Monday, July 25, 2011

Gender and Science Fiction/Fantasy—More Numbers

…from DMS at

I recently read a blog entry about gender distribution in submissions and publications that Edmund Schubert, the editor of Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (IGMS), posted on Magical Words. He quoted three emails from two assistant editors relating submission rates and then provided publication rates. He then made the claim that they publish women at the same proportion that women submit, calling the ratio “close enough.” I hear not everyone was impressed by this rigorous approach and the subsequent detailed analysis and conclusion. Rather than pick a side, I decided to look at his submission and publication numbers and see if there was a statistically significant conclusion to draw. After all, the data provided is exactly the kind of data I need for a Chi-Squared test. Isn’t it exciting!

Link to the full article.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Side-Show Arcade: Mansions of Madness

A while back, I reviewed the excellent board game, Arkham Horror.  Its sister game—Mansions of Madness—is the subject of today’s investigation.

At first glance—maybe two glances—Mansions of Madness is intimidating.  Even for someone who considers himself seasoned in imageboard games.  There are a zillion little bits and pieces to lose; there are (I am not kidding) 13 different card stacks.  AND there are two rulebooks: one for players, and one for the guy playing against the players.  Not to mention that the game is made by Fantasy Flight, and it’s in their Arkham line—so the gameplay has a good chance of being complicated, and the night is likely destined to end in your character’s demise.

BUT—you can still have a good time with it.

Mansions of Madness dangles board-gaming closer to role-playing with a slew of pre-generated characters  and a number of unconnected scenarios to choose from.  The premise is that you are a group of investigators who have stumbled on a creepy, malign plot.  Together, you explore the board, searching for clues to untangle the mystery and fighting terrifying cultists and their otherworldly imageoverseers.  One player (the Keeper) takes the role of all the monsters and the evil forces that control the board; all the others play characters opposing him (the Investigators).  Each group has a specific goal that they must accomplish in order to win the game, but only the Keeper knows his goal at the start.  The players only find out their ultimate goal in the final act, right before the clock strikes midnight.

Where game mechanics enhance the devastating pace of the game, Mansions of Madness is an absolute blast to play.  However, there are so many fiddly bits, and so many cards to shuffle through, and so much to take into consideration, the game can be a bit of a slog at times.  Especially at the beginning—there’s no way around it, getting the game set up is a beast.  The rules state that the players decide amongst themselves which scenario to play; *I* maintain that’s a good way to waste an hour or so of game time.   Whoever is host, SHE should decide on the game, and have it set up before everyone gets there.  The host should also be Keeper, so she can pick what storyline within the scenario she wants to play.  (Yep—each scenario is replayable because they have different story options to choose from.  So, the first time you play, you may have to find the abducted heiress in the basement; the second time you play, you find her corpse in the chapel, and then pursue her killer.)

Setup consists of deciding what scenario, and what scenario elements to play, and then setting up the board.  Mansions of Madness comes imagewith 15 map tiles, with room details printed on both sides.  These are used to construct the board, using the scenario to determine what tiles go where.  After the board is built, characters are chosen, and the Keeper builds the deck to best help her accomplish her own goal.  Investigators are given a clue to start out with, which points them where to go; as they explore the board, the Keeper gets terror points to use against them.  Terror points allow the keeper to buy up all sorts of nasty effects, from declaring that a monster’s attack broke a character’s arm (giving that character a negative modifier on combat checks for the rest of the game), to making monsters appear out of the walls. 

The game is meant to be tense, right from the beginning; that’s how the pace is maintained.  Mansions of Madness has no low gear—it puts itself into “STARK TERROR” mode and stays there until the finish of the game.  A system of time-keeping dissuades the characters from doing anything but running from clue, to clue, to clue; although leisurely exploration is possible, the effects of not staying on task are such that it becomes deadly to dally.

Like other role-playing games, I think that much of the fun of the game exists not in the game itself, but in the way the players integrate into it.  With one group, the game is lively, and fun; with another, it gets bogged down in arguing or confusion over the rules.

I recommend the game with that caveat: know your gaming group.  The insistent rules lawyer has killed more game nights than Cthullhu has devoured planets.

