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As part of a somewhat expensive Amazon ad campaign, we've dropped the price on The Fugitive Heir to $0.99. If this leads to better follow-on sales of The Fugitive Pair and The Fugitive Snare, we'll leave it at this price. C'mon, buy the complete set!

• All current issues of Stupefying Stories are now available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. See the right column for links. For non-US customers, these should automatically redirect to your local manifestation of Amazon. If they don't, let me know.

• Yes, we are in fact reading new submissions. Our revised submission guidelines aren't ready for public consumption yet, so you'll just have to send your story to submissions@rampantloonmedia.com and take your chances. One story at a time, please! No multiple submissions and no simultaneous submissions!

SHOWCASE IS MOVING BACK IN WITH ITS PARENTS!

As you may have guessed from the new banner, we're consolidating the Stupefying Stories blog and SHOWCASE webzine into one new site. In the meantime, before it's gone for good, you really should check out all the great stories on the old SHOWCASE site.

NOW OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS


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Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Release / Free eBook Friday

STUPEFYING STORIES #19 ESCAPES!



To celebrate the release of STUPEFYING STORIES #19, we’re giving away the Kindle editions of both our latest book (issue #19) and our oldest book that’s still on Amazon (issue #12) FREE for the cost of a click—but for today only.

Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell people you know who aren’t such good friends but still like to get free ebooks! Share the news!

But share it soon, because at midnight tonight, these books go back to normal price.

» DOWNLOAD ISSUE #19 RIGHT NOW

» DOWNLOAD ISSUE #12 RIGHT NOW


STUPEFYING STORIES #19 features the remarkable cover story, “Communion,” by Fi Michell, along with  a terrific mix of fantasy, light horror, superheroes, alien invasions, space adventure, and I don’t know what to call “More Crackle Than Music” but I love it. The book ends with Harold Thompson’s dark but charming story, “Dogs and Monsters,” which I’m hereby going to go out on a limb and christen an entirely new sub-genre, “post-Human steampunk.” Clifford Simak would have loved it.
CONTENTS:
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR THE FAIRYLAND GAZETTE • by Effie Seiberg
HORNS OF A PARADOX • by Julie Frost
THE BONE MERCHANT • by Robert Luke Wilkins
COMMUNION • by Fi Michell
SOULLESS MACHINE • by Jennifer R. Povey
BEHEMOTHS IN THE PARK • by Henry Fields
THE INVASION WILL BE ALPHABETIZED • by Ryan Harvey
MORE CRACKLE THAN MUSIC • by RM Graves
A RAINFOREST, THE WATER CYCLE, AND FIFTY PREGNANT TIGERS • by W. Winward-Stuart
THE OLD MAN AND THE C • by Ronald D. Ferguson
DOGS AND MONSTERS • by Harold R. Thompson
STUPEFYING STORIES #12, on the other hand, is a celebration—no, a defiance—of Winter, in the form of a fine collection of nine wonderful winter’s tales. From a story of slightly mad science and a man who will stop at nothing to get fresh blueberries in December, to the tales of things that wash up on winter beaches that the summer vacation people never see; from a very different take on a very different Russian revolution, to a steel mill in the depths of the Great Depression, to a sleeping bag on a sidewalk in New York City, here are nine tales celebrating the idea that no matter how tough winter may be, we are tougher.
CONTENTS:
ANACHRONIC ORDER • by Christopher Lee Kneram
DRIED SKINS UNSHED • by Julie Day
A NUN’S TALE • by Pete McArdle
THEY FOLLOWED ME • by Carol March
INTERREGNUM • by John J. Brady
FULL FATHOM FIVE • by Judith Field
BONE MOTHER • by Torah Cottrill
ALEPH • by Brandon Nolta
ALIEN TREATIES • by Randal Doering
If for no other reason, get #12 for “Full Fathom Five,” so you’ll understand why I’m so enamored with the stories of Judith Field, and “Aleph,” which is a story I think a lot more people need to read, especially right now.

» DOWNLOAD ISSUE #19 RIGHT NOW

» DOWNLOAD ISSUE #12 RIGHT NOW



And one more thing....

