What Tropes Are Selling In Spec Fic? What Is Tough To Sell?

10 01 2023

I have to be circumspect in this post, because I present information from a private online writers group. A writer in this group wondered what tropes sold well in today’s market. This writer is also a statistician. The writer polled dozens of published writers within this group. He asked which tropes sold easily to editors in this market. He ranked the responses. Here are the five highest selling and the six toughest selling tropes in spec-fic.

Toughest To Sell Ranked To Most Difficult:

6) Prominent Violence.

5) Prominent Sexual Content

4) Body Horror

3) Vampires

2) Werewolves

1) Furry

Now I was alarmed to see Body Horror on the list at all. But fourth from least popular isn’t so bad…right? Violence and Sex have their markets of course, just not as large a market as others. Some twenty years ago Vampires and Werewolves took up entire shelves in bookstores. Now, expectedly, editors are looking for new twists due to reader fatigue. As for Furry, author Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen is writing about his universe of anthropomorphic spacefarers. He tells me that while he did not write to the Furry audience, he finds them a small but enthusiastic fanbase.

Most Popular Ranked To…Most Popular

5) Time Travel

4) Robots With Feelings

3) Fairytales, Folklore, and Mythology

2) Prominent Humor

1) Ghost Stories

Well, this tracks, doesn’t it! How many anthologies have we seen featuring all of these tropes? How many novels have you seen with robots grappling with their burgeoning humanity? Notice that truly popular novel series seem to have all of these elements: Discworld and Hitchhikers Guide being two. What is it about these subjects that their appeal is so long-lasting?

While I may wish for the powers of a vampire or werewolf, they have pronounced drawbacks. And my upbringing was a bit prudish and meek, so violence and sex sets off my discomfort. Furry stories are fun but I’ve noticed I write about humans all the time and may have an unconscious bias against Furdom. Body Horror expresses my anxieties about mortality very well, so there lies my aesthetic.

The Most Popular tropes seem easily for people to take personally. Want to change something in your past? Are you a history buff? Travel in time! Feel awkward? So would a robot. Wanna just get away to simpler, artful places? Fairytales etc! I like ghost stories for the afterlife and the idea of getting away with just loafing about.

So yes, I am wondering about a time-traveling AI dealing with his banshee sidekick. Not really, but this information is intriguing.

Meanwhile, enjoy this hipster fish!





Stuck For An Idea? Don’t Stress About It…

26 12 2022

Since finishing the most recent novel, I’ve been waiting for my muse. I’ve been going to our old familiar places. Maintaining our usual appointments at Panara every day before my evening shift. Playing our favorite songs and watching our old favorite movies. Story anthologies lay in drifts around my living room. She ain’t showing up.

I think the expectation of the releases this year might be intimidating her a little. The progress I’ve made in counseling has soothed her ferocity. Getting older and watching friends and family pass has dismayed her.

There is no set plotline for one’s life. It is not going to All Work Out. There is no Resolution, no Affirmation, or Complete Understanding. So what does she do, and why?

In years past, I would have been distressed. I would have torn into my trunk stories to find the shining gold that had to — JUST HAD TO — be in them. Now, I realize that gold comes from being kind to myself.

At the moment, nothing is grabbing me. Writing prompts never worked well for me. Every short story I read seems disjointed or cliched or incomplete. These things have been the case for months, but with the novel to distract me, they hadn’t been a problem.

And it’s the holidays, of course. I’m building stronger definitions within my family and allowing people to be closer. I’m glad to have a new job that’s less boggling with better pay.

I’m easing up on myself and this is good all the way around. If she comes back, great! If not, I will manage. It won’t be an either-or proposition; my muse may feel differently next time with a healthier purpose.

Anyway, if you’re stuck, take a walk. Do something nice for yourself. Ask somebody how they are doing.

I've experienced two synchronicities and a life-altering experience in the past week.




If You Type “Horror Writing” Into YouTube…

15 12 2022

…you end up with a lot of advice. Who should you listen to?

Once I get over turning up my nose at writers I hadn’t heard of, I remind myself “YES.”

