Sunday, September 9, 2018

Honest Reviews of Corporate Cthulhu and Digital Horror Fiction Anthology

Since Amazon doesn't allow authors to review anthologies that include their work, I've made a habit of posting my reviews here on my blog.

Title: Corporate Cthulhu
Theme: Cosmic and Lovecraftian horror in bureaucratic and business settings.
Publisher: Pickman's Press (now Stasheff Literary Enterprises
Editor: Edward Stasheff
Number of stories: 25
Pages: 418
Price: $19.99 paperback, $4.99 Kindle, $34.99 hardcover

Favorite stories: "Shadow Charts" by Marcus Johnston, "Career Zombie" by John Taloni, "MaryAnne's Equations" by Harry Pauff, "Forced Labor" by Peter Rawlik, "The Shadows Lengthen in the Close" by Ethan Gibney, and "Retraction" by Marie Michaels.

My story: "Corporate Cthulhu Inc." I collaborated with a very talented author named Evan Dicken on this story. Honestly, Evan wrote at least two thirds of this story, probably more. I contributed certain scenes and helped with line edits and fine-tuning the final manuscript. Overall, I am very happy with how the story turned out.

Final thoughts: I will be honest and admit I dreaded reading this anthology. It's 418 pages of what seems like a very limited theme. Credit to the authors for turning in excellent stories and to the editor for putting this anthology together with variety in mind. Each story is different; some are funny, some grim. Some seem very cutting edge and modern, while others hearken back to older times. Some are short, others are rather lengthy, in some you see the protagonists, in others they are only hinted at. Some of the authors employed clever formatting tactics (like a series of emails, for instance) to tell their stories. I was astonished to find myself breezing through this anthology at a very fast clip. Thinking back there's not really a dud story in the bunch. I give it an A.

You can order a copy of Corporate Cthulhu here.

Title: Digital Horror Fiction Anthology
Theme: non-themed horror story showcase
Publisher: Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.
Editor: Michael Wills
Number of stories: 25
Pages: 390
Price: $12.99 paperback, $4.99 Kindle

Favorite stories: 2:51, Behind the Caterpillar by Gregory L. Norris (what an abrupt, heartbreaking ending!), A Pocket of Madness by Samuel Marzioli (very interesting), Aces and Kings by David M. Koenig (excellent weird western-meets-King in Yellow mythos), Democracy by Larry Hinkle (had a feeling about the ending and I was right, but well worth reading), and Intermediary by Jason A. Wyckoff (classic jungle exploration gone horribly wrong vibe.)

My story: "Building Condemned (Seeking Asylum)"
A man finds himself in a mental asylum and immediately begins making much-needed improvements, even after learning the structure will soon be demolished.

The concept of chirality is explored. I wrote the story for another anthology. That editor short listed the story but ultimately passed on it. Soon after, it found a home in Alessandro Manzetti's Bram Stoker award-nominated "The Beauty of Death" anthology. Since then, I polished up the story and made a few revisions, and Mr. Wills kindly reprinted it in this new anthology.

Final thoughts: I would have chosen a more creative title, but story-wise there are some real gems here. (A previous anthology, Memento Mori, is also a very worthwhile read.) I am also glad that, despite their name, Digital Fiction Publishing publishes not just for Kindle but in paperback, which I prefer.

The only bad news is that two of the stories are absolutely dreadful for all the wrong reasons. I counted nineteen (19) typos and mistakes in the second story and several typos in one of the last stories.

I give it a B. You can order a copy of Digital Horror Fiction Volume 1 by clicking this link.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Buckle Up Folks, This One's A Doozy

I was only trying to HELP. But I should have known better.

Red flag #1: There was no publisher named in the submissions call.
Red flag #2: Acceptance email but no contract offered.
Red flag #3: I don't know anyone in the table of contents (not always a bad thing, but definitely a rare occurrence.)
Red flag #4: Editor does not use blind carbon copy (BCC) but instead CCs everyone, failing to keep their emails private.
Red flag #5: Editor sends out the "final" manuscript, and asks contributors to edit not only their story, but also the stories preceding and following their story in the table of contents.

