FUNNY HORROR is live on Amazon

February 14, 2017

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FUNNY HORROR e-book is live on Amazon! If you prefer a paperback, those will become available a bit later this month. Until then… what are you waiting for? Grab yours!

http://amzn.to/2koiZHG

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UFO Sale!

February 5, 2017

ufocover200

For the next two weeks, Unidentified Funny Objects are on sale! Not just a single UFO either, but a small fleet of them.

Between February 5 and February 18, e-books of Unidentified Funny Objects volumes 1, 2, and 3 are all going to be half price ($2.99 instead of $5.99) on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo platforms.

I know that book discounts and even giveaways are a common promotional tool, but in the five year history of the UFO series, we have never discounted these volumes below $5.99 other than as part of Kickstarter backer rewards or holiday bundle specials. But now that the series has been around for a while and has established itself well, I felt it was a good time to cast the net wider and attract new readers. So UFO1 will be a featured title on BookBub in a couple of weeks (at the $2.99 price, so you don’t have to wait for that date to grab yours) and the next two volumes are on sale as well.

Three of these books for under $10 is a steal, and I hope may readers (and many writers hoping to figure out the sort of stuff we publish as the submissions open in April) will take full advantage of the opportunity.

Here are the quick links to the US Amazon listings (the books are discounted in other countries as well!)

UFO1

UFO2

UFO3

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Funny Horror TOC

January 31, 2017

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Funny Horror anthology will be published in February, following Funny Science Fiction (2015) and Funny Fantasy (2016). This book will be available in paperback, as well as an e-book (exclusive to Amazon for now) and part of the Kindle Unlimited program. The art above, by Michelle Tolo, will be used in designing the book cover.

The following authors and stories will be featured in this book:

FUNNY HORROR table of contents

Foreword by Alex Shvartsman

“No Children, No Pets” by Esther Friesner (Full Moon City anthology, 2010)

“43 Responses to ‘In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'” by Barbara A. Barnett (Daily Science Fiction, 2016)

“Kvetchula’s Daughter” by Darrell Schweitzer (Full Moon City anthology, 2010)

“The Great VuDu Linux Teen Zombie Massacre” by Lucy A. Snyder (Spacesuits and Six Guns, 2007)

“Good Neighbors” by Amanda C. Davis (Not Our Kind anthology, 2015)

“Happily and Righteously” by Larry Hodges (Blood, Blade, and Thruster, 2007)

“Stalking the Zombie” by Mike Resnick (Stalking the Zombie, 2012)

“Restless in R’yleh” by Oliver Buckram (Drabblecast, 2015)

“P.R. Problems” by Eric James Stone (Blood Lite anthology, 2009)

“Hot Fudge and Whipped Cream” by Tarl Kudrick (Town Drunk, 2007)

“Death: A List” by Tanya Bryan (Feathertale Review, 2014)

“Soccer Mom Smackdown” by Julia S. Mandala (Fangs for the Mammaries anthology, 2010)

“The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis (Writers of the Future 31 anthology, 2015)

“Meat and Greet” by Jamie Todd Rubin (Intergalactic Medicine Show, 2015)

“Something Virtual This Way Comes” by Laura Resnick (Something Magic This Way Comes anthology. 2008)

“The Story of Emily and Control” by Scott Alexander (S. Alexander’s blog, 2011)

“Howl!” by Jody Lynn Nye (Strip-Mauled anthology, 2009)

“Final Corrections” by M. Bennardo (Daily Science Fiction, 2013)

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Five Practical Tips for Writing Humor

January 18, 2017

I originally wrote the article below for the Dark Cargo blog, which now appears to be defunct. Deborah Walker also kindly hosts a copy of it on her blog. However, with the UFO6 submission window looming, I wanted to take advantage of the extra eyeballs my blog is receiving for the submissions guidelines and post it here, for an entirely selfish reason: I want the stories my team and I read this April to be as good and funny as possible. So, here it is (from back in 2013):

 

FIVE PRACTICAL TIPS FOR WRITING HUMOR

By Alex Shvartsman

I’ve been thinking about humor writing a lot. Not only do I write (or attempt to write) funny science fiction stories, but I am also in my second year of reading submissions for the Unidentified Funny Objects, the speculative humor anthology series.

The most common reason a story is rejected from UFO isn’t because it’s bad – many are perfectly serviceable or even excellent – but because the writer’s idea of what makes a story humorous rather than merely lighthearted doesn’t match that of this editor.  I’m of the opinion that a story with a funny line or two thrown in is just that – a story with a few funny lines. That doesn’t make it comedy. A true humor story has a whimsical quality to it that, much like Potter Stewart’s description of pornography, is difficult to define but is immediately recognizable as such when you begin to read it.

In my quest to make everyone write funny stories I would enjoy, I have identified five practical strategies to writing humor in a speculative story, which I am now going to share with you. It may not necessarily be good advice, but I’ll make up for that in volume.

