Short Stories

The Fiction Issue of The New Yorker

So, how far behind am I? I just finished reading the June 10 and 17, 2019 issue of The New Yorker. A lot of the articles, particularly the ones referred to goings on about town are probably out of date a year and a half, plus a pandemic, later. The reviews, though still valid, probably aren’t as fresh as they could be, either.

But a fiction issue, as this one purports to being, should be okay, so I read it with enthusiasm. All right, let’s qualify that: I don’t normally love the fiction in TNY. I find it a little too dull and boring.

The three stories in this issue were not bad. Not memorable in any way (Sanctuary in the Artist’s Studio is probably the best of the three), but not bad.

More interesting is the fact that they sprinkled the usual content with something called border crossings, where immigrants in different parts of the world describe their experiences. This is non-fiction, and it’s kind of weird to see The New Yorker voicing it. Weird because I expect TNY to show an idealized intellectual-progressive view of things, which obviously doesn’t exist when you bring the real world into it. Even more shocking to me was an honest article about what life in supposed socialist paradise (and failed state) Venezuela is like. It’s the kind of thing one would expect TNY to sweep under the rug, as it will definitely make a good portion of its readership uncomfortable.

So my respect for the magazine–despite still feeling the fiction is just okay–went up a few notches this time. It’s nice to see realism even among the intellectual elite who tend to try to block it out and live in an idealized world where theory rules and when reality doesn’t support that way of thinking, it’s reality that’s wrong.

If you need to understand The New Yorker by reading one issue, this is the best one to pick up of the ones I’ve seen.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres. His literary fiction is collected in Love and Death, a novel in short story form that tells the tale of several families, intertwined through generations. You can check it out here.

My ISDC Participation

Back in 2018, I sent a story entitled Acid Test to the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest. It was awarded second place (it was later published under a different title, and you can read it here), and with that, I was invited to the awards ceremony held during the International Space Development Conference in June 2019 in Washington DC. This is also how I ended up with my latest few copies of Ad Astra.

I had no idea what to expect as a conference VIP, so I kind of drifted around with the three other science fiction writers at the event, chatting, talking to other people, and even sitting in on some of the sessions (there were usually several conference rooms occupied at once, and they were all packed). The session I sat in on was one where they were talking about the differences between the philosophies of government space programs and the private sector, effectively (if not sexily) illustrated by an example using a valve purchase process. (Essentially, the private sector can do things cheaper because they allow themselves to iterate faster and give their suppliers less restrictive contracts, as well as being more open to innovation).

One of the most surreal moments of my participation came during the prize-giving lunch session. The keynote speaker (whose name I won’t mention), essentially said that one could achieve immortality by creating something she called a mind clone, basically letting your electronics gather all they can about your preferences, actions, habits and activities and making that data available for upload. That way, she argued, you would live on in an AI indistinguishable from your own self.

Now, I have given this a certain amount of thought, and I utterly disagree with this particular position. My own take is that immortality MUST imply a continuation of consciousness, so this doesn’t count. But more important than my own opinion is the realization that being a futurist must be full of this kind of skepticism. To have any shot of being a true visionary, it’s not enough to extrapolate current trends. Anyone can do that. You need to imagine the things that are going to come out of left field and catch everyone by surprise.

Her prediction most certainly does… even if it’s wrong.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer. His novel Outside looks at the lines between artificial and natural consciousness, and at what happens when they blur too much for comfort. You can check it out here.

Lost and Found and an Emotive Surprise

I write in a bunch of genres and receive very different kinds of contributor copies for my efforts. Sometimes the cover and general look and feel of the book make me think it’s going to be great, and other times, awful. When I saw my copy of Lost and Found, I wasn’t expecting much, even though the book appeared solid and well printed.

But I always read my contributor’s copies, so I read it… and was blown away. The stories in here pull at the heartstrings, and they pull hard. Of course, I should have suspected it. After all the subject of loss lends itself to hugely powerful situations, and the table of contents of this book was full of names I recognized as talented practitioners.

It’s an emotional roller coaster containing everything from fantasy horror in an amusement park to straight literary fiction, and it’s well worth the read. Editor Terri Karsten has done a wonderful job.

My favorite was probably “Lost Lamb” by Paul Lewellan, a mature tale that reads just the way I like my mainstream fiction. Well done. Also memorable was “It Happened at Stratosphere Heights”, by Antonio Simon Jr. – by far the weirdest one in here.

Another thing I really liked was the section entitled “On the lighter side” which, as the name implies, is a collection of stories with more levity – some outright funny, that breaks up the serious nature of the book very well.

In conclusion, this one was a hit with me and proves again that judging a book by its cover is a bad idea, especially when the cover is perfectly fine, just not quite the one you would have chosen. This one is worth the time.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in the book Love and Death, which is a novel told in short story form intertwining the lives of characters who, for the most part, are unaware of how their lives affect everyone else. You can buy it here.

Writing Advice that Sucks – and Some that Doesn’t

Are you a writer still looking for that first sale? Or maybe to move up another step in your career?

Have you already read all the books (particularly On Writing) and everything online… and have gotten to the point where you actually welcome writing advice from monster book writers?

Excellent. You’ve come to the right place. Prepare to hear some hard truths.

If you’ve really done your homework, you’ll have been inundated with the following gems:
– Cross out all your adjectives
– The secret to writing is RE-writing
– Adverbs are from the devil
– The passive voice is unacceptable
– Use simple words
– If you don’t have several beta-readers you’ll never sell a word

Now, all of these are well-intentioned and there’s a reason each of these is posted a billion times online. Mainly, that reason is that a lot of bad writing is bad precisely because writers overwrite or miss an editing pass and agents and purchasing editors are tearing their hair out over it, so they pretty much convince themselves that if they see another adverb, they’ll track down the writer and shoot him.

But that’s only a part of the story. A lot of excellent writing is heavy with adjectives, written in the passive voice or even, shudder, in the second person. And the writing advice you’ll find online will be very discouraging if that’s your style.

So these are good for beginning writers, except for that one about the secret to writing being re-writing. I secretly suspect that that one was created by some successful writer who wants to keep newcomers out of the field by making the act of writing seem like torture. Because that is what excessive rewriting is… torture (you’ll need some rewrites to whatever you do, but knowingly writing a terrible first draft is just silly. Get it as good as you can and then polish as necessary, don’t relish the rewrite). I like Heinlein’s mandate to rewrite only to editorial command.

So throw all of them away. Here’s my take on how to become a writer:

  1. Be a reader. Preferably from the age of four (get a time machine and go back if necessary). If you can’t swing starting at the age of four, then start right now. Drop whatever you’re doing and grab the nearest book. Read to the end and grab the next nearest. Only once you’ve read everything you can reach without getting up are you allowed to leave your chair. And then, only to go to the bookcase and continue the process. Read in your target genre and out of it. Read magazines and theater. Read poetry (you can yell at me in the comments, but read it anyway). You’ll be surprised at how much your sense of what sounds right will take a quantum leap forward… a lot of writing is unconscious, and if the raw material isn’t there, the writing will be flat. This is the most important writing advice you’ll ever hear. An added benefit is that if you’re a voracious reader, you won’t have to study Strunk and White because you’ll absorb it from authors who already know it. If you try to write without being a voracious reader, you will suck, and you won’t even know it. Let me spell that out for you again: if you’ve ever said “I don’t have time to read,” you are a crap writer. Period. MAKE time.
  2. Write every day. Have writer’s block? Cool, force yourself to write a thousand words. Not inspired? Awesome, now, ass in chair and give me a thousand. Tired? Yeah, that sucks, especially since you are going to be writing a thousand words with your eyelids at half-mast. I think you get the point. Writers are people who write.
  3. Finish and submit your work. No excuses. Get it done, get it polished and get it subbed. It’s worthless on your hard drive and if an editor or an agent hates it, they’ll hate it. Fortunately, since you are forced to write every day, you’ll be thinking about your next piece when the rejection comes in. And once it does, you send it back out immediately. If you’re any good, it will eventually sell (or place in a 4-the-Luv publication). If you aren’t, you need to go back to step 1, above – remember that not everyone is born with Oscar Wilde’s pure talent… but everyone can learn to hear the rhythm of a sentence in their head and turn out publishable prose. I know one particular genre writer who has zero natural talent, but whose workmanlike writing is readable enough to have gotten him onto the NYT bestseller list and writing for at least two wonderful SF properties. I respect that.
  4. Do NOT worry about rejections. There are tens of millions of writers out there. If you’re doing 1-3, you’re already ahead of most of them. Now it’s just a a case of beating the millions that still remain onto a table of contents or a publisher’s release timetable. So getting rejections just means you’re one step closer to seeing that piece in print. Also, if you’re doing steps 1-3, the act of writing, reading and getting your rejected pieces back out there will restore that spark of hope.

So that’s my advice. Note that I’m not prescribing how to tell your stories. Your voice is yours, and if it’s good enough, you will be published. If it’s not good enough, keep reading until you can recognize a good sentence just by how it looks on the page.

It’s hard work, but then being a writer is very cool… and very competitive.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His latest book is a monster book (well, we did warn you) entitled Test Site Horror. It’s an action adventure piece set in the Ural Mountains where genetically-modified dinosaurs and Russian special forces troops battle it out to see who the apex predator actually is. You can check it out here.

Zombie Novellas x 2

Those following news of my writing adventures will recall that my latest book was Jungle Lab Terror (news to come on that front soon!). Well, the world isn’ t all about solo novels. And though I normally don’t talk about my shorter work here (there would be too many posts about my own writing, which is not the point of this particular blog), I make an exception for novella-length work (mainly because novellas take a long time to write, so I’d love for people to read them!).

For those unaware of what a novella is, it’s a narrative length that falls between a short story and a novel. It’s said that these are the ideal length for speculative fiction because they give the author space to build their world without using genre shorthand and assuming the reader is familiar with the tropes.

Anyhow, I’ve recently published a couple of these in three-novella works along with two other writers.

The first is Sha’Daa Zombie Park, in which my novella is the middle story, sandwiched between the work of two writers I admire a lot: Eric S. Brown and Jason Cordova.

For those of you unaware of the concept, the Sha’Daa series is a long-running shared world project that has had countless spectacular writers involved over the years… and it’s a huge honor to be a part of a “reduced” antho. The central concept here is that, once every 10,000 years, the gates of hell open up and evil sweeps the Earth. These three take place in Central Park, and there are zombies… lots of zombies.

My second novella also contains a zombie story, this one taking place in the same universe as my novel Ice Station: Death. Unlike the Sha’Daa series, these are unlinked, and Foul Womb of Night is the first volume in the Midnight Bites anthology.

The other authors, likewise, are new, which means that, when I get the time to read the book, will be an extra treat.

Best of all, there are zombies galore in this one, too, and the Antarctic setting pits the heroes against both the undead and the elements. Only the reader will have a good time in this one.

Anyway, if you do buy one of these (and I really think you’ll like them), let me know what you think!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. He owns no cats, which is officially frowned upon by the Guild of Real Writers, but he promises to hold the line for all other non-cat-people.

What Happens when You’re Friends with Editors

I think most writer, except for the very, very egomaniacal among them, celebrate their first rejection. It’s a rite of passage, proof that you’re now part of the anointed brotherhood and have at least one experience in common with all the people you’ve ever read.

Unfortunately, what happens next is never fun. That single rejection becomes a trickle, that trickle becomes a flood and, like Stephen King, you replace the nail you used to hang your rejections on with a spike.

Sure, there might be a story sale or two along the way but for most writers the norm is that rejections FAR outnumber sales until you establish yourself and create an audience. A writer who brings his own readers commands a premium, and that is only fair.

Most, however, don’t. They depend on either the publisher (in case of books) or the magazine / antho (in the case of shorts) to attract most of the readership (there’s only so much self-promotion a writer can do).

That’s when a lot of writers either lose heart or invent conspiracy theories to explain why the publishing world isn’t recognizing the talent that their mothers told them they had.

I spoke to a Nebula winning writer recently who told me that one of the writers who used to be his peer as they scaled the small press ladder is now convinced that there’s an inner clique to which one needs to belong in order to get published. Now, while the words “Nebula Award Winner” will definitely predispose an editor to give one the benefit of the doubt, you need to earn the right to have those words there in the first place. They don’t just happen. Like bringing your own readers, this bends the rules in your favor.

