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 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


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


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 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!


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.


(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.”


(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
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,

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.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Re Submissions

Here’s one more thing we’ll be adding to the Submission Guidelines ASAP:
Please do not send email with HUGE (multi-megabyte) attachments to our submissions email inbox. Such submissions just overflow the inbox, clog up the pipes, and end up being deleted unread. If we want to see your author’s photo in all its glorious 16MB hi-res beauty, we will ask for it after we’ve accepted your story and put it under contract, and then you’ll be directed to send it to a different mailbox.
In the meantime, if you’ve tried to send us a submission in the past 48 hours and gotten a “mailbox full” bounce-back message, be advised that we’ve located the source of the problem, plunged the pipes, and everything should be flowing freely again. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

As criteria go, this is not a bad one to embrace. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Rampant Loon Press Status Update • by Bruce Bethke

Hang on. This gets very personal.

Funny thing, how you can spend most of your life with someone and still wind up with very few photos of the two of you together. We have lots of photos of one of us in someplace interesting, doing something with one or more of the kids or grandkids. But photos of me and Karen together, in the same place, at the same time?

They’re pretty rare. 

I kind of like that one over there to the right → . It was shot last year by our friend Dan Christy, on some barren volcanic landscape somewhere in Iceland. It wasn’t quite the photo I was hoping to use today: that photo would have been the one shot as we were standing in front of Something-or-other-Foss—in Icelandic, “foss” means waterfall, which is why so many Icelandic place-names end in foss; the island is just loaded with waterfalls—and it was taken on a beautiful bright and sunny day, with a wonderful sort of rainbow bridge effect shimmering in the air behind us, because of the sunlight shining through the mist. Unfortunately the nice young lady who volunteered to snap the photo of us wasn’t completely solid on the operation of my phone’s camera, so that photo exists only in our memories of the moment, and to some small extent in the reflection in the left lens of her sunglasses...

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

State of the Loon

Eric here. So, you might be wondering what the heck is going on with Rampant Loon. There was a whole flurry of activity right around the end of last year with the publication of Stupefying Stories #22 in November and The Midnight Ground right around New Year’s. Incidentally, The Midnight Ground has gotten nearly universally positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads if you were on the fence about it.  There was talk of a new issue of Stupefying Stories on the near horizon and some new content formats, like a podcast. A new website was supposed to be unveiled. Unsolicited submissions were supposed to open up again in April. Books were in line for publication.

Obviously, none of that has happened in the intervening few months. There’s some behind the scenes things going on that have pushed back the calendar for all of those happenings. Without diving into all of the nitty-gritty, it basically boils down to the fact that Bruce works a full-time and sometimes more than full-time job. That is in addition to his duties as Cat Herder-in-Chief of all Rampant Loon projects. For my part, I work full-time and sometimes more than full-time as a freelance writer to support myself. I’m also getting ready to move in the very near future. That means that, despite all of our best intentions, the real world of work projects, deadlines, bills, and surviving-adult-life logistics got in the way.

With the exception of opening up unsolicited submissions in April, all of the things on the list above are still in play. Some of the behind the scenes things have resolved themselves already, others will resolve themselves within the next 3 or 4 weeks, and others remain stubbornly immune to a clear resolution timeframe. As the behind the scenes things resolve, though, you’ll start seeing more obvious movement and updates on all fronts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Quick Status Update

This is just a quick status update, for those wondering what’s been going on with Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories. The short version is that in Real Work World the huge software release that was scheduled to go out on February 28 did ship on time, just barely, but by the end it turned into Project Deathmarch, and as of today I’m still cleaning up wreckage.

The long version requires much use of four-letter words, so I’ll spare you that.

Stupefying Stories #23 will release on April 1, come Hell or high water, and I’ll have more to say on that later, but not at this moment.

Finally, please note: we’ve decided to push up opening to new unsolicited submissions back to May 1, 2019, not April, as previously stated.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Release: THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, by Eric Dontigney

Just released:

THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, by Eric Dontigney. Available now for Kindle and also in trade paperback.

Kindle edition:


(The two pages are supposed to be cross-linked, but that hasn’t happened yet, because Amazon.)

Here’s the jacket copy: 
“As middleman to the magical community at large, Adrian Hartworth never sticks around. His nomadic lifestyle keeps him a step ahead of friends, enemies, and all too often, law enforcement. Then he saves Abby Simmons and her grandfather, only to find himself unofficially adopted into their unlucky family. Years of experience tell him that the cancer killing Abby is anything but natural. His instincts say flee.

“Driven by the guilt of a past filled with bad choices, Hartworth delves into Abby’s misfortunes and the town’s dark past. What he discovers lands him at the heart of a century-old battle against an evil he knows he cannot defeat. The man who never sticks around will face a choice: take a stand against a power that will crush him, or a leave a young girl to die and damn thousands in the process.”
On a purely personal note, I’m really proud of this one, not just because it’s our most ambitious and serious original novel to date, and not just because it’s a compelling read and an outstanding supernatural thriller, but because we actually hit our goals of having both the Kindle and paperback editions up and selling on Amazon on the planned release date, January 1st! Better yet, we’re already getting great reader reviews!
“Hartworth is a hero in the vein of John Constantine and Harry Dresden. This series combines the best of the two, with a fresh take on the magic-detective-thriller genre. And there’s a cat. Definitely worth the time!”
“Fabulous and compelling read. If you like Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Texas characters and town, you will enjoy this book!”
“A young girl caught in the crosshairs of a powerful evil. A lost practitioner finding redemption he didn’t know he needed. This is a book you won’t want to put down. Action-packed and full of heart-stopping exciting moments, I cannot wait to see what new adventure the next book takes me.”
“Adrian Hartworth, a man well-acquainted with the spirit world, stops for the night in a small town and can’t seem to leave. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next as Adrian struggles against powers beyond his comprehension and abilities as he tries to help a teenage girl who has had way more than her share of “bad luck.” This book is fast-paced and well written; now I’m looking forward to Adrian’s next adventure!”
“A broken hero, a cursed town, and impossible odds, along with top-notch world-building and gripping prose. Eric Dontigney knocks it out of the park, and I can’t wait to see where he goes with this series.”
THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, by Eric Dontigney. Available now for Kindle and in trade paperback.

Kindle edition: