The Best of Podcastle 2019

written by David Steffen

Podcastle is the weekly fantasy podcast published by Escape Artists, which at the beginning of 2019 was co-edited by Jen Albert and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.  During the year Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali stepped down and now at this time the podcast is co-edited by Jen Albert and Cherae Clark. As well as weekly full-length feature episodes, they also publish occasional standalone flash stories as bonus episodes, as well as multiple short-short stories for the occasional feature episode collection.

Podcastle published 50 stories by my count in 2019.

As it happens, every story on this list was originally published prior to 2019, so none of them are eligible for Hugo and Nebula awards, but there are plenty of other great stories published there for you to consider if you like that sort of thing.

The List

1. “The Resurrectionist” by J.P. Sullivan, narrated by Wilson Fowlie
The skill of resurrecting people has fallen out of favor but there are still people who do it, it’s a matter of visiting the deceased in their dreamlike interstitial space and bringing them back across the divide by hook or by crook.

2. “The Bone Poet and God” by Matt Dovey, narrated by Eliza Chan
Every bone carries four magical runes on their body, engraved to the bone, including one that they are born with and isn’t revealed until they die.

3. “The Masochist’s Assistant” by Auston Habershaw, narrated by Matt Dovey
It is no easy job being the assistant of a magical masochist who demands he be killed at regular intervals every day.

4. “Balloon Man” by Shiv Ramdas, narrated by Kaushik Narasimhan
Whatever is true, the opposite is also true. That is the way of stories.

5. “The Deliverers of Their Country” by E. Nesbit, narrated by Katherine Inskip
Dragons are back in the world and proving to be quite a menace, which Effie only finds out when one gets stuck in her eye.

Honorable Mentions

“I am not I” (part 1 and 2) by G.V. Anderson, narrated by Tatiana Grey

A Toy Princess” by Mary de Morgan, narrated by Eleanor Wood

“When Leopard’s-Bane Came to the Door of Third Heaven” by Vajra Chandrasekera, narrated by Peter Behravesh

The Diabolical Plots Year Six Lineup

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1432 submissions came in from 1066 different writers, of which 122 stories were held for the final round, and 24 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup.

There a few names in there that Diabolical Plots has published before, there are some others whose work I know from elsewhere but who are making their first DP appearance in this lineup, and there are yet others that I didn’t know before this–I like to see a mixture of these groups!

All of these stories will be published for the first time around March 2020 in an ebook anthology Diabolical Plots Year Six, and then will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2020 and March 2021, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.

This is the lineup order for the website.

April 2020
“A Promise of Dying Embers” by Jordan Kurella
“On You and Your Husband’s Appointment at the Reverse-Crematorium” by Bill Ferris

May 2020
“Everything Important in One Cardboard Box” by Jason Kimble
“Synner and the Rise of the Rebel Queen” by Phoebe Wagner

June 2020
“Open House On Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell
“The Automatic Ballerina” by Michael Milne

July 2020
“Minutes Past Midnight” by Mark Rivett
“Bring the Bones that Sing” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

August 2020
“Finding the Center” by Andrew K. Hoe
“For Want of Human Parts” by Casey Lucas

September 2020
“The Last Great Rumpus” by Brian Winfrey
“That Good Old Country Living” by Vanessa Montalban

October 2020
“A Complete Transcript of [REDACTED]’s Video Channel, In Order of Upload” by Rhiannon Rasmussen
“Are You Being Severed” by Rhys Hughes

November 2020
“Many-Faced Monsters in the Backlands” by Lee Chamney
“Mama’s Hand of Glory” by Douglas Ford

December 2020
“‘My Legs Can Fell Trees’ and Other Songs For a Hungry Raptor” by Matthew Schickele
“Tony Roomba’s Last Day on Earth” by Maria Haskins

January 2021
“Everyone You Know is a Raven” by Phil Dyer
“Unstoned” by Jason Gruber

February 2021
“Energy Power Gets What She Wants” by Matt Dovey
“A Study of Sage” by Kel Coleman

March 2021
“Boom & Bust” by David F. Shultz
“The Void and the Voice” by Jeff Soesbe

DP FICTION #50A: “Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey

In a generational shift that some claim threatens the fabric of existence and the sanity of all humanity, surveys show that worship of the Elder Dark is at a record low for one particular group—millennials.

Bob Rawlins is worried. “When I was growing up in the 1950s, I made my obeisance before the Manifold Insanity every night, uttering the invocations to satiate the Watchers Just Beyond and keep them at bay for one day longer. But young people now aren’t prepared to make the necessary sacrifices.”

