ZNB anthologies – an excellent opportunity for first publication

As regular readers will know, I’m a great fan of ZNB’s anthologies, both as a writer who regularly contributes and also as a reader. The themes are always intriguing, drawing out entertaining stories, while the rigorous editing ensures a high standard indeed.

Add to that, ZNB always hold open submission slots for debut writers. They hold these stories to the same high standard and that means this is a publishing credit well worth having. So I invited Joshua Palmatier to share a few thoughts for the benefit of those looking to place a story with one of this year’s proposed publications.

Zombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter started up on August 7th and, with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies.  The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter.  (Last year, PORTALS had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.)  I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme.  So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write.  A core concept.

As you can guess, that’s not enough.  We get a ton of stories submitted where, when I’ve finished reading the story (and I usually read all of the stories all of the way through, just in case), I end up saying, “OK, that was a cool concept, but there isn’t a story here.”  In essence, the author wrote out their idea, but they haven’t yet taken the time to develop a story around that idea.  And that’s key.  It’s extremely rare for ZNB to accept a submission based on idea alone.  This is why we rarely accept stories less than 2500 words or flash fiction–it’s not that the writing isn’t good, it’s that it’s difficult to get across a completely developed story in that short a timespan.  It’s possible (I think we’ve accepted one or two in our past anthologies), but it’s rare.

The biggest element missing from the “only an idea” story is a character arc.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s usually a character in the story, but the character is only there in service to the idea.  The story needs to be turned around.  The idea should be in service to the character, causing the character to change in some way throughout the course of the story.  That’s what’s typically missing in the stories that I read from the slush.  I want to be drawn into the characters and change along with them.  So the character needs to be interesting, sympathetic, and above all engaging.  

After capturing my attention, you need to hold it, so the pace needs to be fast.  Remember, this is a short story.  Each word needs to matter, so keep things tight and focused.  Don’t let yourself wander into subplots and secondary threads or secondary characters, as you would with a novel.  Keep yourself on track with the main idea.  You can always expand the story later on into something larger if you want, but for now, focus.  If you’ve already written the story, then during revisions you need to look at the main idea and cut everything else out.  Narrow the story down to whatever is needed for the idea and the character arc.  Everything else must go.  Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Along the way, make sure that the character arc you’ve developed actually relies on the story concept.  They can’t be two separate threads that you just happen to have woven into one story.  If you remove the cool idea from the story, does the character arc still hold up?  If the answer is yes, then you haven’t really found the story behind that idea.  The character arc should collapse when the cool idea is removed, making the story impossible.  The character’s change during the course of the story should come about BECAUSE of the cool concept.

So, when thinking about submitting a story to ZNB’s slush pile, start with a cool concept.  Build an engaging character arc around that concept.  Mesh the two together.  Tighten the prose.  Let it sit for a few weeks, then go through and tighten it again.  Because that’s what we’re looking for:  a tight, focused story where a cool concept and interesting character arc merge into a stunning work.
Now, take these words to heart, sit down, and write that story.  Good luck!


This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project! We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!


JOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics. He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC. His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves. He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project. You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com. Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.

New fiction, and a new look for some other books.

The latest anthologies from ZNB are now out, and my story The Echoes of a Shot can be found in Alternate Peace. These tales of alternate history look at what might have happened if something dramatic didn’t happen; a war, an assassination, a battle that we know was pivotal in our timeline. My starting point was thinking about the way that warfare accelerates technological change. What could it mean for politics on both sides of the Atlantic, if progress in key areas never happened in the second decade of the 20th century? The 1930s could look very different…

I hope you enjoy this story along with the others, and do take a look at this years other anthologies Portals and Temporally Deactivated.

In a new look for existing books, I am pleased to say the next six weeks will see ebook editions of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, and The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution coming out from Gollancz Gateway. I’m very much hoping these books will find a new audience, so spread the word!


Further forthcoming fiction news – Soot and Steel from Newcon Press

I’m very pleased to say that I will have a story in this anthology coming soon from Newcon Press. This is going to be a particularly interesting collection of original stories blended with reprints from classic writers whose names you may or may not recognise. We’re all exploring the dark corners and shadows of life in London from the Victorian era onward. In my case, I’m looking at the harsh lives of peripatetic governesses, and an unexpected opportunity for one unjustly dismissed young woman.

My story also proves the old maxim that no writing is ever wasted. I wrote it for a different project entirely which never came together, alas, quite a few years ago now. Editor Ian Whates remembered seeing it back then, and he realised how well it would suit this particular collection. I’m delighted to see it in print in such fine company.

