2017: A Writing Rearview Review

Another year come and gone, and it’s time to wrap up my writing endeavors for 2017. I set some writing goals at the end of last year, and as these things usually go, I accomplished some and fell short with others. Still, 2017 was mostly positive yardage, but I’ll get to that at the end of the post.

And now . . . STATS!

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi Submissions

Total Submissions Sent: 75

I really improved my overall submission output this year, beating last year’s number by 21 submissions. I’m pleased with that, and it works out to about 6 submission per month. I’ll try to improve on it 2018, and I’d like to hit the 100-mark.

Acceptances: 5

Even with more submissions, the number of acceptances and my overall acceptance rate dropped in 2017. I certainly don’t feel the quality of my submissions fell off; in fact, I think they improved. But, as always, acceptances are often about right time, right market, right editor.

Form Rejections: 32

With more submissions invariably comes more rejections. I received 32 garden-variety form rejections. More than last year, but again, the more you submit, the more you get rejected.

Higher-Tier Form Rejections: 13

I received more higher-tier form rejections this year than last, and most of these were from top genre markets. I only counted the ones I was fairly sure were higher-tier, using the criteria I covered about in this post.

Personal Rejections: 6

Fewer personal rejections than last year, but a number of these were the heart-breaking short-list personal rejections (two for the same story).

Privateer Press

I didn’t write quite as much for Privateer Press in 2017, though I did finish another novel and a novella for them.

Novel – Acts of War: Aftershock

My big project in 2017 was the sequel to last year’s Acts of War: Flashpoint. I blogged about the writing process for Acts of War: Aftershock on a weekly basis, and you can see those blog posts right here.

Novella – “Shadows over Elsinberg” 

My novella “Shadows over Elsinberg” was published in the collection Wicked Ways, alongside the works of many of my old pals from Privateer Press.

Short Story – “Confirmed Kill”

I wrote a story called “Confirmed Kill” based on characters from the Acts of War series. It was published in No Quarter magazine #72.

Rejectomancy

Even though I wrote fewer posts than I did in 2016, my number of visitors and views almost doubled. I wanted to hit two posts a week in 2017, but I fell a little short of that goal. I think two per week is reasonable for 2018, though. Much of the increased viewership came from blogging about writing my second novel for Privateer Press, Aftershock. I’ll likely do something like that again this year

Here are the raw stats for the blog.

  • Total Posts: 79
  • Total Visitors: 13,148
  • Total Views: 23,000

Total Output

Here’s what my total output for 2017 looked like in general words written. Even though I published more in 2016, I wrote more in 2017. I’d like to increase both numbers in 2018. These numbers include part of a new novel I’m working on and a completed novelette that will likely be part of my initial foray into self publishing (I’ve wanted to dip my toe in that pool for a while).

  • Words Written: 201,916
  • Word Published: 143,840

2018 Goals

Like last year, my goals basically amount to write and publish more. This year it’s more of the same, with a few specific goals.

  • Increase short story submission total to 100.
  • Finish at least two novels: one for Privateer Press and one (or more) based on my own IP.
  • Self publish at least the first novelette/novella in a series of three or more. If I do this, I’ll likely blog about this whole process.
  • Blog more. Two blog posts a week.

2017 Free-to-Read Published Stuff 

Here are the links to the free-to-read (or listen to) short stories I published in 2017.

1) “Scare Tactics” – Published by Dunesteef (audio)

This is a quaint tale about a woman, her pet demon, and her budding parapsychology career. It’s a prequel of sorts to a series of novelettes/novellas I hope to self publish this year.

2) “An Incident on Dover Street” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash disaster story with dinosaurs! 

3) “Cowtown” – Published by The Arcanist

A horror/sci-fi/comedy mashup set in my hometown of Modesto, California.

4) “Reunion” – Published by The Arcanist

A Lovecraftian horror story about a touching family reunion.

5) “Little Sister” – Published by The Molotov Cocktail

A flash horror story about a little girl and her lab-grown sibling.

In Summation

Looking back over the year, I’m relatively happy with what I accomplished. There are always ups and downs and all the things you wanted to do but didn’t, but here’s my take away from the year. In 2017, I got better. I worked hard on my writing, taking to heart the good feedback I received from beta readers and editors, and I strove to improve in areas I sometimes fall short. I’m still very much a work in progress, but I feel it in my bones that I took a step forward this year. I hope that’ll pay dividends down the road.


