Allow Me to ManSplain Woman in Horror Month To You, My Dear

 by Steve Wetherell

I don’t know why I write these things. I’m sure it’s just an earnest need to scratch an itch and make an argument I think is being overlooked, but some part of me suspects that I might just have a fetish for being beaten up by women.

 Either way, why don’t you womanfolk adjust your bras, take five minutes off from hitting punch bags while flicking your immaculate hair, and send your comically inept husband out of the room (did he walk into the door frame again? Ha! Idiot.)

It’s time for me to do what men do best, and explain things to you that you’re already fully aware of. So: Women in Horror Month, a time to focus on the great names in horror fiction who don’t have a dick.

I personally like the idea of Women in Horror Month. But many don’t. And no, not all those people are neck beard misogynists or women who have internalised the patriarchy, some of them are actual real people who have a justified opinion. Some might say; “Why do we need a special month? Shouldn’t we be supporting women writers all year round?” Other may say; “If women are the equal of men, and I believe they are, then why do they need special consideration?”

Fair questions both.

Here’s my take, just to clarify.

I’ve never looked at a movie poster and scanned the credits to see if the director is a woman. I don’t really care about the gender of the author of a book. I honestly think that most people don’t even consider it. Not consciously. But then… is it entirely coincidence that most of my favourite writers and directors are men?

There are proven gender conceptions in the genres. Is this because of the da man keeping the ladies down? It’s a little more complicated than that. For instance, a disproportionate amount of literary agents are women, yet women writers still find more acceptance when they use a male or gender anonymous name. Also, men find it easier to be accepted in romance and crime fiction when using a female pseudonym. The evidence is clear that, while no one is actively keeping women down in this instance, there are ingrained, perhaps audience driven, gender biases within the genres.

So why not have a Woman in Horror month? The status quo is a big, heavy, slow motherfucker and it needs a severe nudge now and then. If the evidence is there that the playing field isn’t level, then take some steps to level the playing field. That’s how you get quality of opportunity, which I don’t think any sane person is against.

It is, of course, not that simple. Nothing is. An acquaintance of mine who runs a much loved horror fan site in his spare time is not observing Woman in Horror month this year. The amount of abuse he got (from women) for observing it last year was too much for him. Predictably, he is already getting abuse for not observing it this year.

Deviant Dolls own Renee Miller recently blogged about her experiences of having a story accepted by a publisher, only to be told she was part of a conscious drive to recruit more women writers in the horror genre. Her response was predictably Renee, and I heard they never found the guy’s head. (I’m kidding of course. They found it eventually.)

It’s not simple and it doesn’t need to be. It’s an ongoing discussion and what is most important is that the discussion happens. I’ll put up with a lot of silliness in the name of equality of opportunity.

But what of equality of outcome? Here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me.

‘Thin-end-of-the-wedge’ is one of those conversational hand grenades, often used to take a hypothetical scenario to its most thrilling extreme. We say, “Sure we have Woman in Horror Month now, but what about when it becomes Woman in Horror DECADE? What if men aren’t giving a fair shake because publishers only want women? How is that fair?”

One might argue that there is room enough for all, and men will never be specifically overlooked in favour of women. I hope so, for my sake. One might also argue that straight white men have had it too good for too long, and taking opportunity from them is justified. Well, I believe in inherited advantages, but I also think that promoting punishment for original sin is darkly psychotic.

Maybe there is a thin-end-of-the-wedge. Maybe it compromises a lot of people’s ideals of fairness. Or maybe those people’s over reactions are holding back progress to a new and better kind of fairness.

I have to confess, I’m not entirely against thin-end-of-the-wedge arguers. I used to be, but then I saw what they did with Ghostbusters 2016. There is a real possibility that we’ll take any old shit just because it lives up to a political ideal, and when you start saying you have to like a soul-less, lazy, cynical piece of shit like Ghostbusters 2016 because it has women in it, you’ve stopped focusing on equality of opportunity and started focusing on equality of outcome- you’ve stopped believing that something should stand on its merits. I can’t go down that path with you, and I like to believe that most writers wouldn’t either, male or female.

But I get that there’s a struggle, I do. I’m a straight, white male, and probably Hitler, but if someone told me they’d only signed up my work because they needed a token fat guy I might just be outraged enough to spit out my flapjacks. I believe artists want to be judged on their quality, not their race, religion, gender or size.

However, I am of a certain generation, sandwiched between Xers and Millennials, and my beliefs may be old hat, deemed an unnecessary speed bump on the road to utopia. Maybe the youngers really do believe that artists should warrant special consideration purely for not being male or white.

Maybe it’s time for people like me to just back away and shut our mouths, while the old ideas of excellence are torn down and rebuilt into a colourful rainbow.

I won’t, though. That’s not how writers work.

Advertisements

Yes, Politics Does Ruin Star Wars. Here’s How…

 by Steve Wetherell

Look, America. I understand that your president is embarrassing and you feel humiliated, and you’re looking for easy wins on battlefields of your own choosing. I get it. It’s more fun than voting, less time consuming than volunteering and much easier than becoming a lawyer or something.  But can we keep your real life battles away from fantasy space battles, please?

Some of you are already screaming that all art is political. Yes. In the same way that all conversations are political. Which is about as useful as saying everything is science. Or all art is valid.

I am suspicious of those stances. The last guy who told me everything is subjective was trying to defend the Ghostbusters reboot. So you can fuck off with that. There has to be practicality. There has to be perspective. Otherwise you can deconstruct whatever you want until it lines up with how you’re feeling. If we truly all believed everything was subjective, there would be no art.

So, here is my stance. Ahem. Any attempt to bring political significance to Star Wars makes the movies a lesser experience.

I want to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and how it is a great example of why political perspective can spoil something that was just fine, like taking a shit into a piping bag and writing a racial slur on a perfectly good sponge cake.

There are, of course, MANY MANY SPOILERS.

