Ranks of the Rejected: Avily Jerome (Havok Magazine)

Today it is my privilege to present an interview with Avily Jerome, the editor for Havok magazine. Avily is an accomplished editor and writer, and she has great advice for authors who want to publish in Havok (or publish in general). She also knows a thing or two about rejection and how to deal with the inevitable reality of “not for us.” My own association with Havok is pretty simple. They’ve published two of my stories, including one in the issue releasing today, which means I’ve twice had the pleasure of working directly with Avily and the rest of the Havok team.

Make sure to check out the latest from Havok, including the April issue, and the guidelines for the annual contest issue Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots, coming in July (more info on that below).

    


1) Tell us what Havok Magazine publishes in 50 words or less.

Havok publishes speculative flash fiction. 1000 words or fewer, in a variety of speculative genres. We’ve done everything from steampunk to dinosaurs to straight sci-fi, and everything in between, including some pretty spectacular mash-ups. Content-wise, we’re family-friendly, so no excessive violence, language, or sensuality.

2) How do you come up with Havok’s themes? What are some of your favorite past themes?

Every year we have a brainstorming session with Splickety (our parent company) staff members and throw around ideas until we find the ones we like. We try not to do anything too similar to something we’ve done in the recent past, and we try to make the themes broad enough that multiple genres can fit within the same theme.

Favorite themes… that’s a tough one. I love our Halloween horror issues. Some of my personal favorite stories have been in the horror issues. The Dinosaurs issue was a lot of fun. Probably one of my top picks is our Literary Mutations issue, where we made classic stories into speculative stories.

3) Since Havok publishes flash fiction, in your opinion, what are the benefits and challenges of writing at 1,000 words or fewer?

One of the best benefits for writers is that it really tightens your writing. You have to decide which information is vital and which is extraneous. You have to cut out every bit of fluff and every unnecessary word.

One of the biggest challenges is fitting a full story arc and creating compelling characters in such a short amount of space.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to Havok? Which stories have the best chance at publication?

We accept stories up to 1000 words, but I only have room for two or maybe three 1000-words stories per issue. Most of the stories I publish are about 700 words, so if you can stick to 700 words or fewer, your odds are better.

As for story itself, if you can make me feel, whether it’s humor, sadness, love, nostalgia—you have a higher probability of catching my attention. I also love twist endings, complex world building (although again, this is hard to do in a flash story), and hard choices.

 5) Take us behind the scenes. Describe Havok’s evaluation process for a story.

I have a pretty multi-faceted process for choosing stories. First, of course, I look for writing quality and story arc. Even if the story is one I like, if the writing is poor, or if it’s going to take too much effort on my part to edit it and get it ready for publication, then I’m probably going to pass on it. Conversely, if the writing is clean and flows but the story isn’t engaging, then I’m not going to try to work with it.

Most of the submissions I receive fit these criteria, so after I’ve narrowed it down a bit, I look for several different components. Story arc is a big one for me. I’m okay with open endings, as long as there is some resolution and some emotional satisfaction for the reader. Too often, I read stories that feel like prologues. It’s okay if it’s part of a bigger world, but the story has to be self-contained. Along the same lines, the world can’t be too big or require too much explanation, and there can’t be too many or too complex of characters. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story or feel like it ended too soon because there were too many unanswered questions or because I couldn’t keep track of all the characters.

Beyond that, there’s some personal preference involved, and there’s also what does or doesn’t fit within the rest of the issue. If a story is too similar to either the staff feature or the featured author, I’ll pass on it because I want to have a variety. I also try to have a mix of dark and light, so if I have a really good story that’s tragic or violent, I’ll try to balance with one that’s humorous, and so on.

6) Well, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so I gotta ask. What are the top three reasons Havok rejects a story?

Top reason—I just don’t have room to publish all the fantastic stories I receive. #2, it doesn’t fit with our submission guidelines for either word count, theme, or content, and #3, the story is flat and doesn’t hold my interest.

7) You’re an accomplished writer as well as an editor, so you understand  rejection comes with the territory. Any pro tips for dealing with it?

Don’t take it personally. Just because you receive a rejection doesn’t mean I (or any other editor) didn’t like it. I try to offer at least a little feedback on every story that makes it through the initial screening, with something I like and something to work on, so take that for what it’s worth—one editor’s opinion—and keep writing, keep submitting, and keep going.

 8) Last question: what new and exciting things are headed our way from Havok magazine?

The single most exciting thing coming is our annual contest issue, coming in July. The theme this year is Rampage! Monsters vs. Robots. The theme description is on our website. The Grand Prize includes an Amazon gift card and a bunch of ebooks and other goodies. And don’t forget to check out all the other themes from Havok and from Splickety’s other imprints for this year.


Avily Jerome is a writer, the editor of Havok Magazine, an imprint of Splickety Publishing Group, and a book reviewer for Lorehaven Magazine. Her short stories have been published in multiple magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests, both for short stories and novels. She is a writing conference teacher and presenter, a new-author mentor, and a freelance editor. In addition, she enjoys speaking to local writers’ groups.

Her fantasy short story serials, The Heir, and the sequel, The Defector, are available on Amazon, and book three, The Silver Shores, is coming soon.

She loves all things SpecFic, and writes across multiple genres. Her writing heroes include Joss Whedon, Robert Jordan, and J.K. Rowling, among others. She is a wife and the mom of five kids. She loves living in the desert in Phoenix, AZ, and when she’s not writing, she loves reading, spending time with friends, and experimenting with different art forms.

To contact Avily or to find out more about her mentoring and editing services, please visit her website at www.avilyjerome.com

Ranks of the Rejected: Andrew Bourelle

This time on Ranks of the Rejected I spoke with an author who directly inspired me to get off my ass and start submitting stories on a regular basis. I met Andrew Bourelle through his brother Ed Bourelle, a friend and colleague, and we started trading stories about six years ago. Not only did Andrew give me great feedback on my work, his dogged persistence in the face of rejection is part of what inspired me to start this blog. In fact, whenever I tell a story about a “writer friend” to demonstrate some point about not letting rejections get to you, half the time I’m talking about Andrew.

Folks, this guy is the poster child for sticking to your guns, working on your craft, and not letting rejections slow you down. His perseverance (and oodles of talent) have resulted in some well deserved success over the last couple of years, and I couldn’t be happier for him. So check out the interview below, absorb the wisdom therein, and then go read Andrew’s stuff.


