Category: Articles

Writing Amidst a Pandemic

The plague doctor is working at his desk, inventing a cure for bubonic plague. The atmosphere of mysticism. Historical reenactment. Halloween.

Maintaining a consistent writing habit can be hard enough, but the pressures of a worldwide pandemic, a looming recession, and shelter-in-place orders can make writing feel impossible. Since this whole mess broke out, I’ve heard from multiple author friends that they’re having difficulties focusing on their writing, keeping their spirits up, or finding the motivation to conjure stories.

 

So, below are a few tips for writers during these trying times. Every writer is unique and few pieces of writing advice apply universally, but hopefully at least one of them will resonate with you and your own circumstances. 

 

Achieve Wordy Goals

 

I’m a huge advocate of having metric-style goals for writing, whether those goals are set on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. I prefer to write every day, and so I have daily goals. My wife is a full-time writer, so she takes the weekends off and tends to use weekly goals. 

 

When setting goals, I’d urge you to make goals related to words or pages, not just time. In other words, don’t say “I’m going to write for 30 minutes every day.” Instead say, “I’m going to write 500 words per day.” It’s too easy to get distracted while writing, especially now when there is so much stressful news happening at the local, national, and global level. If you set your goals based on output, not time, then you’re less likely to fall prey to all the distractions.

 

To do this, start tracking exactly how much writing you can do in an hour. Track this over the course of a week to make sure you have an accurate average. Then set achievable goals that you can achieve each day. Do this not just for writing, but also for all stages of the writing process, such as editing, copyediting, and final read-throughs. 

 

Engage in Rituals, not Routines

 

We’re stuck at home. Our news feeds grow more ominous every day. We haven’t seen friends and family in days or weeks. One day bleeds into the next into the next and so on. Now more than ever it’s important to carve out time for our daily writing time. Except don’t simply make it another thing to do—make it the thing to do. I’m talking about the difference between routine and ritual. 

 

For me, my ritual begins in the early morning hours before anyone else is awake in my home. I wake up and make myself an obscenely strong cup of coffee. While it’s percolating, I feed the cats. Once I have my coffee, I practice tai chi to wake up my body and then read a poem to get in the writing mood. I subscribe to three different daily poem email lists, so I always have a poem on-hand. After practicing my tai chi and reading my poetry, I sip my coffee and begin.

 

Remember that Stories Matter

 

I get it. I do. The world feels like it’s falling apart. People are dying. Healthcare systems are breaking. Economies are faltering. In the midst of all this, what the hell is the point of writing a tale about a werewolf chiropractor trying to hunt down a serial killer magician? Plenty.

 

People needs stories. They need fantasy worlds in which they can immerse to find shelter from the real world. Now more than ever, we need literary escape. Beyond that, we need stories that show us how to conquer fears and anxieties, how to be a hero, or how to visit the grocery store and not fill our carts with the last five cases of toilet paper. 

 

Tips from Other Authors

 

In closing, I tagged some writer friends on Facebook while writing this article, asking them to share their advice, experiences, and tips on how to keep writing during these uncertain times. The responses were as varied, thoughtful, and helpful as you could want. Rather than summarize them, I’ll take the lazy way out and simply copy them below . . .

 

“My best advice is to go easy on yourself, take breaks when you need to, eat well, and only check news once a day, and take social media breaks. Reach out to your writer friends, virtual happy hours/coffee meet ups via Zoom are fun. If you have kids at home know that you will most likely not be as productive and that you may have to barter for writing time with your spouse/partner if you’re both working at home. Get outside for at least 30 minutes a day weather permitting. Exercise/walk, take care of yourself.”

– Brenda Murphy (https://www.brendalmurphy.com/)

 

“Writing right now. Both kids are engrossed in screens, I still haven’t made dinner (8 pm here), and I’m a tad stir crazy, but I’ve got 2100 words down. This may not be at all helpful.

“Edit: 2800 words.”

– Ken MacGregor (http://ken-macgregor.com/)

 

“So, I’ve been home for almost 2 weeks now and there’ve been times where it’s hard to focus, but honestly keeping a routine has been great. At least for me. Getting up at the same time and yes, getting dressed in real clothes even if you end up transforming back into pajama bottoms. Try to stay away from the social media. If you can’t resist the urge, post sparingly or scroll sparingly. It can drain you. I tried to post updates to my writing, but not frequently. And always work on something, and I can’t stress this enough: write. Write something. Inspiration will find you when you’re least expecting it to and sometimes those are the best moments.”

– Maxwell Ian Gold (https://thewellsoftheweird.com/)

 

“I think that whenever there’s a time of high emotion, we ought to be able to channel it into the work. If you’re a full time writer, though it’s easy to become creatively paralyzed by all the tension in the air, you should also thank your lucky stars that, in theory at least, the self-quarantining and such really doesn’t have to prevent you from continuing to work.”

– Hal Bodner (http://www.wehovampire.com/

 

“My advice: Don’t. I’m in a constant state of low-key anxiety, even when I don’t consciously feel stressed, and pressuring myself to hit a certain word or page count not only wouldn’t help my general state, but would impact the quality of the writing.

“Of course, that doesn’t matter if you have a deadline. And, even though I say that and have mostly been sticking to it, I also took a few days and wrote a pilot I’ve been sketching out for years. Writing it was therapeutic, as writing often can be. It took my mind off things, let me have a little fun, and gave me a much needed feeling of accomplishment. But even though I’ve got a dozen other projects I could jump right into writing, I’m not pushing myself or adding stress to my day. I’ll take a few days off as needed and jump into something else.

“But I definitely wouldn’t have been able to write what I had if I hadn’t taken some time before hand to decompress as much as possible. While the motivational ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine’ advice may work for some, there’s no shame in not doing so. These are strange times indeed and taking care of yourself and your family should always take precedence over writing.”

– Brad Hodson (https://brad-hodson.com/)

 

“I’m not doing much writing at the moment. Too much generalized anxiety. Instead, I’m heavily focusing on research and idea creation for an upcoming novel. The research uses a different part of my brain and I can focus.”

– Craig DiLouie (https://craigdilouie.com/)

 

“It is hard to stay away from anything that can give you the news or latest update. It takes a lot but once you can break that habit and focus on something that makes you happy you will notice a decrease in anxiety. Also don’t overdo the coffee. I am an essential medical worker in a hospital with +cases and low on supplies. I had to take my own advice. Focusing on my patients really helps. 

“For me cat pics, memes, and videos helped. And sleep. Don’t forget to sleep.”

– Cathleen Marshall (Twitter: @radcat38)

 

“At the time of writing, 25 March 2020, New Zealand has just entered a four-week national lock down, possibly longer. Already, I’ve been isolation for ten days as my husband recently returning from some international travel. We both work from home in a shared office, so sheltering in place looks much like our usual work week, but my anxiety has spiked out of concern for family and friends, and I have struggled to write. I’ve been more distracted will-o-the-wisp puttering over the sand than knee-deep committed writer. However, I believe creatives have an important role in recording and reflecting this pandemic, so while I am distracted, I have taken to writing spur of the moment haiku to capture head-of-a-pin observations about this unprecedented time, which I may or may not refer to later in my work. These tiny, concentrated, almost subversive moments of creativity have helped to ease my anxiety a little. I’ve even managed to have five of them accepted for publication. On the other hand, my mentees ‒ I currently have six ‒ with time on their hands, have ramped up their writing, which means my in-box is overflowing with dark and twisted manuscripts needing my attention. Add to that, the four requests for cover blurbs, a fantastic commissioned work to edit, an anthology I’m curating, and even a book club recommendation, this isolation has me consuming more stories than ever. It’s the silver lining of the apocalypse, this opportunity to escape into stories, convincing me of the vital role of writers and writing to the wellbeing of our communities.”

– Lee Murray (www.leemurray.info)

 

A Final Note for the Parents

 

Many of you are trying to write while having kids at home (or maybe just partners who act like kids). It’s hard to be a dad or mom while also a writer and whatever other profession you might be juggling at the same time. It’s hard, but not impossible. Your writing has to adapt to the kids’ schedules. 

 

When my daughter was an infant, that meant I wrote at night when she first went to bed or in the afternoon when she was down for her nap. As she aged out of naps and started staying up later, I decided that being a dad and a writer didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. We actually started “writing” together at the kitchen table some afternoons and evenings. I’d work on stories and books, and she’d work on poems and fun lil’ essays. Or sometimes she’d draw. Really, she could do whatever she pleased so long as she did it quietly. 

 

Looking back, those moments working together—yet apart—with my daughter are treasured memories. We may not have been engaging with each other, but we were still together. 

 

And right now, we are all in this together, folks. The pandemic make be keeping us physically apart, but it doesn’t have to separate us socially or emotionally. That’s the beauty of writing and the joy of being a writer—we can forge and nurture exceedingly strong bonds from moments of profound isolation.

 

So with that—write on, friends!

Rob

Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Kristi Peterson Schoonover, publisher of 34 Orchard

Interview with Kristi Peterson Schoonover,  publisher of 34 Orchard

There are two types of writing that I really love. Literary stories with prose that takes your breath away and transports you into another world. Then I also love to be scared, made uncomfortable and sometimes even shocked. 34 Orchard is a new literary on-line journal that combines both. The first issue will be unleashed in April, and promises that “the most frightening ghosts are the ones within.”

 

Kristi Peterson Schoonover is the publisher and brain child behind 34 Orchard, so I took some time to figure out the passion and purpose behind her new venture. 

AF: What do you do as a day job?

I’m a receptionist and run the front end at the local branch of a national firm. My responsibilities have changed over the years—I guess I’m sort of a cross between an operations and an office manager. I chose this field for two reasons: So that my brain would stay untaxed and my creativity wouldn’t get exhausted; I have my MFA and could teach, edit, or go back to the newsroom, but that would wear me out in terms of pursuing my passion, which is writing short fiction. The second reason is that I really need stability; I wanted the steady paycheck, benefits, and vacation time. Having to write and scramble to put food on my table, although I am awed by many of my friends that do it, just isn’t my idea of a good time, or my idea of freedom. If I can’t write whatever I want when I want, and do whatever the hell I want with it, there’s no point. I also couldn’t invest financially and time-wise in esoteric art projects like 34 Orchard—or chair writing-related committees, or help other writers in their walks—if I was freaked out by needing to find an agent who sells my novel by this date or we can’t afford the groceries. I find my life as a writer is much more fulfilling and joyful because it’s not my bread and butter.

AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?

My father was an English teacher, and from the time I could read really well on my own, he’d bring home the short stories he was teaching in his high school classes for me to read. I’ve been hooked on short fiction ever since, but sometimes, in a magazine or collection, I’d find only one—possibly two—stories that really spoke to me in such a visceral, emotional way they haunted me (I actually have a file where I keep all my favorites). I don’t like to use the word ‘triggered,’ but I’ve found the best writing—in film as well—is the stuff that pushes personal buttons; that’s the stuff that can truly affect a reader or viewer—change his perception, or even his life. While that’s all subjective to the reader or viewer, I’d always dreamed of putting out a literary magazine in which every single story just grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. Although I had plenty of experience as editor or curator of other literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, the production part was always taken care of by someone else, so I didn’t think it was possible.

Then, I stumbled across a magazine called Orca. They were publishing amazing work; work that grabbed, work that went out on a limb. Nearly every story spoke to me, and the issues were released as downloadable PDFs. I sat there one night, reading it in bed, thinking, wait—I can do this! A downloadable PDF is no more difficult than my holiday chapbooks I send out every year. So 34 Orchard—which was going to feature work with the same power as Orca’s, just much darker and mostly in the speculative realm—was born.

AF: What sort of stories are you looking for?

When I started 34 Orchard, I had a specific vision in mind, but as the work came in, it morphed into something much more intense … and I just know if something has that 34 Orchard “vibe” when I read it. I’ve had to turn down so many excellent—I mean, seriously, excellent, it killed me to write rejection letters for some of them—pieces of work by both incredibly talented and accomplished writers simply because they didn’t match whatever that “zing” is that 34 Orchard wants. That’s why, in our guidelines, we just ask that writers send us anything dark and intense and let us look at it. It’s not something we can tell someone to write, and it’s also difficult, because no one’s read our first issue yet; there are no examples to follow. So don’t overthink it. Just send.

AF: Is there any profit margin?

People think I’m insane, but no, there isn’t. This is my “hobby,” if you will. The overhead isn’t terribly high—we only pay for the website and the work that we want to publish. We’re always open for donations, and we’ll put $1.99/donation link for each issue, but it’s more important to me to get the work out there. While it’s been said that many magazines fold because they can’t afford to keep going or don’t have an effective business plan for generating cash, I figured out what I used to spend going to events and cons (sometimes to sell my own books), and on trips to Disney World, neither of which I do anymore. All of that travel cost significantly more than a magazine would. I decided how many issues I could afford, time/energy and cost-wise, during the year, to keep it manageable and not all-consuming (I’m a writer, too); the amount of work I purchase for each issue can be adjusted based on how many donations I receive, or how much I’ve set aside during the ten months of the year I’m not purchasing work. So as long as I’m excited about doing this, it’s sustainable.

AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

I’d like to be able to find some awards (in addition to Pushcart) to nominate what we’ve published; I’d like to join the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses—those are my goals to have met by January of 2022.  My plans for the next two years are just to get this up and running, tweak workflow issues, and publish great work.

Celebrate Earth Hour Day With Horror Tree!

Right now, times are a bit crazy. Many of us are stuck at home during the pandemic. While that is already making a huge positive impact on the environment, today is the day we can do even more!

For Earth Hour Day the goal is that tonight on Saturday, March 28th, 2020 at 8:30 PM your local time that you will turn off all the lights in your house for an hour to conserve energy.

Not only that, but spend this time getting away from the media, out of the house for a stroll, and just try to relax a bit if at all possible! Worst case scenario, if you have to write, NEED to write, we respect that! This is the perfect hour to break out a pen and paper and work on your current work in progress or the next piece in a different format. Plan an upcoming scene, flesh out a character that you’ve been neglecting in your story, and help the environment while doing so.

You can find out more at https://www.earthhour.org/

Friday Update: Pandemic Book Launches

PANDEMIC BOOK LAUNCH 27.3.20

Announcements are continuing to come in on a regular basis at the Pandemic Book Launch on Facebook and the number of members has grown considerably. Remember you can find out more about Jim McLeod’s vision for the group here. For more information, please go back to the Facebook page to find out event and/or publishing details, or you can click on the purchase links which I have included below (where available). 

If you buy, please also consider leaving reviews for the authors and even dropping them a line on twitter or their websites to have a chat with them about the book.

If you see that an announcement has been removed from the listing, don’t panic! Horror Tree uses a program which drip-feeds its posts across social media at defined intervals over the coming year so you will continue to receive publicity that way. 

I will retain book launches whose date has passed for a couple of weeks before they are removed from the latest listing.

Pandemic Book Launches 

Note: All links – where available – are given to kindle versions but please feel free to use the link to direct yourself to the print copies! I have included just the UK and US amazon sites for simplicity.

 

March

PS Publishingall 6th March (more info here

The Mysteries of the Faceless King: The Best Short Fiction by Darrell Schweitzer Volume 1

The Last Heretic: The Best Short Fiction of Darrell Schweitzer Volume 2

Apostles of the Weird, ed. S.T. Joshi

His Own Most Fantastic Creation, ed. S.T. Joshi

 

Hidden Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies Book 1) ed Melinda Kucsera, pub Magical Mayhem Press, 10th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Blood Red Sky by Paul Kane, pub Silver Shamrock Publishing, 10th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

A is for Aliens (A to Z of Horror Book 1) ed P.J. Blakey-Novis, pub Red Cape Publishing, 13th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

 

PS Publishing – all 13th March (more info here)

Best of Best New Horror Volume 1, ed. Stephen Jones

Best of Best New Horror Volume 2, ed. Stephen Jones

Dead Trouble and Other Ghost Stories by Aidan Chambers

The Curse of the Fleers by Basil Copper

 

Ghastly Tales of Gaiety and Greed by E.F. Schraeder, pub Omnium Gatherum, 14th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

 Borne of the Deep by Michael Patrick Hicks, (The Salem Hawley Series, Book 2), pub 15th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

 

 

Keida-In-TheFlames by Matthew Cash, pub Burdizzo Books, 16th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

The Breach by M.T. Hill, pub. Titan Books, 17th March, 2020, amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

The Evil Within (Dark Devon Mysteries, Book 1) by S.M. Hardy, pub. Allison & Busby, 19th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.  

How to Destroy the World: An Author’s Guide to Writing Dystopia and Post-Apocalypse by A Trevina, pub 20th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

 

PS Publishing – all 20th March (more info here)

Warts and All by Mark Morris

The Storm by Paul Kane

Forever Konrad by Martin Goodman

 

The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young, pub 20th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

 

 

Coleridge by Tom Eady, pub. Silver Shamrock Publishing, 24th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

The Return by Rachel Harrison, pub. Penguin Random House, 24th March, 2020.