Authors and publishers really appreciate it when readers take the time to put in a good word for a book they like. It’s not just for our egos: word-of-mouth really helps sell books. If you take any of these free ebooks, and you like what you read, please, please, please take a moment to give the book a good rating, or put in a good word for it on Goodreads, or maybe even write a quick review. The authors you like will appreciate it, and they will show their appreciation by writing even more good books and stories for you to enjoy!

Thank you.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • “Dear Time Traveler,” by L. Joseph Shosty


On December 21, 2017, Bruce wrote an op-ed titled “It’s Amazon’s World, We Just Rent Space in It.” In it, a friend of Bruce’s asks (paraphrasing and perhaps embellishing a little), when the market is glutted with small presses, self-pubbers, and ancient reprints hoping to capture evergreen status in this new frontier, how do you stand out in the crowd?

I answered that question about a year or two ago by mostly walking away from the Internet, at least for the time being. See, I’ve tried giveaways, blog tours, and begging overworked critics to review my books; just about everything the internet says you absolutely *must* do to sell your books. This included getting a Twitter account [shudder], but that’s a tale for another day. Suffice it to say, none of it has worked in the long term, and most of it has been more a drain on my time than anything else. I participate on Goodreads, keep a Facebook page, and that’s it.

Instead, I have a little project called The Microcosmic Bookshop, which is essentially a mobile store dedicated to selling my books and related merchandise. It’s not much different than selling at a con, only it’s done on a much larger scale. First of all, I have yet to do a convention as a seller. They’re too expensive, and writers, especially obscure ones, are up against two things at such a place: a finite amount of money being spent, and the far more outlandish events, guests, and vendors drawing attention away from you. More to the point, when John Scalzi is signing books two stalls away as part of some packaged merry-go-round of SF authors, when The Fifth Doctor is charging $75 for a photo op, and fans are paying to meet Jake “The Snake” Roberts before he’s the next famous ex-wrestler to drop dead, your quiet, introspective fantasy novel is hardly going to make a splash. It’s too much competition, even with 10,000 attendees milling about.

My business model works a little differently. Instead of cons, I drive around to flea markets, arts and craft shows, and the like, pay my small fee, and set up a stall. The best part: I’m generally the only author there. It makes me more attractive, even if the customer has never heard of me, and they’re more likely to buy. Also, the low overhead means I turn a profit quickly. That’s really the whole secret. Low overhead, less competition, higher profits. It also means I can be somewhere every weekend if I want to be, sort of like a permanent book tour, if you will. For 2018, I will be working at least forty weekends out of fifty-two.

To make this work, I buy wholesale through Createspace. My books cost about $3.50 per copy to print. Say, about $4 per after shipping. My prices start at $12, but of course, I’m happy to work deals, especially if someone is buying more than one. I can do that because the books are my property, not a publisher’s. So, I make about $8 per sale of my books, not factoring in the rental fee, which is hardly ever above $50 for a weekend. Other merchandise, like my hand-made dice bags for role-playing gamers or used books, generally take care of the rental fees. By comparison, two of my titles wound up in a local Barnes & Noble by sheer twist of fate. I only made $1.50 from each of the thirty books B&N purchased, to the tune of $45. I can do similar sales at events and walk away with $240. I don’t have to make a hundred sales in a weekend. I can put twenty books into the hands of customers, over a three-day period, and that’s all it takes to call the venture a success.

I also don’t do “the author thing,” as I call it. I worked in bookstores for years, and I watched the authors come in, construct a wall of books between them and their public on a banquet table, and then sit there like a bump on a log, waiting for the mountain to come to Mohammed. My designs tend to be more fluid, depending on the shape and size of my work area. Generally, I construct a u-shaped array of tables with my books and related merchandise placed prominently, surrounded by used first editions and other books I’ve collected over the years. I then stand outside of my area. Customers are encouraged to walk into my stall and look around, just as if I were selling glassware or pottery. It’s a comfortable feeling, and it works because I’m not sitting there, with my books laid out in a confrontational way between us, with me staring at people while they try to peruse what I’m selling. I greet them as I see them, and I’ll even walk over to other stalls and engage people, hand out bookmarks, or whatever, and encourage them to come visit me.

