To Provoke and Offend


This caught my attention a few weeks ago…

“My interests are still too dark, controversial and antisocial to be successful today. See, in the 80s and 90s transgression was hip. Being a provocateur was admired. Today with the closing of the human mind – because people from every sector of society think of themselves as vigilantes, and think of themselves as crusaders and jihadists and zealots and there’s so much more fanatics today then ever before – if ten per cent of our mail was hate mail in those days, I think at least fifty per cent of it would be hate mail today. With that kind of opposition and hostility and fear that it creates, it’s much harder to operate as a provocateur these days. And when I say provocateur, the provocation was strictly aesthetic. A lot of people read politics into everything today and there’s zero tolerance. There’s zero tolerance for innovation, there’s zero tolerance for experimentation, and zero tolerance for taking risks. It would be too unprofitable today, or even dangerous, to flirt with that sort of aesthetic anymore.”

Fred Berger, creator of the long defunct Propaganda Magazine, as said on Cemetery Confessions podcast.  

When I write a short story there are three ‘dream markets’ I submit to. These are publications I’ve wanted to be in since either the start of wanting to be a writer–think Cemetery Dance–or that have become a new benchmark, like Nightmare Magazine and Black Static. So, after collecting rejections, I move the piece along. It’s only the first rejection that ever made me question the quality of my writing. (Not to say there is no room for improvement as there Always Is. Always.)

Every rejection since has me question if this is the right venue, and where their sense of morals lie. Perhaps this is not a wall that writers of vignette, romance and mystery have to scrabble over. The testing of limits. The dark query of how low will you go, what’s wrong and what is right, and can you handle the unhappy ending or the fact that there may be no end at all. Writing horror is running a gauntlet of torture in your mind only to present it to editors while you are still bloodied and bruised, panting with the sweat slick thrill of having just narrowly escaped your own creation only to be told it isn’t what they are looking for right now, but please send more. Please send more. But, more of what?

With that busted compass, it’s not a wonder the smaller publishing houses are a mixed match of quality and content. They aren’t as concerned with the status quo and what mythological audience they ought not offend. I worry that it isn’t my writing style at all, but the content. The offensiveness. The darkness. The unhappy ending. If it were my style, that’s fixable. Some other things just can’t be fixed.

And now, a snippet my most favourite rejection note ever, Amen.

“Some good descriptions and boldness to it, but no plot line; it’s a complete editing mess, just a rambling sex and gore fest; the tenses are all over the place. A bad BDSM trip with some sexual venting…”

– an unnamed editor, circa 2011

Can Con 2015 Notes and Links


Three days of following and participating in this past weekend’s writers conference have come to a close. Since it was uncommonly busy for me being on Halloween I opted to not bring books or promotional materials as a way of simplifying. Seeing as I did get to spend almost enough time reading and watching scary movies as I wanted, it all worked out even though I wasn’t present in the dealers room or at after-parties.

To further ease that, here is a list of some of the books and podcasts mentioned in the panels I was on. This conference offers some really great workshops, panels and reading from mainly fantasy and science fiction work, but does have some really rich horror content. Often these genres are blended and as much as I’d love a horror-only event such as this, having Can-Con here in Ottawa makes it so easily accessible.

Horror Reading panel:

  • Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen and the Criminally Insane, edited by John Skipp – specifically ‘Jesse’ by Steve Rasnic Tem and ‘Life With Father’ by Bentley Little on Amazon
  • The New Black: A Neo-Noir Anthology, edited by Richard Thomas – specifically ‘Father, Son, Holy Rabbit’ by Stephen Graham Jones on Amazon
  • Carnal Surgery, by Edward Lee, a collection of gory and boundary-pushing short stories on Amazon
  • People Live Still in Cashtown Corners, by Tony Burgess on Amazon
  • Something Red podcast
  • This Is Horror podcast
  • Horror Writer’s Association new releases
  • The Wicked Library episode Bad Shepherd by Lydia Peever

Ghost Story panel:

  • Ghosts by Hans Holzer, if not his entire body of work on Amazon
  • Growing up Haunted by Alexandra Holzer, Hans’ daughter on Amazon
  • Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi, on Amazon
  • The Entity by Frank De Felitta, on Amazon and the film from 1980 to be remade by James Wan
  • Kettle Whistle Radio episode 35 Talkin’ Ghosts and the episode 118 where we discuss The Entity

In both I mentioned the podcast I co-host with Wes Knipe, Dead Air, part of and my favourite horror film and discussion podcast Bind Torture Kast. The stories I’ve written that were mentioned can be found in my small collection Pray Lied Eve, and the West Pigeon Press anthology For When The Veil Drops. For other works, check out my Amazon author page or find me on Goodreads.