I tracked Geoffrey down, strapped him to a chair, turned off the lights and asked him a few questions about horror as a genre, and the current state of the publishing world. Take a gander. (Just ignore the screams).
1. “Publishing is dead!” “People don’t read books anymore, much less magazines!” Are the people saying this wrong, and why / why not?
They’re absolutely wrong. I do think publishing had a bit of a lull for a while, especially magazines and journals, because we suddenly had this–some would call it–amazing technological revolution with smartphones and tablets. Suddenly everyone was carrying the internet around with them; they had instant access to games and movies and television, and they forgot for a little while what it was like to carry a book. Luckily, digital publishers got wise, and started putting all the books and magazines on the internet.
Honestly, I don’t believe print publishing will ever die. There’s nothing more satisfying than cracking open a new book, or flipping through a magazine. Yeah, tablets and smartphones are fun, but books and magazines are just magical, and I think all of the people in the world who still love actual books are just a lot quieter than the technology people. The book people aren’t screaming into their iPhone at the mall; the book people are sitting quietly, reading their books.
2. You are now managing editor of eHorror. What are the three main reasons stories sent to eHorror get rejected?
First reason: guidelines violations. Second reason: guidelines violations. Third reason… okay, you get the idea. I’m only half joking.
The first and most prominent reason IS violating guidelines. If a story’s word count is higher than our maximum, and the writer hasn’t sent a query letter beforehand, I’ll reject the story immediately. Guidelines are there for a reason: many magazines get dozens upon dozens of submissions every month, some get hundreds and hundreds, and guidelines are in place to keep some semblance of order in the selection process and the publication itself. Proper format makes the reading process easier; it’s why we have formatting to begin with. A story with no indents is just a big block of words, and it’s like reading the dictionary.
The second reason is, of course, just not very good writing. You can tell the difference between a writer who has been practicing his or her craft for years, maybe for a lifetime, and one who just decided writing might be an easy way to make a quick buck or get famous. The not-very-good writing is full of cliches and adverbs and stilted dialogue. Not-very-good writing can have a decent story behind it, but the author hasn’t quite learned to tell it yet. Here’s my own little secret–and maybe among writers it’s not really a secret–but I can tell from the very first line whether or not the story is going to be any good. I always read more than the first line, of course, but the first line always sets the tone of the story.
The third reason a story gets rejected: it’s just not the right story at that time. It might be a good story; hell, it might be a GREAT story, but maybe it just doesn’t fit in that month’s issue. Maybe it’s not quite for us. This might come as a shock–or maybe it won’t–but I don’t just reject bad stories. I reject good stories, too. That’s writing. That’s why publishing is so hard.
3. What are the best ways to grab an editors attention?
Follow submissions guidelines to the letter, make your cover letter short and sweet, and make sure your story is formatted properly. When editors are being editors, they’re orderly by nature. In real life, I’m mayhem; as a writer, I’m chaos. But when I’m doing the job of the editor, I like order, and I want everyone and everything around me to be orderly.
Right from the start, I love a cover letter that’s simple: “Dear Editor, please accept my short story, ‘Baby-Faced Kittens,’ for consideration in your publication. Sincerely, Writer.” I don’t need to know how much time you spent in the jungles of Guatemala. When I see an overly composed cover letter, I tend to think the story might not be very interesting, and I’m usually right.
Otherwise, I go back to order. Be orderly in your presentation, then punch me in the face with your story, and my attention is all yours.
4. What are your personal favorite short stories / short story collections?
I love all kinds of short stories by all kinds of writers, although stories by Stephen King are my personal favorites. The stories and collections that are really turning me on right now, however, are the small presses and small digital publishers, and not just because I work in that industry. I love the publications that are actively searching for new writers, because there is a wealth of undiscovered, fantastic talent in the world right now, keeping short stories alive. Enterprising new electronic publishers are looking for new writers to publish, and as a result, we have access to some amazing writing. Electronic magazines like eFiction and eHorror are giving opportunities to writers who aren’t ‘working’ writers yet, writers like me–I work in a warehouse during the day. And now we’re getting some awesome collections of stories because of it and discovering new talent on an almost daily basis.
5. What is it that attracts you to horror as a genre?
Fear. There’s no bigger rush than fear, and fear is the very foundation of horror as a genre. Some people prefer jumping off cliffs. I prefer wondering what the hell might be prowling the darkness outside my window right now. If I wait and watch, what face will appear behind the glass, and what does it want to do to me? Why does the guy next door look so tired all the time, and what’s he carrying in the canvas bag? What’s dripping out of the bottom of it? Why is he looking at me like that? What was that noise?
The answers to all of those questions, and a million others, are what attract me to horror.
6. In addition to editing eHorror, you are a writer yourself, right? Who are your favorite authors and which ones have influenced you the most. What book/books do you think deserve more attention?
I certainly am a writer, and I have to say Stephen King is my favorite author. I actually have many authors that I love, but I have to use Stephen King for this answer because he was the author that inspired me to be a writer, without question. The paperback copy of “It” that I read when I was 12 or 13 is still in very safe keeping somewhere dear to my heart. I don’t necessarily try to be like King when I write because I want to have my own voice as a writer, but he’s the writer that gave me so many of the tools that I use now.
The books in general that I think deserve more attention now–and they’re finally starting to get it–are the small press horror books. There have been some incredible gems of horror writing floating around in the small presses for years, too many to even list. It’s easy to pick up a good-looking, mass-market paperback in the bookstore from a well-known author. I takes a little more work to go to the small presses and shop for a story you want to read, but more people should be doing it. Small presses, both print and electronic, are harboring some authors right now who deserve to be household names, and no doubt will be someday.
7. Dan Simmons claims that to become a good writer, one must read only the very best literature has to offer. Stephen King says that one must read everything one can, including thrillers and trash. Which do you agree with: Simmons, or King, and why?
I agree with King on this one, and not because I’m biased as my previous answer might lead you to believe. Yes, you have to read the best literature has to offer because those are the stories that contain all of the tools successful authors need. You have to read the trash so you have some unit of measurement for the good stuff. You have to know what fingernails on a chalkboard sound like so you don’t keep scraping your own nails on the thing when you walk by. And the trash, well… it may not always be the best writing, but damn it, sometimes it’s just entertaining!
You have to read everything, good and bad. If you want to be a great chef, you need to taste as much food as possible. You have to know what goes together and what doesn’t. You don’t saute Slim Jims with fresh scallops, or maybe you do, but you need to know what both Slim Jims and fresh scallops taste like first.
8. Shameless plug: what is the latest issue of eHorror like, and why should everyone be buying it?
The latest issue of eHorror is brutal and unforgiving, and just lovely. As a horror writer and reader, it’s got everything I love in it: some amazing and poetic writing, some brute violence, some things that make your palms sweat and your stomach turn. Basically, it contains five stories that evoke emotion, the way they should. As writers, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do every time we sit down to do what we were made to do. If you want to read stories that make you cringe, make you feel like you can’t turn around for fear of what might be behind you, make you keep looking in those dark shadows in your house at night, pick up a copy of eHorror!