On Watching The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi was great, I thought. It has some great moments, some good lines, a charming cast, a wonderful score, brilliant special effects, tense battles. It had weak parts, but I thought they were overshadowed by the good parts. I even liked the Porgs, and god help me I did not expect to.

I was surprised by the amount of polarized opinion on what was a well-crafted instalment in a beloved, if tarnished, franchise. Who were these people saying that Rose was fire and they were going to get her face tattooed over their own face? Who were these people who were acting like they had just seen Luke Skywalker laying in a gutter begging for change so he can buy blue crack? When did fucking Porgs transform from a briefly amusing special effect into an icon for the ideologically pure to worship and the cave trolls to desecrate?

It was clear to me that politics had happened, and we were getting into that tiresome territory where artificial importance had bloated something so much that one could not sit comfortably on top of it anymore, and had to slide hard left or right. I had to pick a side- was I a neckbeard virgin fanboy who was probably a secret nazi? Or was I a soy boy tumbler SJW cry-bully cuck?

I am neither of those things. I’m just a Star Wars fan, and have been since…oh… since before you were born.

So let’s talk about some of the reactions I’ve been seeing:

Luke’s Arc:

They Done Luke Wrong!

I have an emotional attachment to Luke Skywalker. When I was a four year old boy I basically played A New Hope (or Just Star Wars, as it was known at the time) on repeat until the VHS melted. Han was cooler, of course, but I liked Luke. There’s something about his naivety that speaks to a little kid. And even in Return of the Jedi- scarred, hurt and transformed by the weight of his battles- he never lost that endearing child-like spark. It was what saved him in the end, and Vader too. That message, that everyone was good, deep down, was… inaccurate, probably, but important to my developing world view.

How would I feel about seeing him thirty years on? That spark was gone, certainly. Gruff, sarcastic, a little mean. But then, here is a man who has saved the universe twice, but cannot save the soul of his only nephew. Here is a man who knows firsthand the destructive cycle of the force, and the folly of trying to control or weaponize it.

Did I think his brief moment of considering ending Ben’s life was out of character? Yes. It was a momentary slip for which he paid dearly. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t had that, and I related. Was I sad to see him like that? Yes. But I got it.

I understood his reluctance, I understood his isolation. His redemption was… satisfying. I felt like I said goodbye to Star Wars a little when he went, in a way I didn’t with Han Solo. And that’s fine.

You can point to the burning of the Jedi texts and make comparisons to historical vandalism all you want, but the fact is the Force always worked better when it was a vague and enigmatic allusion. Start giving it too much context and you get midichlorians, or as I like the call them ‘The Part Where I Realized The Phantom Menace Wasn’t Going to Get Any Better.’

Is the dismantling of the Force as mystical somehow necessary to appeal to today’s less religiously inclined audience? Well, only if you can’t tell fantasy from reality, I suppose. Anybody who sees either victory or defeat in the casting off of ancient Jedi lore so the protagonist can be a hero on their own terms is forgetting that’s exactly what Luke did (although, he did it with more subtlety and over three movies, which, let’s be fair, ain’t nobody got time for that.)

If we start looking at the sidelining of Skywalker as politically significant, on either side, it falls apart rather quickly. If he’s a good riddance to the supremacist ideals of the classic White Straight Male patriarchal values, necessary for Rey to succeed by presumably different ideals- then why do we see him bring the entire First Order to a standstill with his very presence? Establishing him as a living legend and making every other protagonist in the movie thus far look like a pretender? Like Obi Wan before him, he is far more powerful in death than he was in life. And that same interpretation applies if you somehow think Luke was cucked out of his true destiny. I do not think he was shoved aside to make some progressive point about the patriarchy, and if he was, it didn’t make sense. See that kid playing with the action figure at the end? Is that a princess Leah action figure? No. No it isn’t.

Finn’s Arc:

Rose is Fire!

No, she isn’t, she’s a wasted opportunity to give Finn a cool alien sidekick. Maybe one of those guys with three eyes that look a bit like a goat. Remember those guys? They were cool.

I understood that Poe’s plan blowing up in his face was supposed to have narrative purpose (and even some will argue a moral purpose, but we’ll get to that.) I still don’t know why they spent half an hour on planet One Percent to get there though. Its only purpose was for Rose to keep it real and ‘Show us the human cost of the Empire.’

Yeah…already saw them blow up six planets as an opening gambit, mate, think I know what the stakes are.

Finn and Rose ruminating that the true evil is the force of capitalism behind the Empire is about useful to the plot as rescuing a space horse form a space horse coliseum. Oh, what’s that Rose, the real victory was rescuing the space horse? Yeah, those kids really remembered that. That’s why they were playing with the Rose Rescues a Fucking Space Horse action set at the end there.

And knocking Finn out of sacrificing himself for the good of the Rebellion with your presumptuous “That’s not how we’ll win this” line, even though thanks to Luke and Admiral What’s her Face that’s exactly how the Rebellion survives? If I want someone to tell me that the true magic of the Force is friendship, I will re-watch My Little Pony: Equestrian Girls. Frankly those magic horses pretending to be magic horse-teenage girls are written more convincingly.

The worst part about Finn’s arc isn’t his seemingly air-dropped in sidekick and for-some-reason love interest though. It’s the wasted potential. As soon as it was revealed the Empire were tracking the Rebellion through Hyperspace, I knew, I just KNEW, they had some sort of implant in Finn that would turn out to be standard to all new Storm Troopers. It would’ve made perfect sense (as much as anything does in a story about space wizards.) It would have also made sense because Finn’s primary motivator, other than failing to be Rey’s love interest, is being fucking terrified of the First Order, his childhood abusers. Setting Finn up to have no choice but to confront the Order he only recently escaped from head on, else doom his new friends, would have been emotionally engaging.

