This is not an article about American Sniper (via Literati Press)

I haven’t seen America’s latest patriotic Rorschach test. However, its success has helped bring attention to a Hollywood organization comprised of veterans and industry insiders called Got Your 6. Got Your 6’s aim is to certify (a nebulous, Orwellian term if my cynical eyes ever saw one) films about veterans as authentic. They want to discourage stereotypes—especially that of the broken, embittered, trauma-ridden veteran—and encourage more positive, “realistic” portrayals of our warriors.

Even the First Lady put her support behind the organization—a move that is sure to be less controversial than, say, encouraging children to eat more vegetables.

Read the rest of the article here.

What is High Strange?

What is High Strange?

Well, for starters, it’s the theme of our next anthology, High Strange Horror. It will feature several very talented writers, including Matthew M. Bartlett, Mer Whinery, Charles Martin, Matthew D. Jordan, Doctor Gaines, and more.

It’s a horror anthology. But what kind of horror anthology, exactly? If you spend any amount of time lurking on sites like DarkMarkets.com, you’ll see a new call for submissions every day or so. Typically, some small start-up press (like us!) will be looking for gimmicky stories (“your story MUST contain mutant beaver cyborgs”) or something to do with zombies.

Zombies. Always zombies. Because creativity is dead.

Or, as in the case of Spooklights, the submission guidelines are vague. A story that falls within the realm of “horror” can be anything. So if High Strange Horror isn’t a collection of conventional horror stories—what is it?

There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t take a strong interest in the paranormal, the occult, the spiritual, the spooky. I may have taken certain subjects less seriously from time to time, but I’ve always been fascinated by strange and bizarre events (“Fortean” events, named after the great alternative philosopher Charles Fort) that are purportedly true. Yes, hoaxes are legion—doctored evidence has only increased with the advent of consumer-level digital photo manipulation tools. That there are pranksters and charlatans out there selling their stories of strange happenings doesn’t disprove all strange happenings. Our oldest and most enduring stories—from dead mythologies to living religious traditions—are often accounts of the bizarre and supernatural. As a Christian, I take the Bible to be a true account of many, many supernatural events. Yahweh Himself is a trickster, confounding the plans of man and spirit-being alike, knocking down towers, raising the dead, and subverting social paradigms. Go read the book of Ezekiel for some really spooky stuff.

Someone you know has probably had a spooky encounter—most likely a ghost experience, or maybe a UFO sighting. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ve had a profound, frightening experience, and they don’t like to talk about it.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? You can dismiss the Ancient Aliens nonsense, scoff at the Ghosthunters, and see the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult for the cranks they were. But that can’t account for the fact that someone you know or trust has probably had an experience they can’t explain.

According to a National Geographic survey from 2012, about 36% of Americans believe in UFOs as inexplicable phenomena. Thats almost 80 million people, give or take. Other surveys put that number even higher. While the popularity of shows like The X-Files and alien abduction films are no doubt contributors to this upswing in the zeitgeist, some of this trend may be due to personal experience, open-mindedness, or the proliferation of baffling accounts in the media. The events in Stevensville Texas in 2008 and at Chicago O’Hare airport in 2006 were major media news stories that attracted the attention of the nation, and, despite the guffawing of mainstream media talking heads and tongue-in-cheek reporting, they defy conventional explanation.

High strange events are not limited to UFO sightings. Almost every region of the United States has its own local legend or monster—Champy in Lake Champlain, the Mothman of West Virginia, Bigfoot in all sorts of places—and, in many cases, these sightings go well beyond implying that there are unidentified animals running around in the hills.

No, not only do Bigfoot sightings happen—but sometimes Bigfoot gets into or out of a UFO. The Mothman flies around your house, and the men in black show up at your place of work. Police chase a hairy half-man across a neighborhood until he leaps over a house. A goblin-like creature warns children away from certain parts of the forest.

High strange is the inexplicable, the nonsensical, the trickster element in the weird and wild. Things just don’t add up, and people are left in the dark with their fears intensified and their worldviews shattered. This, then, is our modern mythology: the fears of the past re-cast as technological angels and demons, the human mind conjuring (or being made to conjure!) dark creatures and psychic phenomena. High strange isn’t just the UFO sighting—it’s the life changing results of seeing and experiencing something that defies any sort of rational understanding of the universe.