But let’s look at that assumption that the inner clique runs the show. I’m friends with dozens of editors and more than a few publishers. These are people who congratulate me on my successes, discuss publishing points with me and in some cases publish my work. They are people I like, and people who like me.

So, do they buy what I send them?

Only sometimes, when the piece fits what they need and works with the style and tone of their publishing house or magazine or whatever. Hell, sometimes it fits perfectly and they still reject it because if they accepted my piece they would have to bump a story by a writer who brings more of an audience to the table.

That’s just the reality of surviving in a marketplace as competitive as the current publishing world.

But a lot of writers who’ve had a little success just can’t bring themselves to believe it. They utterly believe that the people getting published are just the editor’s friends.

As one of the editor’s friends, that is just stupid.

But this post isn’t only about the people who can’t accept that reality (after all, they can eliminate gatekeepers and quality control altogether by the simple expedient of self-publishing)… It’s about having friends who reject your work.

And boy do they reject it. Writers are lucky enough to live in the one market where editors quickly lose any temptation to favor their friends. For one thing, if they have more than a dozen or so friends in the field, they won’t have room for them all anywhere, whether on an annual novel publication calendar or in a magazine. And secondly, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you need to choose the very best (or the writers that bring you readers).

(Caveat… There is one exception to the above rule, and that is publishers and publications that occasionally do “demographically-limited” submissions. While I respect their right to publish whomsoever they desire and push whichever causes they want, I never read those publications because the quality of the stories will, necessarily, be lower than if they’d opened the field to a clear competition to everyone.)

So any writer incapable of receiving a rejection from a friend needs to leave the field immediately. And anyone who lets several of these rejections affect their friendship with editors needs to join the first guy.

My favorite story is that of an excellent writer I know, a woman who’s sold to everyone. She was at a con, getting ready to go out to dinner. The party included an editor well-known for being prompt to reply to submissions, and who was waiting for her in the lobby. As she was in the elevator, she received an email from this same editor… who’d rejected her story while waiting for her to arrive.

Of course, this was cause for much hilarity, but absolutely no resentment. This is the writer’s life, and one needs to be able to separate the personal from the professional.

Most importantly, it proves that even the inner circle needs to earn its spot on the page. There is no secret-handshake or shortcut.

Writer. Submit. Build a readership. Advance. Hard work and talent are the only secrets I’ve seen so far.

Perhaps there’s still some secret door I haven’t found. But if that’s true, my friends are very good at keeping secrets.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans every genre from literary fiction all the way to monster horror. His latest book is called Jungle Lab Terror and combines science fiction with the aforementioned monsters, all jumbled together in the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere: the Darien Gap. You can check it out here.

My Favorite Anthology Covers

I sell a lot of short stories, both original and reprint, so it stands to reason that my work has appeared not only in magazines, but also in countless anthologies.

Sometimes, the antho cover is a bit of a disappointment.  Most times, though, they are wonderful, with either beautiful artwork or brilliant design jumping out at readers.  But, since I’m an expert at neither art nor design, choosing my favorites ends up being a question of personal opinion without too much basis in argument of any kind.

That, of course, has never stopped me before so, without more ado, I present my five favorite antho covers from books in which my work appears, in no particular order.

 

A High Shrill Thump makes the list because that Etruscan zombie on the cover is an illustration of my story “Comrade at Arms”.  I’m pretty sure this is the first time the cover illustration of an anthology was based on one of my stories.

A High Schrill Thump.jpg

 

Made You Flinch. This one makes the list because, all these years later, I still remember it.  The reason was that, as I was working my way through the lowest ranks of the indy press, the quality of artwork was often iffy at best.  This one was striking, and anything less than iffy.  I don’t recall much of the stories inside (excpet mine, “Topside”), but this cover is unforgettable.

Made You Flinch

 

Sha’Daa Toys.  I always loved the Sha’Daa covers, even before I managed to convice the editors that I was good enough to join this particular shared world antho series.  And the Toys cover is creepy and dark and moody and everything that it should be for the apocalypse.

Sha'Daa Toys.jpg

 

American Monsters Part One.  The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters represent the most critically acclaimed series of anthos on this list, and with good reason.  They have a powerful lineup of writers from all over the world writing about the monsters near and dear to them.  It’s understandably powerful.  But the artwork is also wonderful.  How and you not love these sepia-toned images?  My story “Vulnerable Populations” is included in there.

Amercian Monsters Part One.jpg

 

Sinisterotica.  Normally, this cover wouldn’t have made the list.  I don’t love it when computer-generated humans land in the uncanny valley, and those fonts are… questionable.  But the cover is also the bravest, boldest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.  Only the judicious use of shade keeps it from landing in the adults-only section behind a brown paper wrapper but, as they say, no guts, no glory, so this one makes the list among more professionally executed covers.  It contains my story “Top of the Food Chain”.

Sinisterotica

There are so many more that I love, and I hate to leave out such a massive number of great publishers and editors.  But I had to cut somewhere and these are the five I thought of today.

Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll probably pick a different five.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over 300 published stories.  His latest collection is Off the Beaten Path, a curation of stories that take place outside the usual American and European settings.  They will make you think, and they will entertain you.  You can check it out here.

 

My First Experience with Chilean SF

Like many Latin American countries, Chile has a rich literary tradition, but one which is best explored by those who speak Spanish.  Pablo Neruda, for example, was a poet, and that is a form that is best explored in the original language.  Many other great writers are criminally untranslated.  So it sometimes seems like the English-language market is condemned to limit itself to Isabel Allende… which is unfortunate.

I’m lucky that I can read Spanish, which means that I can range across the entire spectrum, and I’m doubly lucky that I’m a writer, which means that I often receive books by my peers as a gift.  I always read them, although it takes me a while.

Más Espacio Del que Soñamos - Leonardo Benavides.jpg

Leonardo Benavides is, first and foremost, a good guy.  We got to talking at a meeting of science fiction writers in Buenos Aires, and he gave me a copy of his book Más espacio del que soñamos (translates as More Space than we Dream of), a collection of science fiction stories.

To those familiar with SF canon, this one will immediately feel familiar while, at the same time being just a little different.  The familiarity will arise from the themes which are very much those of Golden Age science fiction.  Space exploration, robots, alien invasions and the moral and social issues of the technology of the future are well represented and solidly explored.  There’s even a story in here with the classic flip of perspective in which we get to see how an alien would see us.

At the same time, this collection has enough modern sensibilities to avoid feeling stale, and it also has other things that set it apart.  The first, of course, is the fact that it is written by a Latin American who, whether consciously or not, brings a certain worldview to his work.  The work is stronger for it.

(As a somewhat related aside, I recently had a conversation with one of my publishers who said that my work has a lot of philosophical development in it.  I suppose he is correct, but it’s not something I necessarily do consciously–the same might be the case in Benavides’ work: I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him)

Another thing which I found interesting is that I would have been able to guess that the writer was a doctor even if I hadn’t known (I did).  There is an abundance of medical takes in the stories that are much more precise than what one usually sees in any kind of tale, and that makes it different.  In SF, different–when it doesn’t get in the way of comprehension–is always good.  In this case, I think bringing a surgeon’s viewpoint even to non-medical stories removes a certain sentimentality and forces us–as doctors must–to view what we have in front of us dispassionately.  These stories are about what is as opposed to what we’d like for it to be.  They can get a little dark.

In summary, this is a great primer to Chilean SF and I recommend it heartily.  My own favorite story in here was “Un horizonte curvado”, a survival story.  If you can read it, you should.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose most recent collection, Off the Beaten Path, explores the corners of the world we don’t always see, and the people we don’t often encounter… but who feel familiar to us anyway.  You can buy it here.

Gorgeous Inside and Out

I was at WorldCon in Dublin last year and I met the publisher of Fox Spirit Books, to whom I’d recently sold a story for their book American Monsters Part I.  This is part of their FS Monsters series which already included award-winning volumes.  It was an honor to be a part of the anthology, and it was even better to receive the book and look through it quickly.