Also, why did Finn and the unproven Rose go to planet Perrier? Why not Finn and Poe? Why not pay off on that bro moment they had in TFA? Why not Poe teach Finn about the realities of being in the Rebellion? He is, after all, perfectly equipped to do so, having sent people to their deaths in the name of war. But no, a mechanic will be fine. She lost her sister, I guess, so she has some skin in the fight.

…what was her sister’s name again? …

Oh, and DJ was a waste of time. Having him shrug like a Frenchman and suggest there is no such thing as good and evil does not make one lick of sense in an established universe where there clearly is. You get fucking lightning powers, DJ, we’ve seen it. He doesn’t even make sense as a utility character, as I’m sure BB-8 could have done everything he did and sold more action figures doing it.

My beef with Finns’ arc is not just that all the adventures on planet Country Club were made to make a brief real-world political statement that anyone in the real world knows is eye-rollingly reductive, but that the time could have been given over to hyping up the Finn and Captain Phasma grudge match.

How cool would that have been?

But no, we got Rose. I kind of side with the child murdering Nazis on this one, because it does seem like the only purpose of writing in this character was to appeal to progressives who will be excited about the inclusion of a woman POC character in a leading role, which is fair enough. I sort of hope this is the reason, because it would explain the rather forced introduction or an otherwise entirely unnecessary character.

But, again, this is another example of how, if you watch this with political axe to grind, it somehow becomes more cynical. On both sides.

Poe’s Arc:

Take THAT hothead!

Ha! Poe sure learned his lesson when his desperate one in a million gambit failed, right? He should have listened to his space mom and done what he was told! Or she could have taken five minute to explain the plan to him when he desperately begged her on behalf of the crew to explain what the fucking plan was, but whatever. The important thing is that he learned to always follow orders and never, ever defy authority.

This is exactly why we loved Han Solo so much, I believe. Because of the way he blindly followed orders to the letter and never took risks.

You can say this turn of events was interesting and unexpected, but do we tune into space fantasy to see blandly practical solutions? No. Not really.

And that’s not the point, is it? Because if I watch Poe’s arc through a current politics lens, what’s significant isn’t that he defied authority and it blew up in his face- it’s that he defied female authority. His toxic masculinity caused unnecessary death, while toeing the line and running and hiding was the thing to do.

See, I’ll accept that in real life, no problem. If this movie was Schindler’s List; absolutely. Run, hide, don’t be a hero. It’s not, though. It’s Star Wars. A movie about laser battles. Treating this as a necessary subversion that points out problematic male behavior is like pausing a Rocky montage to point out that true excellence can only be achieved over a life time of physical discipline, emotional commitment and proper nutrition. That’s true, yes, but also get the fuck out of my montage.

It also ignores the fact that Poe’s specific brand of heroism is the only reason any of them survived the previous movie. See? If you come into this movie intent on pulling on a political thread, don’t be surprised when the whole thing starts to unravel.

I also want to go back to Finn and Poe spending more time together, because if it had been Poe that had rammed Finn away from making the ultimate sacrifice rather than Rose, it would have actually made sense. The daredevil hotshot who can’t walk away from a fight learns that some things are more sacred than the battle by saving the thing he loves- Finn. Also, Poe kissing Finn would have made a million times more sense than Rose doing so. Not because it would be wonderfully progressive to have a confirmed gay man in a leading Star Wars role (I think it would be,) but because it would have paid off on the duo’s unexpected chemistry in TFA.

Poe falling for Finn, and choosing to save the things he loves over fighting the things he hates, would have given his character depth and meaning. And Finn realizing he might have feelings for another man would have been interesting- his emotional uncertainty would have made sense, and he would have been given fresh new perspective with which to analyze his unreciprocated romantic infatuation with Rey. Instead he just looks confused that Rose kissed him, and well he should, because who the fuck is Rose again?

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain this is what was supposed to have happened and it got derailed by a studio executive with an eye to Poe action figure sales.

Speaking of who the fuck…

Who the fuck is Vice Admiral Blue Hair?

And why isn’t she a cool alien? Honestly, if you’re going to give Admiral Akbar an off-screen death, you best be bringing in a character that’s actually memorable, rather than a slightly tranquillized HR manager at a corporate dinner party. See, if her purpose in Poe’s arc was about deconstructing toxic masculinity, then this is another great example of why trying to be political can go so terribly wrong. This character was pointless. I was glad when her boring plan failed. When she sacrificed her life for the good of the escape plan, I did not give a shit.

Who is she that we should care? Where was she in at the beginning? Not the beginning of the franchise, I mean the beginning of this movie?

It should have been Leah in that chair, or Mon Mothma, even, then we would have cared. Or why not Akbar himself? He can’t be patriarchy, he’s a fucking fish!

Also…

That Bit With Leah Flying Was a Bit Shit

Not really political, but I have to get this off my chest. Not only was taking Leah out of the picture not really necessary for the plot (unless you really, really want the Vice Admiral You’ve Already Forgotten Her Name.) But her using the force powers to fly through space seemed a bit ridiculous. Maybe if we knew Leah had at any point gave a fuck about her latent force powers, it would have been a triumphant moment. She didn’t, though. She didn’t mention them once. So why do we care? It saved her life, yes, but you know what else would have? Getting off the bridge before it exploded. She can sense disturbances in the force, right? ‘Course she can, we’ve seen her do it. Sensing her imminent death shouldn’t be too hard. “Everyone off the bridge, now!” She says. Boom, problem solved. You could have still had her be the last out and taken some debris as she escaped, if you really needed her in a coma.

Rey’s Arc:

Wow, she sure can Jedi!