-- Scott M. Roberts

Monday, July 18, 2011

This is My Corporation, Eat—Lon Prater

"This Is My Corporation, Eat" is a story which sprang into my head during a conversation online with Ken Scholes. Neither of us remember the exact context, just that it had to do with zealotry, the Rapture and our similar early aspirations to religious callings and subsequent, err, loss of fervor.

I nearly shelved this one when it was written, because I worried that this-is-my-corporation-eat_largeit was too heretical, too much of an indictment to be stomached by a Christian population already highly sensitized to how Christians are portrayed. I worried that the end of the Christian spectrum who enjoy their martyrdom and righteous condemnation would have a distinct and rock-throwy lack of appreciation for my themes.

I wrote this story in response to zealotry and the commodification of the sacred, in the same way my story "Deadglass" (Writers of the Future XXI) was written in response to the form of religious OCD that the Catholics would recognize as scrupulosity, and my story "The Atrocities of King George" (Ideomancer, June 2010) was written in response to the rationalization and cognitive blanking-out processes that make up a "the ends justify the means" mentality. More recently, I've released a pair of short mashup/experimental novels to Kindle and nook that take on what I see as the flaws in Objectivist Selfishness (The Island of Jayne Grind, with H.G. Wells) and my rejection of the Patriot Act ethos of security trumping liberty (The American in His Season, with Mark Twain and others).

I bring all this up not to shamelessly whore my fiction out, but tothis-is-my-corporation-eat_large lend some background to what makes me tick as a writer and reader. I take themes seriously. I read for that subtle thread, that unifying web of nerve endings that makes a story come alive, moving and wanting and hurting--not for the writer's sake, and not for the reader's sake, but for its own damned sake.

There is a difference when a story is about something; it's as significant and polarizing as the difference between lightning and lightning bug. I relish digging into the work of writers like Mark Twain and H.G. Wells--or modern masters of tone and theme like Gary Braunbeck and the aforementioned Ken Scholes. Collecting and assembling the sublimely deliberate details, those hundreds of conscious and unconscious decisions they've made in their art which add up to a whole that is something emotional, something true. . . THIS is what makes my brain feel like it's finally using that other 90% people like to talk about.

When I say true, I don't mean true in the sense of verifiable fact, but true in that deeper, human, sacred sense that may well fly in the face of every fact known to science. The sense of authenticity that resonates with one message: I believe in this, and I have to share it.

At first, the third act of this story was not authentic to its beginning. this-is-my-corporation-eat_largeA set of conversations with a pair of gifted and spiritually adept editors (Jerry Gordon and Edmund Schubert) helped this old secularist find the authenticity that was lacking at long last. The story wasn't meant to end with a tone of fatalistic nihilism, and changes were made to make that clearer. My protagonist's choices are about his own struggle with zealotry, with how easy it is for a man to make his values into tradable commodities. He finds peace in being authentic to himself and to his new understanding of Christ's message of love and tolerance and rejection of the world (in contrast to the Fundie terrorists, who have just as corrosive a focus on the material world as the corporate ministries they blow up).

But has he merely traded one zealotry for another? This is a cautionary tale, after all, and like a great many satires, deadly serious.

I mentioned above how I read to find that sense of the story being about something that matters to the person who wrote it. I try just as hard in my writing to develop a theme that matters to me. To select details and plot events that pertain and resonate and set off the idea I am exploring. I hope that I've accomplished that in this story, though I usually feel like I've missed the mark.

In the end, it's not a verifiable thing. It's only true if you felt the same sense of 'I believe this, and I want to share it' when you read it. Regardless, whether you are a reader or a writer, I hope I've made you think more deeply about theme with this post. (I'm too unconfident to say the same about my story.)

I hope you start to look for it in all your fiction. To demand it.

I hope I've made a zealot out of you.

Lon Prater
Pensacola, Florida
Summer 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

How Evil Am I? Oh, About 76.3% On Average…

Some more numbers neepery for you gentlefolk.  Again, these are just my numbers; the other assistant editors’ (not to mention Edmund’s) are another matter entirely. 

