Zippered Flesh 3

Zippered Flesh 3: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, October, 2017), contains nineteen stories, more than half of which are new. Reprints are by Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Sandra R. Campbell, and James Dorr.

The book leads with Mosiman’s “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs”, a viciously twisted tale with a shocking ending. Billie Sue is a wonderful writer, and this story showcases her skills. It’ll make you think twice about who your real friends are.

“Upgraded” by Shaun Meeks is about teenaged angst over acquiring the latest and greatest electronic gadget. “Going Green” by Christine Morgan has a similar theme, but it’s as different as night from day, the language rich and verdant, the futuristic gizmos even farther outside the box. “Worm” by Jeff Menapace leaves one feeling hungry. “Reduced to Tears” by Adrian Ludens turns body mutilation into a religious observance, proving less is more. “A New Man” by William F. Nolan tells what bad things might happen if there’s a high-tech software glitch. “Transposition” by Jason V. Brock tells of a face-transplant gone terribly wrong. “The Rose” by Jack Ketchum is about a rose tattoo come to life. “Consume” by Daniel I. Russell is another “less is more” story with scary religious overtones of a supernatural nature.

“All Will Turn to Gray” by Jezzy Wolfe is a remarkable story, textured in rich hues and overtones unlike anything you’ve seen before. “Invisible” by E. A. Black is a meaty tale of repressed anger. “And the Sky was Full of Angels” by L. L. Soares is about coming home from war a changed man. “Shopping Spree” by Meghan Arcuri imagines Photoshopping people. “Closer” by Charles Colyott is a wonderfully poignant and romantic story you really should read. It’s the perfect emotional segue to “Dog Days” by Graham Masterton, another real tear-jerker.

“Switch” by Jasper Bark is extreme horror, very graphic, that may offend some readers. But Krasinski is a real asshole in more ways than one, and he deserves whatever bad juju or bad dodo comes his way. “Hypochondria” by Michael Zeigler tenderly tells of the dangers of medical misdiagnosis and afflictions of the heart. “Gehenna Division, Case #609” by Sandra R. Campbell furnishes a guided tour though Hell. And “Golden Age” by James Dorr celebrates the pioneering tradition that connects past generations with future generations.

My three favorite stories are: “All Will Turn to Gray” by Wolfe, “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs” by Mosiman, and “Shopping Spree” by Arcuri. “Dog Days” by Masterton is also exceptional, and one of the most satisfying stories I’ve read this year. “Going Green” by Morgan is so original, timely, and well-written it deserves special mention (and maybe a Stoker). Kudos to Burge for putting together another fine anthology of cutting-edge fiction.

Since I read an uncorrected ARC of Zippered Flesh 3, I don’t have a  picture of the cover to show you. But the first two covers give you a good idea of what the third will look like.



Winning the numbers game

Winning the numbers game

Writing is a numbers game. The more you write, the better you get at writing.

The more you write, the more stories you have to submit for publication. The more stories you submit, the better your chances of being published.

More is better. The more mistakes you make, the more chances you will have to correct them when you write new stories. We all learn from our mistakes. It takes some us longer than others to learn from mistakes. But, eventually, we will learn if we keep writing. The more you write, the better you will become at writing. Period. End of sentence.

Reading helps. The more you read, and the wider the scope of your reading, the more you learn. You can learn from the mistakes other writers make. And you can learn from the models they provide when those other writers finally learn to avoid making mistakes and do things right.

To become a best-selling author, you must also build an extensive readership of your own work. Building a readership, like most things in life, is a numbers game. Each editor, each reader, who reads your stories will remember your name if you show any talent at all. They will want you to succeed and they’ll watch for your next work and the one after that and the one after that. As you progress as a writer, they will not only spread the word about your talent but they’ll buy much of what you write. You see, editors and readers love good stories and they are always watching and impatiently waiting for good stories to appear. They know the more you write, the better your stories become. Therefore, the more stories you have in print, the better the chances are that your latest yarns are worth a read.

See how this game is played?

On Awards

I’ve been the chair person of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award (R) Long Fiction Jury for two years and a jury member for another two. Each year I read hundreds of stories between 7500 and 40,000 words and select ten to nominate for superior achievement in long fiction.

Being a jury member is like being an acquisitions editor for a magazine or an anthology. You read through submissions and select the stories that appeal to you and nominate those stories for further consideration by the editorial board. Other editors have also selected their favorites from slush and make their own nominations. A good editor advocates for his or her own selections, and all editors eventually must agree on (or acquiesce to) which selections should be included in the final product.

The Stoker Jury Chairs are not the same as senior editors or editors in chief who make the final decisions. Chairs have only one vote, as do all jury members. The duty of the chair is to ensure the rules are followed and a list of ten superior stories will be presented by January 15th of the following year.