The full table of contents –

  1. Introduction by Ian Whates
  2. Hunger – Bryony Pearce
  3. A Street – Arthur Morrison
  4. A Maze for the Minotaur – Reggie Oliver
  5. The Phantom Model (A Wapping Romance) – Hume Nisbet
  6. The Ghost of Cock Lane – Rose Biggin
  7. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Juliet E. McKenna
  8. Watercress Girl – Henry Mayhew
  9. Queen Rat – David Rix
  10. Christopherson – George Gissing
  11. From The Casebook of Master Wiggins, Esq. – Paul di Filippo
  12. Albert And The Engine Of Albion – Terry Grimwood
  13. In the Tube – E.F. Benson
  14. A Romance of the Piccadilly Tube – T.G. Jackson
  15. Blood and Bone – Susan Boulton
  16. Behind the Shade – Arthur Morrison
  17. Southall Tantra – Paul StJohn Mackintosh


A May update

A brief post to share a few things. Firstly, I will be a guest of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club on Tuesday 14th May, alongside Jen Williams and Stewart Hotson. We’ll be meeting upstairs at The Star of Kings (just north of King’s Cross) from 7pm. The event promises ‘a reading, some Q&A, a chat, a lemonade’, and the evening is open to all.

In writing news, The Green Man’s Foe is well on its way to a final text, with thanks to Editor Toby. The cover art is really coming together, thanks to Artist Ben. As soon as we have a definite publication date, and information on how to pre-order from Wizard’s Tower Press , I’ll post all the details.

Meantime, I’ll be posting weekly snippets as part of the Book Quote Wednesday hashtag #bookqw on Twitter and Facebook. It’s a fun bit of promo run by Mindy Klasky and taken up by an eclectic range of authors – if you do Twitter and/or Facebook. Obviously not everyone does, so I’ll cross-post here.

This week’s word is ‘friend’, so here’s a taste, just to whet your appetite…

‘Daniel, good to see you.’

‘Ben.’ I offered him my hand and we shook, by way of a greeting somewhere between friends and business acquaintances. ‘What brings you here?’

Benjamin Beauchene – pronounced ‘Beechen’ – is an architect who lives in London, even if Blithehurst Manor is his ancestral family home, and he has shares in the trust that now preserves the property for future generations. Not that the dryads were convinced that the humans who couldn’t see them could be trusted to look after their domain.

‘I’m looking for a favour,’ he said with a frank grin. ‘Shall we head up to the restaurant for a coffee?’ He gestured towards the repurposed stable buildings that stood at the top of the shallow slope by the main road.

I checked my watch. It wasn’t even nine in the morning. I wondered what this favour might be, to get him here so early.

In other news, we can now share the cover art for the anthology Alternate Peace, and Justin Adams of Varia Studios is the artist. This is coming soon from ZNB, and my story’s set in 1939, twenty-five years after a very different outcome to a tragedy in Sarajevo…

A brief eligibility post and/or ideas for seasonal gifts/purchases

Since this now seems to be a thing to do, and if you’re pondering award nominations, here’s my roster of 2018 publications, for your consideration.

Or if that’s not something you do, you might like some book-buying ideas for yourself or others.

First and foremost, The Green Man’s Heir is my first contemporary fantasy novel that’s proved very popular, to my delight alongside that of Cheryl Morgan of Wizard’s Tower Press, Toby Selwyn as invaluable, eagle-eyed editor, and Ben Baldwin whose artwork is award-worthy in its own right.

In short fiction, I contributed to Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar, from ZNB LLC. I had great fun writing ‘Wanderlust’, which is one of my occasional forays into SF territory, as it’s set on Mars a few hundred years from now.

Most recently, I wrote ‘The Unforeseen Path’, for The Scent of Tears (Tales of the Apt), published by Newcon Press, and the fourth in their novella series continuing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s stories set in the realms of the Apt. I was very honoured to be invited to write a short story set in this fascinating world of his creation, and decided to look more closely at the Ant-kinden. Telepathy in SF&F has always fascinated me, as it’s very much a two-edged sword, especially when Wasp-kinden attack…

Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar – release moved up to June 15th

All fans of ZNB’s fabulous anthologies will be thrilled to learn that this year’s three wonderful projects will now be released on June 15th rather than August as originally scheduled 🙂

For those of you in the US, this means copies will be for sale at the various summer conventions where ZNB are in the Dealers Room (or equivalent), so do check in with them on social media, to find out where they’ll be.

Kickstarter supporters will receive their copies in customary fashion, and everyone else can pre-order the ebooks online, and the trade paperback via ZNB’s online store.

Wondering what on earth I’m on about? Here’s what’s on offer for your reading pleasure –


Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar:

For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighborhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny.

