Please Dress Modestly

Yesterday I broke the Internet. Today it was my wife’s turn.

You see, we live in a pretty diverse neighborhood, Crown Heights, in which there dwells a very large Orthodox Jewish population. The Orthodox communities in New York aren’t exactly known for their tolerance of outsiders. In the past, they have forced women to sit in the back of public city buses, painted over bicycle lanes in the street because they deemed bicycle pants on women to be “immodest,” tried to gender segregate a public park, and so on and so on. Yesterday, a sign mysteriously appeared in our neighborhood, wrapped around a public utility pole. Alexa took a photo of it on her way home from work:

In case you can’t read it, it says, “Dear Resident, Guest, Visitor, please dress modestly. This is a Jewish neighborhood.”

Aside from the generally outrageous tone of the sign telling adults how they should dress, it is actually illegal to post private signs on public property. Furthermore, Crown Heights is not only a Jewish neighborhood. You can’t walk two blocks here without coming across a church, either freestanding or storefront. There’s a huge Caribbean and African-American population here, not to mention Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians, etc. etc. etc. It’s an extremely diverse neighborhood. The sign tries to “other” everyone who isn’t part of the orthodox community by claiming ownership of the neighborhood and addressing everyone else as merely residents, guests, and visitors. Fuck that.

So Alexa sent the pictures to a few places online. Failed Messiah and Gothamist both picked up the story and ran with it, reprinting not just Alexa’s pictures but also the email she sent with them. I’m so proud of her! I can’t wait for her to blow up the Internet again! In the meantime, the sign is still there. I wonder if it will be tomorrow.

In other news, I was quoted by the CBC in an article about those creepy dolls that were appearing on doorsteps in California. Everything’s coming up Internet!

HWA Votes to Allow Self-Published Works to Qualify for Active Membership

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the Horror Writers Association, or HWA, on my blog. I left the organization years ago, disillusioned with how inward-looking and self-congratulatory it had become, especially when it came to the Bram Stoker Awards, which were increasingly starting to look like an award specifically for the honoring of HWA members. (Even after becoming a partially juried award, some of the results have made me wonder if this isn’t still the case.) I also left disillusioned from all the bad advice the HWA’s members were being given, despite myself and a small handful others frequently trying to counteract it.

Members were often told they didn’t need agents. There was a provincial resistance to the idea of opening our doors to writers of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, the two cousins of horror that are actually publishing robustly. Announcements of publishing deals with big, mainstream houses were few and far between, but when they occasionally happened they were all but ignored in favor of the announcement of yet another deal with the micropress du jour. Message board threads offering tips on how to actually make it in publishing were quickly subsumed by much longer threads about the latest horror movies. Any publisher, no matter how terrible or scummy or lacking in business sense, was celebrated so long as they published HWA members. No one wanted to criticize terrible publishers for their bad practices because they were worried it would affect their own chances of being published, which is itself a tortured bit of logic. I mean, why would you want to be published by a bad publisher in the first place? It became apparent to me that the HWA was not an organization for writers who were serious about their careers. It was, instead, a place where its members could stand in a circle and pat each other on the back.

I’ll admit, I’m sounding a bit harsh. I may still have a few raw feelings about the HWA, mostly because I wanted — and needed — it to be more than it was. Although, like many ex-members, my career only took off once I actually left the HWA, which I suppose speaks to the level of writing and publishing advice the HWA doles out. I also walked away from the HWA with the distinct and unshakeable feeling that its members don’t read much except books by other members.

Which brings me to this. A friend pointed me toward this announcement from yesterday:

I’m very pleased to say that the HWA Referendum that I help write with fellow members A.J. Klein and Michaelbrent Collings on including self-published work for membership qualification for both Active and Associate members has passed with a 78% to 28% margin in favor, with 2% abstaining from the vote.

Self-publishers who have generated $2000 in earnings within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Active (voting) status. Those who have earned $200 within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Associate status. More details can be found at http://horror.org/joining-the-hwa/ (please note the criteria have not yet been updated).

Let me be the first to welcome the HWA to the 21st century!

As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, self-publishing isn’t necessarily the terrible business decision it used to be. The problem with the old self-publishing model was twofold. First, if you went with one of the publish-on-demand companies, they charged fees so high that authors were unlikely to ever recoup it from book sales. Second,  the books received no distribution, which further hobbled their sales potential and the ability to bring a wider audience to the author. More often than not, these self-publishing companies were nothing more than a scam to separate the gullible and the starry-eyed from their money. Snake oil for the literary set.

With e-book self-publishing, both those problems are fixed. For the most part, you can now self-publish for little or no money, and distribution is no problem because all the major online retailers carry e-books. Some self-published e-book authors have even been quite successful, and at a rate that appears to be higher than the number of successful self-publishers from the print days.

On the other hand, there has been very little change in quality of self-published books. Anyone can shit out a book with incomprehensible prose and tortured plots, upload it to Amazon and B&N, and call themselves a published author. And in the current paradigm, they would not be wrong to call themselves that. This is something of a slap in the face to those of us who actually put effort into our craft, those of us who work hard and pay our dues in the trenches of rejection and the classrooms of trial-and-error to earn the title of published author.

And that’s my problem with this new rule. Essentially, it changes the threshold for becoming an Active member — which also means a voting member — to nothing more than the ability to reach the end of a project and figure out how to upload it properly. Granted, they’ve added a sales requirement, which is at least a threshold of some kind, but even that is fraught with problems. The old requirement was about ensuring members were learning how to write well enough to ostensibly launch a writing career. This new requirement eliminates the writing element altogether in favor of how well they can sell a book online. Many self-publishers are already shameless and annoying self-promoters, clogging our social media and email with entreaties to read their latest work. This will only make it worse. Also in question is the fact that there’s no way of knowing if that money is coming from actual readers or, say, the authors themselves. The potential exists for people to buy their way into Active membership.

So yeah, mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that self-published e-books are here to stay. In fact, I think we’re going to see more and more established authors turn to self-publishing e-books. It may even wind up being the publishing paradigm of the future. I don’t know. Right now, though, it’s not. Right now, for many new writers, it’s a shortcut. Learning to deal with rejection is such a huge part of being a writer, and just uploading anything you write to the Kindle store eliminates that important lesson. Because these authors aren’t learning to handle rejection properly, we’re seeing more and more of them writing angry responses to bad reviews online and generally acting like jackasses in public. Learning to handle rejection eliminates that sense of entitlement. Avoiding rejection breeds it.

Combining authors who have an unchecked sense of entitlement with authors who can essentially buy their way into Active membership, and thus vote into existence more bylaws that favor them, could very well result in a membership base that is completely uninterested in learning how to write or how to deal with agents and publishers. This will likely drive away any remaining members who want to learn how to write well enough to be traditionally published and have lasting careers. The HWA runs the risk of becoming an organization concerned almost exclusively with how to better sell your self-published e-books.

I’ve long said one of the major problems with the HWA is that it focuses way too much on the H and not nearly enough on the W. This new qualification rule won’t change that. My concern is that it will make it even worse.

 

Necon 34 Report

Necon 34 was this past weekend. Believe it or not, this was my 14th year attending. I started going in 2000, and only missed one year — 2009 — between then and now. Making this an extra special year was the fact that I was one of the Writer Guests of Honor, along with Amber Benson and Michael Koryta, with my dear friend Jack Haringa as Toastmaster. The Artist Guest of Honor was Erik Mohr, who does all the amazing covers for ChiZine Publications’ books, including my novella Chasing the Dragon. All three of them — Amber, Michael, and Erik – fit right in at Necon. They joked around with everyone and gave as good as they got (there’s a lot of sarcasm and snark at Necon, but it’s all done with love). The same can be said of special guest Kasey Lansdale, Joe R. Lansdale’s daughter and a talented entertainer in her own right. She gave a knockout concert Thursday night in the courtyard, and stuck around all weekend.

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Thursday night dinner at the Lobster Pot with Kasey Lansdale, Amber Benson, Erik Mohr, and me.

