worked very hard to make sure everyone knew that.

THE BUSINESS OF RATS • by Sandra M. Odell

Ratty Tomlin had never met a rat he couldn’t catch. Then he took the Beckett and Brownman job.

THE MEMORY OF WORMS • by Karin Terebessy

As her father’s illness grew worse, they hid the scissors and the kitchen knives. But the valaška remained, mounted in its place of honor above the mantelpiece.

CATCH OF THE DAY • by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

After crash landing on an Earthlike alien world, survival should have been easy. All they had to do was catch a fish…

#17 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XPGZFW5

FISH AND FOOLS • by Beth Powers

“Oftentimes, I ask a listener to select the staff and thus guide the tale. But on nights like this,” the howling wind obligingly rattled the tavern windows as the Carving Bard paused to select an arrow-straight length of silvery wood from her bundle, “in places that border the wildlands, one tale always screams to be told...”

THE LIBRARIAN AND THE TROLL • by E. G. Cosh

Winkleton Manor was the sort of place where absolutely nothing disrespectable ever happened—until Maud McInerney-Smythe left an old volume of Scandanavian poetry unread for just a little too long...

STAR COME OUT • by Joanne Rixon

These are the machines that keep me alive: the CPAP machine that keeps me breathing while I sleep, my customized electric wheelchair, and my speech-generating vox system. To me it’s the difference between life and death, between being and nothingness. When people hear me speak, they pity me. I don’t need their pity, though. I’m a poet with a robot voice. How cool is that?

FINDING GEORGIA • by Christian Riley

Her name is Georgia, she’s my peach, a laugh sweet as honey and with eyes like wine, they could make you handsome drunk just looking at them. She knew that about herself, my wife did. And I think that fueled her, kept her spirit on the move. Perhaps that’s why she was always running...

THE RANSOM OF PRINCESS STARSHINE • by Amy Thomson

Vartan guided his horse closer to the sound of girlish laughter coming from just beyond the willow copse. He motioned to his warriors to spread out. With luck, the girls would think the horse was a browsing joota, and he could kidnap a fine bride for his brother...

THE JAGUAR’S SON • by R. Y. Brockway

Arnold was just getting used to the fact that he’d never see his mother again when the University called about the matter of her office. When he found the old photo in her desk’s bottom drawer, he knew he’d found something special—and a mystery...

FOREST OF LIGHTS • by R. L. Bowden

He didn’t look strange to start with, but I guess that comes down to the blinkered vision you adopt on public transport in London. The kind that means you can spend an hour crushed against another human being, so close you’re tasting each other’s breath, but you’re barely able to recall the colour of their hair or what they were wearing... When you're talking to the police, afterwards.

THE WITCH’S KEY • by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

In the maze under the bright sunless sky, the witch gave me an easy way out. All I had to do was follow the cat—obey the rules—and stay alive...

THE PRACTITIONER • by James Khan

At 8:07 A.M., the Rumpke landfill stood as the second largest in the United States. It reached 1,672 feet at its peak, could be smelled from a mile away, and seen from as far as two. It was such a landmark that the citizens called it Mount Rumpke.

At one second after 8:07 A.M., Mount Rumpke ceased to exist. In its place stood a meadow of lilies...

99-cent Sale Extended


As more people fall under mandatory stay-at-home orders, we’ve decided to extendethe 99¢ sale on the first four Scout books. Get a planet full of adventure for a total of $3.96!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

BOOK RELEASE: SCOUT’S TRAINING, by Henry Vogel

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51jWBZ1kTWL.jpg
Rampant Loon Press is delighted to announce the release of the fifth novel in Henry Vogel’s best-selling Scout series, SCOUT'S TRAINING. The story thus far:

“Lieutenant Chris Marlow and airship pilot Jade Cochran believe they know their future—work, marriage, and a family. They joined Dr. Agrilla’s annual medical mission as a break from their routine...

“Then a raider airship dove out of the clouds, its crew intent on capturing the outmanned flyer. The young couple must fight for their lives, and pray they still have a future together!

“But their fate is written in the stars, not the skies of their home world. It brings challenges and dangers undreamt of by the teenagers. Facing the gulf between steam-age Aashla and the space-age Terran Federation, will Chris and Jade fall prey to the machinations of those who want lost colonists to stay lost?