Operation Congo by William Meikle, pub. 25th March, 2020. Available here.

 

 

Sole Survivor (Rewind or Die Book 6) by Zac, pub Unnerving, 26th March 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Lilitu, The Memoirs of a Succubus by Jonathan Fortin, pub Crystal Lake Publishing, 27th March 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

 

PS Publishing – all 27th March

The Companion And Other Phantasmagorical Stories Volume 1 by Ramsey Campbell

The Retrospective And Other Phantasmagorical Stories Volume 2 by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell, Probably by Ramsey Campbell

 

Pandemonium by Luke Walker, pub Hellbound Books Publishing LLC, 27th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Unreal: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction: Volume 1 ed. Aditya Deshmukh, pub 28th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Scream Ride by D.I. Russell, pub 31st March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

 

April

We all Hear Stories in the Dark by Robert Shearman, pub. PS Publishing. Due out April. Watch out for Ginger Nuts of Horror review.

Darkened Wings Flutter by Lou Yardley, pub. 3rd April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Rise by Jackson R. Thomas, pub. Alien Agenda Publishing, 3rd April, 2020. No purchase links available yet.

 

 Arterial Bloom ed Mercedes M. Yardley, pub Crystal Lake Publishing, 3rd April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

 

 

 

 Seven Cleopatra Hill by Justin Holley, pub. Silver Shamrock Publishing 7th April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

 

PS Publishingall 4th April

Studio Of Screams by Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Stephen Volk, Mark Morris And Stephen R. Bissette

England’s Screaming by Sean Hogan (Electric Dreamhouse Press)

 

 

The Ruin of Delicate Things by Beverley Lee, pub 7th April, 2020. Available for pre-order. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com. Kindle only at present.

Awakening: Queen of Spades Book 1 by EJ Dawson, pub 10th April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

We All Hear Stories In The Dark by Robert Shearman, pub. PS Publishing, 10th April, 2020

John McNee’s Doom Cabaret by John McNee, pub Sinister Horror Company, 24th April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Q by Christina Dalcher, pub HQ/Berkley, 30th April. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com. Note: this is titled Master Class in the US.

 

Happy reading.

Steph

 on behalf of Stuart and the Horror Tree Team

 

Story Worms: One Size Never Fits All

I’m one of those writers who has been penning stories ever since they were old enough to do so. It’s who I am. It’s what I am. Asking me why I write is akin to asking me why I breathe. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with my hands if I didn’t write.

Yet, some years ago, I almost gave it up completely. I was reading an interview with one of my favourite authors, and she said that, if you ever wanted to take writing seriously, you had to treat it as a day job. You had to get up early, and write for the whole day. Every day. Trouble was, I already had a day job.

The guilt, the self-doubt, and the feeling of unworthiness that that statement instilled into me almost stopped me writing. I couldn’t see what the point was, if I was unable to take it seriously. Unable to give my whole life to it. But, I still had bills to pay, and that required a day job.

It’s remarkable, the provisos, clauses, and conditions that get attached to who is a ‘writer’. A ‘proper’ writer, I mean. You hear it all the time; that you’re not a ‘real’ writer unless you write literary fiction. Unless you’re traditionally published. Unless you’ve written a best-seller. Unless your neighbour’s mate’s brother’s wife has heard of you. Unless you gouged the words of your book into your skin with the claw of an albino werewolf.

Let me tell you this: if you write, you’re a writer.

I realise, now, that suggesting you write from 9-5 five days a week is a suggestion that comes from a place of privilege. If you have a day job, and write on your lunchbreak, you’re a writer. If you write one evening a week in between working and raising a family, you’re still a writer. If you write fanfiction, poetry, flash fiction, stories intended just to make people laugh, or puke, you’re a writer. If you only ever write during NaNoWriMo each November, then guess what? Still a writer.

Even if you never intend to publish anything, and you simply write for your own peace of mind, or to pass the time, or to explore your feelings, that’s fine. You’re no less a writer than anyone else.