For the first time in ages, the Necon goody bags were filled to the brim with books. Not just my own novel, Dying Is My Business, which St. Martin’s was kind enough to send, but there was a metric tonne of books donated by ChiZine Publications. I came home with something like eleven books, and that was after giving back the books I already owned!

The panels were their usual loosey-goosey shenanigans. Necon is very different from Readercon that way. But still, there were a lot of good topics being discussed and most of the time they were discussed seriously and knowledgeably. I very much enjoyed being on both the non-fiction panel and the erotic horror panel, even if the latter was at 9 AM on Sunday morning. But one of the highlights for me was definitely the Writer Guests of Honor interview led by Jack. It was scheduled for two hours instead of just one, and as moderator Jack made the time fly by with interesting and insightful questions. Plus, he only yelled at us a little.

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The Writer Guests of Honor interview with a blurry Jack Haringa, Amber Benson, Michael Koryta, and me.

The programming at Necon is always enjoyable, but the real draw is the people. When we describe Necon as a family reunion, we mean it. It’s one of the most welcoming, loving, non-judgmental atmospheres I’ve ever been in. I didn’t meet a single new “camper” this year who wasn’t enthusiastic about coming back again. This happened to be the first year since Necon founder Bob Booth passed away, and his family — Sara Calia, Dan Booth, and Mary Booth — did a fantastic job keeping it all flowing smoothly in his absence. His presence was missed, and yet he felt very much there.

Two events stand out the most for me from this year’s Necon. The first was an impromptu H.P. Lovecraft walking tour of Providence a few of us took on Saturday morning, including Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Jim Moore, and Bev Vincent. Charles Rutledge led the tour. Dan Foley “drove” — by which I mean he missed every turn and nearly took us to Maine. We saw the house where Lovecraft lived when he wrote “The Call of Cthulhu” and other seminal works, as well as the house that inspired his story “The Shunned House,” and the cemetery where both Lovecraft and Poe used to stroll while thinking about their stories. There was so much history there you could feel it.

The second standout event was, ahem, the roast on Saturday night. Chris Golden worked tirelessly to fool me into thinking we were roasting Jeff Strand, but it was all an elaborate ruse. I was the one being roasted! How my friends managed to keep this from me for weeks — especially Jack, whom I’d just seen the weekend before at Readercon — is beyond me, but they did a fantastic job keeping it on the low down. I was taken completely by surprise. I’m told the look on my face was priceless. If anyone has a photo of that moment, I’d love to see it!

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This picture pretty much sums it up.

I’m not supposed to repeat what was said at the roast, but suffice it to say they got me good. Especially Kasey Lansdale. Ouch! They even trotted out that old photo of me in the bikini top from the Hawaiian Shirt Contest back in 2002. Bastards. But just when I thought it was over, there was one last surprise…

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…a pie in the face from Ginjer Buchanan! I felt deeply loved and appreciated, despite the zingers and being unexpectedly covered in whipped cream with no clean pants to change into. I tried to give back as good as I got during my rebuttal, but it was already a long night and I didn’t hit everyone who had roasted me, just a select few. Then I went back to my room, changed out of my whipped cream-covered clothes, showered, and went out to join my friends in my pajamas.

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Post-roast with Bev Vincent, Kasey Lansdale, Mary SanGiovanni, Brian Keene, Shawn Bagley, John Goodrich, and the “man of the hour” in his pajamas.

Chris Golden retired that night from hosting the annual roast and left its future in the hands of Jeff Strand and myself. I know we’ll do him proud. And that’s another Necon in the rearview mirror. It’s always sad saying goodbye, but it was great seeing Amber again and making new friends with Kasey and Michael. I hope all of them will come back to Necon again. I know I will.

You can see more pictures from Necon 34 here.

Oh, and one last thing. Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart…for your mediocrity.

The Scariest Part: A.J. Colucci Talks About SEEDERS

Seeders (3)

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, check out the guidelines here.)