High strange is the crumbling of your worldview when you happen to see the small gray men in silver suits running through the moon-lit field. High strange is the fear of the gargoyle creature appearing beside your bed before vanishing in a flurry of your prayers. High strange is the rain of frogs on your wedding day. High strange is the men in Army uniforms with dead eyes that appear at the edge of your campsite, beckoning you to carry a new and terrible message to humanity.

High Strange Horror releases early April, 2015. We hope you’ll join us as we take part in some modern myth-making, and delve into greater and greater depths of fear, paranoia, and the utterly unknowable.

Or, as Charles Fort might put it – we examine the facts of the damned.

Facing the Terrifying (un)Reality of Writer’s Block

The inability to put words to page – whether through pen and paper, a word processor, or, if you’re a weirdo iconoclast like Doctor Gaines, a typewriter – is an existential crisis of the first order. If you’re a writer, you write. It’s self-evident. It’s what you do. In many cases, it helps define you in a professional, artistic, or even personal sense. It’s a sacred act. Literally. God’s a writer, after a fashion. He created the world with words.

So what is a writer – maybe someone like you – to do when afflicted with the dreaded disease of writer’s block?

To be frank, writer’s block isn’t a problem.

Writer’s block doesn’t even exist.

You can hide behind the excuses of schedule, work, family commitments, gruesome industrial accidents – but when it comes right down to it, nothing is restricting your ability to write.

Motivation is another animal altogether. Sure, you can wait until the muse strikes. You can also wait until the muse strikes before you go back to work. That’s how you go to your job, right? When you feel like it? When you feel inspired to sell grease-slimed hot dogs and chicken fingers to sticky-fingered children at the Big Box Store food café? If you didn’t feel inspired, you wouldn’t show up, obviously.

I’m being glib, but the analogy stands. Writing is fun and personally fulfilling – at times. But mostly it’s work. Hard work. Hard work that requires time, energy, and patience. Human beings are naturally lazy animals – the invention of the television remote is evidence of that – and it takes a lot of motivation to get our butts out of the warm cave to go slay a wooly mammoth. But if your drive to write is akin to hunger, you’ll do just that. If you don’t show up to work, you don’t get paid. If you don’t go out to hunt the big hairy elephant tusk-monster, you don’t eat. If you don’t sit down to write, you’ll never get the euphoria that comes with knowing someone read your work and liked it.

Don’t have the time to write, you say? Sure, neither do I. As a writer, I also don’t have the time to sit on my hairy butt and watch Netflix for 20 minutes every night. And yet, one of these two things will happen, no matter how busy I am. You always have time to write. You might be tired. You might be covered in industrial sludge. You might be recovering from animal wounds. But you have time – five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes – to write something.  A few sentences. A couple of paragraphs. A couple of pages. It doesn’t matter how much you write at one time, it matters that you write the same amount (or more) consistently.

Now that we’ve poked some holes in your excuses, let’s examine the real culprit behind your self-imposed self-pity.

Self-doubt. It is your greatest adversary – but also your greatest ally.

Every writer worth his or her salt steps back and, taking in the breadth of his or her work – a single story, a long-form project, a career – wonders: Is this all crap?

That questioning can be very, very empowering. It moves you to strive for perfection, to hold your work to high standards, to be humble, to appreciate the successes that come. But it can also be restrictive – driving you to stare at a half-finished story, an aborted novel outline, a collection of swears written in ALL CAPS filling up your alcohol-fueled Twitter or Facebook timeline.

I’m an artist! you scream at an uncaring, gibbous moon. What I’m writing isn’t art! It sucks! I’m paralyzed!

Believe it or not, you’re on the right track. You just gotta get that train moving again.

Recognizing that your current project (or all of your ideas) sucks is the first step toward liberation from your self-imposed literary exile.

If you’re writing crap, keep writing crap. Embrace your crap.

No, seriously. Keep churning it out. Muddle through, and figure out how to fix it later. Editing and perfection are not your concern when you’re writing. Editing should be a separate process that comes later. Otherwise you keep re-writing the same paragraph, over and over again, until the words have lost all meaning and you start to fail all your sanity checks.