I like Rey. I like the fact that she’s ridiculously OP. Because I firmly believe it’s going somewhere. I have faith that it won’t turn out she’s the best at Jedi-ing because little girls need role models. That would be a laughably stupid way to write a movie. I am still holding on to my theory that she’s the next Anakin, and that her potential shift to the dark side will be the hub of movie three. All those little snaps against her well-meaning allies that we give her a pass on will start to get a little meaner, a little more explosive. Soon she won’t be pulling a light saber on a defenseless Luke, but maybe on anyone who gets in her way. Then the too-perfect attitude and optimism all makes sense. She will be defined by her final struggle. Maybe Kylo Ren will have some part in her redemption. That fits.

Because if not… she’s a bit dull. Seriously, Luke taking the piss out of her a bit and Snoke smacking her upside the head with her own lightsaber were thus far the only challenges Rey has actually faced and not instantly overcome by the power of her own moxie. And here’s where political awareness once again fucks up a perfectly good movie. Luke had to work for shit. He was talented, sure, but he was trained. He made mistakes, was punished for his impatience, got his hand cut off, lost people he loved, and he still didn’t become half the Jedi that any single robe wearer in the prequels became. Remember when it was such a big deal the first time he summoned his Light Saber? That was movie two. It took him a whole movie to get there. Rey just… does it. Kind of like she just get things handed to her…because she’s got an English accent? No that can’t be it. Let me see… what else is definitive about Rey to the point that everyone makes a massive fucking deal about it? Oh yeah! Tits!

See, that’s the problem with deconstructing shit- either side can do it. And most of the time it’s like cutting up a tapestry so you can see the thread work. You lose the truth of the whole for something that, really, you weren’t supposed to be looking at.

Where Are All These Subverted Tropes I Keep Hearing About?

The problem with tropes is you may as well call them ‘story components’ and they’re there for a reason. You put furniture together, you use screws and glue. Start getting clever and using, say, lime jelly, all you get is a mess. That’s why Star Wars: Return of the Jedi sensibly refused to turn well-worn tropes upside down.

You know, like a last minute betrayal of the Emperor. Fighting a rear guard mission on Not Hoth. Having an eccentric old hermit first refuse to train, then train an eager pupil. Having a double agent betray the heroes (Even if we don’t give a shit about that character.) Having a naive hopeful stand up to his former bully.  You know, all that good stuff.

Unless you’re talking about the bits with the bad writing? Are they the ones you mean? You know, how Rey faces the darkness, but it doesn’t actually show her anything or have any consequences? Or how Finn’s martyrdom was subverted, while other martyrdoms were just fine, apparently? Or how the hothead’s reckless last-minute plan just failed, like it would in shitty old real life? Or how Rey came from nowhere and has god like powers with no training or guidance just because? Or how Snoke also had god like powers, but we never found out anything about where he came from?

Are we calling that smashing expectations? Because if I go to see a comedian and she sets up a joke and then doesn’t deliver a punchline, she’s smashes my expectations, sure, but she’s also completely failed to tell a joke.

See, I liked the fact that Rey came from nowhere. It was a nice touch. But it doesn’t explain why she’s more powerful than Kylo Ren. If we believe the force is genetic, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe the force has to be mastered, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe neither of those things, then what’s the fucking point? You may as well say Chewie is a Jedi Master and be done with it.

Patting this movie on the back for subverting expectations is like applauding a ballerina who dances one half of a familiar routine and then falls off the stage. The parts where it attempts to subvert expectations are the weakest parts of the movie. And if you’re lording any change as good, because of some conceit about tearing down the old white patriarchal straight guy ways to make room for your glorious new age- your new age best fucking deliver. But it doesn’t. Not in this movie. We’re so enamored with what certain characters represent in our current political climate, we forgot to give them any special significance in the actual fucking movie.

Just stop it…

But you see, I only really noticed the politics in this movie when a load of internet posts from over-excited bloggers told me I should (except for all that bullshit on planet Live-In Nanny, but we can all agree that’s political Duplo, right? And if it didn’t happen nothing would have changed, right?) Because the movie was a lot of fun. But that’s all it was. It wasn’t significant. Neither was the Force Awakens. Neither was Rogue One, really, though it desperately tried to be.

Star Wars was significant. For its time. Those movies will always be important. Even The Return of the Jedi, which, with its ambitious art direction and swash-buckling sense of fun, provided stand out iconic moments yet to be topped by any recent instalment. It was never, ever significant for its political context. It was in fact, almost anti-politics, delivering a feel good shot of fantasy at a time when post-Vietnam America was massively disillusioned with itself.

We should have learned from The Phantom Menace that there can be no significant expansion of the original trilogy in the movie universe. They did not need the political context ham-fistedly provided by the prequels. The story of how the Death Star plans were retrieved is entirely unimportant though entertaining enough. We cannot replace the sincerity and innocence of those three original films with ironic allusion or political flag waving.

Sure, we can never go back, and must move forward. But I do not like you scrabbling in the mud for the Star Wars banner, and holding it above your head as your own. I do not like being told I must like a character because she is a woman. I do not believe a fantasy character is made significant simply because of her ethnicity. I do not think that relevance to American socio-political attitudes excuses flawed film making. Likewise I do not believe that the inclusion of strong female characters or more ethnically diverse characters are automatically a threat to the traditional values of a movie. Why should they be? That’s ridiculous.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have given a shit about any of these things if people didn’t keep screaming about them. Because the context you are all arguing about is the weakest, most inconsequential part of an otherwise solid and enjoyable movie. It feels like an attempt to pad out a Media student’s dissertation- and this is coming from a guy who padded the shit out his Media student dissertation. Your grand political narrative is meaningless in the face of what Star Wars does best- which is lightsabers, space battles, cool robots, magic powers and hokey but satisfying dialogue. I’d no more expect Star Wars to confirm to current political ideals than I would Super Mario.

Star Wars is not a statue to be torn down, or a Wikipedia article to be corrected, or a history book to be revised. Don’t try and weaponize it.