1)      Voice Matters

One of the most common ways in which a humor story fails is a writer coming up with a funny or cute premise, and then proceeding to tell it straighter than a straight face being shaved by a straight razor while setting the record.

You can’t rely on the premise for all of your funny. Can’t let your characters be the comedians with humor confined to dialog, either. You have to let the narrative voice do much of the heavy lifting. Consider the opening paragraphs of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

In five measly lines, Adams does such a masterful job of establishing the irrelevance of humanity, H.P. Lovecraft must be turning over in his grave with jealousy. Not only does this opening serve the plot later on (Spoiler: Things don’t turn out so well for the Earth), the writing is amusing, engaging, and humorous, immediately setting up the tone for the rest of the book.

Here’s another example:

“One of the few redeeming facets of instructors, I thought, is that occasionally they can be fooled. It was true when my mother taught me to read, it was true when my father tried to teach me to be a farmer, and it’s true now when I’m learning magik.”

Robert Asprin opens his inaugural volume of the Myth series – Another Fine Myth – with a bit of observational humor, just like Adams. Yet could their humor styles be any more different from each other?

One doesn’t necessarily have to open with an observation. Here’s an example from “Timber!” by Scott Almes – a short story from Unidentified Funny Objects volume 1:

“I realized I was in trouble when my realm-appointed lawyer showed up drunk and asked for spare coins. He made a valiant effort to defend me in the courtroom, but his lack of judicial knowledge, poor grasp of language, and mispronunciation of my name proved futile against the realm’s brilliant case. It didn’t help that the prosecutor was an exceptional medium. He used my incorporeal, perpetually disappointed mother as a character witness.

I was sentenced to death. The executioner immediately wheeled out a guillotine to a short round of applause.”

Almes jumps right into the plot, but his opening is clearly indicative of the sort of wacky you can expect from the rest of the story.

Whatever style or sub-genre of humor you’re shooting for, be sure that your narrative voice is unique, entertaining, and interesting.

2)      Comparison Joke is Your Best Friend

Comedy is hard, but some aspects of it are easier than others. Arguably there is nothing easier than a Comparison Joke. They are effective and reasonably easy to come up with. Comparison joke can be a well-placed and unexpected metaphor, or simply comparing a thing to another thing for comedic effect. Here’s one of my favorite examples, source unknown:

Game of Thrones is a lot like Twitter: There are 140 characters and terrible things are constantly happening.

This joke is asking a lot of its audience. You must be familiar with both Game of Thrones and Twitter in order to appreciate it. But if you happen to be a part of that target audience, you might find this hilarious. You will nod sagely, recognizing that the Game of Thrones books and/or TV series have an unwieldy cast of characters and something terribly unpleasant is happening to most of them at any given time. You won’t even stop to ponder whether terrible things are actually happening on Twitter. You won’t dissect it, chuckling at the comparison instead, because the joke works.

You can always spice up your description of absolutely anything with a comparison joke. Take care not to over-rely this tactic. Like everything else in life (with possible exceptions of coffee and chocolate), it is best used in moderation.

3)      Steal from Yourself

Many of my writer friends claim that they can’t write funny, yet they are incredibly witty when you talk to them in person or on social media. If you say something that’s an instant hit with your friends, why not write it down and save it for later?

I was chatting with some writers recently, and one of them said that he could use some advice on a certain subject. My immediate response?

“We can do advice. It might not be good, but we make up for it in volume.”

I was not trying to write a story, nor was I pretending to be a humor-writing guru in a blog post, at that time. But the joke went over well, and so I saved it for later use. You may recognize it from the third paragraph of this article.

4)      The Secret to Humor is Surprise

Most humor relies on surprise, one way or another. It can be an unexpected comparison like those discussed above, a humorous observation (if the store is open 24/7, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?), play on words (A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station), or a misleading setup (I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling, like the passengers in his car).

As a rule of thumb, if you can make the readers complete the sentence in their head before they finish reading it, and then pull the carpet from under them, you’ve got a good joke.

To do that, you can subvert a popular saying:

“I’m so hungry, I could ride a horse,” deadpans Chris on an episode of Family Guy.

“Don’t judge a book by its movie,” proclaims a t-shirt popular with many a writer.

5)      Humor is Subjective

No matter how hard you try, you can’t make everyone laugh. Humor is extremely subjective. What’s funny to me may fall flat to you, and vice versa. Fortunately, for fiction writers there is a workaround:

Make sure that your story works regardless of whether the reader finds it funny or not.

Some stories are so reliant on a joke that they utterly fail if the reader doesn’t laugh. These are more often than not very short stories that do nothing but set up a pun or a twist at the end which, the writer hopes, will be funny. This is stunt writing, and should be avoided in most cases.

Write a story with an interesting plot, engaging characters, and great pacing. This way, if the reader finds it to be funny, it’s a huge bonus. But if they don’t, there is still a good chance they will enjoy the story overall.

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UFO6 Guidelines Posted

January 15, 2017

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UFO6 guidelines are posted here.