Can’t figure out that turn of phrase, that plot point, that character arc? Write a bunch of poopywork, add a big fat sticky note that says FIX THIS GARBAGE LATER and keep on moving. You’ll get into a rhythm, your writing will improve, and, most likely, when you return to those troublesome passages, chapters, or first half of your opus DOCTOR ACULA’S HOUSE OF BLOODY TERROR, those writer brain-gears will start turning again. Don’t stress on getting it right the first time. You rarely will.

Still not working for you? Out of ideas? Copy someone else’s style.

Hunter S. Thompson claimed to have re-typed, word for word, The Great Gatsby. He said it gave his mind and body a sense of the flow of words – a way to channel and understand Fitzgerald’s greatness. Now, I’m not suggesting you do something that extreme. Perhaps, however, you could simply write a pastiche – a tribute piece – to a particular author or style. Ever read someone’s prose and then find your own writing influenced by it? Embrace that. Put yourself in the chair of a great writer. Write a story they would write, as cheesy and derivative as it may be. You may not want to show anyone the work, but it’ll get your brain cells dancing.

I better slow down before this rant turns into a book. The last thing this world needs is another book about writing written by someone who doesn’t know a lot about writing. But I do know this:

Writer’s block isn’t real. Your excuses aren’t sufficient. Sometimes you’ll produce nothing but crap.

And your self-doubt is never going away. If you want to be a good writer, you’ll deal with it. You’ll embrace it.

Now go get sober for a couple of days, sit down in that writing spot of yours, pour a gallon of coffee, and put some words to the page. And stop telling people that you’re a writer.

Go be a writer. And don’t ever tell me you have writer’s block. I’ll start ranting at you, and make you re-type The Great Gatsby.

What It Means When We Say “No.”

There’s a term for incoming submissions at a publishing house – the slush pile.

This is not a term of endearment. “Slush” conjures up images of dirty snow or water, runoff that gets in your way and can send you spinning out of control.

Muzzleland Press is, make no mistake, an independent operation. It basically consists of three of us – one senior editor and two other editors – who have to sort through a barrage of novel, novella, and short story submissions. Most of what we get is not very interesting, or not very good. That’s just the plain, simple truth.

Sometimes, when we refuse a submission (I don’t write form letters – I actually read everything that comes in), I give some feedback. Typically, I don’t get past the pitch letter – if there’s even a pitch letter in the body of the email. Sometimes, we just get attachments, or blank emails.

A good pitch letter should adhere to our submission guidelines, or at the very least, have a modicum of form, presentation, and professionalism. I’ve gotten some nasty responses from people when I told them why I didn’t read their submission – for reasons like using emoticons, not following our guidelines, or being generally obtuse or unpleasant – and such responses confirm my decision not to go into business with them.

Make no mistake – indie or no, we are a business, and we want to have good business and professional relationships with our writers. Your pitch letter is a good indication of how you view yourself as a professional, and how you view us.

Most submissions are impersonal. I can usually tell when they just copy and pasted our name into the “to” space on their email form. Customizing a new letter for us is not necessary, but a line or two about our site or our work goes a long way with us. Show us that you know who we are, and that you didn’t just skim Dark Markets and spam a ton of letters out.

If we do get past the pitch letter, we read the synopsis, then examine the writing. We might reject your work for errors in both, unpolished work, or for a disinterest in either subject matter or writing style.

Do not take this personally. I’ve had a few good submissions come in recently, and I had to say “No” because the concept just didn’t really grab my attention. If I wouldn’t pick up your book at a store or online, I’m certainly not going to spend my own personal money (I’m in education and publishing, and fund this press out of my own pocket – that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room!) to develop, publish, market, and sell your work.

So how do you get published here? The same way you get published anywhere: a combination of professionalism, interesting subject matter, and talent. This is subjective – but we can’t afford to not be picky. If you are professional, your work is interesting, and your writing polished, you will find success with your work.

It’s just that simple. You may not end up at an outfit like ours – we have to be picky and particular – but we’ll at least tell you why.

So get out there, get writing, and most importantly – respect both yourself and your target markets as professionals.