And that, my friends, was 2017. How was yours? Tell me about it in the comments.

Submission Statement: December 2017

December was another good month for submissions. I didn’t think I’d match November’s output, but I did, and I had more than just rejections to tally in the final month of the year.

December 2017 Report Card

  • Submissions Sent: 13
  • Rejections: 8
  • Other: 0
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2

I sent a lot of submissions in December because I finished three new stories, which are currently running the submission gamut. Like I said last month, 13 is a lot of submissions and that pace might be difficult to sustain, but I’d like do somewhere between 8 and 10 a month in 2018 (more on that in my 2017 wrap-up post). As you can see, a lot of submissions last month and this month (26 total) resulted in more rejections, which I expected, but there’s some good news too with an acceptance and two publications.

Rejections

Eight rejections this month for four stories. You’ll likely recognize a lot of these.

Rejection 1: Submitted 11/29/17; Rejected 12/2/17

Thank you for allowing me to consider XXX but I’m going to pass on this one. This is not necessarily a reflection of your writing ability. The story just didn’t fit the anthology as it’s beginning to take shape. Due to an overwhelming response for this anthology, I’m unable to provide feedback. I wish you luck in finding a home for the story elsewhere.

This is a rejection from the fifth volume of a popular horror anthology. I submitted to the fourth volume last year and was short-listed but eventually rejected. I entered pretty late in the submission window this time, and that may have been a factor in the story’s rejection, as the editor indicated. I really dig this particular anthology, and I’m sure I’ll submit to the eventual sixth volume in 2018.

Rejection 2: Submitted 11/24/17; Rejected 12/9/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

PS Nice surprise at the end.

This is a form rejection with an editor’s note attached, which I guess makes it a personal rejection. Anyway, it’s from a top-tier market I’ve been trying to crack for a long time with little success. They’re primarily a sci-fi and fantasy market, and I tend to send them stuff that is either sci-fi/horror or fantasy/horror. Well, this submission was pretty much pure sci-fi (with a darker tone, natch), and it looks like I may have gotten closer to an acceptance than I have before. That’s not to say I got close, just closer than usual. I need to write more sci-fi.

Rejection 3: Submitted 11/14/17; Rejected 12/18/17

Thanks for sending this my way. I’m sorry I won’t be using it for XXX.

This is a rejection for my one and only mystery short story. It’s brief and to the point, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. If I were to write more mystery, I’d submit here again.

Rejection 4: Submitted 12/6/17; Rejected 12/19/17

We appreciate you taking the time to send us your story, XXX.  After careful consideration we’ve decided to pass on this story. There are many reasons a story is not accepted, most of which are subjective in nature, so don’t let our denial deter your from sending your story to other publications.  We wish you the best of luck on finding a publication for this story.

This is a rejection from a brand new pro-paying fantasy and sci-fi market. I was so thrilled to see a new pro market in this space that I immediately sent them a story. Luckily, I happened to have something that was appropriate (one of the new ones I finished this month). This is a nice form rejection. It might be higher tier, but it’s hard to tell with a new market. I always like it when a publisher reminds authors that this is a subjective business. It’s something every author needs to take to heart. Anyway, I’ve already sent them another piece.

Rejection 5: Submitted 12/17/17; Rejected 12/20/17

Thank you for giving me a chance to read “XXX.” Unfortunately, this story didn’t quite win me over and I’m going to pass on it for XXX. I wish you best of luck finding the right market for it and hope that you’ll keep us in mind in the future. 

So, normally, when I say a form rejection is higher-tier, I’m applying a bit of rejectomancy because there’s no way to know for certain. Well, that’s true for every publisher but this one. The editor of this top-tier pro market has said in blog posts and Twitter posts what his various form templates actually mean. So I know this one is a higher-tier rejection. That is handy info to have, for sure. This was the first submission of a new story I think is one of the better pieces I’ve written, so even though this is a rejection, it’s nice to know I might be on the right track.

Rejection 6: Submitted 12/20/17; Rejected 12/21/17

We have read your submission and unfortunately your story isn’t quite what we’re looking for right now. While we regretfully cannot provide detailed feedback due to the volume of submissions, we thank you for your interest in our magazine and hope you continue to consider us in the future.