This year I have had the pleasure of reading many outstanding stories that should all receive recognition.I had to re-read several before making my decision which ones I liked best. I narrowed down my selections and sent my list to the other jury members. Now the jury deliberates and decides which to send to the HWA for inclusion on the preliminary ballot. The entire membership gets to vote and select the stories for a final ballot. Then we all get to vote again and the winners receive awards at the annual award ceremonies in May.

Reading great stories is a joy. It is also a very humbling learning experience for a writer in the same genre. Instead of saying “I could have written that” I find myself saying “I wish I had written that” or “I wish I could write like that.”

I have harbored mixed feelings about the value of awards. Award-winning stories can act as role models for other writers and give us something to strive to attain or possibly to surpass. When awards mean more than merely a popularity contest, they can motivate us to achieve our absolute best. Because the HWA Stokers have a juried component, they avoid being only a popularity contest.

Sitting on a professional jury is time-consuming and takes time away from one’s own writing. It’s especially hard when one also has a day job and a family demanding attention. But it is important work and somebody needs to do it.

I want to thank all of the other jury members and the HWA Awards co-chairs, as well as the HWA officers and board members, for volunteering their time. The Stokers are, and always have been, a labor of love.

That Time of Year Again

All writers get depressed. Hell, all human beings get depressed from time to time.

  Even some animals get depressed. Depression is a natural part of the emotional cycle of every sentient being on the planet.

I get depressed every year around this exact same time. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition not uncommon to descendants of Scandinavians. We are unusually sensitive to sunlight or the lack thereof. Our depression begins to lift the day following Winter Solstice as the first sliver of daylight disturbs the darkness. We celebrate the return of light with wild parties and all-night bonfires. It’s too cold to dance naked, so we wear furs or wool or synthetic fibers to keep from freezing.

For the ordinary person, depression lasts less than a week and is often followed by periods of extreme exaltation and mania. If depression lasts longer than two weeks, it may be a sign of clinical depression. Clinically depressed people can become suicidal. If you feel depressed and have suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help.

If all this talk of depression is making you depressed, cheer up. All things eventually end. The sun will return to the sky after Winter Solstice, and Spring will be here before you know it.

The only real cure for depression is time. Treatment (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, prescription pills, and herbs like St. John’s Wort) can ameliorate the effects of depression, but only time can cure it. Time really does heal all wounds.

Writing helps. The problem with this time of year, however, is that family and social obligations often take working writers away from their keyboards for significant durations. Writers who can actually write seldom become seriously depressed or suicidal while they create. We simply put depressive thoughts out of our minds and into the heads of our characters and write them out in stories or novels instead of personally acting them out. Writing is an exemplar of cognitive reframing that makes CBT practitioners envious.

I bring this up for multiple reasons: 1) I’ve felt overwhelmed myself lately because of multiple requests from family and friends to break bread with them (I’m lucky to have so many friends, so I shouldn’t complain); 2) I have new novels that are about to be released or have recently been released and I have created and accepted more opportunities for appearances, interviews, and book signings than I can comfortably accommodate (when I made those commitments long ago I failed to consider the impact on my writing time; I’m booked up from now until the end of the year and have too little personal time and space for creativity); 3) other writers have reported similar feelings; and 4) several friends have actually committed suicide within the past week or two.

Listen, people, everyone needs time for oneself. Self-care is not only paramount, it’s essential. Forget about fame and fortune and family and friends. Find what makes you happy. Take the time to be happy. You deserve it. Do it now. Don’t wait.

Writing makes me happy. The very act of writing is exhilarating, almost orgasmic. I would rather write than do anything else.

I have balanced my life with daily writing time mixed with separate times set aside for social interactions. When I do too much of either, my life becomes unbalanced. When my life is unbalanced, I become depressed.

That’s why I cancelled my registration, reservations, and scheduled panels, reading, and signings at this year’s World Fantasy Convention. I have other appearances and book signings scheduled for next week (Halloween), and the week after WHC I’m scheduled to be at Windycon for panels, signings, and readings. If I went to Saratoga Springs, when would I have time to write? I wouldn’t.

Giving myself extra time has made all of the difference in the world. My depression has lifted (yes, I am currently feeling maniacal), and I’m accomplishing a lot.

Let me provide some perspective. Time is relative. You can control your perception of time. You can make time speed up or slow down. Time itself is an abstraction, a mental construct. You can look forward, look backward, or be in the moment. Writing is a combination of all three processes. Writers are observers moving through time.

As we approach the end of Daylight Savings Time, we can easily appreciate the relativity of time. It becomes increasingly difficult at this time of year, however, to take the time to stop and smell the roses because most rose bushes have shed their flowers for the season. Cognitive reframing allows you to be in flow and be in control at the same time. You can imagine you smell roses, and the effect will be exactly the same on your brain.

Imagine the end of darkness and the return of Light. Take as much time as you want or as much time as you need. Make time your friend and not your enemy.