Listen to all of the advice. Apply what appeals. File away what doesn’t for sharing or for future use.

This writer gives useful advice not just for horror, but for all writing. It could be applied to humor or romance. Like “keep it medically accurate” could apply to pies in the face or to aroused body parts. Just saying.





Tim Waggoner Writes Monsters. Here’s How!

18 10 2022

Prolific and award-winning author Tim Waggoner tells how he creates new monsters.

If I may add, I would advise taking an unsettling, compelling image you find and trying to animate it. For example, think of a garland of bright red roses. How might that be made into a monster? What would it eat? Would it crawl like a snake? Writhe through the vacuum of space?





Synopsis of What I’ve Been Writing

22 09 2022

SYNOPSIS OF “THE FLESH SUTRA” AND “SAINTS OF FLESH” 

In 1890s Boston, the mystic ALECSI KERESH is visited by THOMAS SPALDING and his wife OLIVIA CORMIER SPALDING. Thomas suffers from a life-threatening brain tumor. Alecsi has helped others banish serious illnesses.  

Olivia learns Alecsi’s mysticism. Alecsi is impressed with Olivia’s great talent. They fall in love. Thomas catches the lovers and murders Alecsi.  

Now a spirit, Alecsi forces himself into Thomas’ tumor. Alecsi gestates and births himself from Thomas’ eye. Alecsi has violated his beliefs by murdering and creating himself as a creature outside of nature. Standing over the homunculus Alecsi, Olivia declares that she is ready to learn everything. 

Olivia conceals the murder by burning down the mansion. She is cut off from the Spaulding fortune. She and Alecsi flee to California. She meets with an old family friend MRS. CARUTHERS, who mourns her husband. Alecsi helps Olivia contact his spirit. Olivia gains entree into San Francisco society. 

A noted stage magician courts her. Jealous, Alecsi seals the magician’s soul into a maggot in his mother’s grave. 

Olivia starts a school of spiritualism. Mystics travel from all over the world to learn.  

The school is denounced by a local Christian firebrand. Alecsi provokes the firebrand’s own mystic abilities. Olivia crushes the firebrand’s soul under visions of her hypocrisy. 

Public opinion turns against the school. Olivia sponsors a local politician and teaches him how to seem a champion in everyone’s eyes. Alecsi grows jealous. Conflicting perceptions of the politician wrenches him apart during a speech. Olivia is now a social outcast. She and Alecsi reconcile. 

Olivia flings the school into San Francisco’s artistic community. Students say that they see visions of a man with a bleeding eye.  

Alecsi realizes that Thomas’ soul is still bound to them. As an abomination, Alecsi is outside of karma. As long as he exists, Thomas must haunt them. Thomas’ appearances grow more threatening. 

Alecsi dreams of a teacher in an Asian jungle. The man calls to Alecsi, saying he can help Alecsi grow beyond his stunted, cancerous physique. A talented student who can transport himself to whatever location is in his line of sight. The student discovers Alecsi’s existence. Alecsi resolves to travel to Asia with the student.  

At a salon, Mrs. Carruthers is shot by Thomas. Olivia’s oldest friend dies cursing Olivia. Olivia tells the police the student traveling with Alecsi is the murderer. The student and Alecsi go by ship to Asia. 

On the ship, Alecsi’s existence now bends the laws of nature. Ghosts torment the crew. The ship itself succumb to darkness. The student and Alecsi slip overboard and watch the ship sail into damnation. 

Olivia sees her abilities waning and that adds to her despair over Alecsi’s departure.  

Alecsi and the student find the teacher. Alecsi learns to compromise with his guilty conscious, allowing him to reshape his original body for hours at a time. Thomas appears and sends the student into space. Alecsi is captured.  

As Alecsi becomes more powerful, so does Thomas. Thomas brings Alecsi back to the now-corrupted school. Alecsi is kept in a basin of acid to keep him from growing. The now-malicious students bury Olivia alive, taunting her fear of death. 

Sensing Alecsi is near, Olivia overcomes her morbid terror. She projects her spirit in order to entrance her captors into disinterring her body. Olivia confronts her former students, who thanks to Thomas, can invoke horrors. Bloodied, she is victorious and saves Alecsi.   