1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

 My writing tends to be pretty varied, I think. I’ve published stories in literary journals, and I’ve published genre stories as well: mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. I’ve never really been able to confine myself to one genre. I don’t stop myself and say, “Wait, you’re a literary writer—you can’t write a post-apocalyptic monster story.” If I have an idea, I write it. And if I think the story is halfway decent, I make some attempt to find a place to publish it.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of mystery/thriller fiction. I love to be surprised by what I read, and mysteries and thrillers are built to surprise readers. I like to put my foot on the gas and take readers for a fun ride. I’m working on mystery/thriller novel that’s giving me a chance to do that.

2) You recently published your first novel, Heavy Metal. Tell us a little about how that book came together and how you went about the business of getting it published.

I wrote Heavy Metal as an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the late 1980s. The main character is contemplating suicide, and in many ways the book is a character study. But I also wanted the narrative to pull readers in and keep them engaged. The novel has been described as suspenseful, intense, heartbreaking—which are all adjectives I’m happy with.

As I wrote it, I didn’t really think about how it could be labeled or marketed. I just wrote the story that was coming out of me. However, when it came time to find an agent or publisher, no one really seemed to know what to do with it. Is it a literary novel? A Young Adult novel? I didn’t care how it was categorized. I just wanted to write a book that might resonate with readers. But I imagine most agents took one look at the query letter and said, “Eh, I don’t know how to sell this.”

After a few years of failing to find an agent to represent the book, I pretty much gave up hope of ever seeing the book in print. Then it occurred to me that literary publishers often hold contests and publish the winning manuscripts. It’s one way that story collections and literary books that don’t seem to fit into easy commercial categories find a publisher. I figured I’d give it a shot. It ended up winning one of the first contests I entered—the Autumn House Fiction Prize. I’ve read past winners of the prize and am honored and humbled to be in their company. I think my editor told me there were more than 500 submissions. Somehow, from that pool, Heavy Metal was selected to be one of a dozen or so finalists, and the final judge, William Lychack (the author of a wonderful coming-of-age novel called The Wasp Eater), picked it as the winner. I always thought if the right person would just read the book, they would want to publish it. That’s essentially what happened; it just took longer than I thought to find the right person to read it.

3) Your story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” was recently chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018. This is your second go-around in the anthology, and I know your last story led to something pretty cool. Tell us a bit about that.

A story of mine called “Cowboy Justice” was picked to be in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, which by itself is one of the highlights of my writing career. But it also opened up a really interesting door for me. James Patterson was the guest editor that year and picked the final selection of stories. Around the time the anthology was coming out, his people contacted me and said he was getting ready to launch a new series of short thrillers, called BookShots, and wanted to know if I was interested in coauthoring something with him.

We worked on a short thriller called The Pretender, which was published in 2016 in Triple Threat, a collection of three of his BookShots. The Pretender is also available as a downloadable audio book. It’s a fun story about a retired diamond thief who can’t outrun his past. It was an extraordinary experience to work with James Patterson, and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity.

4) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.

I think my first rejection came in high school. My teacher knew I liked to write and passed along information about a “short short story” competition. (I wish I could remember what journal held the contest, but I’ve forgotten.) I think the stories had to be 250 words or fewer. I wrote something and sent it in, knowing 100-percent that I wouldn’t win. But the act of sending something out seemed really important to me, like I was telling the universe that I wanted to be a writer.

In some ways, receiving the form rejection was validating to me. No one laughed at me. No one said, “Are you crazy, kid? You’re out of your league!” I got the same form rejection all the other real writers got. I have no idea if they took my story all that seriously, but it at least felt like they had.

 5) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, just straight-up weird?

The worst rejections are the personal ones where an editor’s critique of the story is unhelpful. I recently received a rejection where the editor said that the “tense shifts were distracting.” I thought, “Oh, there are tense shifts in there? What a rookie mistake.” I carefully reread the story and there weren’t any tense problems. I thought, “Did you copy the text from your last rejection into my rejection by mistake? Did you even read my story?”

On the other hand, there have been times where editors have made editorial suggestions that turned out to be valuable. I remember my short story “Little Healers” was rejected by Pseudopod, and the editor made a note about a problem he had with the story. I hadn’t noticed the issue before, but once it had been pointed out to me, I agreed with the assessment. I revised the story and sent it elsewhere. It was published in the anthology Swords & Steam Short Stories and was listed as an honorable mention for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. If it wasn’t for the rejection, I might never have seen the problem.

6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

I think one of the keys to not letting rejections get to you is to have plenty of stuff out there under consideration. If you only have one or two stories that you have under consideration at one time, then a rejection can feel like a real setback. But if you’ve got 10 or 12 stories under consideration at 15 to 20 different publications, then you always have stuff in circulation. A single rejection doesn’t hurt much because you have other stories under consideration at the same time.

When I was submitting stories early on, I would only have one or two that I believed in, and I’d submit those to one publication each, even if simultaneous submissions were allowed. Then I’d wait however many months for a response and be bummed when a rejection rolled in. The key for me was writing more stories, getting more out there under consideration, and not putting too much hope in any one submission.

7) Plug away. Tells us about some of your recent projects and why we should run out and buy them.

You mentioned my story “Y Is for Yangchuan Lizard” is coming out in this year’s volume of The Best American Mystery Stories, which will be published in October. I was unbelievably excited when I got the news. The table of contents includes authors like T.C. Boyle, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates—writers I’ve read, admired, and learned from.

Another big publication on the horizon is a second project with James Patterson. Texas Ranger, a novel he and I coauthored, is scheduled to be released in August. It was a lot of fun to work on. I recently received an ARC, and it was a real thrill to see my name on the cover with James Patterson. I can’t wait to see the novel in bookstores!

  


Andrew Bourelle is the author of the novel Heavy Metal. His short stories, poems, and comics (illustrated by his brother Ed Bourelle) have been published in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories, D Is for Dinosaur, Equus, Florida Review, Heavy Feather Review, Prime Number Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Weirdbook Magazine, and Whitefish Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewBourelle.

 

Tales from the Editor’s Skull – Interview with Howard Jones

Goodman Games is about to unleash a brand-new sword-and-sorcery magazine on the world called Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The first issue is filled with old-school pulpy goodness written by authors who know the genre well (including yours truly). I recently spoke with Howard Jones, the editor-in-chief of Goodman Games’ latest venture, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about the magazine and the current Kickstarter campaign to support it.

1) Okay, give us the skinny on Tales from the Magician’s Skull. The elevator pitch if you will.

It’s a magazine dedicated to old-school sword-and-sorcery. Not pastiche, not homage, but new fiction about new characters in new worlds, inspired by the great old ground-breaking stuff. That means there’s forward momentum and inventive world building and dark sorcery and darker deeds and heroes wandering where brave men fear to tread.