The thing was gorgeous, a square format, comics, great authors.  Just a wonderfully presented book overall.  I immediately understood why the earlier installments in the series had been so well-received.

After spending a little time with the publisher group in Dublin, who is a very laid-back and funny human being, I told her that I was surprised that they’d produced such a serious series.

Fortunately, they took is well and I count them among friends as opposed to having landed me on the blacklist, but it’s definitely a wonderful feeling to know that awesome art can come from fun people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

American Monsters Part I.jpg

As you know, I’m a sucker for beautiful books, so having a contributor copy of something that looks this good is just wonderful.

But the best part of it all was that I eventually got to read my copy and revel in the amazing job that editor Margrét Helgadóttir (a great writer in her own right) did in compiling, translating and introducing the work in this volume.

Simply put, the content matches the presentation.  Each story is very different, and each explores a chilling expression of Latin American myth, with monsters mostly being  from before colonial times.  The fact that these are most certainly not European monsters adds an unfamiliarity which makes many of them truly chilling.

My favorite story was Christopher Kastenschmidt’s “A Parlous Battle”, both because it’s very well written and because I tend to enjoy adventure fantasy even more than the quieter types.  This one is set in his Elephant and Macaw Banner world which is quite the universe (there’s an RPG and a novel, too).

Honorable mention goes to the comic “Perla del Plata” by Paula Andrade which, as a native of Buenos Aires hit very close to home, especially the phrase “We have made sadness an art form.”  Perfect.

Anyhow, I recommend this entire series.  There are big names in every book, and they look fantastic.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  Those of you who enjoy fantasy and science fiction set outside the usual European and US settings will love his collection Off the Beaten Path.  You can buy it on Amazon.

Old-School Fun

Back when I started publishing regularly in science fiction and fantasy magazines in the late 2000s (does anyone say the “noughts” any more?), there were a lot of large format perfect-bound magazines out there which took advantage of then-new print-on-demand publishing technologies.

These mags contained fiction, poetry, art and even comics.  They were a lot of entertainment for the money.

But not many of them survived for very long, which is why horror magazine Night to Dawn is such a refreshing reminder of how things used to be.

Night to Dawn Issue 35 - April 2019

I received my contributors’ copy of Night to Dawn 35 because it contains my vampire story “Neurosis and the Undead”, and read through it, savoring the sense of being back in 2010–which, in this case, is a good thing.

For starters, there were a LOT of vampire stories in this magazine (I suppose the title of the publication should make one expect that) which is surprising in modern times.  Vampires, the common wisdom contends, are overdone.  I argue that vampires might have been popular, but they were popular for a reason: they are fascinating creatures, and you can always tell a new and different story about them.

Next, there are many, many interior illustrations of the black and white type we always loved in an earlier generation (think 1960s / 80s) but which you almost never see anymore.

And then there is the fiction.

Many outlets for short fiction, especially in small press, are essentially a mouthpiece for political pandering.  The stories therein might be better or worse, but they are often selected for criteria of ideological homogeneity or an attempt to ensure that the table of contents is populated by the correct demographic instad of quality (I won’t get into any arguments here about why this is wrong.  If Stephen King is taken to task for arguing that quality is more important than any other criteria, I don’t even want to imagine what Twitter would do to me).

Night to Dawn is refreshing in this sense as well.  The stories are diverse in the best sense of the word, meaning that they are different from each other.  Some seem to lean progressive, some a little more conservative.  It’s quite clear that the attempt here wasn’t to line up a point of view but to select the best possible stories for publication.

Whether that is successful or not will depend on the taste of the reader.  Most likely, in an eclectic mix like this one, you’ll enjoy some more than others.  Most intriguing to me was “Therapy for a Vampire” by Margaret L. Carter (this one is a serial, so I don’t know if the ending is as good as the setup).  I also enjoyed “My Zombie Valentine” by Roxanne Dent and “Professor Zapfman’s Miraculous Galvanic Apparatus” by Bernie Mojzes.  Your mileage will vary depending on your tastes, of course.

So if you miss the old-school style of horror, this one just might be for you.  I encourage you to have a look.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose darker fantasy is collected in the ebook Pale Reflection.  You can check it out here.