Christian Kadluba via Creative Commons

The viral marketing campaign rode waves of jesting, revolted incredulity. Marketing imagery was all spatters of ketchup like blood, bleeding burgers flanked by sinister utensils; fast food prepared by sadists. “The joke is,” said CEO Geoff Ferelis on an investor call, “what we really kill are expectations. The only thing leaving a Murder Burger restaurant dead… is hunger.”

The first in-store death attracted the inevitable attention of the smirking irony beat. That quarter, revenues blew away expectations: lines stretched out the door, people defying the urban legend. Groups of friends would dare each other to sit through a whole meal. They laughed on the way out at how silly they’d been, and remarked at how good the food was. Marketing ate it up.

The second death occurred just over a year later, statistically within the realm of coincidence. Numbers were down that quarter. Ferelis released a video on Facebook assuring customers their worry was unfounded, the restaurants were safe. People remarked, “There’s something strange about his eyes.”

By the time the government intervened, the “free switchblade promotion massacre” was a national tragedy. 62 deaths in 24 states. The blades were supposed to be plastic replicas. The rage remained unexplained.

Today we have a thematic Aspiring Voices as I chat with horror writer Sam Witt about making a real living as a working writer, genre writing, and a great dissection of the horror genre’s past, present, and future.

Haunted House
Barbara via Creative Commons

Paul: You were, at one point, a working writer, correct? What were you doing at the time and how was that different from what you’re trying to do now?

Sam: I was indeed a working writer in the early 90’s, primarily churning words in the adventure game industry for Dungeons & Dragons. I wrote a blog post about how that all fell apart, but one thing I didn’t mention was just how different that type of writing was from what I’m doing now.

Everything I produced back in the day was work-for-hire, which means that the millions of words I cranked out weren’t really mine. They belong to the publishers who hired them out, and while many of those words are still earning a decent sum for someone they aren’t providing me with any residual income.

The other downside to this otherwise high-paid work was its relative anonymity. Authors weren’t given front-page billing, but were consigned to the interior of the book. Work-for-hire publishers are interested in building loyalty to their brand, not yours, which gave them an incentive to obscure the work of authors.

By contrast, the writing I’m doing now is mine. The horror serial I’m writing over at Juke Pop Serials is helping me to drawn in new readers who are interested in what I have to say. My blog helps me to connect with other writers and build a stronger bond with fans interested in how and why I write. My forthcoming novels, Breaking Grace and Bad Education, will benefit from the groundwork I’m laying now and should provide me with a stream of cash for as long as folks keep buying them.

That’s the one thing writers need to be mindful of—if you don’t control the rights to your work, you don’t control the rights to your future. All you have are words, so make sure they belong to you and don’t get sold to someone else on the cheap.
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Sixteen eyes on wrinkled stalks wriggle in discordant unrest. Their cat-thin pupils dance restlessly, processing the bedroom’s dimensions like a wet utensil. The broad back slides over itself, glistening skin over moist carapace, punctuated by peaks of chitin rising like tempers out of reluctant boils. From the window burns the sterile yellow light of a distant streetlamp, casting a looming, twisted shadow over the bedsheets.

Green Eye Stalk
Brian Smith via Creative Commons

Jointed arms ratchet out of the flanks like myiasis, ropy strands of pale fluid sucking against the motion and squelching softly like squeezed custard. They reach for the tender young face like a caress. The lamprey mouth opens, round lips peeling back revealing concentric rows of barbed, inward facing teeth, the pale pink tissue between catching ambient light from beneath the door. A thin, hollow tongue snakes from the gaping maw and laps at the rubbery lips.

The maw curls into the beginnings of a snarl and then melts upward, a smile. “Good night,” crackles the low and atonal voice, a shopping cart wheel stuck on a stone. “Sleep tight my heart,” she whispers, leaning in close.

The young one fidgets under the blanket, restless, anticipating the kiss and the dreams.

Regular readers may remember this week’s Aspiring Voices spotlight writer from her excellent guest fiction post, The Gun’s Fear, earlier this month. I chatted with her about her past life as a dancer, the role of criticism in improving your skill, the nature of success and how one defines “making it” as an author. Plus, she teaches me about Kinetic Fiction.

John via Creative Commons

Paul: What was the first story you remember writing where you finished and thought, “Yeah, there’s something here”?

Alisia: The first story that really changed my view on writing was something I wrote in ninth grade. I had just finished reading On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony and was inspired to write my own short introduction to Thanatos. The piece was only about 500 words, but it was the first time I had finished a story with a sense of accomplishment. I had never had the urge to share any of my previous writings, but I was so proud of this piece that I mustered up the courage to post it on Fictionpress. I didn’t get many views on my story, but one person left me a very flattering comment. She told me my story was the best she’d ever read on the site and she urged me to write more. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word from a stranger for you to realize that not everything you write is complete garbage.

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Marek Pokorny via Creative Commons

I don’t mean to suggest that Dominic Delveccio was a remarkable person. His job required security clearance and he took pains to reveal this information to those he met, but the secrets he possessed were of little value. The near-hero he saw in the mirror scarcely resembled the sagging flop of nervous sweat and ill-timed anecdotes I knew.

The air conditioner was out the day he finally triumphed. It was a morning of damp armpits and crinkle-fans made from printer-paper. Everyone made the same joke about Indian summer. Dominic pried a yard of fabric from his generous backside and twirled a pen around his finger. The boss blamed Dom’s team as usual. Dominic’s jaw pulsed beneath a bread dough cheek. Boss got worked up, started in with the cussing and the personal insults.