Join R.K. Nickel, Rachel Atwood, Kari Sperring, Jean Marie Ward, Gini Koch, Jacey Bedford, William Leisner, Garth Nix, Diana Pharaoh Francis, David Keener, Mike Marcus, Kristine Smith, Aaron M. Roth, and Juliet E. McKenna as they recount all new tales from the Ur-Bar. From humor to horror, from the Roman Empire to Martian Colonies, there’s something to please everyone. Just remember to beware when the mysterious bartender offers you the house special …

Preorder SECOND ROUND here:
Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

The Razor’s Edge:

One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter…

From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to The Hunger Games, everyone enjoys a good rebellion. There is something compelling about a group (or individual) who throws caution to the wind and rises up in armed defiance against oppression, tyranny, religion, the government—you name it. No matter the cause, or how small the chance, it’s the courage to fight against overwhelming odds that grabs our hearts and has us pumping our fists in the air.

Win or lose, it’s the righteous struggle we cherish, and those who take up arms for a cause must walk The Razor’s Edge between liberator and extremist. With stories by Blake Jessop, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Gerald Brandt, Sharon P. Goza, Walter H. Hunt, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Kay Kenyon, Steve Perry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Allenby, Chris Kennedy, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Alex Gideon, Brian Hugenbruch, and Y.M. Pang.

Preorder THE RAZOR’S EDGE here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Guilds & Glaives

Stop right there!

If you like your fantasy filled with fellowships and noble quests, this anthology is not for you. And if you love lengthy tales of politics and power, then it won’t be to your taste either. But if you like a little intimacy with your evil, and your vengeance short and sweet, with perhaps a pinch of silliness in the witchcraft, then these fourteen delicious sweetmeats of sword and sorcery will prove right up your alley. And it will be a dank, twisting, fetid alley, too.

In this book you will find no high elves (only low), no politics (unless assassination is involved), and certainly no nobility. Join Lawrence Harding, Howard Andrew Jones, Esther Friesner, Jenna Rhodes, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Leah Webber, David Farland, R.K. Nickel, Ashley McConnell, D.B. Jackson, James Enge, Jason Palmatier, and Amelia Sirina as they explore the perilous streets and clashing blades found in GUILDS & GLAIVES.

Preorder GUILDS & GLAIVES here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Second Round: A return to the Ur-Bar.

This August/September will see SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR, one of three new anthologies from Zombies Need Brains. As with all ZNB’s anthologies, you’ll find stories by established and best-selling authors alongside new authors who’ve impressed ZNB’s eagle-eyed editors.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Ur-Bar, it’s a time-traveling hostelry where patrons are served by Gilgamesh. The Assyrians invented beer, after all…

(If you’re already intrigued, you can read the first anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, available from DAW Books in mass market paperback and ebook – Amazon US Amazon UK)

The stories in this new collection are –

“Honorbound” by Russ Nickel

“Forest Law, Wild and True” by Phyllis Irene Radford

“The Wizard King” by Kari Sperring

“A Favor for Lord Bai” by Jean Marie Ward

“A Lawman, an Outlaw, and a Gambler Walk Into a Bar …” by Gini Koch (writing as A.E. Stanton)

“Make Me Immortal With a Kiss” by Jacey Bedford

“Bound By Mortal Chains No More” by William Leisner

“Welcome to the Jungle Bar” by Garth Nix

“But If You Try Sometimes” by Diana Pharaoh Francis

“The Whispering Voice” by David Keener

“Ale for Humanity” by Mike Marcus

“West Side Ghost Story” by Kristine Smith

“Thievery Bar None” by Aaron M. Roth

“Wanderlust” by Juliet E McKenna (…in which we go to Mars…)

Personally, I can’t wait 🙂 If you want to guarantee you’ll be reading these stories as soon as possible, remember this anthology and the year’s two other projects can be ordered direct in advance from ZNB.

Meantime, we can enjoy the fabulous cover art by Justin Adams of Varia Studios.

Why I want to write about someone on Mars in ZNB’s next anthology

As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.

That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!

So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.

So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.

If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?

New for you to read, new for me to write – anthologies from ZNB

The mass market edition of The Death of All Things is now available, and as those who backed last year’s Kickstarter can attest, having already had their copies, it’s an anthology full of excellent stories.

So do take a look over at your preferred e-retailer, whether that’s Amazon UK or somewhere else, for tales taking on the Grim Reaper with explorations of the mythical, fantastical, and futuristic bonds between life and death. Learn the cost of mortality, the perils—and joys—of the afterlife, and the potential pitfalls of immortality …

The authors are – K. M. Laney, Andrea Mullen, Faith Hunter, Kendra Leigh Speedling, Jason M. Hough, Julie Pitzel, Shaun Avery, Christie Golden, Leah Cutter, Aliette de Bodard, Andrew Dunlop, Juliet E. McKenna, A. Merc Rustad, Ville Meriläinen, Amanda Kespohl, Mack Moyer, Fran Wilde, Kathryn McBride, Andrija Popovic, Jim C. Hines, Stephen Blackmoore, and Kiya Nicoll.