“Far from home, far from David Rice and Princess Callan, Chris and Jade will discover if they are ready for…Scout’s Training.”

Available now in trade paperback or in ebook exclusively on Kindle.  

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938834712 
Ebook:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085HGJV7Q

(Some day these two book listings will be joined, but as of right now they aren’t, because Amazon.)

If you have not already read the rest of Vogel’s Scout series, SCOUT’S TRAINING does stand on its own, as it introduces new characters and begins a new story arc—I did at one point suggest that we call this one Scout’s Honor: The Next Generation, and Henry was not amused—but on further reflection we decided that the obvious way to introduce this series to new readers was by offering special limited-time bargain pricing for the rest of the series.

Therefore, for the next 7 days, you can get all of the previous books in the Scout series for the special book-launch price of just 99-cents each! Collect the entire set!  Starting with...

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51KuJ8CafCL.jpg SCOUT’S HONOR
The best-selling novel that began it all! When Terran Scout David Rice crashes on the long-lost colony world of Aashla, he is thrown from the space age to the steam age in the blink of an eye... And then his life got really difficult! 


Told in a relentlessly fast-paced style, Scout’s Honor is an exciting homage to the classic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, as well as the cliffhanger-driven energy of the early science fiction movie serials. If you long for honorable heroes and feisty heroines, treacherous villains and loyal companions, get Scout’s Honor and join David’s adventure!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JXLCXDY


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51E9BxOKG2L.jpgSCOUT’S OATH
Picking up where Scout’s Honor left off, David Rice thinks he’s finally found true happiness and his proper place in Aashla’s complex, honor-driven, and often all too deadly society. But in winning the woman of his dreams he has made powerful enemies, and now those enemies want revenge! Can a plucky princess, a crusty doctor, a young thief, an old pirate, and a slightly unhinged airship pilot rescue David, stop a war, and save the world?

Yes, of course they can, we wouldn’t have much of a series if they didn’t, but all the same it’s a wild and fun ride!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TH859HA


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/514CKDFbhVL.jpg SCOUT’S DUTY
After pledging his life and sword to Princess Callan and Aashla, David believes he’ll never see another Terran again—until the night the skies are lit by laser weapons fire, as another starship tries to blast its way through Aashla’s deadly planetary rings. The attempt fails, but as David and Callan rush to the crash site they realize they aren’t the only ones who witnessed the disaster. Looters are already on the scene...

For on a world of swords and steam-powered airships, even a wrecked starship contains secrets that can overthrow the world!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017081LFC


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51btot3JSlL.jpg SCOUT’S LAW
After two thousand years of isolation, the lost colony world of Aashla has at last rejoined the Terran Federation. Callan and David made that happen: now they lead a mission to ensure that Aashla’s unique culture isn’t overwhelmed by the vast and technologically far superior Terran Federation. But when a routine inspection of a Federation scientific outpost unearths a mass grave, and an unnatural storm knocks David and Callan’s airship out of the sky, they are forced to confront their worst nightmare. Someone has smuggled forbidden galactic technology onto Aashla, and the trail of murder and destruction has only just begun!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MSKV5MV

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

SHOWCASE #1: Why did you...?



https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51cW5yAzmDL.jpg
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

Buy it now! A paltry $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

Okay, the book has been out for a few days now; long enough for email to begin trickling in, asking the usual, “Why on earth did you pick that story?” questions. Interestingly, though, thus far there is no strong consensus as to which story is that story.

So here’s why I picked that story.

“The River of Time Joins the Sea,” by Probert Dean

I picked this one because it has that slippery, elusive, hallucinatory New Wave vibe that I for some reason associate with J. G. Ballard. Time has become stuck, and the definition of reality is contracting and changing even while the story is in progress. I love stories like these—in small doses, once in a while—that play with your perceptions and expectations. Besides, it has an absolutely brilliant first line: “It was raining the day the future started.”

“The Mandala Doors of Hafshamn Syniad,” by Jeff Suwak

I picked this one because it’s a strong, solid story with an engaging focal character and a really satisfying plot. It’s a tale of magical vengeance and justice, and better yet, it borrows from a different set of folk tale traditions than most of the magical fantasies that come through here. It’s a good read, plain and simple, and I would not be averse to seeing more stories set in this world.