That reliable gleam of hateful insolence tempered by resignation never left Dominic’s deep-set eyes as he fished in his pocket and pulled out his phone. The boss’ tirade trailed off as he stared at the number with a hint of recognition.

“What’s that?” he demanded.

Dom cracked his neck and said, “I called your mother. She’s been listening. She wants to talk.”

Blue Sky Moon Set
Anil Narisetti via Creative Commons

Gregory rolled through a cloud, swatting at his flaming pant leg, trying to put it out. Wreckage peppered the sky, bits of smoking debris leaving comet trails of tragedy for the mourning world to collect and debate over. His back was to the approaching Earth, and he didn’t care to see it looming ahead of him, the broken promise of solid ground.

Instead he stared at the sky, considering the white thumbprint of the moon in the blue expanse. Had it always been visible during the day, or was that a product of a gasping ozone layer, of a slow-roasting planet? Off to the side, he noticed a tumbling carton of cheese-flavored crackers. With a reach, he had them in his hand. Processed food, high in preservatives and reconstituted corn and corn byproducts. Once, this might have been the biggest threat to his longevity. He opened the box and chewed a handful. Free of guilt, they weren’t half bad. Making necessary exceptions for the inevitable forthcoming end to his flight, Gregory had to admit, this short interlude was one of the more pleasurable experiences of his predictable existence.

Nice scenery. Absolute comfort. Good food; and a lifetime supply.

Aspiring Voices is delighted to welcome Krista Quintana to the interview chair this week. I asked Krista about finding theme in her writing, dreams as story fodder, and the special role of color to her life and work.

Colorful shutters
slack12 via Creative Commons

Paul: So I noticed that color seems to play a big role in your site and in the way you organize information; even referring to your in-progress novels by a color coding. Has a colorful aesthetic always been something you’re drawn to or is this a newer development? Do you use color as a theme or motif within your writing or is it more of a trait external to the writing itself?

Krista: I think color has always been very integral in my life.  When I was younger (less so now), I classified memories and people by color.  And important memories are still to me, red, black, whatever emotions it evokes.  With people, as I got to know them, I began to think of them as a specific color.  It never really had any meaning, it just was what they ‘were.’  My mom used to be able to see people’s aura’s, and my dad had perfect pitch, assigning each note with a different color.  So I think I was really destined to think in colors.

I have used color quite often in writing, often without realizing it.  Probably the first novel that I wrote, I had a whole society separated in classes by what color they wore.  When I edit, I have to use a lot of colors, and I’ve color coded my editing as well.  Using a specific type of blue to focus on to be verbs, or a green to focus on dialogue.  By the end, my page is colored and crazy, but it makes sense to me.

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…He fell asleep in my arms.” She says this as if I’m supposed to know who she’s referring to. A lover? A child? A family member succumbing to a disease? This is the moment to ask questions. I only nod my head.

My brain doesn’t process faces correctly. The clinical term is prosopagnosia. I think about the phrase, “The last time I saw …” Every time I see anyone is the first time I meet them. People with distinctive voices become my best friends. I can pick them out of a crowd, as long as they’re talking.

Sonda doesn’t have a distinctive voice. I know it’s her because I recognize her car and she’s one of the few African-American women I know. But I suppose she could be someone I just met. Maybe everyone in the world is playing an elaborate prank, with different actors replacing each other every few days. Often enough to confuse me. “The last time I saw Winnie, I was played by a chubby Irish guy.” Sounds like a funny joke only I’m not laughing.

I never fall asleep in anyone’s arms. I don’t like waking up in stranger’s beds. Every time is the first.

Dragon and moon
Luis Alejandro Bernal via Creative Commons

Twice upon a time there lived a beautiful princess. As a baby she was stolen from her parents by a greedy dragon who hoarded treasures. The king and queen loved the princess so much, the dragon felt the young child must be the most precious treasure in all the land. So he locked her away in his cavern and she grew up playing in piles of gold, but lonely.

A brave knight set out to rescue the princess. He fought the dragon and though he was courageous, he could not withstand the might of the beast. He was near defeat and he called upon the pixie witch Kismeena to rescue him. Kismeena warned the knight that the price for her services would be steep. The knight did not heed the warning, so Kismeena granted him the strength to defeat the dragon.

The knight and the princess fell madly in love. But as they were married and began their life together, the princess didn’t age. The prince withered and their children grew old.

The princess stayed young. The princess stayed beautiful.

She outlived them all.

And once again she was lonely, without even the dragon to keep her company.


tk-link via Creative Commons

Shock Totem, a horror zine, held a flash fiction contest early last month. One thousand words based on a photograph of a rusting roller coaster in the mist. Each participant had one week to submit their story. Then all submissions were anonymized and posted for the participants to read, vote on, and provide some feedback. After a month, the votes were tallied and the feedback posted, along with the winners.

Now, I didn’t really get my hopes up too high. Several of the submissions were truly great, so I knew the competition would be rough. But after reading all 45 or so of the other entries, I felt my story had an original take on the prompt that maybe would set it apart from the others. When the results came back and I didn’t win, I wasn’t that surprised. I was happy to get a bunch of feedback on my writing, though. But then I looked at it.

And I got confused.

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