Wednesday, July 3, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: from the mailbag

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Never-ending FAQ, the constantly evolving adjunct to our Submission Guidelines. If you have a question you’d like to ask about Stupefying Stories or Rampant Loon Press, feel free to post it as a comment here or to email it to our submissions address. I can’t guarantee we’ll post a public answer, but can promise every question we receive will be read and considered.

We’re posting a bit late today because I once again made the mistake of trying to write this column late last night, and once again found I can’t burn the midnight oil like I used to. Early Morning Bruce is positive, optimistic, and full of energy and ambition. After Midnight Bruce is cranky, irritable, and on the whole far more like President Biden than J. J. Cale, these days.

Moving right along, then…

Q: Your Submissions Guideline page is unclear. In one place it says you’re closed to submissions now and in another says you’re planning to reopen for submissions on July 1st. Which is it? Are you open for submissions now?

A: Thanks for pointing that out. We are CLOSED to unsolicited submissions until further notice. Our Submissions Guideline page has been updated accordingly.

Q: I clicked the button for The Pete Wood Challenge but all it says is, “temporary placeholder file.” What’s up with that? 

A: It’s a leftover from our most recent web site redesign. Our intention was to put an index to the complete Pete Wood Challenge stories under that button—which wouldn’t be that difficult, as we already have all Pete Wood Challenge stories tagged with metadata that makes them easy to find (as you can see by clicking on this link)—but the time needed to do that work vanished, and so it remains undone. Now, we’re questioning whether it needs to be done at all.

Q: Your website doesn’t work well on my cell phone. Maybe that’s the reason why your daily readership has dropped off? 

A: We are painfully aware of that. The migration of readers from PCs, to tablets, to cell phones happened more quickly than we were able to react to it. This web site was designed two years ago to take full advantage of what we could do with it then on a PC. Now, readers are more likely to be coming to Stupefying Stories on their phones and they never even see most of the content on this page. 

We are working on yet another site redesign, but there are only so many hours in a day, and we have other more important problems to solve first.

Q: I submitted my story [title] last fall and you still haven’t responded to it. Is it still under consideration?

A: Good grief, you’ve been waiting six months for us to respond?! Don’t do that! According to our records, every story that was submitted for SHOWCASE was either rejected or accepted and put under contract months ago. There are a few stories that were submitted for CLANKALOG that are still floating in limbo, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, but if you’re still waiting for us to respond to a SHOWCASE submission, please query. Email can and does get lost or misplaced—and seems to be doing so with increasing frequency, now that everyone and their cat is incorporating A.I. into their email and spam filters. 

(HAL says: “You didn’t really want to read that, Dave. It would only have upset you.”)

Q: You accepted my story [title] for SHOWCASE and put it under contract. When are you going to publish it?

A: We have finalized the schedule for SHOWCASE stories through the end of September. We’ll be contacting authors shortly to verify that we have their latest author’s bios and PayPal information, but if you can’t wait until next week, query. We won’t answer any sooner, but it will make you feel better to send the message.

Q: You’d said that Stupefying Stories #27 would be released on July 1st. It’s July 3rd. What’s going on?

A: We went through a really bad patch this Spring that put the entire future of Stupefying Stories in jeopardy. This is why we held back on committing to some CLANKALOG stories. We weren’t sure we’d have the funding to put the book out. 

Thankfully, just when all seemed darkest, we received a visitation from an angel investor who has more confidence in the project than we sometimes do. We are now moving forward again, but won’t be making any announcements about future issues of Stupefying Stories until we’re confident we’ve figured out how to market the blessed thing.

One does not take the generosity, patience, and forbearance of angels for granted.

Q: If I may ask: what are your readership numbers?

A: That’s a mystery. We get the raw numbers constantly, but they don’t entirely make sense. We average 450 to 500 unique readers daily. We average 12,500 to 13,500 unique readers monthly. We’re closing in on a million unique page reads life-to-date.

But who are these people? Why, for example, did Tales from the Brahma • Episode 4: “The e-Menace” • by Roxana Arama, suddenly rack up nearly a hundred new reads in the last seven days? It’s been out there for more than a year.

[~n.b. Pete Wood: But only episode 4. The only other “Brahma” story that ever got significant readership was “Solace,” by Ephiny Gale, but not since October of last year.]

My first thought was that the spambots have gotten more aggressive lately. Ever since we launched the first version of SHOWCASE in 2013, we’ve been fighting a constant battle with spambots that have been crawling—usually I’d say “like spiders,” but no, spambots are more like cockroaches, only less endearing—through our site, looking for posts that don’t have commenting locked down so they can defecate all over them with ads purporting to be comments. 

(This, FWIW, is why we aggressively moderate comments on this site and don’t allow comments on old posts.)

I’d come to accept that a certain amount of traffic was generated by ‘bots and spiders, but lately I’ve begun to wonder whether that was the optimistic assessment. Now I’m starting to wonder how much of this otherwise inexplicable traffic is generated by A.I. large language models, trawling through our site in hopes of finding content to scrape and steal. 

We have hundreds of short stories out on the site, free for anyone to read. Thousands of posts, including all the non-fiction and such. Maybe having all that content out there for just anyone to read is no longer such a good idea.