The internet is full of writing advice. Most of it is well-meaning advice. A lot of it is incredibly good advice. No matter, not all of it is for you. Not all of it will fit with your schedule, your life, your body clock, your brain. I’m a natural early bird, and I always have been. My most productive, most creative hour is 5am-6am. Should everyone write at that time? Absolutely not! I’m a little bit crazy, I accept that, but it’s what works for me.

You need to find what works for you. Test, experiment, reject, and test again. Try out other writers’ tips and schedules and formulas. Some might fit you, but most of them won’t. That’s fine. I don’t care if the only way you write is balanced on the tip of your nose on a rope bridge above a pool of hungry crocodiles. If that works for you, then do it. As long as you’re getting words down, and meeting your goals, whatever they may be, then carry on.

Never, ever let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. If words are coming out, and you’re happy with your progress, then smile sweetly, thank them for their feedback, and sashay away with a flick of the head.

Be open to try new things. I say that, because your life might be totally different next year, or in five years, or ten. You might be totally different. I don’t often get the chance to write at 5am, because I have two young boys who have inherited my early bird gene. But, in ten years’ time, I’ll have two teenage boys who may not emerge until lunchtime. Be flexible, but never try to shoehorn someone else’s schedule into yours.

One size never, ever fits all.

Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Jemimah Halbert Brewster of Underground Writers

Interview with Jemimah Halbert Brewster, operations manager and editor-in-chief at Underground Writers.

Underground Writers is an Australian-based zine and resource for writers around the world. It grew out of Perth’s Edith Cowan University in 2009. Four times a year they publish a zine, and the next three issues are looking for stories in the genres of Thriller, Sci-Fi, and Horror.

I submitted a story to them for an upcoming issue, and although it was rejected the editors gave me some wonderful advice. One of Underground’s promises (and what makes them different) is they always give feedback to every submission -accepted or not.

Jemimah Halbert Brewster has a day job as a university administrator, and took the time to answer some of my questions.

AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?

Technically I didn’t start Underground, but I’ve kept it running since 2015 because it fills a real need in the writing community, particularly in Australia, in providing a safe, constructive space for all new and emerging writers to get that first step up into the world of publishing, which can be daunting, cruel, and discouraging when you’re just getting started on that journey. I also love the freedom that we have as a small, not-for-profit organization; we decide what topics we write about for the website, we set our own schedules and deadlines and goals, and this means we can adjust what we do as we please. For example, we’ve had a lot of questions recently about self-publishing books, so we’ve just started a series on that. Last year we received many queries on freelancing and how a writer can set themselves up as a small business, and our Marketing Manager Jess wrote an amazing 16-part series that is everything you could ever possibly want to know on the topic! And, on a more personal note, I keep Underground going for my own joy and passion in writing and editing; it’s amazingly rewarding and only takes up most of my spare time!

AF: What sort of stories are you looking for?

Each issue has a theme or a genre; our most recent issue was Romance, our next issue is Thriller, then Sci-Fi, then Horror, so we expect submissions that fit into these genre requirements as set out on our Submissions page. But more than just complying with genre or theme requirements, we look for stories that are clever, thought-provoking, interesting, well-considered, well-written. This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect; we take our authors through an editorial process before publication so that a story can be developed further, but we want to read that initial submission and see the thought, effort, and creativity that went into it.

AF: How long have you been publishing and how many issues have you produced?

Underground Writers issue 1 was published in October 2009, and in May this year we’ll be publishing our 30th issue. There was a hiatus from 2012 to 2014 when the zine took a break as the previous team moved onto other things, but we’ve been going strong since then!

AF: Is there any profit margin?

Ha, nope! All of our editors are volunteers and Jess and I are always looking for new ways to expand their knowledge and skills so that they keep learning and gaining from their time with us. We are able to pay our writers a gratuity due to the incredible generosity of our Patreon supporters, and we bolster this by providing feedback and a thorough editorial process so that everyone gains something, even if we can’t pay as much as we’d like to.

AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

We always have plans, and each year we try new things. For example, in 2020 we’re taking on two junior editors for six months who will help us produce content for the website and will help us work on issue 30 and 31. At the end of that six months we’ll take on another two junior editors, and so on. These rotating junior editors will work one on one with authors for those issues, and with our current editors to develop their skills and knowledge. This is something Jess and I have been talking about for a long time, so it’s very exciting to see it happen. We also launched the Underground Bookstore in mid-2018, which was very exciting, and we’re always looking for ways to expand that. Our next step would be to hold workshops or classes in different areas of writing, editing and publishing – we talked with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer’s Centre about running some workshops on social media marketing and submissions processes for authors. So that’s an area we’d like to expand into when we have the time!