Here is the percentages of my rejection recommendations since February, 2010:


% of Rejections



March, 2010

































Hm… looks like I’ve hit the Terrible Twos.  (I’ve been reading slush for IGMS since August 2009, but didn’t keep track of things until the beginning of 2010.)

In a late night pique of madness, I even went through all the stories I rejected to see if I could pull a pattern from them.

For the stories that I did not finish, my main complaint seems to have been a variation of the below:

“It wasn’t interesting.”

For the stories that I *did* finish and that were rejected, the main complaint was something like this:

“The ending was unsatisfying.”

I cannot stress how important it is for a story to hit the ground running.  Generally, IGMS publishes short stories.  Stories that get through my slush pile demonstrate the author’s ability to quickly establish character, place, and conflict, and no matter if they’re rip-roaring adventure stories, or philosophical comfy mysteries, they keep my attention.  Taking ten pages to get to the conflict will get you a rejection from me.

Most stories I reject don’t last even that long, I’m afraid. 

Endings.  Oh, what can I say here, that others haven’t said?  A bad ending is worse than a boring beginning, because I’ve spent all this time being enchanted, only to be disappointed at the very last moment. 

It’s like falling in love with Angelina Jolie, and then waking up to find out she’s really Ralph Nader.  I don’t care what your proclivities or political positions are, that isn’t a happy occurrence.

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Editor, IGMS

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Hanged Poet—Jeff Lyman

I was inspired by "The Square", by Margueritte Duras, a French the-hanged-poet_largenovella from 1955.  I found it fascinating that Ms. Duras could maintain over a hundred pages of dialogue between two strangers, revealing their lives and hopes and dreams through their interaction, with very little scene or setting.  I am typically a visual writer with little dialogue, so it would be an extreme challenge to attempt the same.  My original draft failed, as it came across like two people talking in an empty room, so I added back in setting.

The actual kernal inspiration for the story was a newspaper articled entitled "The Hanged Poems of Mecca".  The newspaper was folded across the title, so I only saw the first half and misread it as The Hanged Poet. 

And yes, I feared writing the poet's poem.  Some other writers advised me to leave it implied and unspoken, like some sort of poetic Necronomicon.  I thought that would be cheating the reader.  Veritas' poem came easily, since it needed to change only him.  Theseda Ys poem did not, as it had to be universal enough to be co-opted by everybody who heard it.

--Jeff Lyman

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Trouble With Eating Clouds

Technically my collection of short stories has already been released (it’s been up on Amazon for a week or two), but I’ve been deeply involved in the redesign of the website of the company that published it, and now that the site is live, in my mind it’s official: The Trouble With Eating Clouds is ready and available and looking for a few good readers. I’m pleased with the book overall, and especially happy with the front and back covers as designed by graphic artist extraordinaire, Dawn Mitchell ( – thanks, Dawn!).

The reason I wanted to wait for completion of the Spotlight website ( before announcing the release of my short story collection is that although the book was/is available on and, if a small publisher is going to support a writer, I think the writer ought to do what he or she can to support the publisher, too. That’s why I’m suggesting that if you’re thinking about buying the book, please consider buying it at the publisher’s site. I make exactly the same money no matter where you buy it: online or if you ask your local store to order it or if you buy it from Spotlight. However, buying direct from a small publisher makes a big difference to their bottom line. Plus, Spotlight only charges 99 cents for shipping, so it will actually cost you less from them than from Amazon. Spotlight is also running a promotion throughout the month of July and they’re sending autographed copies for the price of regular ones (they usually charge more for autographed copies), so if the deposit of .043 micrograms on ink in the shape of my name has any appeal to you, this is your big chance. ;-)

I talked last week about the networking that was involved in the book coming to publication (the networking that was involved in all of my books’ publications), so what I’d like to talk about today is the process by which the stories were selected. The Trouble With Eating Clouds only includes about half of the short stories I’ve had published over the past seven years, so what was the logic (stop giggling David, even I use logic every now and then…) behind what was included and what was not?

