Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Tale Thus Far…

I was born Jeffrey Alan Rice on a crisp autumn morning in Maryland. The last of the leaves were turning, though the mountains were still verdant with evergreens. Blue crabs scuttled through the foliage, gathering acorns for the long winter ahead.

Skip ahead 31 years. I got laid off because of a contract lost due to government budget cuts. It was a few months before I could find work, returning to writing freelance articles for  As a fiction writer, and a somewhat early adopter of the e-reader, I’d been hearing about the changing world of self-publishing, and with a lot of free time to learn new skills, I decided to give it a shot. I had some previously published stories I could put out as a collection, a novella I figured no one would want because it’s a novella, and a play script I figured on similarly.

Though I’ve never hidden my name (it appears a couple of times on this blog and in the front matter of all of my books), I chose to self-publish under a pseudonym for several reasons. One was that I’d published hundreds of articles for under my own name, and I thought it would overshadow my fiction web presence. Since I wrote through Demand Studios, and they got laid low late last year by a change in Google’s algorithms that marked their content as worthless content-farm garbage, I needn’t have worried. Well, about the name thing. Monetarily, though, that changed Demand Studios to end most of their work and I was suddenly competing with literally hundreds of other health and fitness writers who’d had all the work they wanted for months, and then one day had none.

There were other reasons for using a pseudonym. I wanted to teach creative writing, and I thought that if I were going to write in fiction genres dramatically different enough to warrant using separate names, my real name should go to publications that would go good on the CV. I had over a hundred submissions out to literary journals at the time. After those and another hundred all came back as rejections, I’ve since decided to not concern myself with that so much right now. It’s not where I’m going to see success at the moment. A handwritten rejection from The Missouri Review really hit that home: “I’d be surprised if TMR ever publishes a zombie story, but yours was certainly interesting enough.”

There was fear, too. I’d been working towards a writing career for a decade at that point, and during that decade, self-publishing was a huge taboo.  I don’t know if I’d use a pseudonym now, as there currently isn’t a break anyplace in the spectrum of my work between horror and literary. There’s no brightline divider, and I suspect there never will be. But one benefit of beginning with a pseudonym is that I will ditch the name if I ever need to, if I bomb in BookScan or something. I don’t have to worry about a bad book or two ruining my career, even if BookScan continues to have a big impact on a writer’s sophomore+ contracts.

For the past year, my writing-related community has really grown. I’ve met a lot of awesome people. Some only publish traditionally, some only self-publish, but most do a bit of each. The “hybrid” author, I’ve heard us called. One thing I’ve learned is that every writer’s situation, strategy and goals are different, and that it’s better to learn about the new environment and plan the best strategy going forward than pre-judge and spend time lamenting and looking backward. Yeah, a deluge of $0.99 novels makes it hard on the rest of us, but any energy spent fretting about it is wasted. I’m way more likely to get worked up about aesthetics than business, anyway. We’re all just trying to get by.

After so much rejection, one of my goals was to get a publisher to notice me. Instead of waiting, I’d act. I needed to feel like I was moving forward. And along the way I gained peers and readers whom I can thank for what will hopefully turn out to be the next big phase of my career. Because enough of them started talking about my books and including them in their best of 2011 lists to get the attention of basically my dream publisher, horror juggernaut DarkFuse.

When I got a message from the editor of their novel imprint, my heart started pounding, but I told myself that it wasn’t going to turn out, that things never turn out, that it’s all hard work, and it’s all about the work and that there’s no reward, because I was terrified of how low I’d sink if I let myself get too hopeful. So many times I’d watch my stories get set aside from the slush at lit journals, and it just hurt worse when they got rejected.

But I didn't get rejected, and they'll be putting out my novel The Hoard in November. 

Some people talk about the industry having changed so much that they’d never do anything but self-publish, but a horror writer would have to be crazy not to seriously consider a deal from DarkFuse / Delirium. Besides the experience and the clout, their terms are set to address the issues of the modern publishing landscape. Unlike the dinosaurs, instead of trying to not notice the approaching asteroid, they’re evolving. For instance, they got big into e-books years before the boom. They weren’t caught off-guard and scrambling, or worse, attempting to sabotage their e-sales to wring the last juice from an old model.

