Sunday, January 2, 2022

Re: The Pete Wood Challenge, SHOWCASE, etc., etc


I’m working through some issues pertinent to the future of Stupefying Stories this week, and today I’d like to pose some questions and solicit your opinions. 

1. Re: The Pete Wood Challenge 

In 2021 we ran a lot of flash fiction that came out of The Pete Wood Challenge, and most of it was surprisingly good. (I remain particularly impressed by “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!” by Roxana Arama.) The Pete Wood Challenge was thrown wildly cattywampus by my wife’s medical crisis in July, the aftermath of which ended up consuming most of the rest of the year. Honestly, I’m amazed I’ve gotten anything done at all.

When we started running the challenges we were publishing the stories sequentially, on a daily basis, usually building up to publishing the grand prize winner on Friday. That worked well and got a lot of readers, but it was also a lot of work, and the time to do that kind of work has been difficult to find since July. With the latest two challenges—the Christmas and New Year’s flash fic contests—I decided to try something different and published the stories all at once, with an index page. 

The results have been… not what I’d hoped for. Readers largely have been looking at only the grand prize winners and ignoring the others, which is a shame, as the qualitative differences between the grand prize winners and the others are often solely a matter of Pete’s judgement—and Pete and I do not always agree on how the stories should be ranked.

QUESTION: Should we continue with publishing the Challenge winners en masse, or look for a way to go back to publishing them daily and in sequential order?


SHOWCASE has had a tortured interesting history. When we first launched SHOWCASE in 2013, the idea was that it would be a weekly webzine, with issues typically consisting of 10K~15K words of new fiction, book release announcements and updates (if any), a movie review, and a “talking shop” article about fantastic fiction and the writing thereof. If you want some idea of what the original concept for SHOWCASE looked like, check out SHOWCASE #10, if only to read a wonderful little story by Alex Shvartsman that you probably missed. 

After a few months of doing SHOWCASE as a webzine we realized that cell phones were becoming an increasingly important delivery medium for short fiction and our original site looked like total crap on a phone, so we switched over to the “crevasse” design, which succeeded in actually looking worse and earned its name by being both blindingly white and a place where stories fell in, never to be seen again. If you want some idea of what the crevasse site looked like, put on your sunglasses and click this link—and if you scroll around a bit, you’ll find some great little stories by S. R. Mastrantone, Judith Field, Robert Lowell Russell, Jamie Lackey, Samuel Marzioli, Beth Cato, Jamie Lackey, Lance Mushung, Pete Wood, and many more—all of which you’ve probably never seen before, because as I said, the crevasse site was a place where stories fell in, to die piteously, alone, forgotten, and unloved.

In its next incarnation we spent some serious money on site design and relaunched SHOWCASE as a WordPress site, which you can still find right here, and while we published around 170 stories on this site, it never did what we were hoping it would do in terms of reaching readers. Too much division of effort, I suppose. So then we re-re-re-rebooted SHOWCASE as a feature right here on the Stupefying Stories blogspot site, but it’s always been sort of our red-headed stepchild and has never received the attention it deserves. Go ahead. Click the link. There are some great stories here I know you’ve missed, because I watch the metrics and readership stats. 

I relate all this history because the webzine, crevasse, and WordPress sites are all about to go away, as we consolidate our web presence and jettison old and unmaintained sites and hosting services. The plan is to replace this web site with a WordPress (or WordPress-like) site, but as with everything else we planned to do in 2021, it was thrown off-track by my wife’s medical crisis and the project is now about six months behind schedule. 

QUESTION (A): Is it worth trying to salvage all the content that’s out there on the webzine, crevasse, and WordPress sites, or should we just let it disappear when we shut the sites down, as so much else on the Internet eventually does?

QUESTION (B): We keep looking at the weekly webzine concept and thinking it was the right idea but the wrong execution. If we were to resurrect SHOWCASE as a weekly or twice-monthly ‘zine, containing, say, one major short story, one or two minor short stories, one shop talk article, some movie and/or book reviews, and perhaps a chapter of a serialized novel, would you read it?

QUESTION (C): If yes to B, would you prefer to see it as a a.) webzine, b.) downloadable file (PDF, epub, etc.), c.) in a printed and bound format, or d.) all of the above?

3. Finally, for your reading pleasure…

When I first launched Stupefying Stories I had the hubris to imagine I could create a magazine that defied genre boundaries. Since then I’ve learned that the Gods of the Genre Boundaries are not to be defied lightly, that my place in the universe is not just to be a science fiction writer but to be a cyberpunk science fiction writer, and that if I dare to poke my head out of my assigned genre pigeonhole I risk getting it lopped off.

Ergo here, for your reading pleasure, is a story rescued from the crevasse: “On the Pond,” by Jake Doyle. There is nothing science fictional or fantastic or even slighly cyberpunkish about it: it’s just a damned good story about hockey, cancer, and the bonds between friends. Let this stand as a testimony to the kinds of fiction I wanted to be able to publish.




Pete Wood said...

I like the gradual reveal with a differnt story being published every day.
For what it's worth, picking the winner of these challenges is often quite hard. The overall quality is high and if you just skip to the winner, you're missing some great stories.

GuyStewart said...


1) Create a form so I can "vote" clearly without having to go from here, back to the beginning of the post four or five times...I'd volunteer to do it, but my facility with computers is limited. Also, you can make a decision base on quantitative data rather than anecdotal meanderings.

2) Do I start HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES on Friday 1/7 as I'd planned or wait until the votes are in?


ray p daley said...

I'd rather our posts here don't simply vanish. Sure, we can request the Internet Archive logs them, but I'd like to be able to have active links to my work on Stupefying Stories, not just memories of what once was.

GuyStewart said...

I also agree with Pete and Ray.