Feature: Pandemic Book Launches

In these difficult times, the horror community has done what I have noticed it always tends to do, support those who are currently in need of help or who may need help in the near future. It is one of the friendliest, most caring and inclusive communities you could wish to be part of. It is a family. This is never clearer than when hard times strike.

Many of you will already be aware of the famous (or infamous!) Jim McLeod, genius behind the wonderful Ginger Nuts of Horror review site. On Monday evening he came up with a fantastic idea to support writers and created a public Facebook group – The Pandemic Book Launch. He introduced it as aFacebook hub for authors and publishers to run online book launches in response to the corona virus pandemic.’ From Jim:

‘This is for the authors and publishers who are now without a physical launch for their new books due to the Covid pandemic. We have set up this group to offer live book launches via Facebook Live as well a place to leave a post about your new book along with a purchase link. If you don’t have the facility to create a universal Amazon link drop me an email with the info and I can create one for you. My thoughts are one post for each book and you can use the post as a sort of micro blog where you can add to the post comments things like links to reviews, Ask Me Anything Posts, giveaways etc. If there are people who want to use FB live, drop me an email and we can work out a posting schedule so we aren’t standing in each other’s spotlight.’

As you will see when you visit, it is a work-in-progress and is being supported by a number of volunteers. It is a public group, so all can apply to join, subject to moderator approval. You can hear much more from Jim, here

I’m over there doing what little I can to help and Stuart has agreed for Horror Tree to create a post on Fridays which will be a list of upcoming launches as announced on the Facebook group thereby giving the authors a signal boost. This is Stuart’s continuing way of supporting the writing community, the reason he created Horror Tree in the first place.

For more information, you can go back to the Facebook page to find out event and/or publishing details, or you can click on the purchase links which I have included below (where available). Please note the format of this will probably evolve over the weeks as well. 

If you buy, please also consider leaving reviews for the authors and even dropping them a line on twitter or their websites to have a chat with them about the book.

Pandemic Book Launches 

Note: All links are given to kindle versions but please feel free to use the link to direct yourself to the print copies! I have included just the UK and US amazon sites for simplicity. At the minute, all I’ve got are book publication dates but as things move on, I expect to be able to include media events relating to these works.

The listing is in publication order. Any mistakes, just let me know and I’ll amend.

Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire: Ten Tales of Valor and Imagination by Matthew W. Quinn. Pub. Flashing Steel Enterprises. Reformatted version, launch should have been The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo. Repub from 2014.  amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

The Plague by Richard Meldrum, pub. Demain Publishing, 26th Jul, 2019. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

My BFF Satan by Kyle Rader, pub. 20th Jan, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Hidden Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies Book 1) ed Melinda Kucsera, pub Magical Mayhem Press, 10th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Blood Red Sky by Paul Kane, pub Silver Shamrock Publishing, 10th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

A is for Aliens (A to Z of Horror Book 1) ed P.J. Blakey-Novis, pub Red Cape Publishing, 13th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Ghastly Tales of Gaiety and Greed by E.F. Schraeder, pub Omnium Gatherum, 14th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

Borne of the Deep by Michael Patrick Hicks, (The Salem Hawley Series, Book 2), pub 15th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

The Breach by M.T. Hill, pub. Titan Books, 17th March, 2020, amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

How to Destroy the World: An Author’s Guide to Writing Dystopia and Post-Apocalypse by A Trevina, pub 20th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

Coleridge by Tom Eady, pub. Silver Shamrock Publishing, 24th March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Lilitu, The Memoirs of a Succubus by Jonathan Fortin, pub Crystal Lake Publishing, 27th March 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

Scream Ride by D.I. Russell, pub 31st March, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com

We all Hear Stories in the Dark by Robert Shearman, pub. PS Publishing. Due out April. Watch out for Ginger Nuts of Horror review.

Darkened Wings Flutter by Lou Yardley, pub. 3rd April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Rise by Jackson R. Thomas, pub. Alien Agenda Publishing, 3rd April, 2020. No purchase links available yet.