The biggest  change is that our pay rates have gone up — again. UFO will be paying ten cents per word for this volume and, hopefully, going forward.

We are buying one additional right for the extra dough — the non-exclusive audio rights. I’d like to make this (and future) volumes available in audio book form. Most likely by teaming up with someone to produce the audio (if you are that person/company, feel free to reach out and we’ll talk.)

Submissions will open on April 1st for one month. One submission per writer, unless the story impresses us enough that we explicitly invite you to send another.

Oh, and of course you should read a previous volume in the UFO series to get a better grasp of what kind of story tends to win me over.

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Green Alert: Humanity 2.0 Anthology on Sale

January 10, 2017

Humanity20-400

For the next few days you can pick up this anthology for $2.99 — that’s less than half the regular price! The sale lasts Jan 10 through Jan 13 so don’t wait.

And before I put away my soapbox and exit salesman mode, I’ve got to mention two other books as well. My darkly humorous flash story “Hell is Other People” is available in the recently released Outliers of Speculative Fiction 2016 anthology (which is also free to read on Kindle Unlimited.) Finally, there’s a mass market paperback issue available of Mission: Tomorrow, another hard SF anthology which I’m guessing anyone who likes Humanity 2.0 would also enjoy.  It includes my Canopus Award-nominated story “The Race for Arcadia.” After six years in the field, this is actually the first time my work appears in a mass market paperback format and I’m very pleased by this, because that’s what the books I devoured as a teenager looked like.

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2016 Year In Review

January 3, 2017

“Too busy to blog much.” Not only does that cover this past month, but also the year. It may also be a suitable epitaph for my gravestone. Either that, or “Crushed to Death by His To-Be-Read Book Pile.” But I digress.

The major accomplishment of 2016 was finishing my novel (which I blogged about sufficiently.) It’s off to my agent now, and I eagerly await her feedback. As editor, I completed and published three anthologies this year. Funny Fantasy in the spring followed by Humanity 2.0 and Unidentified Funny Objects 5 in the fall.  FF was all reprints, H20 half reprints and half originals, and UFO5 all originals. All in all, I edited 27 original stories this year. So it was rather gratifying that eight of them made the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List.

After two full-length books in 2015, I only had a handful of short stories published this year. They were (chronologically):

Whom He May Devour – Nautilus – 01/07/16
One in a Million – On Spec – vol. 101 – 02/01/16
Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long – Diabolical Plots – 07/01/16
Forty-Seven Dictums of Warfare – Daily Science Fiction – 07/06/16
Dante’s Unfinished Business – Galaxy’s Edge – 09/01/16
A Perfect Medium for Unrequited Love – Nature – 09/15/16
The Poet-Kings and the Word Plague – Daily Science Fiction – 10/03/16
How Gaia and the Guardian Saved the WorldAmazing Stories – 10/16/16
Masquerade Night – In a Cat’s Eye anthology – 10/22/16
Noun of Nouns: A Mini Epic – Upside Down, Apex Publications – 12/13/16

Okay, so maybe ten is more than a handful. I ain’t complaining.

I wrote only nine new short stories in 2016, totaling just under 30,000 words but I also added 37,000 words onto my novel (it was probably more once you account for rewrites and revisions, but that’s the word count I ended up with.) for a total of 67,000 new words, which is better than last year. Of the nine new stories I already sold six, and that’s keeping in mind that the last two of them were completed in late November and late December respectively. I sell what I write, which is perhaps the metric I’m most proud of.

According to my spreadsheet I earned $2170 from my short fiction sales in 2016, a smidgen less than last year. I expect this to decline further in 2017 as I spend more time on novels and editing. My overall writing-related income (accounting for royalties, anthology sales, workshops taught, etc.) continues to grow steadily.
I made a total of 123 submissions in 2016 (compared to 155 last year) which resulted in 20 acceptances (one more than last year). Most of these submissions were for reprints. It takes very little time to fling a reprint at a market that considers those, and as my ‘inventory’ grows, there’s almost always a story or two that are a possible fit for a venue seeking submissions.

There are a handful of outstanding submissions and a few lost/never responded ones, but I did rack up around 100 rejections this year. (The numbers don’t quite match up as some of the acceptances and rejections in 2016 are from submissions filed in 2015.) Rejections are always going to be there, and while I enjoyed a nearly 20% win ratio I would’ve been happy with half that. Never let rejections drag you down: just keep submitting until the right story finds the right editor!

2017 goals:

  • Sell Eridani’s Crown (my first novel).
  • Write and finish my second novel within the 2017 calendar year.
  • Sell at least one new anthology to a major publisher.
  • Publish UFO6 and Funny Horror.
  • Sell or crowdfund my second short story collection, aiming to be published in 2018.

There’s also the matter of completing The Cackle of Cthulhu, the anthology I’ve been working on in late 2016, but it’s literally a few days away from being done, so I’m not including it onto the list of goals.

And now I’m off to work on one or more of those things!

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