2) Tells us a bit about your background as a writer and editor. How did you get involved with the project?

I’ve written a historical fantasy series set in ancient Arabia for St. Martin’s, four Pathfinder novels, and a slew of short stories. A new fantasy series from me will be dropping (again from St. Martin’s) next summer. I grew up reading and loving the kind of fiction this magazine emulates, fantasizing and dreaming what it would have been like to edit for one of the great old pulp magazines, so this is a dream come true.

Long before I was a published author I was an in-house editor for Macmillan Computer Publishing, breaking into fiction editing when I assembled eight volumes of swashbuckling historicals by Harold Lamb. And I was the Managing Editor for a sword-and-sorcery e-zine, Flashing Swords, and then, near the end of its run, Black Gate Magazine. I met Joseph Goodman when I was reviewing role-playing supplements he’d published for Goodman Games, and one year at GenCon I dropped by his booth to hand him my first published novel.

In short, over the course of a few years, we came to admire and appreciate the work the other was doing.

3) How did you and Goodman land on sword and sorcery for Tales from the Magician’s Skull? What about that genre interests you?

We’re both drawn by the sense of the adventure and the pacing. There’s little to no navel gazing. It’s all about the story. And while there IS darkness and dread, most of the time the tales aren’t drowning in it. These are typically tales with heroics and death-defying action. In earlier fiction there are fewer conventions about what magic looks like or what elves are or other issues that have become so codified some have a hard time breaking out of the mold. We love that.

There are tombs and treasure and strange enchantments, bizarre and curious locations, and protagonists desperate to get in or out of such places, sometimes in pursuit of lofty goals but more often simply to live another day.

4) Who are the writers in the first issue? And, uh, how did they get so damn lucky?

Here’s a funny thing. It started out as Joseph Goodman asking me if I wanted to contribute a story to the Goodman Games 2017 GenCon magazine. He’d asked me for one for the 2016 mag, and I said yes both times. Shortly after receiving the one for 2017, though, he wondered if maybe I knew some other sword-and-sorcery writers. Well, most of my writer friends are sword-and-sorcery writers, so that was easy.

He kept asking for a few more, and before we knew it, there were more than enough for an entire magazine. When Joseph proposed that, I lobbied to become its editor.

Because the whole thing grew organically, we tapped people we knew well who could exactly get the sword-and-sorcery vibe we were after. For issue two we’re reaching a little further afield but  still working for the same feel.

As for who’s within, there’s you and me! Then there’s Chris Willrich, best known for his Gaunt and Bone sword-and-sorcery tales and books, which are a well-known secret amongst modern sword-and-sorcery fans. He penned a new one about his characters. And James Enge, perhaps the breakout writer from Black Gate, who’s drafted a new adventure starring Morlock the Maker. There’s Bill Ward, who wrote a tale of dark conspiracy in an Asian-inspired fantasy coastal setting. And Clint Werner, well-known Warhammer author, who gave us a creepy Hammer-horror infused sword-and-sorcery tale, and John C. Hocking, probably best known as the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, but more recently known for his tales of the archivist, writing a dark, punchy adventure set in that character’s world.

If you want to know more, the Kickstarter gives you thumbnail synopses of each story!

5) So besides awesome tales of sword and sorcery, what else can we expect from Tales from the Magician’s Skull?

Well, there’s horror and suspense as well, which are important components of the genre, and I think you’ll see an occasional tale with those features more primary than secondary. But within the magazine you’ll find some great artwork, and maps to lost places within the stories, and then an appendix that presents the monsters and challenges in Dungeon Crawl Classics game statistics, in case you want to bring any of the events to life at your own game table.

6) I know a lot of my readers are dying to know the answer to this next question. Will the magazine be opened up to unsolicited submissions at some point? If so, tell us a little about what Editor-in-chief Howard Jones looks for in a story.

To know what I look for in a story, check out the first two issues, and read yourself some great old sword-and-sorcery, like the Conan stories, or the early Fafrhd and Gray Mouser stuff (particularly from the Swords Against Death collection) or practically anything from Leigh Brackett. We don’t plan on publishing space opera, as she often wrote, but her sense of color and pacing is definitely something to model off of.

We do plan on opening to submissions, eventually. But it’s likely to be a few issues yet. First we want to establish the magazine and build up a reader base, which is challenging enough without adding slush reading on top of it!

7) How and where can folks support this awesome project?

Not only can you drop by the Kickstarter campaign and pledge for an e-copy or physical copy of the magazine (or maybe even join our secret society) you can help spread the word. I’m tremendously pleased that we met our funding goal in the first day. But I’m also certain  there are many more sword-and-sorcery fans out there. Surely they must number in the thousands. Help us reach them! Spread the word. We love this fiction and want to share it!


Howard lives in a lonely tower in Indiana with a wicked and beautiful enchantress. When not running his small farm or spending time with his gifted children, he can be found hunched over a laptop, mumbling about flashing swords and doom-haunted moors. His books have been acclaimed by well-known mortal critics. Sometimes he edits short stories for magazines and he once anthologized the work of historical writer Harold Lamb. He knows karate. Yah!

Ranks of the Rejected: Mitch Malloy

In the past, I’ve interviewed writers and editors for Ranks of the Rejected, but as it turns out, they aren’t the only creative folks who get rejected. I’ve worked with a fair number of freelance illustrators in my professional career, so I thought I’d get the skinny on the trials and tribulations of that line of work straight from the horse’s mouth. I turned to the very talented Mitch Malloy, an illustrator I’ve worked with recently. Mitch was kind enough to answer questions about his work (and provide me with some awesome samples) and tell me about rejection for the freelance illustrator.

Be sure to check out Mitch’s website and gallery right here: www.mitchmalloyart.com


1) Tell us a about your work. Who are your typical clients?

My work is all over the place. Generally, my style is contemporary realism, but I do a lot of stylized work too and some hybrids of those two. I prefer realism most, though. The lion’s share of my work is science fiction and fantasy. I mostly do work for clients in traditional gaming and video games, but I occasionally do book or publishing work. I’d like to do more book work for sure.

I do most of my work digitally since that was what I learned on, but increasingly I’ve been working toward incorporating more oils, gouache, watercolor, and graphite pieces into my professional assignments.

2) How do you typically get contracts as a freelance artist? Do you send your portfolio out to potential publishers, like writers do with submissions? Or does the work come to you at this point?