So if this book does well, I hope to publish a lot more with the various imprints of Shane Staley’s company, for sure. In that case, I won’t be self-publishing much long horror anymore. But I’m still an Abominable Gentleman, and hope to torment humanity with short fiction alongside my evil fellows for a long time to come. There could be other collaborations. And it’s likely that I’ll be putting out the third Vampires of the Plains book myself.

And if I decide to take the plunge into a really unrelated genre, I might make up a new name and see if I can’t do it all over again.

To the regulars: since I made a general announcement about my deal, I thought there might be some people I know who are new to the site, so I figured I’d recap.

Big News and Big Thanks

I’ve hinted a few times about something that’s been taking up all my free time and energy, and it’s finally at the point where I can announce it.

My new novel, The Hoard, will be published in November by DarkFuse, a publishing company owned by Shane Staley, which counts among its imprints the legendary (almost) last man standing of the 20th century horror scene, Delirium Books. My editor is Greg Gifune, and it’s been awesome working with him.

So that’s the big news. The big thank you goes out to all the readers who included my work in their best of 2011 lists. This huge opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself if not for you, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

I had always hoped to attract the attention of a horror publisher. I never could have dreamed of getting the notice of the one I did. Especially not with my sales. I really couldn’t attract anyone’s attention with my sales.

But Greg told me that at the time when he was looking for some newer authors to fill out his 2012/2013 lineup, he kept seeing Burden Kansas popping up in year’s end lists, and wondered who the hell I was. He read it and in mid-January contacted me about submitting something.

I tried not to get too excited, because, like most writers, I’m really, really accustomed to rejection. I’ve always dreamed of something like this, but, again like most writers, at least those who’ve lasted through over a decade of mostly rejection, I’ve had to keep my focus on the process and the small steps.

But I feel I’ve just taken a huge leap towards really making this a career, and it’s kind of awesome knowing who I have to thank for it.

So thank you. For real.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stuff’s Been Crazy

Yeah, I know I basically fell off the face of the Earth. Stuff’s been crazy recently. Real crazy. I don’t like crazy. I like regimen. I like scheduled. But it’s all been good crazy, which has mitigated my anxiety to a certain degree.

One crazy thing was a week-long vacation to the place of my birth, Washington D.C. I hadn’t seen my dad’s family for a decade. I went with my wife, mom, sis, and two nieces. It was an amazing trip. Every day was packed with fun. Here are some highlights:

Waiting for chili-smothered half smokes at the famous Ben's Chili Bowl.

That's a boat.
Behind that man a bushel of crabs are being cooked alive for my delectation.

Haters gonna hate. Skaters gonna skate.

One of my favorite paintings.

World's largest flawless crystal ball.
Plan to spend a full week at the Smithsonian if you ever make it to DC.

Also, I got a new / old job. It’s the job I got laid off from about a bit over a year ago, which is basically the event that got me into self-publishing. The company got a fat new contract and asked for me to return. It was great timing, as my freelance writing had dried up and I wasn’t getting any responses from job applications. The only major drawback is that I’m now going to have to schedule my writing around my work, rather than the other way around. But right now I’m digging the stability of regular work over the flexibility of freelancing.

There’s been other stuff, exciting stuff, but I can’t go into it quite yet.

So, I’m feeling pretty guilty about not having gotten Penny Dreadnought issue 4 out yet. The other Abominable Gentlemen have turned in their materials; I just haven’t put it together. But I hope to do so within the next few days. The title: Uncommitted Crimes. The theme: committed crimes.

Speaking of crime, did you know that Iain Rowan just published his first crime novel? I just bought my copy of One of Us, no sampling or nothing, because if his short crime fiction is any sort of indication, it’s gonna be awesome.

Who else is really happy about the result of Project Runway All Stars Season 1? Sweet vindication!