There are a number of advantages to this philosophy. Take, for instance, the way crowdfunding has become such a big deal over past few years. From Kickstarter to Patreon, it’s clear the public is enthused at having a greater say in what is being published. Despite the negativity of some Internet cave trolls and IP thieves, far more people want to be patrons of the arts, to be the Medicis of the Information Age, a few dollars at a time. And while I have been a champion of electronic media dating back to the mid- to late-90s, it’s impossible to deny that readers still want print books. They want the heft, the smell, and the comfort such brings. While most like the convenience of online stores, they want to go to places to obtain what they want, and if you’ve ever listened to someone who’s dealt with automated menus over the phone, they want real people to talk to with whom they can connect.

Abandoning the Internet gets me down among the customers and allows me to give them every one of those things they seek. I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had since starting this venture, and how many nice people I’ve met. It’s also given me a number of contacts. Since starting TMB, I’ve gotten interest from privately owned businesses who want to carry my books. As I write this, I either am or will be carried in three local shops, one of whom has multiple locations. The real world is a far more positive place than Facebook ever will be, and an infinitely better place than the media would have us believe. Part of it is I’m giving customers what they want, but there’s also a nostalgic feeling here for something that’s dying by inches: tangibility. I’m a shopkeeper, standing outside my place of business, nodding to folks as they pass by, smiling at children, and being friendly to those who want to browse the physical things I’m selling. No electronics, no LCD screens pounding people with push marketing directing them to my Patreon account they’re trying to read book blurbs, and no attempts to trade electrons for currency. It’s all very low-tech, to the degree that most of my business is cash, though we do take credit cards if we’re in a place with wi-fi. It sounds hokey, but I’ve even considered getting a shop apron with a Microcosmic Bookshop logo on it, both to build brand recognition and to also further that nostalgia.

In modern business terms, I’m creating a regional brand. My little corner of Texas stretches from the Louisiana border west to Austin, and north to Dallas, though I seldom have reason to go any further east than my hometown of Beaumont or Houston to the west, but there’s plenty of room for expansion. The idea is to go where the readers are and put books straight into the hands of those people who want to be patrons. This has an added benefit some of you have probably already realized. Because what are we talking about when we’re sitting around, grousing about Internet marketing? We’re talking about getting the word out, bringing in new readers, and getting reviews. My model handles the first two, and if you create new readers in this way, the third is likely to follow. Full disclosure: so far, it hasn’t resulted in many new reviews for me, but the potential is there. We need x number of reviews for Amazon to take notice so that they’ll aid us in marketing on their site. The more books we sell, the more potential for reviews we have. The more reviews we have, the greater the potential for more online book sales. It’s the old snake biting its tail trick. This is what I mean when I say I’ve almost abandoned the Internet. Being a bestseller in The World Amazon Made is still a major goal of mine, but I’m going at it in a counterintuitive way. I’m starting in the real world with an eye towards using the raving fans I create there to fuel interest in the electronic world, the way brick-and-mortar companies who made successful leaps onto the Internet did in the 90s and early 2000s.

I originally revealed my model to Bruce a few weeks ago in hopes he could perhaps mine it for useful ideas in growing Rampant Loon, particularly Stupefying Stories, a publication of which I’m quite fond. But he made the bigger gesture by asking to publish it, and I believe that’s the right move. We have a real task ahead of us, you see. Like that hypothetical writer at the convention who’s struggling to compete with TV stars and wrestlers, fiction as a medium is in the throes of a long defeat at the hands of TV, social media, and video games. If we’re to keep books alive for subsequent generations, we have to create more readers. To create more readers, we have to get more books out there and into the hands of the right people. To do that, we must push into places where we’re least likely to be found, in my opinion, and that’s why I’m delighted to share what I can with you. Have no illusions. This model hasn’t gotten me great success. No one is beating down my door to offer me million-dollar contracts (not yet, anyway). Hollywood isn’t holding on line two while I finish writing this article. And as always, your mileage may vary, should you try what I’m doing. If I have a hope, it’s that you’ll see this as an alternative to the Internet grind, or perhaps you’ll mine something from here and turn it into a big success. If nothing else, perhaps you’ll see that you’re not trapped into doing the same things other writers are doing and go find new ways to get the word out about what you’ve written.