I’m lucky that most of my work finds me at this point. But every other season work dries up, and I’m back to slinging my portfolio at art directors and hoping something sticks. A lot of work gets lost to cold calls, so I go out of my way to try and figure out a specific email address for an art director to be sure somebody at least sees my work before throwing it out. It’s worked, but I’m not sure they don’t hate it.

3) You and I worked closely on a project recently, the cover of Red Sun Magazine #3, where you illustrated my story “Caroline.” It’s not typical for an illustrator to work directly with an author (as cool as it was), so what is the usual process?

Normally, once I’m on somebody’s roster for work, it takes a while for the right project to roll around. When it does (whatever that project is), an art director or outsource manager reaches out, asks about my availability, and negotiates a rate. Then I receive a brief, which has specs and a written description of the assignment. Usually things like the focus and mood of the piece are called out, which helps me nail a specific idea earlier. Sometimes it’s nebulous, and I have to shoot a bit broader in my ideation. My absolute least favorite is when a client calls to deliver this information instead of writing it out in an email. I like things clear and concise so I can dive right in, but most conversations of this nature tend to be unfocused, and it immediately gets me out of my groove.

Anyway, once I get a brief, I do thumbnails for myself, pick my best ideas, and refine them for presentation. The client narrows it down to one option, then I gather my reference and work up that comp with color, a drawing, etc., working toward a final and reviewing along the way.

4) I assume that anyone working in any creative field will get rejected in some fashion. What does rejection look like for the freelance illustrator?

For me, rejection has often been silence. So many unreturned emails, ghost clients, or cold call emails lost to the void. I get rejected by going unanswered. Otherwise, I might get a form letter or (rarely) a handcrafted bit of rejection. I’ve also been subject to a lot of rejection once clients find out my rates. I work some great-paying gigs at this point. I don’t usually want to work the cheaper ones (with rare exception). A lot of potential clients flee when they find out I want a fair wage for my work, which I’m okay with. Makes it easier to focus on jobs that will pay fairly (though they’re rarer).

5) What have you learned from rejection? How has it helped you grow as an artist?

Rejection usually pisses me off so much it sends me into a self-improvement spiral. One of the ways I handle rejection is to just grind until I prove to whoever that I am capable of the work. It’s not like I can get better on a timeline that would make them notice. It’s irrational. But rejection fuels a lot of my study. Thankfully, more and more, I just do studying because I’ve found the love for it. Every once in a while that letter comes in and I get swept up in the fury again.

(It probably isn’t healthy)

6) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?

I once was told in a client meeting that I couldn’t offer feedback on their product until I was capable of doing the work myself. The work wasn’t very good. I could have done it myself. It freaked me out so much I went and worked my ass off to show them up. They later told me they were impressed by my growth, so I guess it worked?

On a more lighthearted note, I was once rejected because somebody thought I was the singer/songwriter Mitch Malloy. When they found out I wasn’t, they were no longer interested in commissioning me to do a painting for them. For reasons I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.

7) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project and where we can run out and see/buy it.

Most of my latest projects are for clients I can’t talk about for another few months or even years. This is my life! But if you want to see a really wonderful fantasy setting with great fiction and RPG supplements, go check out Aetaltis. I’m the art director for the project, and it’s a huge passion for me. Check out what we’re doing here: www.aetaltis.com


Mitch is an artist with a deep passion for craftsmanship and storytelling. He has over 5 years of experience working as an artist in games. He is currently at Riot Games where he works as an illustrator. Outside the office, Mitch is a freelance artist for novels and traditional games. Mitch lives in the greater Los Angeles area with his lovely wife, his adorable son, two cats, and a dog.

Mitch’s clients include Wizards of the Coast, Riot Games, S2 Games, Privateer Press, Modiphius Entertainment, Onyx Path Publishing, Mechanical Muse, Posthuman Studios, Conceptopolis, Fantasy Flight Games, Present Creative, Super Genius Games, Wyrd Miniatures, and Broken Egg Games.

Ranks of the Rejected – Josh Hrala (The Arcanist)

Time for another installment of Ranks of the Rejected. This time I interviewed Josh Hrala, the editor at The Arcanist, a new flash fiction market that focuses on fantasy and science fiction. I’m always excited when a new flash fiction market appears on the scene, especially a paying one, and Josh and The Arcanist are off to a great start. Josh has an extensive background as a professional writer, so he’s no stranger to rejection, and now that he’s working the other side of the literary fence, he has some great advice for writers looking to publish their fiction with The Arcanist or anywhere for that matter. Check it out.


1) Give us the short and sweet on The Arcanist. The description on the label if you will.

The Arcanist is a flash fiction publication that focuses on SFF stories that are 1,000 words or shorter. Our goal is to provide a place where people can get new SFF stories every week and devour them wherever they are. Alongside these stories we pepper in non-fiction pieces about SFF authors, news, and other things related to the genres.

2) You have an impressive writing background, so what made you decide to jump the fence and try your hand at the editorial side of things?

It’s really hard to nail down an exact moment. I’d say that I’ve always wanted to be an editor, and I’ve always loved the tasks I had to do in editorial at my various staff writer positions. Even while writing 2-3 articles per day, I enjoyed working on stories written by others, developing them into working pieces, and making them the best they could be. I even enjoyed the scheduling and formatting of the pieces. There’s just something to it, you get to put everything in place and give it a final polish.

As these thoughts started to sharpen in my mind, Andie, Patrick, and I started to write together and talk about stories. All three of us love SFF in all of its forms and originally started writing short films and mini-bibles for TV shows when we could. It turned out that almost everything we made worked better as fiction than it did for film, and we’re still developing stories right now. Eventually, The Arcanist was born out of the idea that we loved doing this, and we could use our collective fiction knowledge and my editorial background to make something new.

What really excites me about being on this side of the fence is giving SFF writers a new place to publish their work, a place where they get paid, a place that looks modern, isn’t behind a paywall, and presents their work in ways that other sites don’t. What we’re trying to do with The Arcanist is bring new readers and writers into the SFF fold by publishing solid stories in a new, easy-to-access way.

We are giant craft nerds, too. We all met at Point Park University where we were a part of the creative writing program. This formal writing education made us love well-crafted literary stories. So we want to use that know-how to elevate both SFF and flash fiction because both genres take a lot of heat. SFF often gets critiqued because it involves more world-building than plot, character development, and structure while flash fiction can be viewed as too short of a medium to be taken seriously. While those can obviously be true depending on the work itself, we want to show what can happen when craft is valued more than settings and ideas while also showing that great fiction – regardless of genre – can be accomplished in very few words.

3) Why flash fiction? How did you and The Arcanist land on that story length over more traditional short stories?