This is a higher-tier rejection from one of my bucket-list horror markets. My last four submissions have gotten higher tier rejections, so maybe I’m getting somewhere. I will definitely keep trying.

Rejection 7: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Thank you for submitting your story, XXX, to XXX. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

You’ll notice this is the same form rejection from rejection #2, sans editor note. I tried this market again with a story I thought was more sci-fi, but the horror element is also quite strong. I’m not saying that’s why it was rejected, though. Like the rejections says, there are lots of reasons stories get rejected.

Rejection 8: Submitted 12/19/17; Rejected 12/27/17

Many thanks for sending “XXX”, but I’m sorry to say that it isn’t quite right for XXX. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere, and hope that you’ll send me something new soon. 

A standard form rejection from another of my bucket-list horror markets. Like some of the other rejections here, you’ve likely seen this one a lot in my posts. Still, gotta keep trying.

Acceptances 

One acceptance this month. It comes from one of my favorite purveyors of flash fiction.

Acceptance 1: Submitted 11/15/17;  Accepted 12/5/17

Thanks for submitting work to The Molotov Cocktail. Great to see this one again, as it was actually the last piece to miss the cut in the Flash Monster contest. Weird premise, which resonates with us, and vividly written. We’d like to run “Little Sister” in our upcoming issue (to be published within the week). Nice work. 

Thanks again for allowing us to feature your story. 

The Molotov Cocktail is one of the few markets I’ll name in these lists because I know they don’t mind (I asked). Anyway, this is a cool acceptance because of how close the story got to publication in one of their contests. They always state in those rejections to resubmit the “close-but-no-cigar” stories because they sometimes publish them in the regular issues. Well, this is The Molotov putting their money where their mouth is (not that I ever doubted), and I’m thrilled to have placed another story with them.

Publications 

Two publications this month, and you can read both stories by clicking the links below.

Publication 1: “Reunion” published by The Arcanist on 12/1/2017.

Publication 2: “Little Sister” published by The Molotov Cocktail on 12/11/2017. 

Though these stories were written years apart, they both feature two somewhat similar characters (and kind of similar themes). I think that’s largely because they both originate from one-hour flash challenge writing exercises with very similar prompts. It’s kind of neat they were published so close together.


And that was my very busy December. How was yours?

One-Hour Flash – The Christmas Crypt

Hey, all, it’s time for another installment of one-hour flash. If you’re new to this feature or this blog, these are stories I wrote as part of a one-hour flash fiction exercise/contest. Some of those stories were good enough to be published, and the others, well, they ended up here. 🙂

Today’s story is a weird one, and maybe it’s greatest flaw is that it’s a Christmas story. That’s a big limiting factor on which markets you can submit to and when. Since I never think far enough ahead to look for Christmas-themed submission calls, I figured I’d celebrate this Christmas by sharing the story with you.


 

The Christmas Crypt

 

“Christ, It looks like the North Pole exploded in here,” Frank said, panning his flashlight around the huge dark room. The thin beam of light played across stockings and garlands pinned to every wall with rusting nails, a mob of blow-up Santas, snowmen, and elves in various states of inflation, and a small forest of fake Christmas trees, each festooned with gaudy ornaments. Some of the Christmas junk was new, but a thick layer of dust coated most of it.

“Dude likes Christmas,” Randall said with a shrug, shining his own flashlight around. His small, deep-set eyes glinted with rodent-like eagerness as they moved across the room.  “Some of this shit is expensive, though. He must have some cash somewhere.”

“I hope so,” Frank said. “I got two strikes; a B&E would send my ass to prison for the long haul.”

Randall moved further into the room, waving the flashlight in a methodical sweeping motion. “Don’t worry; I’ve been scoping this place for months. The guy lives alone, and he doesn’t get visitors. When he leaves, he’s gone for days. We’re fine.”

They were keeping their voices down out of habit, but it wasn’t necessary. The big old house was in a neighborhood where people liked their privacy. That meant lots of space between homes, and a veritable forest of tall pines obscured this particular house from the road. No one could see onto the grounds without actually coming up the driveway. If that happened, they’d hear and see the car, giving them more than enough time to exit through the back window they’d pried open to get in.