For the Love?

by C.M. Saunders

 There’s a worrying trend developing in publishing, whereby publishers (often individuals who just call themselves publishers, with about as much market knowledge as a used condom) snap up stories without paying the writer, compiles them into ezines or anthologies, and puts them on the market. They call themselves ‘For The Love (FTL),’ or ‘exposure’ markets. It’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. There’s been a debate going on over the viability of these markets since forever, the main argument in the ‘for’ column being that they provide platforms for emerging writers to break through. That may be true, but only because more established writers don’t work for free.

Generally speaking, there are two distinct forms of FTL market. The first is where the publisher invites submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or ebook anthology, free to the public. This is a true ‘FTL’ market. Everyone works for free; the writers, the editor, the artists, using the publication as a platform to showcase their work. This is perfectly acceptable.

Then there is the dark side.

These publishers invite submissions, edits and compiles the stories, sorts out a cover, then distributes a finished product in the form of a website, ezine, or ebook anthology, and CHARGES the public money for it. They don’t pay the writers, or the artists, and they invariably charge for ad space, thereby creating two revenue streams (sales and ads) whilst incorporating virtually non-existent overheads and operating costs.

The publisher, who is also usually the editor, maintains he or she invests a lot of time in the project and should be compensated. That is true. But what about compensating the contributors who also invest a lot of time in their work? Not only time, but also money in the form of materials, hardware, software, electricity, etc. It actually costs money to write. The ‘FTL’ guff doesn’t cover it. Would you ask a workman to your house, ask him to build you a wall, which you then charged people to look at, and when the workman asks for payment (or at least a cut of the profits) you say, “Well, didn’t you enjoy building it?”

I don’t think so. Not unless you want a punch in the face. The same principal should be applied here. Otherwise, you are profiteering.

Of course, there is a wicked little sting in the tail here. These non-paying markets rarely attract writers of the calibre required to shift large amounts of product, because most of these writers have been around a while, quietly building their reputations, and know their worth. They aren’t about to work for free and stand by while someone else makes money off their hard work. Therefore, the only people who contribute to these publications are writers ‘on the way up.’

This isn’t a judgement of their quality. They might be, and probably are, very capable writers. The problem is they are yet to build an audience, so very few prospective readers know who they are. Obviously, submitting to FTL markets is part of the process of building that audience, but it does nothing for sales in the short term. Publications need a few big hitters in order to sell copies. But if you don’t pay, you won’t get those big hitters and you won’t sell many copies.

Catch 22.

Of course, you can flip that equation on its head and say that if a publication offered contributors even token payment, the quality of submissions would increase and so would sales. From there, the more money you offer, the better standard of writers would contribute and consequently, the more copies you sell. The more copies you sell, the more you can pay contributors, and so on.

If only more people recognized this, we would all be better off.

C.M. Saunders is a freelance journalist and editor. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over 60 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Record Collector, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Gore, Liquid imagination, and the Literary Hatchet. His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story (Uncut) and Human Waste, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications. He is represented by Media Bitch literary agency.

His latest release is out now:

human waste

A Halloween Rant

by Liam McNalley

 

Let’s just say that Halloween is not my favorite holiday. My dislike of this bizarre cultural ration of insanity only grows worse as I get older.

The creepy, sometimes disturbing “decorations” my neighbors put out to give small children nightmares is only the beginning. The worst part is that Halloween seems to be the time that all the stores start putting out all the cheesy Christmas stuff. Seriously? Can’t I enjoy Thanksgiving before I get inundated with wretchedly bad Christmas music, and visually assaulted by over-commercialized yuletide crap?

Halloween is also a stark reminder that autumn is slapping me in the face, and all the things I wanted to do during the summer never got done. It makes me feel old.

Speaking of feeling old, I dare not leave the house on Halloween. The idiotic tendency of people wearing dark clothing to walk right out in front of me while I’m driving makes me go bat-shit crazy. Delinquents tossing eggs on my truck makes me want to do Halloween the original way… by instead of carving a face in an oversized, vine grown, hard-skinned fruit, making a real jack-o-lantern. Originally this was done by hacking the head off an enemy, and tying it by the hair to a tree branch. “Get off my lawn.”

QX3pg

Sure, pumpkins look cool, but butternut squash is much better in beer, and sweet potato pie is hands-down more flavorful.

Halloween also tweaks a pet peeve of mine… Just for the record, Cider is NOT that unfiltered apple juice everybody on the planet calls “apple cider.” Cider is by definition, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting apple juice. There is no such thing as “hard” cider, since ALL cider is alcoholic. A person is either drinking apple juice, or they are drinking cider… period. Adding the word “apple” in front of cider is as redundant as saying “I made an apple, apple pie.” Just because one idiot misuses a word doesn’t mean everybody has to. I recently saw some pear juice marketed as “Pear cider.” This is a labeling abomination. Cider consists only of apples, and if the pear juice was fermented into an alcoholic beverage, it is called “Perry.” This stuff wasn’t even fermented, so they failed miserably on all counts.

My favorite memories of Halloween are not even of dressing up in a silly costume, and guilting adults into giving me candy; they are of the food my mother used to cook. Roast pork and mashed potatoes drowned in rich gravy, and my favorite: melt a half cup of butter in a big cast iron skillet. Add a half cup of brown sugar, a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon, and one of nutmeg. Let this cook for a minute, and add a bunch of sliced tart apples, and some water. Let them cook until tender. YUM!

Staying up late to watch scary movies on a black and white television set, while stuffing my face with popcorn, was pretty fun too. But I can do that any night I want now, and the television is actually in color!

So there you have it, my take on Halloween. While you are enjoying whatever fun crap you have planned, I’ll be the drunk guy muttering profanities with all the lights turned off.