When we were coming up with what we wanted The Arcanist to be, we had a few goals in mind. The first was to find a way to spread our love for well-crafted SFF content to people who may not read it otherwise. While many hardcore SFF fans love a long, epic narrative, I know a lot of people in my life who would never sit down with something that big. However, they are the same people who don’t blink an eye when it comes to reading a bunch of long articles on Facebook. This gave way to the idea that flash fiction is a great ice breaker and – if presented in on the right platform – could inspire new readers and writers to give the genres a shot.

Of course, traditional short fiction was an option – one we might revisit later alongside flash – but we wanted something smaller, something that can be read on the bus ride home. A bite-sized bit of magic that people can read anywhere.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, we love craft and believe that short form content is a great way for writers to hone – or show off – those skills. When a SFF writer is forced to stay under a certain word count, especially when it’s as tiny as 1,000 words, things get interesting fast. Characters have to be active and making choices right from the start or even the best ideas can fall flat.

In short, it makes writers question what they need to tell a story, and that can lead to some really cool things that readers will love.

4) What advice can you give writers submitting to The Arcanist? Which stories have the best chance at publication? Which stories are absolute nonstarters?

The first rule of submitting your work to us is to please, please, please read the submission guidelines. They aren’t even that hard to nail down: a SFF story that is 1,000 words or less. It’s surprising how many people just scroll down until they see the submit link and send things off without actually knowing if it’s what we want.

If your story meets these requirements, you’re already in a good place. However, there are some tips that will really put your story over the top.

The biggest problem we see on a craft level is that the characters in the story are often more boring than the world they inhabit. You can have a great world, but your story will be ruined by a passive character who merely walks through it and doesn’t make a choice or have any agency.

Also, make sure that you aren’t starting your story at the wrong place. This happens with monster stories quite a bit. What’s more interesting: how the monster got out or what happens when the monster is already out and the character has to deal with it? It’s the latter 99 percent of the time. If you need to write the buildup to the monster getting loose to make sure you know how it happened, that’s fine, but then the submitted story should probably take place afterwards. We get many stories that end where they actually should have started.

So, as tips go, you want your story to start at the right place, to make sure your characters are active, and make sure you aren’t relying on a witty idea to push your narrative. Ideas are cheap, execution is hard. We are all about the execution here.

5) How about a glimpse behind the scenes at The Arcanist. What does the evaluation process for a story look like?

We have two ways to submit stories. You can either email them to us or use our form, which requires you to submit a Google Doc version of your story. We HIGHLY recommend using the form, it makes it way easier on our end and we end up getting to those ones first and the inbox second.

The stories are then divided up and assigned to either me, Andie, or Patrick. We do not use slush readers, so everything that is submitted goes straight to an editor. The assigned editor reads the story and makes sure it follows the rules. If the story flat-out doesn’t work for us, it is rejected. If the first editor reads it and is on the fence, we all talk about it. If an editor really likes it, we do the same.

The on-the-fence stories and the ones individual editors want to greenlight are talked about in person, and we break them down and see if they truly work. Personally, these discussions are my favorite part because we really dig in and make a decision.

After that, it’s all about either breaking the bad news or sending acceptance letters, setting up payments and publication dates, and finally unleashing the story into the world.

6) This blog is called Rejectomancy for a reason, so let’s get to the good stuff. What are the top three reasons The Arcanist rejects a story. Be blunt, even savage if you must.

The number one reason is that you didn’t follow the rules. They are there for a reason. They are meant to challenge writers and be a bit difficult. When you write “approx. 1,000 words” we know that typically means “I went a bit over, sorry.”

The second is not knowing what your story is about. This goes back to what I said earlier about ideas and narrative. A lot of the time, we love the ideas presented in a story. We often scratch our heads and wonder how someone came up with this, which is fantastic. It’s a great feeling to have. The worst feeling to have, though, is realizing that the story is merely that concept with no narrative, action, or anything to back it up. It’s hollow, and doesn’t work on a craft level because narrative took a backseat to a clever idea, making the story more about the idea than anything else.

The third is a simple question: does anything actually happen in the story? With our 1,000-word limit, you don’t have a lot of time to flesh out a world or describe tons of scenery, you have to get to the point. There’s not enough space to have a character walk around and take things in for longer than maybe a sentence before something has to push them to action. Just because it is short doesn’t mean the story doesn’t need to have a beginning, middle, and end. The best stories we see have active characters and twists that make us look at the whole thing differently. The “turn” is one of our favorite moments, but even these can fall flat without active characters.

Also, just as note, please don’t submit your story with weird colored fonts, large sections underlined, or any other strange formatting. We read a lot, and these attempts to get our attention only hurt our eyes. I don’t know why people do this, and we won’t outright reject stories for this, but it makes us sad and gives us a headache, which doesn’t help your chances.

7) You’re a writer too, so you understand that rejection comes with the gig. Any pro tips for dealing with it? 

I’m not sure there is way to actually prepare yourself for a rejection. You have to learn early on that you can’t get your hopes up even if you think your story is gold because, let’s face it, we all think all of our own stories are gold.

If you want to get your work published, you need to wrestle with the fact that rejection is likely in your future far more often than acceptance, but you have to also understand that just because one place rejects a piece doesn’t mean it won’t work elsewhere. Make a plan, send out your story, follow all of the rules the publication asked for, and see what happens because it’s always worth it in the end. Remember that rejections are nothing personal and that every rejection is a chance to make the story better.


Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Arcanist. His work has appeared on Cracked, PopSci, ScienceAlert, Geek & Sundry, ModernNotion, and others. You can get The Arcanist’s stories delivered straight to your inbox every Friday by subscribing for free here.

An Interview with Strix Publishing – The Book of Three Gates

Strix Publishing is at it again with another Kickstarter for fans of horror and H. P. Lovecraft in particular. This time it’s a collection of stories and essays called The Book of Three Gates. I recently spoke with Strix founder Simon Berman and the very talented artist Valerie Herron about their latest project. Check it out and see why you need to run right over to Kickstarter and support this bad boy.

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AR: So Strix Publishing has launched another Kickstarter campaign with another very intriguing product called The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about it. 

SB: I’m pretty excited about this one. It’s a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, the first book I published via Kickstarter. I’ve chosen three of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories as the centerpiece for the collection, and the brilliant Valerie Herron has returned to illustrate them. “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Haunter of the Dark” were chosen for their common themes of alien horrors transgressing the thin walls between our world and others. “The Dunwich Horror” is one of my personal favorite Lovecraft stories, and this book also gave me the opportunity to bring in a good friend and talented cartographer to produce a map of the Township of Dunwich as the book’s endpapers. The book concludes with a selection of essays by some notable authors, all of whom were given the chance to write pieces that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

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AR: Again, you’ve assembled a fantastic group of writers to contribute to The Book of Three Gates. Tell us about some of the contributors. Any returning from The Book of Starry Wisdom?