“We’ve been through every room in this place, and I’ve seen nothing but piles of Christmas garbage. There’s not even any furniture.” Frank shook his head. “It’s fucking weird, man.”

Randall had reached the other side of the room and stood next to one of the towering fake Christmas trees. “Hey,” he said, motioning for Frank to join him. “There’s a door behind this tree.”

Frank pushed past a trio of inflatable Santas to join his partner. The door behind the tree was made from a heavy dark wood and crisscrossed with metal strips in a checkerboard pattern. A stout iron bolt held it closed.

“Help me move this tree,” Randall said, and the two of them manhandled the faux Douglas fir out of the way.

Randall put his ear against the door and listened.

“Anything?” Frank asked.

Randall pulled away from the door, his forehead wrinkling. “Bells, I think.”

Frank lifted his shirt, exposing the butt of a black pistol in his waistband. He put his hand on the grip.

“Fuck that, man.” Randall held up both hands in protest. “Stealing is one thing, but I don’t want to kill anybody.”

Frank’s gaunt, freckled face was impassive. “We haven’t found shit in this dump, and if I’m gonna risk strike three on a B&E, then I might as well risk it on armed robbery. Open it.”

“Fine,” Randall said. “But put that thing away unless we absolutely need it.”

Frank rolled his eyes, but he took his hand off the gun and covered it with his shirt.

Randall yanked on the heavy bolt, and it gave way with a loud screeching noise. He pulled the door open, and from the night-black portal came a thick animal stink. Both men covered their noses and stepped back.

“Fuck me,” Frank said, gagging. “Smells like something died down there.”

“Maybe something did.” Randall aimed his flashlight at the open door. The beam revealed rickety wooden stairs leading down.

Frank pulled the collar of his shirt over his mouth. “Let’s see if this asshole keeps his money in the same place he keeps the road kill.”

They mounted the steps, shining their lights into the gloom. The stairs led down into a large brick basement with an earthen floor. When they reached the bottom, they heard two things: the soft tinkling of bells and the hollow boom of the door slamming shut above them.

Frank whirled toward the stairs and pulled his pistol. Randall stayed where he was and shone his flashlight around, trying to find the source of the bells. He heard Frank on the steps behind him, and the bells grew louder, closer.

Randall opened his mouth to call out to Frank, but something large and fast moved out of the dark and into the beam of his flashlight. He saw a white blur and what he recognized as antlers seconds before they pierced his abdomen and slammed him back against the wall. He screamed as the thing connected to the antlers twisted them violently in his guts.

Halfway up the stairs, Frank turned to see his partner pinned to the wall by a white reindeer the size of a grizzly bear. Its red eyes seemed too large for its skull and its misshapen head was crowned with a rack of antlers like a nest of spears.  A string of small iron bells hung from the creature’s neck. The beast jerked its antlers from Randall’s body, letting him sag to the ground, and moved up the stairs toward Frank. He pointed his pistol at it, retreating until his back brushed against the door. He fumbled for the doorknob and realized with cold dread there wasn’t one.

The reindeer shook its head, blew steam from its flared nostrils, and charged. Frank pulled the trigger, filling the night with the dichotomous sounds of gunfire and jingle bells.


Yeah, this one’s not perfect by any means, and it’s probably more vignette than true story, but I dig the weird factor of a giant devil reindeer. Is it a marketable story? Eh, it’d be a tough sell with that holiday theme even if I polished it up. I’ll say this for it, though; it’s an absolutely perfect final blog post before Christmas. 🙂

Happy holidays to all the writers, readers, and fellow rejectomancers.

Two New Publications & Two New Markets

The first part of this month has been pretty damn decent. I’ve received one acceptance and I’ve published two pieces, both of which you can read for free online. I’m gonna talk about the publications first, and then I’ll give you some information that might actually be useful. 🙂

Publication #1:

Yesterday, The Molotov Cocktail published my flash story “Little Sister.” This another story that began life in a one-hour flash contest. It’s seen some minor revisions and polish, but the published versions is pretty close to what I jammed out in an hour four years ago. Anyway, you can read the story, plus two more excellent pieces of flash by Christina Dalcher and Alyssa Striplin by clicking the image below.

