Just received this in the mail. From the editor of the very nice annual Shadows and Tall Trees, Michael Kelly, an anthology of contemporary horror stories by Canadian authors. Nice cover, too:
Here is a very nice interview with Jason Starr from 2009 from “The Reading and Writing Podcast.” Starr has interesting things to say about noir vs. mainstream mystery/suspense. Recorded around the time of the release of his book Panic Attack, which I haven’t read yet. I have read his The Follower and Cold Caller, and enjoyed both of those.
I have hired an editor to edit SAD JINGO prior to its publication by Delabarre Publishing. One of the perils of ebook publishing is the allure of instant gratification, the ease with which one can send something out into the webosphere unfiltered and unrefined, and this I am determined to resist; one of the advantages of traditional publishing is the attention a manuscript might, if it is lucky, enjoy from a professional editor, and this I am hiring done.
In the case of SAD JINGO, it becomes a little bit more complicated. The book nearly sold to a traditional publishing house in the late 1990s. I was greatly flattered and thrilled to have been an acquisition target by one of the more esteemed editors in the trade, who has now passed on, but the publisher at that time had a strict hard/soft policy, and that editor could not convince anyone on the softcover side that the book was as good as he thought it was, so it didn’t sell.
More than ten years later, the agent who repped the book at the time has started up an ebook publishing company of his own and asked to publish my book. I withdrew it from consideration at a small traditional publisher in Brooklyn, New York, and agreed to his offer. No royalties, but 50/50 split of sales revenue once the book clears the publisher’s initial outlay for production, cover art and copyediting. At this point, I’m not in it for the money, but if the book gets any play at all, there could be a bit of that. Hopefully enough to cover the cost of hiring an editor.
Enter the editor. In the time since nearly selling SAD JINGO, I’ve revised it. The freelance editor has agreed to read both versions and tell me what I fixed that didn’t need fixing, what I failed to fix, and other editorial insights. On her Publishers Marketplace page, the editor I hired featured a blurb of endorsement by the late editor at the traditional publisher who wanted to buy JINGO in the the 199os. That, and talking to her twice over the telephone, and this, were the clinchers: She said that a book is of its time, meaning the time it was written, and it is often perilous to update. That resonated with me.
So I am prepping both versions. I send it to her in a few weeks, once her schedule clears.
Further thoughts on this thread. Am thinking that one of the stories I’m typing into manuscript form from my early-morning longhand sessions, which repeats some plot elements of a previously written story, is not quite up to snuff compared to the first version, and contains some ugly subject matter that I am afraid is there merely for shock value. The early morning id surprises sometimes. This is a problem in general, however, with setting out to write “scary” or “horrific” (I prefer, sometimes, the Aickman label “strange”) fiction: If you intend to frighten and horrify, what is the proper degree of disgusting or disturbing detail that you ought to include, and where is the line you mustn’t cross?
The story “The Swords” by Aickman is a good example of a story that contains some extremely disturbing content, but that relates it in ways that does not rub the reader’s nose in it. You know the grotesqueness being hinted at, yet it is not explicitly depicted. You know the shamefulness dramatized by the protagonist, and wish you didn’t recognize it so clearly. By recognizing it, the reader is implicated, in a “it takes one to know one” way.
The two warring versions of my story, or stories, have this in common: 1) monstrous relatives who need special looking after, 2) protagonists charged with doing so, and 3) catastrophic collisions with the world at large that change the protagonist.
The differences are in the details. I am coming to realize that in one version, the horrific particulars of the monstrous relative are acceptable to the reader, are not an affront or deliberate assault. I am not so sure about the second version. Rather than entertain in a horrifying way, it may merely repulse and offend, and cause readers to cease reading. There are worthwhile details in it that perhaps I can salvage, and the central relationship is interesting, but these good points are marred, it seems, by the aggressive nature of the horror element. It’s as if an imp inside me wishes to see how far my pen is willing to go. Why? To embarrass myself? To ensure rejection?
There is a third version/story in my notebooks, not yet typed up in its entirely, that has the same three main plot points (though the protagonist and the horrific ward are not related; in this case the caretaker is a hired stranger). This story I like overall, though it is still far from ready to submit for publication. Its horror elements are not offensive. So in the end I may have two stories, with similar themes, and bits to use in a third, to file away under “horrifying but not too egregiously so details” or similar.
Nice acting turn by Michael Hordern, who one might recognize as the fellow who played Marley in the Alistair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol.” I like this little movie very much. It very nicely, very economically conveys the horror the protagonist feels as he realizes that something he used to scoff at will be with him for the rest of his days.
Am finding that, in recent drafts of short horror stories written longhand upon rising in the early morning, certain plot elements repeat, to the extent that they are almost different versions of the same story. Am puzzling over whether this is a good or bad thing, whether I need to decide which version is best and attempt to publish only that one, or whether it is okay to proceed with submitting for publication variations on a theme.
Recently read Elizabeth Jane Howard’s ghost story “Three Miles Up,” in a nice edition of her tales published by Tartarus Press. Found it effective and creepy. Love the little boy running off in abject fear at the sight of Sharon, and the repeated answer to the question “where is the village?” — “Three miles up,” first uttered by the old man, then by the boy, who reminds them he told them once already. But I must admit, I’m a bit puzzled about what, exactly, Sharon is. Will have to search the Intertubes to see if I can find a satisfying answer. Or read it again, and let it sit in the mind a while, aging, gathering resonance. Stories that puzzle are often best savored that way.
The story reminded me, by the way, of Blackwood’s “The Willows,” in the sense that the protagonists were pitted, in part, against a hostile landscape. But in “Three Miles Up,” the “monster” is among the protagonists, while in “The Willows” all menace is exterior.
This blog will tell the final steps in the journey of the novel SAD JINGO from nearly published in the late 1990s by a traditional New York publishing house to actual publication by ebook publisher Delabarre Publishing sometime in mid-to-late 2011.
Along the way, I will post about the process of exploring the dark areas of the imagination through writing, and point out good examples in books and movies of same.
Long-time writer, first-time novelist here, old enough to have started typing manuscripts on a typewriter, but willing to evolve along with epublishing.
No need to fasten any seatbelts, it’s unlikely to be a bumpy ride. But hopefully it will be interesting.