The school lay abandoned. For as long as Alecsi lives, Thomas must remain. Olivia will never abandon Alexandri.  Olivia, Alecsi, and Thomas settle into a deathless detente, awaiting some new influence through the ages to break the impasse. 

At the start of “Saints of Flesh”, Olivia lives in the ruins of her school of spiritualism. She had mummified herself fifty years ago in the 1970s after her lover and guru Alecsi left her. She is haunted by the spirit of her husband THOMAS, who she and Alecsi murdered in the 1890s. Olivia wants Alecsi back and has been using her spiritualist abilities to find someone to help help her. GRETCHEN FIGGS responds to Olivia’s enticements. Gretchen has cancer, and she allows Olivia to possess her body to cure her disease. Now Olivia can use three keepsakes to locate Alecsi, and use Gretchen for any physical work.  

Gretchen’s possession is discovered by her friend DEVIN BAY, an occultist. Devin tries to provoke Olivia by performing a ceremony in her school, but is attacked by the unique toxic butterflies which brood at the school. 

Gretchen and Olivia discover that someone had stolen the keepsakes: a terrarium, artwork by Alecsi and Olivia, and a silver bowl.  

Olivia uses her tenuous psychic connection with the first keepsake to locate it with MARKO KRATOS. Markos uses the psychically charged terrarium to grow potent herbs. Marko had been using these herbs, as well as sending them to mysterious clients. Gretchen and Olivia discover Marko is guarded by a tupil, a psychically created creature. They defeat the tupil, resulting in Marko’s death. Olivia wonders, How did an herbalist know how to create a tupil? 

Olivia attempts to reduce Gretchen’s cancer but finds fighting the tumors an overwhelming task. She believes Alecsi will cure Gretchen when they find him. A still-living Devin Bay approaches Gretchen at the school. He is now possessed by Thomas, and they hint there is a vast power at work. They warn Olivia to cease her search. Gretchen realizes the butterflies have vanished, not only from the school, but from all record. What could twist reality enough to remove a sub-species? Olivia is dismayed, but persists in the search. 

Gretchen uses Marko’s electronic devices to uncover ELSIE MCDONOUGH, a psychic with a kitchy reputation. Elsie owns a museum of cursed objects. Gretchen and Olivia visit and discover the museum basement filled with items possessed by spirits who prophesize disasters. Olivia’s artwork cows the spirits into obedience. A spirit interferes, one looking like a much younger Olivia. In the fight for the artwork, Gretchen ignites a fire. The spirit withdraws. But Olivia and Gretchen accidentally kill Elsie. They escape the fire with the artwork. 

The spirits of the cursed items fled their incinerated objects and now possess Gretchen’s tumors. Olivia is distraught. How can she fight them? Who is this spirit, who Olivia calls the Imposter? How can she cure Gretchen?  

Worse, Thomas and Bay have returned. Thomas has gathered a demolition crew to level the school. Could Olivia exist without her school? 

Clues from a strange artwork created by Alecsi point to a village in a valley. Marko’s devices refer to an altruistic organization in a similar shaped valley. Olivia feels close to finding Alecsi. 

Gretchen and Olivia visit the campus. The campus is infused with the energy of the Imposter. A house in the mountains gleam with Alecsi’s aura. The members of the organization too are infused with the Imposter and Alecsi. They detain Gretchen in the house. Gretchen and Olivia discover that the Imposter herself is a tupil, one who was created by Alecsi himself. Alecsi stole the keepsakes to fuel this altruistic organization: Marko’s herbs were used to bolster Elsie and the organization’s abilities; Prophesies from the cursed items told where help was needed; The Imposter used the prophesies to guide the psychic energy. Alecsi provided the reality-ability energy by bathing in acid within Olivia’s silver bowl. His channeled agony powers the Imposter in twisting reality and thwarting the prophesies. 

Alecsi had been working with Thomas to dissuade Olivia from her quest. Olivia is devastated by Alecsi’s betrayal. Alecsi needs the prophetic spirits to continue his work. He needs the keepsakes at the school as well. The Imposter uses his energy to twist reality and capture Gretchen. 

