Friday 23 November 2012

#FridayFlash - The Dead Do Listen

“I can’t believe you made me do a tour of a catacomb. It’s morbid. No, it’s sick, that’s what it is.” Celia stepped over a small puddle on the cobbled floor. Her foot skidded on the thin layer of moss spreading across the stones.

“Shut up, it’s interesting,” replied Kaye. She hurried to catch up with the small group further down the corridor.

Four thick shelves ran the length of both walls; each held a row of coffins in various states of disrepair. Iron grates or concrete slabs covered some of the loculi. Celia shuddered to think what lay inside the makeshift tombs.

The guide stopped beside an iron grate on the second shelf down. Beyond it lay a narrow coffin. Rot had chewed through the outer oak shell, leaving the lead lining exposed at the end nearest the bars. An illegible plaque hung above the lock.

“This here is the final resting place of Lord Theodore Mountrose. He was a right nasty bugger, according to the gossip of the day.” The guide rapped on the rusty iron grate.

“Really? What did he do?” asked the woman nearest the guide.

“What didn’t he do! He came from a very wealthy family, and was the youngest of four. Some say he was spoiled by his mother, who refused to acknowledge anything he did,” replied the guide. “He fathered his first bastard aged fourteen, with one of the house’s scullery maids. Six months later, she and the child were found dead, drowned in the lake behind Mountrose Hall.”

“Did he kill them?” asked Kaye. Celia elbowed her; it was bad enough she’d had to come on this tour, she didn’t want Kaye drawing attention to them.

“The locals certainly believe he did. By the time the maid died, two more of his father’s maids were in the family way. Both of them died before they could even give birth.”

“What happened to them?” asked a tall bald man. He clutched a dog-eared map of the cemetery.

“One of them jumped off the roof of the house, the other one mysteriously tripped and fell onto a pitchfork. After those scandals, he just got worse. He went from school to school, causing trouble wherever he went. He tried to force his older sister into an incestuous relationship, and she ended up poisoning herself. And-”

A loud knocking interrupted the guide. Soft at first, the gentle rap became an impatient thump. The group looked around the corridor, trying to locate the source of the noise. The guide started back towards the central tunnel. She called to the catacomb warden. Only Celia stared at the coffin behind the grate, her mouth agape.

“Excuse me, you out there! Excuse me! I really do beg to differ!”

The lead lining muffled the voice, but there was no escaping the fact that Lord Mountrose wanted to set the record straight.

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The Dead Do Listen was originally published by Everyday Weirdness in June 2010, and appears in my short story collection, Checkmate & Other Stories. It collects fifteen of the stories I had published between July 2008 and June 2010. You can find it for 99c at Amazon US and Smashwords, or for 77p at Amazon UK.

Monday 19 November 2012

[Guest Post] Stepping clear of a black hole

If you want to get published, and you don't want to put out your work yourself, then you really have no option but to query agents, or small publishing presses, to find the one that suits you. It can be a nightmare process, and there have been rumblings online about discontent within a particular independent press who doesn't have the money to pay author royalties. I've asked the very awesome Nerine Dorman to give some advice on what to do - and, more importantly, what not to do, when sending out your work into the big bad world of publishing...

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So, you’re treading the submissions mill, looking for that literary agent or publisher of your dreams are you? Working your way through or a following up on names you found at the forums?

Yes, it’s a disheartening process. If an agent or a publisher even bothers to get back to your query, (less than half most of the time) there’s a fair chance you’ll receive a polite form rejection of “Dear Mary Jane, we thank you for your query, but…”

That wonderful word: BUT. It doesn’t get any easier the longer you’ve been in this game and yes, we know this isn’t a personal but, blah blah blah, face it, sweetie, are you really the industry’s next EL James or Ms Meyer? What agents and publishers look for is highly subjective. There’s no getting around that. That’s why you need to query widely.

Often, when an agent or a publisher does come back to you with a “Dear Mary Jane, we are delighted to inform you…” it’s easy to rush into signing away all your rights without thinking, and end up taking the short end of the stick at the end of the day.

This post is beyond the scope to give exhaustive details of all that can go wrong. (Just go check out as a basic picture of all the horrible pitfalls.) But I am going to give you two very important pieces of advice most new authors ignore. 1) DON’T RUSH INTO SIGNING ANYTHING. 2) DO YOUR BACKGROUND CHECKS BEFORE YOU QUERY.

And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t listen to this advice either when I was first starting out. Luckily the agent that I’d briefly had (who wasn’t right for me, BTW) let me down nicely. We’d really been wasting each other’s time. Here’s a mantra: No agent is better than a bad agent (paste a little post-it note somewhere on your desk for that one.)

Before we got a wee bit distracted, let’s get back to those two aforementioned pieces of advice which should be branded onto your left and right hands. That way you can see the words when you type. Actually, even better, do your background checks BEFORE you even get to the point where you’re going to have to sign anything. Look at it this way, if you’re picking an agent or a publisher to query, it’s kinda like getting into a relationship with another person. You don’t want to entrust your baby to a remorseless gun-wielding gangster, do you?

Nope, didn’t think so. So the process of querying can look something like this:

1) Make a list of agents/publishers;
2) Go read each agent/publisher’s submission guidelines. Are they open for submissions? What genres are they looking for? Who are their clients? When was their most recent sale/release?

If an agent/publisher doesn’t have any recent activity, it’s a reason to be suspicious (sure, sometimes they’re tardy and they don’t update their sites, but rather be safe than sorry). That’s when I go to two websites. Preditors and Editors might not always be up to date, but there’s still loads of information there. Go check up your chosen agent/publisher. Then, run a search on the Absolute Write forums. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Sign up and start a thread. See what sort of answers you can turn up. Everyone who is anyone in the publishing industry pretty much hangs out there from time to time.

Still don’t know anything? Proceed with caution, and if said agent/publisher seems too good to be true, they probably are. Another golden rule: If anyone asks for money upfront, RUN AWAY AS FAR AND FAST AS YOU CAN. Just don’t go down that road. A reputable agent/publisher will never charge you money for services like reading your manuscript, or editing it, for that matter.

Lastly, one of the best things you can do is make friends with other authors. This will happen in places like Absolute Write. Find out about authors’ good experiences and their bad, especially in the chosen genre that you’re writing. They’ll be able to tell you how royalty payments work, which publishers are good about communicating with their authors, which aren’t.

The hallmarks of a good publisher is a company that will provide you with value-added services. Nowadays it’s not career suicide if you decide to self-publish. Maybe your book is hard to classify, or you might already have a niche you can market to. Just remember, without a publisher, there’s a lot of stuff you’re going to have to do yourself (like cover art, editing and formatting).

So, there are loads of publishers you can still approach that don’t require you to have a literary agent. Check out for potential markets. Remember to do your background checks.

The publishing industry is changing at a rapid rate nowadays. It pays, therefore, to keep up to date with news. Follow agents and the editors of your favourite imprints on Twitter or subscribe to their blogs or newsletters. Keep yourself informed, so that the choices you make aren’t harebrained. You’ve spent ages polishing that manuscript. You really want your novel to be the absolute best when it eventually gets released into the world.

Bio: Nerine Dorman is a South African editor and (mostly) dark fantasy author. She is the editor of the annual Bloody Parchment short story competition and anthology (eKhaya/Random House Struik), among other projects. Authors are welcome to query her for her editing rates at