Why don’t you pick up a copy of our new anthology, ECHOES & BONES, which is dark, like Halloween… and me, I guess. You can also enter to win a copy on Amazon. ‘Muricans only, because them’s the rules. Folks from other countries can go to our Facebook page to find chances to win book goodies.

echoes and bones final kindle

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who Has a Dick and You Just Need to Accept That

by Steve Wetherell 

 

 

Listen up you mindless sheeple, ‘cause I’m about to mansplain a few things to you. I’ll happily accept that women can be doctors (providing they’re not my doctor) but I draw the line that at women being Doctor Whos. They just can’t. Because Doctor Who is a man, and has been for generations. Through his various iterations, brought to life by various actors and writers each with their own unique perspectives on the character, the unifying characteristics have always been that the Time Lord has two hearts and two balls.

A woman being a Doctor Who is just ludicrous. I mean, Doctor Who is a calm, rational pacifist, and everyone knows that women are screeching lunatics with no sense of proportion. A woman Doctor Who would probably try to claw the Master’s eyes out before breaking down and crying into a tampon. Then they’d travel back in time to when they were prettier and never come back because they’d met a nice man and settled down. And exactly how much maternity leave does a Time Lord expect? Will the world be laid to waste by Cyber Men because Lady Doctor took nine hundred years off to stay at home watching daytime TV and eating toast? FUCK THAT!

It’s time we took back Doctor Who from the Cuck Travelling Time Lord he has become (sorry, that should read Time Travelling Cuck Lord) and made him a man’s man again. Maybe have a Doctor with a beard who just continuously flaps his balls onto the table whenever he’s talking. Maybe a Doctor who finally puts a decent spoiler on the Tardis, and kits it out with a plush leather interior. Some respectable subwoofers. A Doctor that smokes cigars and once hit someone with a pool cue because that someone said something about his mum. And give him a robot dog again, for fuck’s sake! And don’t even think about substituting with a robot cat. Cats are gay, and anyone who disagrees can travel back in time to when women still knew how to make sandwiches, and make me a fucking time travel sandwich. 

 

By now you probably think I’m satirising all the misogynists who can’t stand the thought of a female Doctor Who, but I’m actually not. I thought I’d just contribute something controversial, because the people outraged about misogynists being against a female Doctor Who seem to vastly outnumber the actual misogynists who are against a female Doctor Who. I rather suspect that it’s just one person living in Croydon whose mum once stamped on his model Daleck. 

I don’t think there are really that many professed Doctor Who fans who also hate women, though there will be some, obviously, because chances are one in ten people you meet is an irredeemable cock-hole. (But which one? Look out, it’s the one dressed as a priest! He’s got a knife!) And as for those who aren’t Doctor Who fans, well they probably just don’t give a shiny golden fuck about your tea-drinking dimension-hopping train spotter.

I must admit, when I see people openly weeping about there being a woman Doctor, I feel like I’ve gotten up for a piss and then realised mid-flow that I’m actually at a Peruvian wedding. And then I realise it’s a dream, and I’ve pissed myself, and that I’m at an entirely different Peruvian wedding. I find it weird, is what I’m saying.

Is it important? It certainly seems like it. Freud died without ever answering the question “What do women want?” If someone would have just told him it was a female Doctor Who we could have saved the guy a lot of trouble. Likewise, if we’d known that solving equality would have been as simple as gender swapping a kids TV show character, we could have demanded this be done years ago.

So, what next? Why not a woman Robin Hood? Why not a woman King Arthur? Why not a woman James Bond? There is no real answer. It doesn’t matter. And if it sells more reboots? Have at it. (So long as you don’t get a fucking American to play it, because that kind of prejudice is fine, for some reason.) 

…One thing, though. If gender representation in pop culture is so important, and little girls need to be able to see themselves as Doctor Whos, and Ghostbusters and Iron Mans, then isn’t anyone a little concerned that we’ve just gender swapped the one pacifist, intellectual male adventure hero in the mainstream? 

…Just gonna leave that there…

 …and back away slowly…

 giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would the ‘Real’ Stephen King Please Stand Up?

 

By C.M. Saunders

 

 

stephen-king-cover-ftr

I don’t know if you’ve noticed (okay, people with actual social lives probably haven’t) but there’s been a storm brewing over on Amazon for some time now. It concerns the prolific writer Stephen King, who has sold somewhere in the region of 350 million books since his first novel Carrie came out way back in 1973, and another writer, also called Stephen King, who hasn’t sold quite that many.

The thing is, he’s sold a few. Probably a few thousand. Mainly to people who think they are buying books written by the other Stephen King. The famous one. Or, as they like to call him, the ‘real’ one. People are upset. Some call bullshit, others throw words like ‘fraud,’ ‘charlatan’ and ‘fake’ around. Some have even alluded to some kind of Amazon conspiracy geared to selling more books. As if the ‘real’ Stephen King didn’t sell enough for them as it is. The vast majority of these readers feel they have been duped and leave scathing reviews mostly centred around the fact that they didn’t receive what they thought they would be receiving, i.e. a book by the right Stephen King. Some sample review headlines include: Buyer Beware! NOT the real Stephen King! Beware of Imitation! Why Try and Fool the public?! Fake! Outright Lie! And my own personal favourite… Muck from a Loser!

I think it’s fair to say this guy is really suffering at the hands of the buying public. There have been masses of complaints, a lot of discussion, and it’s a hot topic on various forums and message boards. Even one on the ‘real’ Stephen King’s website, which was forced to issue a response. 

It’s also a common topic on fan sites, and personal blogs, where people, quite simply, be losing their shit…

Even other well-known writers are having their say. 

It probably doesn’t help that when you search Amazon for Stephen King books you get a selection from both blokes, and a lot of the ill-feeling seems to stem from the fact that Amazon ‘recommend’ books by both blokes to readers, based on their buying and search history. This begs the question, would you buy a Morris Minor just because it had a Rolls Royce badge on it? Of course you wouldn’t. Unless you either wanted a Morris Minor with a Rolls Royce badge on it, or are just dumb as fuck. Amazon as an organization are very strict when it comes to fraud and other such matters, and rightly so. You can bet after they received the first batch of angry complaints they investigated the issue thoroughly.