Good luck to you all.

 


 

L. Joseph Shosty’s first ebook appeared in November, 2000, back when ebooks were still being published on CD-ROM. A long-time champion of digital media, he’s been reviewing and waxing poetic about the potential of electronic literature in particular ever since he saw his first e-zine in 1997. He’s the author of two novels, two novellas, a supplement for writers, and four story collections, the most recent being Trouble My Bones. For more about him, visit his Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/shostyis1337) where he can be found daily, writing about writing, the publishing industry, fiction markets, and occasionally oversharing about his personal life. Currently, he lives in Beaumont, Texas with his wife, son, and a tennis ball return apparatus shaped like a Jack Russell Terrier.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Today on SHOWCASE

Fiction • “Quality of Life,” by Alexandra Renwick




Good afternoon, Mr. Jones. First let me thank you for coming peacefully when our field agents brought you in. I’m sure it was inconvenient to have been interrupted at dinner, and at such an elegant, expensive restaurant, too. A date, was it? Well, I’m certain our agents apologized to your lady friend on your behalf, but the issue of plummeting credit prognostication is of utmost importance to modern society, and we at the Bureau monitor this vital element within our population in the interest of public financial health. A wealthy country is a healthy country after all, Mr. Jones.

I assure you it wasn’t personal. You were simply remotely evaluated and deemed in need of immediate credit intervention and counseling. Our field agents are equipped with the latest in credit prediction technology. With the Credit Endangerment Act and other Credit Viability Legislation, all questions of privacy violation are moot. Soon every local governing body will host a branch of the Bureau, and every Bureau agent will carry a portable C.R.E.D.

Oh yes, Mr. Jones; despite what you may have read in the news, all Credit Rating Evaluation Device testing phases are complete. No, you haven’t heard much about the program, I’m sure; our government’s corporate underwriters wanted to be absolutely certain the portable C.R.E.D. was fully developed, accurate beyond ninety-nine point seven-eight percent in ninety-eight point three percent of cases ninety-six point nine percent of the time. You have to admit, Jones—that’s enough nines to satisfy even the most rigorous of today’s quality control pundits.

There, there. No need to get upset. I’m sure you do think your credit is excellent. I’m sure you do think you have nothing to worry about and, by extension, I’m sure you think we have nothing to worry about regarding yourself. Nobody’s accusing you of not being a conscientious, upstanding citizen. It’s your—and our—very dedication to this great nation which brings us together today. Allow me show you how the C.R.E.D. works.

Beg your pardon? Well yes… I suppose it does look a little like a ceramic doughnut. I’d never noticed. But make no mistake! That smooth frosted exterior hides the finest modern microtechnology, computer components too small to see with the naked eye, taking remote readings from up to twenty meters away. Data transmits wirelessly to centralized computers in orbiting satellites, and complex extrapolations are performed using your posture, the quality of your attire, your current activity, retinal patterns and heartbeat, even the tone of your voice, laughter, and breathing. All crucial factors are run against a background of previously collected data—about you, and others with your same socioeconomic characteristics, psychological makeup, and spending habits. We’ve been collecting data for decades, you know, all in the public interest.

So. I point the—no, I won’t start thinking of it as a doughnut—I point the C.R.E.D. your direction, using a general sweeping motion (it’s all in the wrist). And with no discernible delay, numbers appear on the small readout here and… Well look at that! Just bringing you into this office today has raised your future aggregate probable credit rating by three points. Three points!

Excellent work, Jones. Forewarned is forearmed, and that’s exactly what we’re all about. Remember we’re fighting a war; a war against an unlendable population. We all do our civic duty to ensure the long-term health and safety of this great nation by keeping ourselves and each other lendable. This country was built on revolving credit, and no responsible citizen should ever forget it.

