Some Comments on the SFWA Rate Increase

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

SFWA logoSo, I saw that SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) is raising their qualifying payrate from 5 cents/word to 6 cents/word. This rate is part of SFWA’s formula for determining whether a market or an individual sale is a professional sale for the purposes of qualifying for SFWA membership. With some other minor details, a writer can qualify for full SFWA membership with three professional short fiction sales, or the sale of one novel at professional pay.

The last time SFWA raised its qualifying rate was nine years ago, when social media was less developed than now, and I’ve already seen some reactions about what this will mean for magazines that qualify right now at 5 cents/word. Short fiction economics being what they are, a few magazines will be at a decision point. Do they incur the costs of raising their pay rates and remaining SFWA-qualifying markets, or do they remain at 5 cents/word and possibly lose out on that part of the author population that is looking for SFWA membership? Many magazines are volunteer-run operations (bless them!) and/or are running losses, and/or are making ends meet with grants and kickstarter campaigns. Publishing is not a business you go into to make money. Hayden Trenholm, publisher of Bundoran Press, often tosses out the old saw that the way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a big fortune.

Writers (and publishers) are human beings. They pour their hearts into acts of creation in defiance of odds and common sense (once again, bless them, and me, who participates in the insanity of creation against all advice just as much as anyone else). We all ache for acceptance and recognition of our art, and SFWA is powerful professional recognition. Someone is saying “You are good, we welcome you to our group.” Heady stuff for any artist, although that’s not exactly the wording on the acceptance note. Whether or not you subscribe to the whole professional association thing, our reactions as artists are very much human.

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Eccentric in Retrospect: Helen Simpson’s The Woman on the Beast

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Woman on the BeastOne of the distinct pleasures of used-book sales is finding an old book about which you know nothing, and making a cheap gamble: a literary bet that the story will prove worth the coin. You hope it pays off with unsuspected greatness, but for me as a reader the bet’s covered if I find something memorably strange. Not necessarily greatly strange, but eccentric, interesting, and outside the received narratives of literary histories (and genre histories past). Which brings me to Helen Simpson’s 1933 novel The Woman on the Beast: Seen From Three Angles.

According to the online Australian Dictionary of Biography, Simpson was born in Australia in 1897, went to England in 1914 to study, published some short plays, and returned to Australia in 1921, where she began publishing poetry, plays, and novels. She divided her life between Australia and England, and in 1939 was selected to be the Liberal candidate for Parliament for the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately she soon fell ill, and ultimately died of cancer in 1940. Among her prolific output were 1932’s Boomerang, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, and two books filmed by Alfred Hitchock: 1937’s Under Capricorn, and 1929’s Enter Sir John (written with Clemence Dane), which reached screens under the title Murder! (Her 1935 novel Saraband For Dead Lovers was also made into a movie, Saraband, in 1948.)

And then there’s The Woman on the Beast, which is strangeness of a different order: science fiction mixed with Christian fantasy. A preface lays out the theme — “that the most hateful actions are, as often as not, performed for the best of reasons” — and states that the book’s three stories have only that idea in common. After a prologue set in the dark ages, the three stories in question follow, set in India in the sixteenth century, in France during the Revolution, and in Australia in 1999. Then there’s a brief epilogue, depicting, as you might expect from the title, the Apocalypse. But which also makes clear that the three stories have more than theme in common.

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Satellite, December 1956: A Retro-Review

Saturday, November 30th, 2013 | Posted by Rich Horton

Satellite Science Fiction December 1956-smallThis is one of a great many ’50s digests. It began publication in October 1956 as a bimonthly, and became a monthly in 1959 for its last four issues (the last was May). 18 issues total. (Apparently the June and July issues were assembled at least to some degree.)

The publisher was Leo Margulies, and the editor for the first two issues was Sam Merwin, who had done good work with Startling Stories/Thrilling Wonder Stories.

According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Margulies took over after that– although the ISFDB credits Cylvia Kleinmann for a number of the later issues. I tend to trust the SFE here, especially with Malcolm Edwards and Mike Ashley responsible for the entry.

That said, Kleinmann (Margulies’ wife) was also for a time editor of Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine (also published by Margulies) so very possibly she was the editor, or perhaps it was a collaborative effort, and, as Todd Mason notes, Margulies had a long history of fronting anthology projects (under his name) that were actually edited by others.

Frank Belknap Long edited the final four 1959 issues, which were letter-sized instead of digest.

For most of its run, Satellite featured “A Complete Novel in Each Issue” (according to the SFE, to compete with paperback novels). Based on the TOCs I’ve seen, these really were reasonable-length novels for the day – in the range of 40,000 words.