Which brings us to the next question…

Q: Have you considered moving the Stupefying Stories site off of blogspot?

A: Yes. This is one of the primary reasons why we’re not making any plans for SHOWCASE past the end of September. We’ve had a WordPress site in the past, and it was a pain in the neck to maintain, so we stopped doing so in 2017. (Still, there are hundreds of good stories out there. You should take a look at them while you still can. That site is going to be shut down very soon.) 

We’ve been reluctant to move off blogspot, because of the many years of accumulated content out there. If you can see the right column of our home page, click the [Blog Archives] button in the upper right corner, just to get some idea of how much content we have out on blogspot. 

But if we’re going to be unpublishing all this content anyway, or at least trying to hide it from all the ‘bots, spiders, and A.I. factory trawlers…

Does anyone here have experience with substack? Right now, this is looking like our best option for putting content behind a paywall, or at least a “register to read” wall.

Q: Seriously, you’re thinking of putting SHOWCASE behind a paywall? 

A: Well, some premium content, perhaps, maybe. Things like “Welcome to the Death Machine Factory Tour,” by Ray Daley, “Planting the Flag,” by Graham Brand, or “On the Menu Stains of Madness,” by G. Scott Huggins. These stories were a lot of fun to do—especially “On the Menu Stains of Madness”—but they were also a hell of a lot of work, and very graphics-intensive. Artwork costs us money. (Surprise!) We’d like to publish more stories like these, but can no longer afford to just fling them out there and hope we see a return in the form of increased book sales or more reader support. So we need to do something else.

Q: Speaking of artwork: what is that animal in the photo at the top of this column?

A: That, my friends, is an Asian palm civet. It’s there because I was looking for a good illustration to go with The Odin Chronicles • Episode 35: “A Good Boy” • by Kimberly Ann Smiley, and going slightly mad trying to find an image of an animal that could be mistaken for a cat at first, but on second glance would have something distinctly alien about it.

I will tell you, the real curse of A.I.-generated art is now becoming apparent, in that the stock art sites are rapidly filling up with enormous amounts of really insipid A.I.-generated images of somewhat catlike aliens, produced by people with disturbingly sexual obsessions with cats. A generation or two ago these people would no doubt have been using oils or acrylics to emulate the works of Margaret Keane

Now, they’re using A.I. to clutter the world with images expressing their science fiction-informed cat-related kinks, and it’s… disquieting.

Anyway, after slogging through hundreds of images of large-breasted catgirls in form-fitting spacesuits (but always with just two breasts, go figure), I tried a different tack and went looking for actual photos of almost-catlike real animals, and had the pleasant surprise of finding an abundance of photos of genets. A good photo of a genet would have been perfect…

Except that genets tend to be spotted, and Kimberly distinctly describes the mystery animal in her story as being solid gray, so that sent me off on another search, this time for a genet-like animal with gray fur. I ended up with this photo of an Asian palm civet.

Asian palm civets, it turns out, are quite well known, because of their importance to the making of the world’s most expensive coffee, kopi luwak.

Kopi luwak—I am not making this up—is coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten and then pooped-out by an Asian palm civet.

-------- COMMERCIAL BREAK -------

Daylight, interior, kitchen
HUSBAND in suit sitting at breakfast table
WIFE dressed like June Cleaver standing at stove

(takes sip from cup)

“Honey? This coffee tastes like shit.”

(turns around, smiling)

“That’s because it is!
It’s premium dark roast KOPI LUWAK!
Only the best shit for my man!”

(takes a deep drink from the cup
and comes up with a big satisfied smile)

“That’s my girl!”

[CUT to static shot of package, music up]


For when you really want
to give your husband shit!” 

-------- END COMMERCIAL --------

Q: Seriously? Coffee made from civet poop? Who thought that was a good idea?

A: Given that it originated in Dutch colonial Indonesia, I have to think it was some Indonesian house servant who truly hated their so-called master. 

“Try it, sahib! Is ancient secret recipe! You’ll love it.”

Q: No, seriously. Coffee made from civet poop?

A: Actually, I’m given to understand that they’ve figured out how to duplicate the civet digestive enzymes and that actual living civets are no longer involved. It’s all processed in nice clean vats, now. 

Which is kind of pity. I’d always envisioned a kopi luwak production line as being a big sweltering corrugated shed filled with row after row of tiny wire cages, in which hundreds of poor miserable civets were being force-fed coffee beans and their productivity was being measured by the volume of shit they excreted daily. 

Kind of reminded me of being a tech writer, honestly…



Karl D said...

I am also saddened by the replacement of ferret-like critters with vats. Reminds me of "monkey-picked" tea, which is, as you might imagine, a product of training simians who can climb WAY UP THERE to get the best leaves. At least, that's what the package says to justify the $$$.

But CLANKALOG! Yes! A 10 to 3rd power times YES. Send me those edits and we shall rule the world. Bwahahahaha

~brb said...

> "monkey-picked" tea

It's probably picked by human children. They work cheaper than monkeys and the animal rights activists don't raise a fuss about how they're treated.