Reliable? Of course it’s reliable! Associate degrees in Probability Calculation and Lendability Prediction are available from reputable colleges and universities coast to coast. I hold degrees in ProCal and L-Pred, myself! The ding to my future credit ratings from student loans was well worth it, I assure you. What better way to spend one’s credit potential than on the things which most improve one’s quality of life?

It’s that very quality of life we here at the Bureau endeavor to preserve—for ourselves, for our children. We’re simply the custodians of the future. We have a legacy to pass on, the legacy of unlimited future spending capacity, the inalienable right to leverage every penny our children may ever earn in advance, so they might pass to their children the glorious wealth and security only unbridled consumption can offer. Would you hobble them, Jones? Would you deny them the very comforts you yourself have come to expect and enjoy, all because of a few careless missteps, a lack of established credit or poor repayment habits or even, worst of all, limited credit availability?

…Please excuse me. I apologize. I’m a new father myself, so I tend to get passionate about such things. I keep a picture right here on my desk, see? Cute little guy. Three months old. I see him at least an hour every night. His mother and I are very proud, though she had to go work overseas shortly after his birth. I’m afraid my wife overextended her personal credit in her prenatal enthusiasm, though neither of us regret the expenditures; we don’t want our little boy to miss out on anything life in this country has to offer. The latest crib with every technological advance; the nursery microsensors regulating air temperature, humidity, and sterility; the hundreds of pre-programmed toys and books and all the clothing we bought… he’ll have the headstart he’ll need to begin building his own credit rating as soon as he’s able. He’ll thank us one day, when he passes these values on to his own children.

Yes, Mr. Jones, I sleep very well at night, knowing my descendants will have the absolute best future that borrowed money can buy.



Alexandra Renwick is a Canadian & US writer with stories in Ellery Queen’s & Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines, Asimov’s, The Baltimore Review, and various Years Bests. She lives in downtown Ottawa’s historic Timberhouse, previous headquarters of the Canadian Legion War Services, the Canadian Forestry Association, The Regional Sommeliers Guild, and the Ottawa Handheld Photography Club. More at alexcrenwick.com or @AlexCRenwick.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Today on SHOWCASE

New Fiction • “600 Years Ago, Today,” by Michael W. Lucht •

By 2134, every memory chip had been networked. Otherwise CRUD, the Commission for the Removal of Unremarkable Data, could not have existed. As things stood, no backup copy was safe from their high-level iterative deletion algorithms. Unless, like Hinckley, one had managed to obtain a rare vintage memory card without integrated wireless access.

Hinckley slotted this highly illegal device into a wireless adaptor to link it with his terminal. That done, a slight gesture was all it took to instruct the computer to copy 2.4 terabytes.

At that moment Javert, senior CRUD manager, appeared at the entrance of Hinckley’s cubicle. The security cam footage shows Hinckley flinching; after all, he had never committed a criminal act before. Hastily, the contraband vanished deep inside his pocket.

Uninvited, Javert strutted inside, grabbing the backrest of Hinckley’s chair. “Deleted Jodie yet?”

“Please reconsider,” Hinckley pleaded. Later, in court, he claimed that he’d still held out hope of changing Javert’s mind.

“I’ve read your report. She’s an ord.”

“She’s anything but ordinary!” To make his point, Hinckley played a section from her video blog on his terminal. It showed a pretty teenager, with tousled hair and intense brown eyes. “Life is a gift,” she declared in a melodious voice. “I shall not waste mine. I will make a difference!”

“Isn’t that profound for an eighteen-year-old?” Hinckley asked.

“With experience you will come to realize that most teenagers share this particular delusion.”

“Her life would have been extraordinary, had she lived!” Hinckley asserted with unshaken conviction. He had spent the past two months following her digital footprints on the highways, roads, and back alleys of the ancient World Wide Web: her YouTube channel, flickr pictures, WordPress blog, reddit and Facebook posts, Twitter feed, and Amazon reviews. To Hinckley, Jodie was beautiful, witty, sexy, prolific, and wise beyond her years.