“The Carpetbaggers Ball,” by Karl Dandenell

Imagine a world where the dissolute and depraved über-rich can upload and download their consciousnesses as easily as you can change your clothes, and where they can rent the bodies of the young and healthy poor to wear when they want to throw a really good party, then leave someone else to deal with the hangover...

This story hits me where I live, combining near-future tech with a decadent social landscape and a focal character who learns, grows, and changes as a result of what happens in this story. This is the sort of story that I find in my inbox, read, and say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that one!”

That’s the secret of selling a story to me, folks. All you have to do is write one that makes me, Bruce Bethke, cyberpunk legend, Philip K. Dick Award-winning author, etc., etc., read all the way to the end and then say “Damn, I wish I’d written that one!” It’s that easy.

“Finding Spring,” by Sipora Coffelt

I’ll admit, living in Minnesota, I was probably predisposed to like this story. It opens with an engaging and likable p.o.v. character, obviously living in some sort of bleak, frozen, post-Apocalyptic and post-20th Century American landscape, who is about to go on a journey of discovery whether she wants to or not. At first I was slightly afraid that this was going to turn into yet another climatepunk global warming we’re-all-doomed screed, but Valentine’s voice was so charming, she drew me in.

Then, as the author slowly revealed the true nature of the Apocalypse, I really began to get into this story, and by the time we got to the ending...


So why did I choose to put these four stories together into the same book?

That’s tomorrow’s post.   

Buy it now! A mere $0.99 USD! You can’t even get a cup of coffee for that! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

(I’m still working on this whole “relentless promotion” thing.)

Monday, March 2, 2020

SHOWCASE #1: Afterthoughts



https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51cW5yAzmDL.jpg
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

Buy it now! Only $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

Now that the first issue has made it out the door without leaving too much wreckage in its wake, it's time to pause a moment and reflect on lessons learned. First off, if you're disappointed because you missed the free ebook on release day: don't worry. There's another one in the pipeline for March 15th. Watch for it!

Secondly, this one definitely would have benefited from more time spent on proofreading before we released it. The proofreading got shortchanged because we were focused on fixing more crucial problems with our book production process right up until the day before we uploaded the thing to Amazon.

Fortunately, this being the 21st Century, we don't have to wait until the next print run to fix all the typos and formatting glitches. We're already working on fixing all that, and will be uploading a fresh file to Amazon this coming weekend, at about the same time as we will be uploading the files for the print edition.

YES! THERE'S GOING TO BE A PRINT EDITION!

And eventually, once we get all the glitches in our production processes identified and fixed, we'll be releasing the print and ebook editions on the same day Until then, though--

Buy it now! Only $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

Saturday, February 29, 2020

BOOK RELEASE: SHOWCASE (Stupefying Stories Presents #1)



Rampant Loon Press is relieved delighted to announce the release of SHOWCASE, the premiere title in our new Stupefying Stories Presents line. SHOWCASE is now available worldwide, exclusively on Kindle, at this link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

(Outside of the U.S., this link should automatically redirect to your local incarnation of Amazon.) 

To celebrate the launch, for today only SHOWCASE is free, for the cost of a click. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Free e-books! Who can resist free e-books?


All good things must come to an end, or in the case of these two books, reach the end of contract life and go out of print. Ergo, from right now until midnight on Sunday, January 5th, we are giving away the Kindle editions of two of our more interesting and eccentric experiments, THEIAN JOURNAL and PUTREFYING STORIES, free for the cost of a click.

THEIAN JOURNAL features:

• THE FISSURE OF ROLANDO, by Judith Field
• ADROIT, by David Williams
• TAKING A BREATHER, by Jean Davis
• A SCORPION WITHIN, by Alison Grifa Ismaili
• PLAINFIELD, NEW YORSEY: 2114, by Angele Ellis
• WHEN WE ARE WHOLE, by Gary Emmette Chandler

PUTREFYING STORIES features:

• FRUITING BODIES, by Eric Landreneau
• DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL, by Julie Frost
• FROM COLORADO, by Rose Blackthorn
• TWO ZOMBIES WALK INTO A BAR, by A. A. Leil

You can get THEIAN JOURNAL here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017J9LPG2

And get PUTREFYING STORIES here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017A5IF86

But you should get them soon, because come Monday morning, they’re gone forever. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The State of the Loon Address: December 28, 2019


Well. What a year it’s been. 