The December 1956 issue, the magazine’s second, has a promising TOC – stories by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Gordon Dickson, Algis Budrys, and Michael Shaara among others. Indeed, the first few issues of the magazine were pretty promising, though it never really became a top market.

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New Treasures: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Friday, November 29th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Shambling Guide to New York City-smallMur Lafferty is something of a renaissance woman. She was the host and co-editor of the horror podcast Pseudopod until July 2007; in 2010 she became the editor and host of the weekly SF podcast magazine Escape Pod. She’s also the host of I Should be Writing (when does she find time to actually write?), and a winner of the Podcast Peer Award and the Parsec Award.

Apparently, she must make time somehow. She’s the author of two previous novels (Playing for Keeps, and Nanovor: Hacked), and her third novel is out from Orbit Books. Zoe Norris is a travel writer forced to take a job with a shady publishing company in New York, only to discover she’s been tasked with writing a tour guide for the undead. Scott Sigler said of The Shambling Guide to New York City, “If Buffy grew up… moved to New York and got a real job, it would look a lot like this.” Sounds plenty intriguing to me.

Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can’t take off her resume — human.

Not to be put off by anything — especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker — Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble — with Zoe right in the middle.

The Shambling Guide to New York City is the first novel in The Shambling Guides series; the second volume, Ghost Train to New Orleans, is due March 4, 2014.

The Shambling Guide to New York City was published by Orbit Books on May 28, 2013. It is 358 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The marvelous cover is by Jamie McKelvie (click for a full-size version).

Why Did the Genre Cross the Road?

Friday, November 29th, 2013 | Posted by Violette Malan

Red Plant Blues Last week I was talking about dystopias and satires, urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and further thought has led me to observe that genre can be a tricky thing. Of course, I was really talking about how definitions change and evolve, and how we all fight the changes we don’t agree with. I didn’t really talk about the difference between nouns and adjectives. I didn’t mention that something can be dystopian, without being, actually, a dystopia. Or that something can have satirical elements, without being, technically, a satire.

After all, practically everything we read – or watch for that matter – has a romantic element, but that doesn’t mean we’re reading romance novels, or watching rom-coms.

Total aside: is there a rom-trag genre? Wuthering Heights, maybe? Rebecca? Truly, Madly, Deeply?

Anyway. I’ve actually had a romance novel published, so I think of myself as someone uniquely qualified to talk about that aspect of crossing genres.

As with any other genre, romance has characteristic conventions, but what really makes a romance novel a romance novel is that it tells the story of a very precise portion of the protagonists’ lives. Specifically, it tells the story of how they met the person they love, and began spending the rest of their lives together. Other things are very likely happening to the characters at the same time. They have work lives, social lives, family obligations. They may have crimes to commit or solve. But if the main plot concerns their love life, then it’s a romance. If there’s also a mystery/crime, that means there’s a mystery element, one that exists only to allow the characters to meet, interact, and so forth.

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The Shadow of Fu Manchu Falls Upon Me

Friday, November 29th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

MaskMoviePortraitMovieMirrorMaskofFuManchuWithout Fu Manchu in my life, I would never have started down the path of penning these articles. One thing I was certain of was that there were no more surprises. I had found every official appearance of Sax Rohmer’s master villain and would, in due course, cover all of them in this blog eventually. So it seems appropriate that in this the year that marks the centennial of the first Fu Manchu novel, my 200th article covers a hitherto unknown official piece of Fu Manchu history.

A few weeks ago, I attended Classicon in Michigan and convention organizer, Ray Walsh handed me the January 1933 issue of Movie Mirror with Joan Bennet on the cover. The second feature was The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. I suspected it was an excerpt from or serialization of the book I was unaware of and found it intriguing that it had eluded both Bob Briney and Larry Knapp, the two foremost Rohmer scholars who have done a phenomenal job of compiling bibliographical information on the author.What the issue actually contained was something far more valuable: an 11-page “fictionization” of the 1932 MGM film starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy, fully illustrated with stills from the movie, some of which were quite rare. The adaptation was credited to Constance Brighton, an author I have found no other information concerning which made me suspect the name was a pseudonym.

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Goth Chick News: The Devil and Leonardo DiCaprio in the White City

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image002The last time we heard anything about a possible film version of one of my very favorite books, Erik Larson‘s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s company had just optioned it and attached the actor to the project.  Way back then DiCaprio had yet to shoot either J. Edgar or The Great Gatsby, both of which have already come and gone.

And that’s what the industry refers to as “development hell.”

However, recently it was confirmed that DiCaprio was, and still is, set to play H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who haunted the creation of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. We still haven’t heard all that much about the film, but Warner Bros. says they are still working to make it a reality, and have hired Graham Moore to script.