“Unlikely, and she didn’t. Good riddance!”

Hinckley balled his fists. “And erase from history the pictures of her lovingly carrying her cat? Proudly holding her diploma?” Reverently, Hinckley lowered his volume. “Happy at the beach?”

Expertly Javert brought up her Facebook post about the beach trip. “Pretty and not at all shy,” he leered. “That’s common enough.”

“She died,” Hinckley’s voice cracked, “the very next day.”

“Shit happens! Let me help.”

Thanks to the security cam footage we can witness the panic in Hinckley’s eyes as Javert, with a few practiced sweeps of his hands, initiated the ‘Erase From History’ sequence. Hinckley’s vintage memory card was still plugged into the wireless adaptor, and therefore subject to deletion instructions. Abandoning all caution, Hinckley blatantly dug inside his pocket with both hands, pulling the bits of electronics apart.

A moment later would have been too late. At the speed of light, all traces of Jodie (except official government records) were being deleted from hundreds of backup servers from around the world. Her ambition of becoming a veterinarian, her dream to save what was left of the Amazon, her joy at winning the netball championship, her shy love for the leader of the debate team, and so very, very much more. Gone. Forever.

Except for the contents of Hinckley’s pocket.

Fatefully, his urgent fumbling had not escaped Javert’s attention. “Take it out!” he demanded. We know that this was the third time that one of Javert’s subordinates had created an illegal backup, so he knew the signs. When Hinckley failed to respond, Javert added, “Must I call security?”

Hinckley extracted the wireless adaptor.

“The card!” Javert tapped the desk.

Gently, Hinckley placed the memory card on the table. “Is this really necessary?”

Javert picked up the card by his fingertips. Squinting, he examined it from all sides. “For as long as her record remains, there will be people willing to squander their time on her. It’s human curiosity; we can’t help ourselves. We’ll now prevent that from happening.”

With his free hand, Javert pulled out a pair of scissors from Hinckley’s pencil holder.

“So what if people choose to spend a few hours remembering Judie?” Hinckley demanded, sweating.

“One life, even a thousand lives, would have been okay,” Javert explained. “But Jodie is one of twenty billion lives bequeathed to us, full of self-indulgent tripe. Before the digital age, nine-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine people out of ten-thousand were forgotten a hundred years after their deaths, and that was a good thing. Instead, we now have the chatter of the dead drowning out the thoughts of the living. It’s CRUD’s mission to mine this rubbish heap for nuggets of accomplished, remarkable, or just unusual lives. The rest we delete permanently, ensuring that no one will ever again waste their time on them.”

Javert placed the card between the blades, their pressure holding it in place.

Without uttering a word, Hinckley grabbed the handles, shoving his index finger between them, preventing Javert from closing. Javert held on. Hinckley got out of his seat, twisting around to face his adversary. We don’t know why Javert kept tugging, even as the blades were pointing at his chest.

All of a sudden, Hinckley went from pull to push. The scissors missed Javert’s ribs, piercing his heart.

At his trial, Hinckley explained that he would have done anything to prevent Jodie from ‘dying’ a second time. A murder committed for a girl who had been dead for a century: extraordinary! Hinckley’s life, and the life that had inspired his mortal obsession, had become noteworthy.

And that is why the records of Hinckley and Jodie remain preserved, six-hundred years after the murder. There is little doubt that Hinckley would have been pleased with this turn of events. How Jodie would have felt about the cause of her digital immortality has been the source of much speculation.



Michael W. Lucht is a predominantly Australian writer residing in Hobart, Tasmania. When not writing, he has been known to lecture in mathematics and computing.
With twin ambitions of publishing a fantasy novel and creating artificial life, he is currently prioritizing the novel (which might come as some relief to the world). Said novel should be completed in 2018. If successful, it will be followed by sequels until everyone begs him to, please stop already!