Now, here’s what I think happened…

Amazon approached the ‘fake’ Stephen King and demanded he prove his identity. And you know what? He did. Because his name really is Stephen King. It’s quite a common name, believe it or not.

I might be in the minority here, but I can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for the guy. Imagine his delight when his book suddenly started selling by the proverbial truckload, then his dismay when he realised most, if not all, those people who bought his book did so accidentally. And then blamed him for their mistake. It’s hardly his fault he was given the same name as one of the greatest writers on the modern age. It might not even be his intention to try to ride the ‘real’ Stephen King’s coattails. We don’t know, because he hasn’t broken his silence yet. He’s probably in hiding because of all the people who want to string him up by his balls.

Of course, he might just be trying to make a fast buck. Maybe he doesn’t even like writing. Judging by most of the reviews, he isn’t very good at it. In which case he deserves everything he gets, but let’s err on the side of caution and go with ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

I can’t help thinking most of the fault lies with the people who allowed themselves to be ‘duped’ then kicked up a storm over it, probably because they are angry with themselves. I mean, any release by the ‘real’ Stephen King is big news. You hear about it all over the mainstream press. His books don’t just slip into the Kindle Store unannounced. And if people had enough common sense to do the most basic research before hitting the ‘click to buy’ button, none of this would have happened. How about checking the ‘real’ Stephen King’s website, or doing a quick Google search to see if there are any new releases?

The more savvy might note that the ‘fake’ Stephen King’s books aren’t put out by Simon & Schuster, the ‘real’ Stephen King’s publisher. Or, indeed, any publisher. On top of all that, the covers are amateurish. At least, they aren’t what you’d expect from a major publishing house. And any self-respecting ‘real’ Stephen King fan should be able to smell a rat just from reading the book description. To make it REALLY easy for the dullard consumer, Amazon even post a disclaimer next to fake’ Stephen King’s books.

Please Note: If you are looking for books by Stephen King, bestselling author of Doctor Sleep and The Shining, please visit his author page.

Yet, ‘fake’ Stephen King still has three books in the Amazon #10 at the time of writing. That’s more than the ‘real’ one.

Isn’t it ironic?

 

Stephen-King-quote.jpg

 

 

Bob Ross Presents: The Joy of Whiskey

by Katrina Monroe

 

A couple of weeks ago, the internet went fucking bananas because Netflix, in their infinite wisdom (may we worship them until the television becomes sentient and kills us all), added Bob Ross’s “Beauty is Everywhere” to their list. Relaxing, nostalgic (though none of us can really remember why), and just fucking delightful, people dropped their lives to binge-watch the Man Himself paint happy little trees.

Like any self-respecting booze-hound writer, I got hammered and watched until I passed out.

This is my journey.

 

Hour 1:

Phthalo blue is not a real color, Bob. Phthalo is the name of a hobbit, cousin of Bilbo, who still doesn’t know how to spell his name at the age of 549, or however long those little fuckers live.

I don’t like the way you smile when you say, “Beat the devil out of it,” Bob. Do you know something we don’t? You’ve made deals, haven’t you? That’s why it takes you twenty-three minutes to paint an entire landscape with zero self-loathing and trips to the bathroom to “get a little inspiration.”

Phthalo still isn’t a color, no matter how many times you say it, or how much crimson you add to it. And while we’re at it, that color is purple, not blueandcrimson.

Ohmagawd this is so relaxing and this whiskey is delicious.

“Just make some decisions,” he says. Like he knows me. Pfft. I have until the first of the month, just like everyone else.

Where the shit did all those trees come from?

I don’t think indication means what you think it means, Bob. That isn’t the indication of a big fucking tree; that’s an actual big fucking tree.

I could totally paint this. *sluuuuurp*

 

Hour B:

Okay, okay. LISTEN. Shhhh. I’ve got an idea.

BOB. Bob.

Drinking game. Ready? Cool.

Beating the devil out of a brush: take a shot.

“Little doers” make an appearance: take a shot.

SOME RANDOM FUCKING ANIMAL SHOWS UP OUT OF NOWHERE: Pet your cat because she’s adorable, then take a shot.

“Oooh that’s nice.” Take a shot. Hell, take two, because it reminds you of how little you’re getting laid.

Drunk yet? *sluuuurp* Me, too.

“The canvas will pull out what it wants, and give you back what’s left.” Since when are we getting deep, Bob? What are you hiding from me? Are you seeing another pitiful drunk woman?

I’d murder a mildly innocent person to get you to say fuck, Bob. Say fuck. Just once. You could even whisper it. Listen. Fuuuuuuuuck. Isn’t it lovely?

… No I don’t want to see your little creature, Bob. Especially not your “pocket squirrel.” Just paint, god dammit. Perv.

 

Hour 3.5:

I have a theory. It’s not a good theory. And probably not even a theory. I’m not drunk. Just speaking cursive. His shirt matches the first color he uses on the canvas. There’s probably some deep, meaningful reason for that, but it eludes me at the moment, much like my sobriety.

Yellow ochre. Phathalo blue. Van Dyke Brown. Bright-motha-fuckin’-red. Could you not think of ANYTHING to compare red to, Bob?

*snort* Bushes. I ought to ladyscape soon.

Using odorless paint-thinner is like drinking non-alcoholic beer, Bob. How dare you condone such behavior? THINK OF THE CHILDREN. Or if not the children, think of me.

What is this insanity? You just STOP PAINTING? The painting isn’t finished when you DECIDE. It’s finished when you can’t stand to look at the fucking thing anymore. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.

 

Hour… uh… something:

I was in the kitchen for five goddamned minutes, Bob. You couldn’t wait five minutes to finish the lake? How do I paint those little doers by the shore? Which obscenely complicated combination of colors did you use to paint that rock? WHERE DID THAT MOUNTAIN COME FROM?