The stories before and after mine were fun and engaging, but definitely needed some clean up and correction.

I turned on Track Changes and got to work.

Examples of issues I flagged (I looked up every single issue online for verification first; feel free to do the same to check my work!):

Character paces the "parameter" of a bedroom. I replaced with "perimeter."

Character spins around and "flaired" her robe. I replaced with "flared."

Character waits with "baited" breath. I replaced with "bated."

Painting looks "Van Gogh-esc. I replaced with "Van Gogh-esque."

A pane of glass "lie" flat on a desk. I replaced with "lay."

"Awe, I'm sorry." Changed to "Aw, I'm sorry."

The children leave their "parent's" house. I changed to parents' house (plural, since both are indicated to be living.)

"Moment's ticked by." Corrected to "Moments ticked by." (It's just plural, not possessive.)

Something went "passed" someone's field of vision. I changed to "past" their field of vision.

Someone might have a heart attack caused by "shear" pain. I changed it to "sheer" pain.

Improper placement of a comma AFTER the quotation mark.

Quotation mark facing the WRONG WAY.

"Ge" remembered... Corrected to "He" remembered.

Twice in the second story the author says something in one sentence, then directly contradicts what was just said in next sentence. I merely pointed this out.

In one scene, author uses the word "phone" to describe everything, including the actual phone, but also in reference to the receiver, the (phone) line, the cradle, and the hand set. I suggested cleaning this up.

Three characters in a room argue with each other. Author omitted dialogue tags. I suggested with three characters, dialogue tags would help the reader keep track.

The phrase "a little" preceded an adjective three paragraphs in a row. I suggested omitting the phrase in all three instances.

Here was the trickiest issue: "seven pm" According to grammar guides, 7:00 a.m. is acceptable, as is 7:00 AM, but NOT "am" (lower case, no periods). Additionally, author mentions "seven pm" and later switches to military time/24 hour clock and says "19:07." I suggested for consistency's sake, the author stick with one or the other. THIS IS ONE I DID MESS UP ON, ERRONEOUSLY STATING 19:07 was 11:07, which is incorrect. It's 7:07 p.m.)

A character could smell "it's breath." I corrected to smell "its breath" as in this instance it is a possessive determiner, not a contraction of "it is."

Author uses "they/their," "it" (no caps) and "It" (capitalized in mid-sentence) interchangeably throughout the document whenever referencing the ghost. I suggested choosing one and sticking to it for consistency.

Use of the phrase "absently minded" I flagged it and asked if this was a British colloquialism. Suggested, but did not change it to, "absentmindedly."

I stand by these decisions and suggestions.

The editor, upon receipt of my pages, sent me this response (AND I QUOTE:)

"Many of these are incorrect, or not welcome, as you were asked for errors, not editorial feedback, suggestions, or opinions."

Okay. Fair enough. Perhaps I DID overstep my bounds. But how in the heck did all these issues slip through the editorial process?

If the changes and corrections listed above are going to be ignored, I think that is indicative of a sloppy, amateurish finished product.

As such, I politely asked to withdraw my work from inclusion. As of this writing, the editor has yet to respond.

I have felt terrible all day. I was only trying to help.

I love editorial comments and constructive criticism. I love critique groups. I love fine-tuning manuscripts.

Now I am questioning if I should reach out to the authors of the two stories, or just wash my hands of the entire situation. The editor seemingly won't be making (or requesting of the authors) changes or corrections. But perhaps the authors would want to know. It's a good opportunity to learn. Or maybe not. I don't know what to do in that regard. At this point, I am embarrassed for the whole project and the authors involved.


There is some positive news, however. I just signed two short story contracts with another publisher who I know from firsthand experience works carefully and judiciously to produce error-free, professional products. I look forward to working with them again on two forthcoming anthologies.