Publication #2:

The second publication is another flash horror story called “Reunion.” It was published by The Arcanist on December 1st. This is yet another story that started out as a one-hour flash exercise, and the published version is also very similar to the original mad-dash scribble. You can read this one by clicking on the image below.

 

Okay, now that my shameless self promotion is over, how about some useful info? Here are two new pro-paying speculative markets that have recently begun taking submissions for their first issues.

New Market 1: Factor Four Magazine 

Here’s what they want:

We publish flash fiction in the genres of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, super hero, or any combination of these.  We are looking for stories that are engaging to our readers in such a short word count.  Please take note of these factors (pun intended) when submitting stories to us.

They’re accepting submissions up to 2,000 words but list a probable “sweet spot” of 500-1,500 words. They pay an impressive .08/word, and look like a very professional outfit, with a nice website and clear and thorough guidelines. Check out their submission guidelines.

New Market 2: Spectacle 

Here’s what they want:

Welcome to Spectacle! We’re a brand new magazine (yes, print) that covers the exciting world of speculative fiction, which is any story, saga, or tome that has some fantastic element. These genres include (but are not limited to) sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, horror, apocalyptic, and weird fiction. We’re exploring limitless worlds with infinite possibilities.

This market accepts flash fiction up to 1,000 words and short stories up to 7,500 words. They also have a professional pay rate of $100.00 for flash fiction and $500.00 for short stories. That translates to around .10/word for most pieces, which is at the very top end of the pay scale for speculative markets. They also have a professional website and clear and simple submission guidelines. Here’s those submission guidelines.


Got any new publications of your own you’d like to share? Tell me about them in the comments.

One-Hour Flash – The Mansquito Returns

Yeah, I know, a bunch of you are like, “Did he just misspell mosquito in the title of his blog post?” Nope. I typed MANsquito to introduce you to another piece of forgotten flash fiction. As with all the stories in this series, this is another bit of flash written in an hour for a writing exercise/contest. The prompt for this one, if I remember correctly, was literally a dude in a mosquito costume. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw the prompt was an original SyFy movie called MansquitoOf course, working that movie into a flash piece was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to shoehorn it in there, and “The Mansquito Returns” is the result.

Oh, and full disclosure–I’ve never actually seen Mansquito. 🙂 


The Mansquito Returns

“You ever seen that SyFy channel movie Mansquito?” Richard said and placed the tip of the crowbar under one of the boards across the warehouse window. He yanked back, and the board came loose with the screech of rusting nails.

John stood back while Richard went to work on the next board. “Yeah. I saw it. It was really stupid. Dude turns into a mosquito monster.”

“Stupid or not, it was based on a real story,” Richard said and popped a second board free. “And this warehouse is where a lot of that shit went down.”

John wrinkled his nose. He wanted to call bullshit on something so ludicrous, and Richard was just probably messing with him, but the older boy liked to make up wild and intricate stories to go along with their petty vandalism. John went along with it because it was fun and a little bit dangerous. He’d go along with it tonight too. “Come on, Richard,” he said. “Nothing like that could exist.”

Richard had worked the last board free, revealing a greasy grey window pane. The window was at the rear of the old Linotech warehouse, which had been abandoned and empty for as long as John could remember.

“What the fuck do you think Linotech was working on, man?” Richard said, whirling around, hands on his hips. “Those motherfuckers were into all kinds of crazy shit with their chemicals. Everybody knows they were experimenting on people. That’s why they got shut down.”

John nodded, embarrassed he had questioned Richard. That wasn’t part of the game. “Okay, man,” he said. “Sorry. It’s just a little crazy. I mean wouldn’t that kind of thing be on the news?”

“Oh, it was,” Richard said and grinned. “Remember all those kids that went missing like five years ago?”

Jon remembered. Six children had vanished over the space of a couple of days. He remembered because his mom wouldn’t let him go out and play for weeks.

“The Mansquito got ‘em,” Richard said. “I’ll bet their bodies are in this warehouse, and I want to see them.”

“Fine,” John said. “Can you get the window open without breaking it?” It was dark and this area of town was deserted, but the sound of breaking glass had a way of attracting attention.

“Yeah. It lifts up.” Richard wedged the crowbar under the window and put his whole body weight onto it. The window jerked up with a low shriek of splintering wood, creating a six inch gap between the bottom of the pane and the sill. “Help me with this.”