SB: Absolutely! I’m pleased that a number of authors have returned, including Adam Scott Glancy of Delta Green fame, noted poet and weird fiction aficionado Bryan Thao Worra, Orrin Grey of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings renown, C.A. Suleiman, known for his work on Mummy: The Curse, and artist and occultist, A.S. Koi. I’m particularly excited about that last one. Koi has promised me an instruction manual for how to bend time. The new authors I’ve chosen for this volume are all very accomplished writers as well. Evan J. Peterson, is a 2015 Clarion West writer, who is writing an extremely interesting academic essay on the queer history of Miskatonic University’s Apollonian Dionysian fraternity, and Don Webb, a noted occultist, is producing a piece on the history, theory, and practices of the Order of the Trapezoid of the Temple of Set.

AR: You’re also working with talented artist Valerie Herron again, so I’ll direct this question to her. How will your contributions to The Book of Three Gates differ from those in The Book of Starry Wisdom? 

VH: The obvious difference will be the subject matter. While Starry Wisdom focused on the Cthulhu mythos, the subject matter in Three Gates gets into witchier and inter-planar territory. The illustrations will be less character-driven and more atmospheric, so expect more use of unsettling scenery and evocative visual texture. I will be preserving more of the traditional elements in the work to try and capture this ambience. Don’t worry, there will still be monsters!

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AR: Another one for Valerie. You obviously have quite an appreciation for Lovecraft’s work. What about the mythos gets you drawing, painting, and creating?    

VH: This work is largely my way of processing my own sense of cosmic horror. It’s a reaction to these titanic forces that govern our lives with no regard for our existence and how insignificant I feel at their mercy. I make this art because it’s much more effective than remaining frozen in panic or hopelessness while all of these slow-motion disasters in the world play out around me. This is the way I feel like I relate to Lovecraft as a creator. The crushing weight of a materialist’s reality left him catatonic as a young adult, but he was able to channel that particular anguish into timeless allegory. I am honored to give visual form to these unbridled forces.

AR: Simon, you’ve become quite the old hand at this Kickstarter thing, and you’ve funded your first four campaigns. What is the secret to your success? 

SB: Being willing to go without sleep. Honestly, it comes down to having an idea for something that people want and then making sure you get it in front of them, treating your backers like the generous supporters they are, and being as transparent as possible about everything you’re doing. A high tolerance for sleep deprivation does help, though.

AR: Since The Book of Three Gates is a companion volume to The Book of Starry Wisdom, can we expect a third volume in the series?

I don’t want to say too much just yet, but if all continues to go well with Three Gates, there are two possible collections on the docket for a third volume. One goes beyond the wall of sleep, the other beyond the veil of death.


Simon Berman worked as a Social Marketing Manager and staff writer for Privateer Press from 2008-2016. He worked in both capacities for the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards. He also works on the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, The Book of Starry Wisdom, the Problem Glyphs art book, APOCRYPHA: The Art of Jason Soles, and Orrin Grey’s Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings.

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With an enduring love for the unusual, Valerie Herron began expressing her interests through writing and illustration in childhood. Fantasy illustration, mythology, the occult, and the natural universe remain her greatest inspirations. Valerie’s work has evolved in time to be conceptually layered and mysterious. She collages together a powerful visual-vocabulary that is mystical and socially relevant. Valerie creates allegorical narratives that are poignant and beautiful, ugly and elegant.

Fascinated by contours, Valerie considers her primary medium to be line. She finds the synthesis of traditional wet media and digital media best communicates her visual style.

Valerie received her BFA in Illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR. She currently lives in Seattle, works for Privateer Press, and is also a freelance illustrator. Outside of her creative practice she spends her time listening to music and podcasts, being out in nature, writing, reading, and venturing a myriad of sorcerous activities.

Rejectomancy Exclusive – The Barghest by Orrin Grey

As I mentioned in this post, my very talented writer friend Orrin Grey is re-releasing his first collection of short stories, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings through Strix publishing. You can check out the Kickstarter campaign right here. Orrin is a horror writer, and a damn good one, and he and Strix Publishing have given me permission to post one of the stories in the collection here. So, check out the “The Barghest” below for a taste of what you’ll get in the premium re-release of Never Bet the Devil & Other WarningsIf you’re a fan of weird fiction and horror in general, this is one you don’t want to miss.

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The Barghest

By Orrin Grey

I was standing by the side entrance when they brought in the bones. Would you believe me if I said that as soon as I saw them I knew they weren’t human? Or any other indigenous animal? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s a difficult thing to credit.

It wasn’t any training that told me, or my experience at the museum. I didn’t see the bones long enough for that, just a glimpse of the brown skeleton–the wrong-size skull, the wrong-way legs–and some primal part of my brain said “monster.”

I threw away the butt of my cigarette and followed the men who were carrying the stretcher with the skeleton on it. I wasn’t surprised when I saw that they were carrying it to your part of the lab.

I remembered you on the phone, arguing with Kelso over a skeleton that was found out on the moors somewhere. You wanted it, you said. The museum had paid for the dig, and you were the senior paleontologist on staff so it belonged to you.

You were waiting when they laid the stretcher on the table. That’s when I got my first good look at it. It was the size of a big man, but it definitely wasn’t a human skeleton. Looking at the bones, I was hard put to say if it was a biped or a quadruped. I imagined that it moved like a bear, or like a great ape. Its hands were too big for a human and terminated in hooked talons, but they had clear opposable thumbs.

The skull was simultaneously apelike and doglike, a toothy muzzle like a baboon or a mandrill. I remember making some offhand comment about Lovecraft’s ghouls, but you were unfamiliar with Lovecraft. You never cared for anything you deemed “disposable culture.”

As the investigation into the remains went on I bought a copy of Tales of H.P. Lovecraft edited by Joyce Carol Oates, whose name I thought might lend it some credibility in your eyes, and gave it to you with the page containing “Pickman’s Model” tagged. I’ll bet it’s still on the shelf in your office, with the tag still on it. I’ll bet you never even picked it up.

If you had read it, though, you would have understood why I brought it up; you would have known what it was about the bones that left me at once intrigued and uncomfortable. How human they looked, and how inhuman. Not like the bones of some Neanderthal man, some earlier species of humanity, but instead like something that took an alternate evolutionary path, something that should have been human but became something else instead.