His fiction has appeared in Nature Futures, The Drabblecast, Alternate Hilarities 3 & 4, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Island Magazine. With respect to non-fiction, he has heterogeneously contributed to: The Journal of Chemical Physics, Artificial Life, The Skeptic, and Cracked.com.
For more details, see: http://www.michaelwlucht.com. For even deeper dives into the science behind this story, see “The Unstoppable Rise of the Facebook Dead” and “The Hard Drive You Can Make Self-Destruct With a Text.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

Media Relations

Podcast • Storypunks Interview •



I did an interview with Cindy Grigg at Storypunks.world a few weeks back. It’s now up on YouTube, iTunes, and wherever else it is that podcasts go to reach the world. Personally, I’m afraid to watch it—I have a painful “second guess” reflex, and whenever I watch or listen to a recording of myself later, I’m always hearing all the things I should or shouldn’t have said—but you may find it interesting. Here’s the link:

https://storypunks.world/2017/10/27/interview-cyberpunk-with-author-bruce-bethke/

Enjoy!
~brb

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • “2018: Where We Stand,” by Bruce Bethke •



We began with a Kindle.

That sounds much better than, “We began with a series of expensive blunders, some of which continue to this day.”

A decade ago, when we first incorporated Rampant Loon Media LLC, I really had no interest in becoming an SF/F fiction publisher. At that time I’d already spent about 30 years in the publishing business, on one side of the desk or the other, and in the end, I’d walked away from genre fiction with no regrets.

Or so I thought.

When we launched Rampant Loon Media—and note the name; “Media,” not “Press”—I was most interested in exploring this emerging new world of electronic publishing, and I wanted to do non-fiction: especially cookbooks.

There, that’s a trade secret for you: if you want to tell stories, write fiction. If you want to make money, and write a book that people will treasure for years, return to often, give as gifts to friends, and pass down to their children, write a good cookbook. Say, Gourmet Kosher Vegetarian Stir-Fry on a Budget. Seriously. That and the Hmong Church Ladies’ Potluck Recipe Book were to be our first two titles. Ever seen the movie Gran Torino? The way it portrayed the traditional Hmong ‘Ordeal by Food’ was exactly right. Mm-mmm. Sticky rice, sweet pork, and spring rolls. Wish I could still eat them without blowing my glycemic index to hell and gone.

Excuse me. I really must learn not to write these columns before breakfast.

While digging through our files recently, I stumbled across our original mission statement:
“Rampant Loon Media LLC is a small, privately owned Midwestern company dedicated to the seemingly radical proposition that if we produce high-quality work, conduct our business dealings in an open and ethical manner, and always treat our partners and contributors as we ourselves would wish to be treated, we can successfully bootstrap a New Media company from the ground up without swearing fealty to some political faction, joining a religious order, begging for corporate sponsorship, groveling before foundation grant committees, or publishing work we’d be embarrassed to have our parents or children see.”
Hmm. “New Media:” well, that certainly was pretentious enough. But not a word in there about launching a pulp revolution, changing the face of science fiction, making genre fiction great again, or anything that smacks of a manifesto, is there? In fact, from the outset, I was determined to avoid having the company take any sort of public political stance, as I thought it was irrelevant to what we were trying to do, which was to educate and entertain.

Here in 2018, is it even possible to avoid assuming a public political posture anymore? Must one pledge allegiance to the Big Endian faction and denounce those vile Little Endians, or vice versa, and thus immediately write-off half your potential market? I no longer know. I only know that last year felt like 1969 all over again, and that worries me, because I remember 1970 much too well.

One last observation re our original mission statement: bear in mind that it was written as I was ending my ten-year term on the Board of Directors of yet another Section 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and after serving on the BoDs of three different 501(c)(3)s I had profound antipathy for the whole idea of non-profit corporations and their effects on the arts. But that critique is best saved for another time, if ever: suffice to say it’s why Rampant Loon Media was born as a for-profit corporation, not a non-profit.