My guest is A.J. Colucci, whose latest novel is Seeders. Here is the publisher’s description:

George Brookes is a brilliant but reclusive plant biologist living on a remote Canadian island. After his mysterious death, the heirs to his estate arrive on the island, including his daughter Isabelle, her teenage children, and Jules Beecher, a friend and pioneer in plant neurobiology. They will be isolated on the frigid island for two weeks, until the next supply boat arrives.

As Jules begins investigating the laboratory and scientific papers left by George, he comes to realize that his mentor may have achieved a monumental scientific breakthrough: communication between plants and humans. Within days, the island begins to have strange and violent effects on the group, especially Jules who becomes obsessed with George’s journal, the strange fungus growing on every plant and tree, and horrible secrets that lay buried in the woods. It doesn’t take long for Isabelle to realize that her father may have unleashed something sinister on the island, a malignant force that’s far more deadly than any human. As a fierce storm hits and the power goes out, she knows they’ll be lucky to make it out alive.

A.J. Colucci masterfully weaves real science with horror to create a truly terrifying thriller, drawing from astonishing new discoveries about plants and exploring their eerie implications. Seeders is a feast of horror and suspense.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for A.J. Colucci:

The scariest part of Seeders. That’s a tough one. It could be how six people are stranded on a cold, desolate island and start losing their minds. Or the decomposing body they find in the woods. Perhaps it’s the premise of the book — communication between plants and people, based on actual science — because in my book plants don’t just feel pain and emotion; they fight back.

However, for me, the scariest part of the story is what happened while writing the novel. I’d been working on Seeders during the winter months when the towering trees in my neighborhood were bare and loomed like angry giants, staring down at me with thousands of claw branches as I took my morning walks. Lost in my story, the trees seemed eager to attack, and frustrated by the roots that kept them anchored to the ground. I learned from my research that rootedness is their curse. And I did hours of research, every day, getting daily doses of plant facts. Trees and plants feel pain. They can learn and remember. They can signal insects and send chemical warnings to each other. Did you know the lovely smell of fresh cut grass is actually your lawn screaming?

However, as spring approached and their leaves began to bud, the trees didn’t look so frightening. I remember thinking the mighty oak seemed more content, less hostile in the warmth of a sunny day. It came time to tend to my garden, and I got the old snipping shears out of the shed to trim my four foot Japanese Red Maple. It has those droopy branches and its feathery leaves were beginning to touch the ground.

But before making the first snip, I hesitated. After all my research, was I really going to cut this tree? I knew plants, in their own way, felt pain. They reacted to trauma by becoming depressed. Simply cutting one branch would affect the entire plant for hours. Yet, not cutting the droopy branch was an invitation to bugs crawling on the ground. So I snipped it. All seemed fine until a couple seconds after the snip and I heard a squeal. I kid you not. It was a small squeal of pain. Of course, I thought it must be my imagination, but my heart kicked up and I stared bug-eyed at the tree. I held my breath. I tried it again. A second after the snip, I heard the squeal. Now my blood ran cold and my hand was shaking. I looked around to see if anyone was around, even though I was positive the noise came from the tree. I snipped once more, and two seconds later it cried out. I recalled the sound, sort of a high pitch whine and the release of a tiny breath. Like what you’d hear from a baby in a moment of discomfort.

With a tight fist I stood up, and then loosened my grip. There was that sound again. I looked closely at the shears, pinching them closed and letting them snap open. It was the shears, the stupid shears! They were slightly rusted and squeaked when they sprang open. Still, rusty shears or not, I cannot forget that feeling of horror. Thinking, knowing, the tree had shrieked. After everything I learned while researching Seeders, I know we can never be quite sure of what a plant is really feeling, or thinking.

A.J. Colucci: Website

Seeders: Amazon / Other sellers

A.J. Colucci is an author of science thrillers, stories that combine true, cutting-edge science with the adrenaline-rush of a thriller. Her latest novel, Seeders, was described by #1 New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston as “Gripping and brilliantly original.” Her debut novel, The Colony, was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly, and Booklist called it “a frightening combination of well-researched science and scenes of pure horror.” A.J. spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of adorable cats. A.J. is a member of International Thriller Writers.

 

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