Those sorts of thoughts didn’t interest you, though. I know that. You were always dismissive of what you called my “supernatural thinking.” You always regarded the museum as beneath you, and me as beneath the museum. You treated me with a grudging tolerance, and never admitted that the reason we worked together was because none of the other interns would work with you.

“What is it?” I asked you that night, because for all your coolness you liked it when I asked you questions, and because I really did want to know what you thought. I was curious if you had some explanation that would take all the parts and somehow make of them something other than a monster.

“Something new,” you said, and that was all. It was less than encouraging.

Of course, it wasn’t something new, was it? It was as old as the dirt in which it was found, as old as men telling campfire stories. We learned that, you and I, but you learned it first.

#

            I remember how carefully you cleaned the bones. The peat in which they were found had preserved them, like a fossil without the stone. They were perfect; no flesh left for us to macerate, just those ossified brown bones. I remember watching you work over them with your little brush, your magnifying glass, carefully turning over and examining each and every tiny piece.

I wasn’t allowed to do any of the real work, wasn’t to handle the skeleton. When I was in the lab, I stared at the skull.

As with most carnivore skeletons, the skull seemed too big for the rest of the bones. It dominated the table, drew the eye. Those teeth that seemed too big for the mouth they filled, those gaping sockets. If I looked at it one way it was pure animal, like a wolf or tiger, if I looked at it another it was disturbingly human.

I’ve spent a lot of the time since then wondering how it happened. You were so careful. Was it your eagerness that was your undoing, or did something else render you suddenly clumsy? Were the teeth simply sharper than you imagined they would be, after remaining buried for so long?

You know how, sometimes, when you walk into a room, you can tell that something has changed before your mind has processed what it is? When I walked back into the lab that night, I knew that something was wrong before I took in any of the details. From where I was standing in the doorway, I could see the skeleton on the lighted table, and my eyes naturally traveled to where the skull would normally have rested, only to find a blank white space where it should have been.

Only then did I notice that you weren’t there. I walked to the head of the table. The skull was on the floor, teeth and pieces of jaw scattered across the tile. And mixed in among them were fat red drops of blood.

I went to the break room then, but you weren’t there, just more drops of blood spattered on the back of a chair and the surface of one of the round Formica tabletops. The first aid kit on the wall hung open, and pills in individual packets lay scattered across the counter and the floor.

Why did you go to the ladies’ room, I wonder? Was it shame, fear of appearing mortal and fallible in front of the help? Or did you know, even then, that something was wrong, more wrong than the gouge in your palm or the blood you were losing from it?

I knocked on the door, and you knew it was me. “I’m fine,” you said, without my even needing to inquire. “It’s just a scratch. Go clean up the lab, and be careful.”

At the time I thought nothing of that “be careful.” I assumed it was concern over the integrity of the bones, displaced anger at the damage to the skull. But since then I’ve wondered. Did you know, even then? Was your concern not for the bones at all, but for me? It doesn’t seem like you, but then adversity sometimes brings out the best in people.

I have a lot of questions that I know will never be answered, but the one that troubles me the most is how soon you knew. When did you first realize what was happening, and how long did it take that realization to become knowledge, to become acceptance?

#

            By the time you came out of the restroom I had already replaced the skull on the table and mopped up all the blood, both in the lab and the break room. If you were there I know you would have rolled your eyes at me, but as I put the skull back onto the table the black sockets looked darker and deeper than they should have, and I got the feeling that something was staring out of them at me.

I knew you’d been lying about it just being a scratch, I’d cleaned up too much blood for that, but it wasn’t until you came out of the restroom that I realized how bad it must have been. Your face was pale, the color bleached from it, like a person about a minute away from going into shock. Your eyes looked red, as if you’d been crying, and your right hand was swathed in most of the gauze and bandages from the first aid kit.

When you came into the lab you held your injured hand up to your chest like a cat with a hurt paw, and you put your other hand out to a table to steady yourself.

“That looks like it might need stitches,” I said, though of course I couldn’t see the wound itself. “You should probably let me take you to the emergency room.”

You nodded tightly but didn’t let me take you to the hospital until you’d examined the skeleton and verified for yourself that the damage wasn’t extensive enough to compromise the find. I noticed even then, though, that you were careful not to touch it.

#

            The doctor at the ER put eleven stitches in the palm of your hand, and just like that I became necessary to you. With one hand out of commission, you couldn’t do the fine work needed to examine the skeleton, and so I became your hands on the job.

Did you ever stop to wonder why I worked with you when no one else would? Why I was willing to pull down the same preposterous hours that you insisted on? Did you think that I was attracted to you? Or did you just think that I believed you were the genius that you believed yourself to be, and that I wanted to ride on your coattails?

Maybe you didn’t think about it at all. That would be more like you.

Someone else might have noticed something different about you immediately, might have caught on sooner, for good or ill. Had I watched TV or read the papers I might have heard about the girl who was mauled to death in a park near your house that week, might have said something to you that would have forced a confrontation, elicited some response in you that I could have interpreted. But by the time I came home from the museum I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was to curl up with my ghost stories, which you regarded so scornfully, and then sleep.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered what I noticed, what I said. Maybe you still didn’t know yourself. I’ve not yet determined how aware you are when it happens, how much of you is left.

You always said that the surest road to combat superstition is study, but no matter how much we examined the bones I was never able to shake the sensation that they were not the remains of anything wholesome or natural, not even the bones of some mutation or aberration, some lusus naturae. You, of course, were no help.

I bought a book of folktales from the British Isles and took to reading it before I went to bed. I read about Black Annis, a cannibal witch who lived in a cave under an oak and ate children. She hung their skins in the branches to dry, and then wore them tied around her waist. I read about Black Shuck, a dog the size of a horse with eyes like saucers, and the more recent “shug monkey,” which reminded me more than a little of the thing on our table, with its mix of primate and canine features. I read about the shapeshifting Barghest, which may have inspired Dracula’s transformation into a monstrous wolf.

If I ever told anyone but you what I’ve seen since then, what I’ve learned, they’d send me to a psychologist, and that psychologist would undoubtedly blame my “hallucinations” on those stories. They’d say that I’d been priming myself, and that when events occurred that I couldn’t deal with, I used those myths to give context to a truth that I didn’t want to admit. But, as you always said, psychology is a soft science, and what happened to you, to us, is anything but soft.

Looking back now, everything seems so inevitable. Maybe if you’d been allowed to keep the skeleton, things would have gone differently. Maybe the charade could have been maintained a little longer, but I think it was doomed to come down, sooner or later.