John moved up to help his friend and together they were able to push the window up another six inches or so before it jammed in the frame. It was enough space for two skinny teenagers to crawl through. Richard went first, shimmying through the gap into the stale darkness beyond the window. John went next, and the first thing he noticed on the other side was a faint acrid smell—a chemical stink.

They were on the main warehouse floor, concrete covered in years of dust and rat turds. Small windows along the wall near the ceiling let in a bit of moonlight so the place wasn’t pitch black. John could make out small mounds of stacked boxes, more than he would have expected in an abandoned warehouse.

Richard flicked on the small keychain flashlight he always carried. Its tiny beam of light illuminated the nearest mound of boxes, each with “Linotech” stenciled across it in red.

“Let’s go,” Richard said and began moving forward, the flashlight in his left hand the crowbar in his right. “I’ll bet the bodies are near the middle.”

“Did you bring any bud?” John whispered. Finding secluded places to smoke weed was the primary reason for their little B&E excursions. He didn’t know where Richard got the stuff, but Richard was sixteen, and he had access to resources John could only dream of in his thirteen-year-old world.

“Yeah,” Richard whispered back. “We’ll smoke after we look at the bodies.”

“Cool,” John said and followed behind Richard. They made their way toward the middle of the warehouse where the mounds of boxes had been stacked to create a little shelter. John was surprised to see these boxes were free of dust, and the first thing he thought when he saw them was, Cool. Somebody made a fort.

“In here,” Richard said and hurried into the makeshift fort. He moved to the back wall of boxes and stopped. Something lay on the floor.

John moved up and his breath caught in his throat. Richard was standing over three bodies. It was hard to tell much about them in the dark, and for some reason Richard was shining the light at him instead of on the ground. He thought he saw an older man, a youngish woman, and dark-haired boy about his own age. There was something black all over their faces; he guessed it must be blood. “Jesus, Richard,” he whispered. “We gotta tell somebody.”

The flashlight beam darted up and into John’s face, and he heard Richard moving toward him. The light was blinding him, and he raised his right arm to shield his eyes. He heard another sound, a low hum, and then his head exploded with pain and light. He fell, the strength gone from his limbs, and landed on his back. Something warm and wet ran down his face and he couldn’t move.

Richard loomed over him. The older boy was wearing some kind of mask; it looked like a gas-mask but the breathing hose was long and white. He had the crowbar in both hands, and he raised it above his head. “You can’t tell anyone,” Richard said. His voice was muffled and tinny through the mask. “The Mansquito doesn’t leave anyone alive.” The crowbar came down and John heard the crunch of his skull breaking before the darkness swallowed him.


I like the characters in this one, and I had a lot of fun with the voice. I think it’s a bit better than some of the other flash pieces I’ve written for these contests, but it’s still got a ways to go before I could do anything with it. Basically, it just not working as flash, and it kind of feels like the middle of a longer story to me. Maybe with more of an intro and a better resolution it could be a descent short story.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

  1. The Writing on the Wall
  2. Killing the Dead
  3. Madcap
  4. Keepsake

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.

One-Hour Flash – Keepsake

Yet another story that began life as a one-hour flash fiction challenge/exercise and has languished unloved and forgotten on my hard drive ever since. Again, I don’t remember the prompt that generated this one, but if I know me, it probably didn’t have much to do with the story I ended up writing.  Anyway, this little ghost story is called “Keepsake,” and like the others in this series, it’s more or less the hastily scribbled tale I wrote in an hour.


Keepsake

“Can we please leave?” Robert said, and set a tiny frosted glass swan back on a rickety cafeteria-style table. This particular table was loaded with tiny glass animals: glass frogs, glass ducks, glass rabbits, you name it. It was exactly the kind of useless (and worthless) junk you always found at garage sales, but despite the mountains of used Tupperware, the piles of ancient VHS tapes and CDs, his wife loved to sift through the cast-off debris of middle-class America.

Every time they drove through a residential neighborhood, Laura kept an eye out for the scribbled construction-paper signs posted on telephone poles and lampposts. To her, these signs pointed to an endless possibility of treasures waiting to be found in a nearby driveway or front lawn. To Robert, they meant standing in someone’s impromptu junkyard bored out of his mind.