It might help to move things along that fellow Chicago native Moore is a huge fan of the book, and has been for some time.  As he told Deadline Hollywood,

[I’ve been] obsessed with Devil in the White City for a decade. My high school was 50 yards away from where the Chicago World’s Fair was held, and I played soccer on a field near where Holmes murdered about 200 people. It was a truly horrible crime, but it’s a very Chicago story. Though I moved to LA, I think of myself as fundamentally Mid-Western, and in a weird way, this is a dark and twisted tribute to my hometown.

Nicely put Mr. Moore, I couldn’t agree more.

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Heroic Historical and Uncomfortable Truths

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Posted by M Harold Page


A winter battle. How positively…

People often quote LP Hartley (without having any idea they’re quoting him, or who he was, me included) — “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

To an extent you can take a tourist attitude and go, “Look at the funny foreigners. How romantic!”

Distance in time fosters distance in morality, making it — for example — entirely acceptable to offer Battle of Towton greetings cards. A winter battle. How positively Christmassy!

Or for the Scottish Borders Council to adopt the Border Reiver as a logo.

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Try Out Spellbound Magazine

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Spellbound Summer 2013-smallTwo weeks ago I reported on the great work editor Raechel Henderson was doing with Eggplant Literary Productions. The impetus was dropping by her booth at Windycon, where I saw the fabulous array of new fantasy novels and novellas she’d recently released, including new e-books from Lenora Rose, Laura J. Underwood, Lori Ann White, Patricia Russo, Martin Clark, and many others.

Eggplant is effectively a one-woman show, so I was tremendously impressed to see so many new titles. I know what it’s like to finance, edit, art direct, design, layout, produce, market and distribute one issue of a genre magazine every year… so just seeing the host of new releases Raechel had published in the last 12 months meant I needed to go have a bit of a lie down.

It’s not just her surprising accomplishments in the area of e-books, which are only a small part of Eggplant. On top of the book line, Raechel also produces the excellent Spellbound, a thriving new magazine that has published 19 issues since 1999.

Spellbound is a children’s fantasy e-zine  for kids 8-12 years of age, which makes it almost unique in the marketplace. It was originally launched in Fall 1999 and went on hiatus after 15 issues, after  the Spring 2003 issue. It was re-launched in Winter 2012 with greatly increased production values, including gorgeous color covers; so far Raechel has released four new issues like clockwork.

If you enjoy children literature — or have an inquisitive or imaginative child in your life — Spellbound makes a great value. Each issue contains original stories, poetry, art, and a Recommended Reading list, all centered around a special featured creature. The Fall 2013 issues showcased Creatures of the Deep, Dark Woods, with gorgeous cover art by Francesca Resta; the Summer 2013 issue focused on Dragons (click on the image at right for the full-sized cover art).

Individual issues of Spellbound are $5.00 (US) each; a four-issue, one year subscription is $20.00 (US). Order directly from the Eggplant website.

What’s next for Raechel and Eggplant Production? I’m not certain, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they produce next. Ignore them at your peril.

Vintage Treasures: The Coming of the Rats by George H. Smith

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

The Coming of the Rats-smallA lot of post-apocalyptic novels and films appeared in the 50s and 60s. World War II was still a recent memory, and the threat of the H-Bomb was very real, even if most folks didn’t understand exactly what the “H” stood for. Publishers and filmmakers played on the very real terrors people faced every day. Fear of another war. Fear of atomic radiation.

And, going by the cover of George H. Smith’s The Coming of the Rats, the deep-seated fear that rats would attack our women and strip their clothes off.

Now, I’m not sure how our parents and grandparent dealt with these crippling fears, but from what I understand their coping mechanism involved a lot of cheap paperbacks, and multiple Saturday matinees (which seems like a stable strategy, when you think about it).

This is how that generation learned the facts about atomic radiation. And how the logical result would be mutants, and lots of ’em. Giant mutant ants. Mutant town-eating blobs. And horrible, women-chewing mutant rats.

Which brings us to The Coming of the Rats, and its hallowed place in the post-apocalyptic fiction canon.

Author George H. Smith (not to be confused with George O. Smith, author of Venus Equilateral and Troubled Star, or the George H. Smith who wrote Swamp Lust, Swamp Bred, and other swamp love classics) had a checkered career as a paperback writer in the 60s. His first publication was a short story in Startling Stories in 1953, and he sold a number of stories to SF magazines throughout the fifties before graduating to novels. He’s mostly remembered today for a line of soft-core erotica written under various pseudonyms.

His first attempt at more serious SF was The Coming of the Rats. But nobody told the cover artist, who cheerfully went the soft-core route, depicting a toga-party victim unsuccessfully fending off high-jumping rats.

Of course, the best covers intrigue readers and make them ask questions, and this cover made me ask questions. Chiefly, “Why are you wearing a dish towel?”

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