I remember when, just two weeks after the night you cut your hand, Ms. Trevayne asked you to come into her office. She didn’t draw the blinds, and I knew just by watching what she was saying to you. You stood in front of her desk, your wounded hand drawn into a fist at your side, your other hand gesturing as you shouted at her.

When you stormed out of her office you called her a cunt, a word I’d never heard you use before, and told me that she was taking the skeleton away from you and giving it to Kelso, which I had already guessed. This would never have set well with you, even before, but you would have approached it disdainfully, with an “it’s their loss” attitude, as though you were too good to get upset. Your desperate rage took me by surprise, and when you walked back to the lab you forgot yourself and slapped both your hands palm down against the table. That’s when I knew. Knew that you weren’t hurt anymore, that your hand had healed completely even though the stitches weren’t due to be taken out for another week.

“She can’t do this to me,” you said, an under-the-breath growl I wasn’t intended to hear. “She can’t do this to me. Not yet.”

#

            But of course she could, and when I walked into the lab that night and saw the table empty I knew she had.

You weren’t there, and I assumed that you’d already left in a huff. I almost just turned around and went home. How differently would things have gone then?

Instead, I decided to head across to the other side of the wing, to the lab that Kelso normally used. It’d be nice to say that some premonition prompted me, but I don’t think it did. I think I was just curious. I’d never seen you defeated, I was curious to see what someone else’s victory over you looked like.

As I rounded the corner I could see the light from Kelso’s lab flickering and swaying, like the illumination of some sideshow spookhouse. I think I ran to the door, then, but I don’t really remember. As vividly as I can recall everything else, the order of the next few seconds are jumbled in my memory. It’s as though everything I saw exploded into my mind at once, a kaleidoscope of snapshots.

The half-smashed light fixture that had come loose from the ceiling and was swinging back and forth, throwing its funhouse illumination on everything. The blood, shockingly red against the tile and the table and the wall. Kelso’s arm, in one corner, the rest of him crumpled behind the table. All of those things, though, were driven out of my mind when I saw the thing you had become.

It had taken only a glimpse of the bones for my primate brain to realize that they belonged to a monster, a teratism, something that should not exist. Seeing you like that took even less.

The thick black fur. The way you stood, crouched and bent, like a man who has been forced to crawl on all fours for years. The snout, like a wolf’s only crushed in, the teeth too large to fit in the mouth. The hands like Halloween monster gloves, only the claws making them seem real, reminding me of Black Annis and her iron talons.

You looked at me, I remember that. Your eyes weren’t big as saucers, but they were red and bright and amazingly clear and strangely human. I believe, to this day, that I saw recognition in them. That you saw me and knew me and chose to spare my life. Then you were gone out the window.

#

            I didn’t call the police. I stumbled over to the wall, hit the fire alarm, and then collapsed to the floor beneath it. The sprinklers kicked on and I sat in the artificial rain, with my knees drawn up to my chest, and didn’t move until the authorities arrived.

The sprinklers probably destroyed the crime scene, but the police would never have been able to understand what had happened there anyway. I don’t even remember what I was asked, or what I told them, but I know that I didn’t mention what I really saw.

I remember being told that I was in shock. I remember someone wrapping a blanket around my shoulders as I was helped into an ambulance and driven to the hospital. It was only then, while I was sitting in the emergency room in my wet clothes, that I remembered the thing that I had seen but not noticed earlier.

The bones, of course. They hadn’t been on the table, and in one of your big, misshapen hands you had carried a canvas bag just big enough to contain them.

They let me out of the hospital eventually and took me back to my apartment. They told me to stay there, but I didn’t. I changed into dry clothes and then took a taxi to your place.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been to your house, of course. You’d sent me to pick things up for you from the museum before. I even knew where you kept your spare key stashed, though it didn’t turn out to matter because the back door was hanging open, the knob torn out of the wood.

I can’t say what made me walk through that door into the dark interior of your house. Maybe I was still in shock.

I didn’t turn on any lights. I walked through the kitchen, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness. There were smudges on the walls beside the staircase that looked like chocolate syrup in the dark, though I knew they weren’t. I followed them upstairs.

You were lying facedown on your bed. The blinds were drawn, but a wedge of streetlight came in through a gap in them. You were naked, your skin pale and human in the dim light, looking as smooth and new as the flesh of a baby. The bag of bones was on the floor beside the bed. I stood watching you for longer than I probably should have, measuring the rising and falling of your breath as you slept. Then I took the bag and walked back out.

#

            I’ve not yet guessed why you wanted the bones so badly. Did you hope to extract from them the secret of a cure, some tincture of silver nitrate and wolfsbane? Or was it simply that you wanted to keep them close to you, your only connection to the thing you had become? Either way, it doesn’t matter anymore. I burned the bones in the incinerator in the basement of the museum before I made this recording. All but this one tooth.

Even if I hadn’t, though, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Cures are for movies, not real life. I don’t know what you are any more than I imagine you do, but I know it’s not something you get to come back from. Soon, though, you won’t have to be alone anymore. You’ll have something better than bones for company.

What does it feel like, when you change? I bet it isn’t like the movies, the gradual shifting and lengthening of bones, the sprouting of fur. I bet the beast just tears out of you, as though it’s been there all along and your skin is just a disguise that it’s been wearing. I’ll bet that’s what it’s like.

I don’t know if you’ll ever see this video. I don’t know how long it will take you to come for me, or even if what comes for me will be something that can properly be called “you.” But I know that you will come for me, sooner or later, and that when you do I’ll be here waiting for you, ready to meet you head on.

You see, I’ve torn my hand with this tooth, just as you did. I’m coming to meet you now, just as surely as you’re coming for me. I’m coming to join you in wherever you’ve gone, whatever you’ve become, and we’ll let nature–or whatever it is that governs things like us–take its course.

AUTHOR’S NOTES:

            This one had its origins in, of all things, a terrible movie called Werewolf that I saw on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe not the most auspicious of beginnings, but I thought the idea of someone becoming a werewolf because they were scratched with a fossilized tooth or bone from a werewolf was a setup that deserved some better treatment than a film starring Joe Estevez.

That was where it started, but once I was writing I realized that I didn’t want this to be a werewolf story exactly. At least, I didn’t want to use the word werewolf anywhere in the story. Giving something a name like that is an easy way to dismiss it. “Oh a werewolf, I know what that is,” so instead I decided to build the monster up using suggestion and allusion. I’d wanted to do something with some elements from British folklore like Black Annis and, of course, the Barghest, and I found that this was the perfect story for it. Throw in some more allusions to Lovecraft’s ghouls, and there you go.