Arterial Bloom ed Mercedes M. Yardley, pub Crystal Lake Publishing, 3rd April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Seven Cleopatra Hill by Justin Holley, pub. Silver Shamrock Publishing 7th April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

The Ruin of Delicate Things by Beverley Lee, pub 7th April, 2020. Available for pre-order. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com. Kindle only at present.

John McNee’s Doom Cabaret by John McNee, pub Sinister Horror Company, 24th April, 2020. amazon.co.uk, amazon.com.

Thanks to Janine Pipe for helping me produce this listing.

Happy reading.

Steph

 on behalf of Stuart and the Horror Tree Team

Epeolatry Book Review: The Midwich Cuckoos

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Midwich Cuckoos
Author: John Wyndham
Genre: Dystopia/Sci-Fi
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 1957

Synopsis: In the sleepy English village of Midwich, a mysterious silver object appears and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. A day later the object is gone and everyone awakens unharmed except that all the women in the village are discovered to be pregnant.

The resultant children of Midwich do not belong to their parents: all are blonde, all are golden eyed. They grow up too fast and their minds exhibit frightening abilities that give them control over others and brings them into conflict with the villagers just as a chilling realisation dawns on the world outside . . .

The Midwich Cuckoos is the classic tale of aliens in our midst, exploring how we respond when confronted by those who are innately superior to us in every conceivable way.

I’m about as Southern English as they come, so I love any horror tale set in a village location, and I frequently draw upon rural life for inspiration in my own horror writing. I grew up on dystopian horror with a big splash of science fiction’-feel,  the hallmark of John Wyndham’s writing.

The Midwich Cuckoos was published in 1957, and it was later filmed twice as Village of the Damned. It was the fourth of seven novels published in his lifetime when readers would enjoy a Wyndham novel every two years, on average. Film and TV adaptations followed, most notably: The Day of the Triffids, and Chocky.

The book’s premise is quite simple; Richard Gayford is away from the village of Midwich celebrating his birthday with his wife, Janet, in London. Everyone in Midwich falls into an inexplicably deep slumber, and no one can enter or leave the village until the slumber passes. At first, no lasting harm has been sustained by the Midwich residents. It subsequently transpires that every woman of childbearing age (married or not) fell pregnant that night. For a close-knit rural community in the Fifties, this raises interesting questions about trust and morality in a way that seems almost quaint by today’s standards. Midwich faces real peril as the babies’ due date approaches.

Darker facts emerge over a period of time connected to the children’s alien origins: they are all born within a few hours of each other, those raised away from the village exert an eerie power over their mother which leads to their permanent return, they grow and develop uncomfortably quickly, they are smarter than other children, possess strange powers, and (most disturbingly of all) they communicate via telepathy and view themselves as a single identity. Both the residents and the authorities afield—including scientists interested in harnessing this collective consciousness—struggle with responding in situations where human compassion towards the aliens leaves them exposed to harmful threats.

One of the most distinctive facts, surprising given the complexity of the plot, is that the whole story is told in first person. This feature of Wyndham’s work often centres around a reluctant hero whose emotional reticence makes him a stranger to a society in which he ought to feel completely at home. This ‘outsider within’ provides objectivity via his analysis of events coupled with an aura of ‘access all areas’, ensuring that he is always in the right place to tell the story without his presence feeling contrived.

First person point of view makes the tale real, personal and intimate. The story is never distant or mechanical. At the heart of this tale lies the intense relief Richard and Janet feel about their absence from Midwich on the night of the deep sleep; she hasn’t fallen pregnant. This is set against the mortification of young unmarried Ferrelyn Zellaby and the joy of lifelong spinster Miss Ogle in discovering they are pregnant, even though neither can explain how it happened nor identify the father. Both women approach motherhood determined to provide their child unconditional love and acceptance. In the face of what transpires, their brave and noble life-affirming aspiration will be tested to its limits.

Wyndam died in 1969, and manuscripts continued to emerge forty years after his death— a testimony to Wyndham. Literary executors, loyal fans, and expert critics curating his archives brought Web and Plan for Chaos to light long after his passing.

In a world where social tensions between urban and rural communities remain as real and abiding now as they were in Wyndham’s day, this tense novel is both thrilling and thought provoking in equal measure.

Enjoy!

4/5 stars

Available on Amazon.

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