I’ve been writing and rewriting this column for at least a week now, trying to figure out what I’m trying to say while simultaneously fighting the feeling of having said it all before. Our existence has definitely taken on a Groundhog Day quality lately, as in the sense of the Bill Murray movie, not that business with that oversized marmot out in Pennsylvania.

Longtime friends and followers of Stupefying Stories know that Rampant Loon Press has always been the Bruce & Karen Bethke show. A lot of good friends and terrific volunteers have come and gone over the years—and we are profoundly grateful for all their generous contributions of time, energy, labor, and especially inspiration and imagination—but while the public face of the operation has always been me, Bruce Bethke, award-winning and intermittently world-famous author, literary genius, etc., etc., everyone around here knows that Karen Bethke has always been the backbone, moral core, master chef, and not insignificantly, CFO of the operation.


Longtime friends also know that the Stupefying Stories story has always been inextricably intertwined with Karen’s ongoing battle with metastatic breast cancer. In a sense, that’s where Stupefying Stories really began: with Karen in chemotherapy and having trouble lugging around her usual big bag o’ books—I married a woman with a four-novel-a-week reading habit—and me buying her a Kindle for Christmas to reduce her workload. Then, when I saw how enthusiastically she embraced that thing, I realized that here at last was a technology that would make it possible for me to do what I’d always wanted to do as an editor and publisher:
To create an entry- to journeyman-level short fiction market that would help people launch and build their writing careers, where the overriding concern would be the quality of the stories we published, above all else.
And almost equally importantly: to do so without either begging for public donations, groveling before private investors, or blowing the family household budget out of the water. I’d already been heavily involved in three previous arts-oriented 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations and been on the Boards of Directors of two of them. I’d spent years playing the arts grants and commissions game. I’d seen first-hand time and again how the constant need to beg for donations inevitably warps an arts organization, away from its founding mission and towards producing work that’s more concerned with pandering to the personal conceits and political agendas of its major donors than with actually being good.

Ergo, in the Fall of 2011, with a hat full of dreams, an overabundance of chutzpah, and a budget breathtaking in its modesty, we launched Stupefying Stories, damned and determined to stick to our founding mission statement, come Hell or high water.

¤

The years have come and gone since then. We’ve read thousands of submissions; published hundreds of stories—I actually have no clear idea of just exactly how many stories we’ve published, but know we’ve published more than 170 in SHOWCASE alone—published dozens of books; and in general, for the most part, made good friends and had lots of fun. We’ve tried lots of experiments: some have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, while others just hit the floor with a soggy plop and were dead on arrival. We’ve learned new things—then had to learn newer things—then discovered we needed to unlearn things we thought we already knew. The literary marketplace continues to grow and evolve at Internet speed. Our bestselling titles have sold thousands of copies each, but the data that’s coming in from all those Kindles and other tablets out there has also revealed some peculiar and unsettling things about how people read. We’re still trying to assimilate and adapt to that information.

In parallel with this, though, Karen’s battle with cancer has been ongoing. She’s endured surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, more surgery, more radiation, different chemotherapy... She’s been in and out of remission several times. In 2015 they declared her so completely cancer-free that they finally removed her chemotherapy port, and she was officially no longer a cyborg. In 2018, after a couple of false starts, we got it together and laid out an ambitious Fall, Winter, and 2019 publishing schedule, eager to make up for lost time.

In the Spring of 2019, just as we were about to reopen to submissions, her cancer came back again, in yet another new place. That’s the way it goes with metastatic cancer. You’re always playing whack-a-mole with it. After yet another course of radiation treatments she was switched to yet another new miracle drug, which seemed to work brilliantly, so we continued on course with Stupefying Stories. By late Summer, though, it was becoming clear that something was wrong. The tests still showed her as being in remission, so we went off on a merry-go-round of specialists and consultations, all the while not realizing that what the tests had really revealed was that the tests themselves were no longer reliable.