And then, Stupefying Stories


Rampant Loon Media backed into being a genre fiction publishing company with the 2010 launch of Stupefying Stories—which, to be honest, was mostly a lark, expected to be a one-off, and an outgrowth of the original Friday Challenge. We thought it would be fun to see if we could duplicate the look and feel of an old-school SF pulp magazine—and we could, and it was—but it was expensive fun, so we decided not to do that again. However, if you want to see, feel, and smell how the experiment turned out, we still have a few copies left in the warehouse, and they’ve probably aged enough to have that proper musty-but-not-mildewy scent by now.

GRATUITOUS PLUG! BUY THE BOOK! BUY IT FROM K&B BOOKSELLERS!

And this is where the Kindle enters the story. Literally between the time we signed off on the printer’s galleys and the time the bindery delivered the finished books, my wife was diagnosed with advanced lobular invasive breast cancer. After recovering from the surgery she began daily chemotherapy, and being someone with a four-novel-a-week reading habit, she quickly found that schlepping around her usual bag filled with traditional print books and magazines was exhausting. So purely to save weight and wear and tear on her, I bought her her first Kindle: one of the (now) old, E-Ink, grayscale models.

That little gizmo was a revelation. Up to this point I’d been thinking mostly in terms of web and media (e.g., CD, DVD) delivery of content. I’d tried most of the pre-Kindle e-readers, but none of them worked well enough to pursue further. That first Kindle, though, showed me that it might—just might—be possible to publish genre fiction in a way that made some kind of economic sense.

A year later, Stupefying Stories was reborn, this time as a direct-to-ebook title. Rather than natter about the next few years, though, I’ll just point you to our old Publications Catalog, which to my surprise is still online. You might find the author index mildly amusing.

Stupefying Stories was doing reasonably well until issue #11, after which things went off the rails big time. Since then we’ve had a long string of false starts, attempted reboots, discursions into blind alleys and bad ideas (e.g., Theian Journal, Putrefying Stories, Tales from the Wild Weird West, etc., etc.), all of which are now filed under Expensive Blunders.

Why not just call it quits? I’m not entirely certain. Pride? Hubris? Pig-headed stubbornness? Perhaps it’s some warped form of personal integrity. I only know I’ve made a lot of promises to a lot of people, and I’m determined to make good on those promises. I’m not ready to shut it down just yet.

2018: The Road Ahead


As we roll into 2018, though, it’s clear that we must make a lot of changes in the way we do business. What used to work no longer does. In 2011-2012 we were pioneers on the digital frontier, and could pretty much fling anything out there and have it succeed. Now, the landscape has changed. Hell, the devices have changed. My wife’s latest Kindle Fire HD 10 looks and works nothing like her original Kindle (which she’s quite forgotten how to use). There’s a lot more competition out there, a lot more books, a lot more authors—not many more readers, apparently—and a lot more we could be doing with the technology. We now need to think very seriously about look, feel, marketing, positioning, the “reader experience,” and branding. Just what does the Rampant Loon Press brand mean, anyway?

I heard that. Someone in the back of the room said, “The Henry Vogel Publishing Company.” Well, yes, that’s been true, and Henry’s books have kept RLP alive, for which we’re grateful, but we’ve got to expand beyond that, and in 2018, we will.

We also need to figure out what the Stupefying Stories brand means, and that’s where it gets sticky, because up to this point, what it’s mostly meant is, “stories Bruce Bethke likes.”

Oh. I’ve never considered myself as a brand before. And when I do—when I turn it around, and consider what I would think of myself if I was a writer, dealing with myself as an editor—well, I don’t much like what I see, especially on the “always treat our partners and contributors as we ourselves would wish to be treated” front. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

So that will change. Fortunately, I think there’s still time to fix that, and make it stand for something good, and not, “Now what?”

I won’t say all our problems are fixed and we’re back in full production again. I’ve been burned—and have burned other people—too many times by saying that. But with #18 released and selling, #19 releasing next week, #20 copy-edited and in final production, and #21 well in-progress, I’m beginning to feel cautiously optimistic.

No Free e-Book Friday this week. Instead, we’ll be doing a free e-book promo next week, in conjunction with the release of #19. Watch for it.

And in the meantime: PLEASE BUY OUR BOOKS!




In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.