I’m useless. I will never be able to create landscapes as beautiful and efficient as this winter wonderland.

That chip was burnt. Ew. Oooh! Pizza. Praise the baby cheezus.

Why does that evergreen tree have more friends than I do? Am I too person-like? Do I have too few branches with which to shade them?

Life is pointless, Bob. You know that? I think you’re lying about the paint thinner fumes.

But that seascape is fucking beautiful.

No, YOU’RE crying.

I wonder if there are any new episodes of Kimmy Schmidt.

Fuck you, Netflix.

 

 

Dear Gym Douche…

by Steve Wetherell

Dear Square Dude Track Pants,

Hi there. You probably don’t know me, I’m one of the intangible mists that cohabit the gym you seem to live at, serving only to selfishly occupy the equipment you immediately want to use or hog up the full-acre of mirror you seem to require at all times.

I should explain. I go to your gym (I’m assuming it’s your gym, because you sure seem to act like it is) maybe twice a week. Three if I’m feeling like a hero. I don’t like exercising, you see, but I do like beer and pizza, which means I have to go to the gym if I don’t want to choke to death on my own neck fat. When I go to your gym, I go there to do as much exercise as I can in an hour, then I leave for climes more familiar and less armpit-smelling.

In short, I’m no fitness nut. But I still pay my fees, so how’s about you take that condescending look off your swollen, fluid-retaining face?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against people who like to keep in shape. On the contrary. I see guys hitting the gym on their lunch hour or ladies jogging through sub-zero November nights and I commend them. I do. I commend them from the warmth of my car while I drive to the bakery. I realize that their lives will be longer and more fulfilled than mine, and I accept that my life will be shorter and more bacon-centric. It’s the circle of life. Some of us are gazelles, some of us ain’t. But there’s “keeping in shape” and then there’s “being square”, and the two are very different things.

Let me explain. I see the guys who keep in shape, and when they lift their free-weights they spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. This is because they’re checking their form, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. But you, Square Dude, the first thing you say hi to when you enter the gym is your own reflection. Then you do a little bit of exercise (while looking in the mirror) and then when you’ve finished your three reps or whatever you look in the mirror again. Maybe give it a little flex, a sly wink. Seriously, Track Pants, if Kim Kardashian wrote an autobiography and filmed herself having sex with it, she still wouldn’t be as self-obsessed as you.

It’s not healthy. I’d recount the tale of Narcissus here, but Narcissus has three syllables, and I kind of get the impression that’s two syllables more than you’re interested in. Besides, Narcissus was good looking, whereas you are just square.

Another thing that guys who keep in shape tend to do is grunt in exertion now and then. Usually at the end of a tough set of reps. And that’s all it is- a grunt of exertion. If they ever approach a scream, it’s because something important has just snapped or they’ve just remembered how much they miss bacon. It’s never…how can I put this…it’s never sexual.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing untoward with two square dudes giving each other a bit of encouragement in the gym. And I know that a vocal blast can sometimes give you the extra burst of strength and energy you need. But, for your convenience, I’m going to make a brief list of things you can’t shout in the gym without making it sound like you’re failing a porno audition;

“YES”

“DO IT, MAN”

“GIVE IT TO ME”

Seriously dude, we both know why you’re making those noises, and it’s probably not because of your subconscious homoerotic passion for your gym buddy. If it was I’d understand- everyone needs love, Track Pants, even square people. But you make those noises for the same reason you asked the gym dude to turn up that particularly awful hip-hop track. For the same reason you complained loudly about how crowded it was when you came in. For the same reason you stand there and eyeball the people using “your” machine until they leave. You want people to see you. You want them to know you’re a gym guy.

Why? For the same reason you cram yourself full of creatine and god knows what else. For the same reason you spend more time in the gym than you do at home. It’s because you’re short, isn’t it?

Now, hang on, swell-face, don’t unleash your roid-rage just yet. Hear me out. I understand. I do. You grew up shorter than average and rather than console yourself that some of the world’s most deadly special forces prefer their candidates more diminutive, you decided to make up for your lack of height by becoming as wide as you are tall.

But even though you’re perfectly perpendicular, you’re still not happy. You’re still so aggressive. You still can’t get past the Short Man Syndrome.

I only bring all this up because of that incident the other week. You probably don’t remember it, but I remember it quite clearly. I call it the ‘sweat balls’ incident. I remember the day because you weren’t wearing your usual track pants. I was on the running machine, concentrating on not being fat, and you were doing your usual thing of shouting your homoerotic catchphrases and looking at yourself. Then you came over to the floor fan and started drying your balls. Literally flapping the leg of shorts over the floor fan right in front of me.

Now this in itself was disgusting, obviously, but the weird thing is that you were looking at me the whole time you were doing it. I saw you in the mirror. Just standing there. Drying your balls. And staring at me.

Look Square Dude, if I want my sexual preconceptions challenged then I’ll go down to the Blue Lagoon where everybody’s better dressed and cocktails are half price before eleven.  I’m cool with dudes who like dudes. But I want you to think about what you were doing when you were standing there and mad-dogging me whilst fan-drying your crotch. Was it some kind of intimidation technique (surprise! It worked you mad, sweaty-testicled idiot!) Do you want my recognition? Should I stop what I’m doing and say “Hey, I saw you lift those weights and you rocked. You dry your balls right in front of me anytime you need, man. Take your time, you’ve earned it.”

I respect your right to be any shape you want; rhomboid, rectangle, whatever. In return I expect you to respect my right to use the gym I pay my membership for without becoming part of your odd little domination fantasies.

I appreciate we’re at the same place for very different reasons (I want to lose weight, you want to compensate for your crippling emotional inadequacies) but I think if we both adhere to some very basic rules, we can get along just fine.

Rule number one is; No Staring At People While Drying Your Balls.

Rule two is… actually, you know what? Rule one is just fine. Let’s leave it at that.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Round Dude Beard Face.