Things came to a crisis in September, and I’d write more about what happened next except that I probably can’t do so without saying something unkind about that jock-sniffing “sports medicine” specialist who continued to insist that her problems were all muscle- and nerve-related, even as he was looking right at a new metastatic lesion on her MRI and failing to see it.

Water under the bridge. We wasted three months bouncing from clinic to clinic and crisis to crisis until someone who knew what they were doing finally spotted the new lesion that was impinging on her sciatic nerve. The new miracle drug had quit working after six months.

That’s the way it goes with metastatic cancer.

¤

So here we are again, back where we began. Groundhog Day. Karen’s back on chemo; they’ve installed a new port, so she’s officially a cyborg again. When this round of treatments is finished they’re going to put her on yet another new miracle drug, one that was approved by the FDA just a few months ago and that targets a very specific genetic mutation. So the good news is that, as we’ve long suspected, my wife is a mutant.

The bad news is, her mutant power is susceptibility to a very specific type of cancer.

Her Kindle is still her constant companion—well, not exactly. Her original Kindle has long since been replaced by a Fire, then an HD, then a Kindle Fire HD 10. She’s on her fourth or fifth Kindle now, I think.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, n'est ce pas?

We’ve talked a lot lately about the future of Stupefying Stories. We’ve lost a lot of time, these last few months. There is a profound sense of “This is where we got on this ride, innit?” and sometimes it’s overwhelming. More than once, we’ve thought that maybe it’s time to hang it up and let someone else carry on the mission.

But...

But one of the last projects Karen was working on before she got sick again was reading through nine years of back issues, short-listing stories for a planned Best of Stupefying Stories reprint anthology. Throughout the process, she continued to surprise me by unearthing gems by writers who we were the first—or one of the first—to publish, who have since gone on to become award-winning authors or have major careers. Clearly we have been doing something right, once in a while.

And so, after a great deal of discussion, we’ve made the decision: Stupefying Stories goes forward. We’ll be readjusting our focus, as we assimilate and interpret new information, and making changes in how we go to market. But the mission continues.

Per aspera ad astra!

Thanks for your support,
Bruce & Karen Bethke

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #7

It’s been a challenging month here at Rampant Loon Press. We had a major computer malfunction in early November that locked us out of the RLP email acounts—and more disturbingly, the RLP bank accounts—for a couple of weeks, but fixing that didn’t get my full attention because my wife was back in the hospital again.

The good news is that we finally have a clear diagnosis and an effective treatment plan in place for her, and she’s being discharged from the hospital later this morning. In the meantime, we also finally got the computer problems sorted out this past week, and will be resuming normal operations shortly, just as soon as we figure out what “normal” is for us.

Kind regards,
Bruce Bethke

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #6


STUPEFYING STORIES IS NOW CLOSED TO UNSOLICITED SUBMISSIONS


Repeating that message to make sure it’s loud and clear and front and center. And having done so...

We had a medical emergency in the family which began to develop in mid-September, became a crisis in the last week of September, and has since evolved into something nasty, complex, and with longer-term implications than the doctors thought at first. Yesterday was my first day back in the RLP office in nearly three weeks.

As you might expect, there was a considerable stack of email waiting for my attention. It’s going to take me a few days to sort through it all and answer all the queries. Thank you for your patience.

—Bruce Bethke, Stupefying Stories  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #5


STUPEFYING STORIES IS NOW CLOSED TO UNSOLICITED SUBMISSIONS


If you’ve sent us a submission recently, you should by now have received our “acknowledgment of submission received” reply, which includes your manuscript tracking number. If you haven’t received our reply, please query, as it most likely means we never received your submission. In the past we’ve had writers wait patiently for ridiculously long periods of time, hoping to receive our reply to a submission we never received. We’d like to avoid that this time around.

If you have sent us a submission and have received the acknol email with tracking number, relax. With a few exceptions, every story that’s come in to us in this reading period is being tracked and is somewhere in the reading → evaluation → acceptance|rejection pipeline. The exceptions are a batch of stories that came in early in the reading period that were held over for multiple re-reads and further discussion—in some cases, a lot of further discussion—that we eventually decided to reject with critiques. I remember writing these critiques in early July, but have found out that some were never sent. I’m not sure exactly why this happened, but expect to have the submissions files audit finished and everything sorted out by next weekend.