There were several thoughts running through my mind while putting this book together, but there were two main ones. First, I wanted this book to be a little more reader/family friendly than my novel was. I don’t use graphic images/scenes, violence, or coarse language casually, but the story in Dreaming Creek required a certain amount of all of that, and if it ever gets made into a movie, it will definitely be an R-rated movie. So all of the stories in The Trouble With Eating Clouds had to be the kind that didn’t require any parental oversight or screening (not that this is a children’s book, by any means).

Secondly, I really wanted this collection to represent the fun it’s possible to have when writing. When I’m at my very best, when I’m writing a story for no other reason that something has grabbed my mind’s attention and wants to come spilling out of my fingers and onto the page, the entire process is a pleasure. But when I’m writing to someone else’s theme, or someone else’s idea of what constitutes “good” fiction, it becomes a ponderous process that’s about as much fun as dragging a wooly mammoth up from the bottom of one of Le Brea’s infamous tar pits. That doesn’t mean the fun stories are easy to write—far from it, most of the time—but even when it’s challenging, there are some stories that are just a pleasure to write. Those are the stories I wanted in this book.

The stories are also arranged in chronological order (as best I could recall) according to when the were written. Years ago I read a collection of short stories by Ursula LeGuin where she talked about “arranging them in the order in which they were written, so that the development of the artist becomes part of the interest in the book.” Or at least words to that effect, the exact quote is in my book (and hers). The term ‘artist’ is never one I’ve been comfortable applying to myself, so call me whatever you like, but I do think there’s something to be said for being able to watch a writer grow and develop over the course of many years and many stories.

In the interest of full disclosure since this is a site devoted largely to writing fantasy, most of these stories read more like an episode of the Twilight Zone than The Lord of the Rings. It’s what I grew up loving, so it’s a lot of what I ended up writing. There are also a few Alfred Hitchcock-type mysteries, a historical piece set in Africa in the 1930’s that I’ve always been proud of, and all of the Dedd & Gohn paranormal-investigator comics I did with my friend Tom Barker before he had to quit the project. Those are a lot of fun to have all in one place, but then that’s one of the central themes of the book—have fun!—so it wouldn’t have been in the book otherwise. It’s even got an introduction by one of my bestest buds in the business, Alethea Kontis. She knows way too much about me personally and she spilled 90% of it in her intro (I paid good money to keep the other 10% out).

So there it is: The Trouble With Eating Clouds: A Collection of Mysteries, Magic, and Madness in all of its glory. Well, not all of its glory, but as much glory as I could cram into a single blog post. So remember, you can order it on Amazon and B&N, but supporting Spotlight is better for the little guy and cheaper for you.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

IGMS Award Anthology TOC

For your consideration, the table of contents for the upcoming IGMS Award anthology:

“Trinity County, CA” by Peter S. Beagle

First appeared in IGMS issue #18


“Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain” by Von Carr

First appeared in IGMS issue #17


“The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli

First appeared in IGMS issue #19


“The American” by Bruce Worden

First appeared in IGMS issue #20


“Silent as Dust” by James Maxey

First appeared in IGMS issue #7


“Horus Ascending” by Aliette deBodard

First appeared in IGMS issue #8


“End-of-the-World Pool” by Scott Roberts

First appeared in IGMS issue #12


“A Heretic by Degrees” – by Marie Brennan

First appeared in IGMS issue #10


“The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola” by Jason Sanford

First appeared in IGMS issue #20


“Beautiful Winter” by Eugie Foster

First appeared in IGMS issue #13


“Blood & Water” – by Alethea Kontis

First appeared in IGMS issue #9


“Mean-Spirited” – by Edmund R. Schubert

First appeared in IGMS issue #16


“Robot Sorcerer” – by Eric James Stone

First appeared in IGMS issue #10


“Aim For The Stars” – by Tom Pendergrass

First appeared in IGMS issue #15

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology

We’re pleased to announce that a new anthology collecting award-winning stories from IGMS will be published later this year. 

In addition, other works selected by the editor and publisher will be reprinted.

Stay tuned for more info!

--Scott M. Roberts

Asst. Editor, IGMS