Gretchen finds herself dismembered but still alive, a living shrine to the prophets. Gretchen provokes Olivia to action. Olivia realizes she too can control Alecsi’s wild energy. She brings Gretchen back to the School safe and whole. The demolition crew is readying their destruction. Olivia frightens them away. 

Betrayed, challenged, Olivia realizes she is more powerful than she has allowed herself to be. She realizes the Imposter’s weakness and defeats it. His creation defeated, Alecsi arrives at the school to get the keepsakes and the cursed spirits. Olivia twists reality to place the cursed spirits into Alecsi’s body.  

Thomas’ soul is released to reincarnate. Bay flees, terrified. 

Sometime later, Olivia restores her body. She and Gretchen entice a small-town tycoon to his doom. They provide a disturbingly organic jewelry to an aspiring businesswoman. Another chapter of Olivia’s life begins. 

END





A Horror Writing Idea Beyond My Reach

21 09 2022

Since I first read the article in 2017, I have been fascinated by YouTube marketing psychotic content to toddlers.

Did you read this article?

Something Is Wrong On The Internet by James Briddle

Or this more recent one from The Guardian?

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/sep/13/unboxing-bad-baby-evil-santa-youtube-swamped-creepy-kids-content

It talks about a bad thing brewing at Google. That bad thing would make a cool story idea.

It has body horror with the increasingly disturbing, dismembered videos. It has the occult via algorithms invoking a primal force. It creates a new mythos, one where Cognition is a destructive force.

I’ll explain how I see it. It is said that capitalism taps into the fundamental human drive toward survival (simplistic, but bear with me). It is said that babies see the world most clearly, without civilizing preconceptions. YouTube is letting these two primal qualities dialogue on a planet-wide scale with the merest filter of cartoons.

What zeitgeist will result? The adult world is already dealing with Identity becoming more fluid. Is some evolutionary force now easing us into swappable heads, swappable body parts, Frozen Elsa with chicken feet, Spiderman with a brain-belly? No matter the algorithm YouTube came up with, they had to fall back to creating “war rooms” to control increasingly disturbing videos.

One perspective would ask: is this content disturbed, or are we learning that post-humanism is a natural impulse? If there is an evolutionary goal, is our goal to surpass the flesh?

A spiritual perspective would remind that ads for “The Exorcist” often accompanied these videos.

My thoughts are half-baked. But there seems the germ of an idea that *by some design*, YouTube is invoking Something lurking beyond Consciousness. This Something is as eternal and fundamental as gravity, and it works to bring humanity back to a primordial precognizance. The results would look pretty damn cool. We would watch it for hours. Lose track of time. Forget to eat.

I want to make it a short story! Dangblastfurgozzlenamchazzlegumit!

Maybe from the perspective one of the content producers. They’d get a printout every morning from their computer, an AI which assembles a script based on scraping the most recent YT search algorithms. They would be puzzled, then amused, then be appalled at the script demands. But bills gotta be paid.

I'm noticing improvements. But there has been a physical cost.




Bastards Sell Better Than Villains and Anti-Heroes, and Here’s Why

2 09 2022

There are many articles about the differences between villains and anti-heroes.

Villains are morally worse than their circumstances. They have a few redeeming features, but their cruelties are not motivated by them. In AD&D Forgotten Realms, Zushaxx is a ruthless monster crime boss whose only love is his pet goldfish. While this adoration is comical, it does not define why the monster leads a gang of cut-throats. Zushaxx is a comic villain.

Hannibal Lector is refined, discerning, and formal; seemingly quite heroic. He does kill and eat people, sure, but he only does that to the rude and corrupt. We identify with disliking rude people, and we feel we are better than the corrupt. Because he directs his cruelties toward people who are villainous, this makes Hannibal an Anti-hero.