One final note: this time around, we decided to collect and track some metrics and statistics we’ve never tracked before. One particularly interesting one is that in this reading period, we received, read, and evaluated roughly 2.7 million words of fiction.

No wonder three of our slush readers got burned-out and quit.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

It's Go Wide Week! (Annoucement #2)


Rampant Loon Press is exited to announce that Henry Vogel's critically acclaimed space opera trilogy, THE RECOGNITION RUN, THE RECOGNITION REJECTION, and THE RECOGNITION REVELATION, is now available on Rakuten Kobo, Barnes & Noble Nook, and in the Apple iTunes store, at these links!

» On KOBO

» On NOOK

» On Apple Books

Personally, I love the way Apple Books processes the cover art to make it look like it's an actual photo of a hardcover book, with a spine crimp and drop shadows and everything, but unfortunately they won't let me snag the image and repost it here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

It's Go Wide Week! (Announcement #1)


Rampant Loon Press is excited to announce that Henry Vogel’s bestselling space opera trilogy, THE FUGITIVE HEIR, THE FUGITIVE PAIR, and THE FUGITIVE SNARE, is now available on Rakuten Kobo at these links!

» THE FUGITIVE HEIR
» THE FUGITIVE PAIR
» THE FUGITIVE SNARE

Watch for lots more announcements are “Go Wide Week” continues and we roll out more books on more platforms!


Monday, July 22, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #4

Twelve weeks into our 2019 reading period, things aren’t quite where I wanted them to be, but on the whole, I’m cautiously optimistic. New submissions continue to show up in an unsteady stream: we’ll see fifteen new stories one day and two the next. The weekends are particularly submissions-intensive. Thus far we’re mostly keeping up with the flow. As of this morning there are:
  • 29 stories either with a first reader or waiting to be assigned to a first reader
  • 19 stories waiting to be rejected (form)
  • 16 stories waiting for me to write a personal rejection
  • 12 stories waiting for me to send an acceptance letter
  • and here's the blockage: 65 stories in the holding tank, either with a second or third reader or in the “Well, do we buy it?” bin. Of these, 53 have been here more than 30 days, and 25 have been here more than 60. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Discovered entirely by accident...

...while trying to figure out why we can’t sell print books in Australia:

1. That Stupefying Stories #1 is now a valuable collector’s item selling for a ridiculous amount of money.

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LP7K1BO

(Psst. We still have a crate of copies in the warehouse. Anyone want one?)

2. That Maverick is now a valuable collector’s item, which I guess makes a form of sense, as the Asimov estate recovered the rights to the Robot City books in the BPVP bankruptcy settlement and did so for the express purpose of taking them out of print, as they were “diluting the value of the Isaac Asimov™ brand.”

Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0441731317

(Ignore the grumpy 3-star review written by someone who apparently was surprised to discover that these books were not written by Isaac Asimov, but were a YA series created with Asimov’s approval and written by a cadre of writers who were required to stick to a strict series bible. The lead characters were supposed to be petulant and childish. Didn’t this guy ever read any of Asimov’s “Paul French” novels?)

3. That Maverick was also released in French- and Spanish-language editions, neither of which I was ever paid for. Sigh. Too late now.

4. But this is the important thing I discovered; this review of Stupefying Stories #1, which I will gladly own.
Christopher O'Neil 
5.0 out of 5 stars
A lovely dead-tree volume
11 February 2018 - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Just catching up with Stupefying Stories after their Kindle give-away stunt last week. Curiously, I HAD already read "It Came From the Slushpile" because as a fan of John Betancourt's Wildside Press, I'd read the two-fisted "Swashbuckling Editors Tales."

This two-column illustrated digest-sized hard copy is a delightful companion to my hundreds of the real pulps from the '40s, '50s, etc.; just a nice physical souvenir, considering the real mag is all ebook. If I ever meet him, maybe Bethke will autograph it "Rex Manly."
Why, warms my cold and leathery editor’s heart right up, it does. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #3

Six weeks into our 2019 reading period, we’ve settled down to a pretty consistent average of seven new submissions daily. Of these—

• 60% are first-round no-comment rejects, for any of a number of reasons.

• 10% are set aside waiting for me to write a personal rejection, because the story deserves more than just a “Thanks, but we can’t use this story at this time.”