Are some of those names unfamiliar? They surely will be, because one of the many good things about these anthologies from ZNB is the editorial team’s dedication to including new voices by offering slots to unpublished writers, via an open call for submissions once the Kickstarter funding is secured. If you’re an aspiring writer, do keep your eyes open for the submission guidelines for this year’s new projects, and take note that ZNB is now a qualifying market for SFWA membership requirements. Meantime, Joshua Palmatier has written this in-depth post for File 770 on what he looks for through the selection process.

This dedication to new voices is just one reason why I and other writers keep coming back to be part of ZNB projects. Others include (but are not limited to) their high standards in editorial feedback and book production, and being paid a professional rate. ZNB may be a small press but they’re thoroughly professional when it comes to creating books worth having for the reader, and worth doing for the writer, whether you’re not yet published, just starting out, or an established author.

While you’re browsing, take a look at the other ZNB anthologies out this month. All Hail Our Robot Conquerors harks back to SF of the 1950s and 60s and the era of evil robot overlords, invading cyber armies, and not-quite-trustworthy mechanical companions. Submerged turns its back on deep space to stare into deep water. Do dark monsters swim unseen beneath the waves? What ancient wonders lie hidden, waiting to be discovered? What sirens call …?

I mentioned this year’s new projects earlier. Here’s the Kickstarter page with all the information you’ll be looking for.

I’m signed up for SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR, alongside Jacey Bedford, C.E. Murphy, Kari Sperring, Kristine Smith and Gini Koch. This is going to be great fun, since the 2011 publication by DAW Books of AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, was the very first anthology edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier. That’s what started them down the road which eventually led to the formation of the small press Zombies Need Brains. So I’m looking forward to returning to that legendary time-travelling bar with all-new stories set throughout the ages. Let me repeat that – “all new” means none of us are returning to the era we visited before, as the immortal bartender Gilgamesh serves up drinks mixed with magic and a dash of intrigue.

What will I be writing? Well, provided this year’s Kickstarter gets funded, I can tell you this much. It’ll be a SF story set on Mars a couple of centuries from now. Writing SF for the Eve of War anthology, and for Novacon, last year seems to have whetted my appetite…

This also gives me the opportunity to offer up a Tuckerisation as a reward at the $250 pledge level. Fancy seeing your name – or someone else’s – in print as a character in my story? I’m also offering a signed set of the Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy as one of the $90 pledges. There are a whole lot of other incentives and add-ons, so do check them out!

She-Who-Thinks-For-Herself. A story free to read for International Women’s Day

Resurrection Engines - a steampunk anthology with a twist

First published in Resurrection Engines, an anthology of Scientific Romance published by Snowbooks, and edited by Scott Harrison.

We were invited to write a steampunk take on a classic of Victorian/Edwardian literature. I decided it was time for a Suffragette take on H. Rider Haggard.

An audio version is also available here via Far Fetched Fables, at District of Wonders

A Tale of Modern Women in the Dark Continent

My beloved aunt, Phyllis Charteris, has received none of the plaudits lavished on the laurel-garlanded heroes who explore the remote heart of Africa. The Royal Geographic Society might deign to acknowledge Mary Kingsley after the success of her publication, ‘Travels in West Africa’ but there is not one quarter-inch of a newspaper column recording my aunt’s achievements.

Such injustice has galled me ever since my return from the trackless swamps of the upper Zambesi. However I was sworn to secrecy for reasons which this narrative will soon explain.

Now Mr H Rider Haggard has published the reminiscences of his Cambridge acquaintance sheltering beneath the pseudonym “Horace Holly”. Consequently I am free to share my aunt’s achievements with the world.

But I am outstripping my story’s proper order. Our family’s ties with the Cape Colony were first established by my grandfather’s brothers, both mining engineers. When my brother Eustace took up a position with Lloyds Bank in Cape Town, I had recently concluded my studies at Somerville Hall in Oxford. I decided to go with him as his housekeeper but in hopes that this outpost of Empire might offer more opportunities for educated women than dismissing us as mere blue-stockings.

I had no notion of how wondrously my hopes would be fulfilled.

Naturally I was mindful of following in Aunt Phyllis’s footsteps. She had travelled out to marry a dear friend of one of her cousins, met when both young men returned home for their university education. Alas, her fiancé succumbed to malaria while she was on board ship. Declining to return to England, she joined her uncle’s household as governess to his younger children.

Family lore relates that Phyllis found herself ill-suited to such domesticity. When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were discovered, she insisted on inspecting these wondrous remnants of lost civilisation for herself.

That was the last heard of her for over two decades. Now I am able to take up her story and a marvellous tale it is.

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