However! What if we were to see the effects of Hanibal’s cruelties? What if we were to read about the grieving, kindly mother of Frederick Chilton? What if we had two pages of Starling slipping in the gory leftovers of Benjamin Raspail? Could Hannibal still be “heroic”? Yes, as long as the social merit of that cruelty outweighed the amount of disgust. Chilton would have to be exposed as torturing his patients, or Raspail as a murderer. There is a reason Mason Berger had to be a child rapist. Anything less and we wouldn’t tolerate his spectacular disfigurement or his demise.

Is there a recurring character who is an Anti-hero? Highsmith’s character Tom Ripley reduces the stakes to fraud, theft, and an occasional murder, but his victims are always insipid, self-indulgent, or criminals themselves. Ripley would be a Bastard if he wasn’t so pro-active.

Fafherd and the Grey Mouser are Bastards. James Bond and Melissandra are Bastards. They obey questionable forces in hopes of creating a better world that never seems to arrive. They have no ideals beyond keeping the status quo in place while containing the damage. Between missions, they indulge in petty exploits of crime and flesh.

Again, do we see the casualties? The only damage ever presented is to the Bastard themselves. Bastards may be alcoholic. They may be lonely. Isolated and yearning for a dead love. But give them a dog or a best friend, a ship or a chosen family, and our sympathies are regained.

Name a series in any medium and it is led by a bastard. Nearly every character in popular culture called “a Hero” is actually short-sighted, reactive, and lacking an ethos. The most popular conflict nowadays seems to be the protagonist coming to terms with being a bastard. And why not? Maintaining the status quo keeps the series going.





OKAY, REVISIONS!

2 08 2022

I received critiques of the whole novel from Noble Fusion Eastern Court. I received critiques on the first few chapters from writers on the Online Writers Workshop, plus encouragement.

Writer and OWW organizer Judith Tarr wrote: “The bones of this chapter are solid. There are some vivid and memorable images, and the story moves rapidly forward. Olivia is a strong character; her motivations are clear. There’s no question about what she wants or how she intends to get it.”

Author Kate Tyte provided useful guidance: “I feel you could make some things clearer, simpler and more obvious. I was confused by the homunculous of Olivia’s lover, for example. You have good characters and conflict, but sometimes that gets a bit lost. Gretchen wants to be cured of cancer, and maybe to get back together with her boyfriend, and to get her life together. Olivia wants to find her lover, for magical purposes. The boyfriend wants to be famous. Can you focus on making those things the focus, and very clear, and not losing sight of them?”

I am incorporating these critiques into the chapters still to be posted on OWW. I’m sending updated drafts to my non-writer friends to get their advice.

Here are two AI renderings of key images in “Saints of Flesh”. The prompt on the second one was “cancer polyp jewelry”.

experimenting with chaos magic




Writers Groups Like My New Novel Darft (Draft)

12 07 2022

Yes it does say “darft”, I’m trying to generate some whimsy here.

Because things are going quite well. Everyone is following the sequence of events and understanding the cause/effect of the “magic system”. The darft tenses shift around and I have to fix that. The big reveal is shocking! The climactic resolution? It resolves five characters — five! — in one scene! And everyone is good with it! The characters are all likable and relatable!

The main characters are women. The women who are critiquing like the woman characters! I kept their motives as sex-free and guy-free as possible, and the critics really liked that.

What they seem to like: there is no villain, just people bumbling around making mistakes; the use of unusual settings like Ren Faires; taking risks with descriptions of emotions, getting as precise in their physical affects as possible; personal quirks that aren’t eccentric (showing reliable bias towards particular flavors, styles, tastes); keeping real-life branding and signifiers out of the story (I am reminded of a National Lampoon parody of Stephen King: “Pepsi!” he screamed in terror.)

This book is such a change from the previous book. “The Flesh Sutra” is a fix-up novel episodic, gothic, nudging on erotic (meter and rhyme accidental here, that was cheesy). “Saints of Flesh” is streamlined more like a novel with lots of ghastly stuff but literally no sex.

I’m still compiling reviews, but I dunno, maybe it’ll be off to agents/editors by the end of the summer?

I want to work on flash fiction for a while.





George Saunders “Thoughts On Endings”

7 07 2022

Ten thoughts on endings from George Saunders’s Substack. The last one is the best.








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