“Yeah, just a sec,” Laura said from across the cement driveway of the dilapidated bungalow she’d forced him to seek out, following bright lime green signs declaring “Garrage Sale!” and “Every Thing Must Go!” She hunched over a collection of jewelry boxes, mismatched china, and other random gewgaws. He watched her reach for a small carved wooden box, but a gaunt woman in a shapeless green dress snatched it away before Laura could pick it up. “Oh, sorry,” Laura said, jerking her hand back. The woman frowned at her, then turned and walked toward the open garage. There, the proprietor of this little bazaar, a withered old man in a straw hat, sat in front of a three-legged card table, one gnarled, veiny hand resting atop a battered tin money box.

“How much for this?” asked the woman in the green dress.

The old man tilted his hat up with one finger, eying his potential customer. He said nothing for a moment, then smiled. “Sorry,” he said. “That box isn’t for you.”

“What?” the woman said, her brow furrowing. “Why not?”

“It’s not for you,” the old man repeated. “It’s for her.” He leaned forward and pointed at Laura.

“That’s bullshit,” the woman said.

The old man smiled again. “Well, here are your options. You can put that down and buy something else or put that down and get the fuck off my driveway. I don’t much care which.”

The woman’s eyes widened, and she opened he mouth to retort, but something stopped her. Maybe it was the way the old guy was staring at her, like he was hoping she might push things. She didn’t take the bait and tossed the wooden box on the card table, causing it to sway and nearly tip over. She then stalked out of the driveway.

Robert moved to stand next to his wife, and he put one hand on the small of her back and leaned close. “Can we please get the hell out of here,” he said softly. “This is got to be one of the sorriest collections of garbage you’ve dragged me to in weeks.”

Laura turned and kissed his cheek. “One more minute,” she said. “I like that box. Plus, he said it was for me.”

She approached the old man, and he picked up the wooden box from the card table and held it out for her. “It belonged to my wife. I got it in Japan during the war.”

Laura smiled and accepted the box, running her hands over the polished wood. Robert could see it actually was a pretty thing, made of teak or mahogany with an inlay of mother of pearl, a rare diamond in a pasture of manure.

Laura opened the box, and Robert, looking over her shoulder, saw it held a single faded Polaroid. He glanced over at the old man and saw he was staring at Laura, his mouth working, his eyes fixed on her hands. She reached in and picked up the photo. It showed a man and a woman seated at a table, arms around one another. They were dressed up in what looked like mid-70s dress clothes, and both looked very happy. The man in the photo was the proprietor of the garage sale, some forty years younger. The woman looked to be in her early forties, her long hair black hair lustrous, her eyes vivid green and beautiful.

“Your wife?” Laura asked, setting the picture back in the box and closing the lid.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s my pretty Amanda. You look a little like her.”

Way to sell it, dude, Robert thought. Laura was blonde, had blue eyes, and looked nothing like the woman in the photograph.

“Thanks,” Laura said. “Are you sure you want to sell the box?”

“Sell it? No, ma’am. I want you to take it.” He rose from the card table. “And the picture. Amanda would want a pretty girl like you to have it.”

“Oh, okay,” Laura said, obviously a little embarrassed. “Are you sure?”

“Take the box,” Robert whispered. “So we can leave.”

“The rest will be here when you get back,” the old man said.

Robert frowned, wondering for a second what the old man meant by that, but he was gently steering his wife toward their parked car, home free and uninterested in anything else but getting away. Minutes later they were safely in the Acura and driving away.

Laura had the box on her lap. It was open, and she was looking at the picture within. She said very little on the drive home, barely responding to his efforts at conversation. She was intent on the photo, her eyes hazy and unfocused.

When they got home, Robert was feeling guilty for being so pushy at the garage sale. He got out first, went around the car, and opened the door for his wife. She was still looking at the picture, but when the door opened, she set it back in the box and closed the lid. She turned her face up to him and smiled.

Her eyes were a vivid emerald green.


Unlike many of my one-hour flash challenge stories, I think the concept for this one is pretty solid. It needs more space, though. As it stands now, the end rushes up on you, and the reveal isn’t satisfying or even particularly well executed. Honestly, my favorite part of the story is the simple idea that garage sales are creepy; I could do something with that down the road.

If you’d like to check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series, click the links below.

  1. The Writing on the Wall
  2. Killing the Dead
  3. Madcap