• 5% are sitting in the Probably Accept bin, but we haven’t made the final final final decisions yet.

At some point I’ll start writing about the 60% and the 10%, because there’s much to be said about these stories and why we chose not to accept them that might be of value to other writers. Until there’s time to do that, though, here’s one quick hint: we reject stories, not writers. Just because one story you sent us got a quick form rejection, that doesn’t mean the next story you send us might not be exactly what we’re looking for.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #2

Three weeks into our 2019 reading period, things seem to be progressing nicely. Submissions slowed for a few days but then returned to their normal pace, and we’re still on-track to receive between 200 and 250 new stories this month. I’m pleased to report that thus far we’ve been getting every new submission received into the hands of a first reader within 48 hours, and getting through first-round reads and first-round decisions within seven days.

For about 65% of the stories we receive, the first-round is as far as they go. For a multitude of reasons these stories just aren’t what we’re looking for right now, so we’ll thank the authors kindly for giving us the opportunity to consider their story and wish them good luck placing it elsewhere. I’d love to be able to send each and every author a detailed explanation as to why we aren’t holding their story over for further consideration, but there simply isn’t the time.

The point I want to stress, though, is that every story submitted to us does get at least one full reading, and generally a first read and then a second skim as we discuss them in first-round triage. We have not yet succumbed to the temptation to reject a story based solely on the author’s cover letter alone—though there have been some close calls...

Thus far we have a small handful of clear BUYs in the hopper, a very few RFWs (requests for rewrites) pending, and a fair number of stories we’re holding over for a second or third re-read. We should begin sending out acceptances this weekend, and if all goes well the new SHOWCASE site should also go live this coming Saturday.

Stay tuned,
~brb

Monday, May 20, 2019

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

Funny, how fast things can change. Thursday morning everything was more or less under control and we were moving forward. Friday morning I woke up, poured myself a cup of coffee, opened up my laptop, checked my email—and wham. This.


Given that all our plans for Rampant Loon Press are based on the assumption that I will continue to be working here, and thus covered by our excellent employee medical insurance and benefits package, for years to come, this change is unsettling. What the exact effects will be remain to be seen. There are a tremendous number of known unknowns in play at the moment.

In any case, if I seem a bit distracted in the next few days or weeks, this is the form that Otogu the Insatiable, Devourer of Days, has chosen this time. Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Submissions and Slush Pile Update #1

Two weeks into our 2019 reading period, things are going about as expected. At the present daily rate we should receive between 250 and 300 new submissions this month. Of these stories, statistically, we’ll be able to buy and publish about 15. These aren’t hard numbers, mind you. They don’t take into account story length, and in fiction publishing, word count is a minor god who must be served.

Hmm. That would be an interesting metric, but we don’t begin to track story length until we get to third-round reads, when we’re starting to evaluate stories in light of how they would jigsaw together into an issue. I wonder if Katherine would revolt if I added word count to the submissions tracking system and asked her to start logging it for each new submission received?

Never mind that now. My point is that speaking statistically, every story that comes in here has a roughly one-in-twenty chance of making it all the way through to being accepted, and most will receive a no-comment form rejection. It’s nothing personal. It’s just the way the numbers work out.

How can you improve your odds? For us, reading slush is always an enlightening experience, somewhat akin to taking the pulse of writers as a collective. About fifty-percent of the stories that show up in our inbox are dead on arrival, usually because the writer failed to read our submission guidelines and sent us something we simply couldn’t use, no matter how objectively good it might be. For example, we are seeing a lot of horror—far more than we could ever possibly publish even if we were to stay in business for another twenty years.

...Out of time, more to follow tomorrow... 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

DemiCon 30 • After Action Report

We’re finally (mostly) recovered from spending the weekend at DemiCon 30, the Des Moines SF/F convention. This was sort of a trial run for us. Karen and I have been off the con circuit for quite a few years and are now beginning to ease back into it, starting with a few small regional cons. Many thanks to Amanda for inviting us and Amanda (the other one) for finding some nice slots for us in the programming!

I haven’t been to a DemiCon since—oh, before you were born. Given that this was “30,” my last DemiCon must have been one in the low single digits. Still, it was really nice to spend a little time with Joe and Gay Haldeman again. It’s been far too long.