I remind him that human sacrifice was deemed unnecessary and illegal in 1985, and animal sacrifice in 2009.

“Well I don’t mean literally,” he says, though there’s a note of longing to his tone.

Bob is showing me round his inner sanctum, a converted basement given over to the worship and appeasement of the Unknowable Gods. He’s the Grand Dark Supplicant of his local chapter, and is continuing a long family tradition: men of his bloodline have been bound to the service of the Elder Dark since the days of the Pilgrims.

“Our ranks are already thin,” he says, resting a hand intimately on an idol of the Ten Thousand Staring Eyes. “I worry the world I’ll leave behind will be overrun by the gibbering horrors of the between spaces, ushering in a never-ending age of nightmares and insurmountable monstrosities. It breaks my heart to think of the Eight Palms golf course getting swallowed by a roiling pit of blackness. Hole five’s a real beauty.”

In town, I talk with a group of twenty-somethings working in the local coffee shop. Aren’t they anxious about the impending immolation of mankind and the eternal night of the Elder Dark?

“Well, I guess,” says Luiz, shaking chocolate onto my cappuccino in a cephalopodan design. “But it’s hard to get worked up about such a distant prospect when I’m mostly worried about making rent next month.”

“Yeah, yeah,” agrees Deema, another barista. “And even if I had the brainspace to worry, I haven’t got the roomspace in my apartment for a shrine. I make my obeisance when I visit my parents at the weekend, but my apartment’s so cramped the shower’s in the kitchen. Where am I meant to find the space for the Eighteen Forms of Frozen Madness?”

“Not that I have any time for the complete incantations anyway,” says Luiz. “As soon as I finish here I start a shift at the Midnight Dark Bar on 8th. Do you know how much mess is made by people burying the futility of their infinitesimal existence in drugs and debauchery? By the time I get home from cleaning that up I’ve only got five hours before I’m back here. It’s hard to muster the energy for self-flagellation on four hours’ sleep a night.”

These responses may sound cynical and resigned, but talking to Luiz and Deema, there’s a sense of frustration: they want to be doing more. But some millennials have other reasons for abandoning the worship of the Elder Dark.

“These old dudes—and they’re always old dudes, you notice that?—they’re all caught up in this spiel, like, ‘If you don’t perform the rituals of devotion then the world will fall to lunacy’, and I’m like, dude, look around already!”

Ace shakes their long dreads dismissively and sips a green tea, looking over the gray ocean from their dilapidated RV. Their parents were members of the ultra-orthodox Church of the Nineteenth Insanity; Ace left home at seventeen, sent on their mission to witness the madness of the wider world. It was meant to reinforce the importance of keeping to the convoluted strictures of the Nineteenth Insanity, necessary to resist the influence of the Watchers Just Beyond.

But instead, says Ace, they saw only human madness.

“Like, all the suffering and hurt and injustice, that’s not coming from beyond the Pierced Veil, ya know? It’s caused by politicians and corporations on this side! People are blind to the roots of their problems, blaming it all on these creatures they’ve never even seen, right?”

“It’s sad to hear,” says Kathy Halton, Honorary Senator for the Sunken State of Hggibbia. “I represent the Many Drowned Dead, so I know better than most what the cost of failure is.”

Senator Halton looks up at the huge oil-on-canvas that hangs behind her mahogany desk, The Sinking of Dead Men’s Deeds, that infamous night when eighty thousand souls were lost to the sea. The eye is drawn irresistibly to the dark slash that hangs in the sky, the Pierced Veil itself, and the indescribable creatures of the Entropic Menagerie that spill forth—and it is surely an unparalleled artistic feat to paint a creature that cannot be described—and there is a strange sensation of being drawn into the painting, as if the soul itself is being pulled out through the eyes and reeled into that perversely dark hole on the canvas. Only Halton’s smooth voice breaks the spell; she seems used to the painting, immune to its attraction.

“Some people are so desperate for a mundane explanation they’ll ignore the evidence of their souls,” she says. “The irony is many of this country’s problems can be traced back to a disturbing lack of faith in the younger generation.”

But isn’t there an increasing consensus on grassroots social media that neoliberal government policies of the last thirty years are to blame for irrevocably leading us to this point of critical failure, where the very substance of the multiverse is threatened with annihilation by wage stagnation and an untenable housing market leading to unrealistic work expectations?

“If only it were that simple,” she responds. “We’re doing everything we can to encourage participation despite the economic downturn, including state-funded glossolalia lessons and mandatory flagellation breaks for government employees. But we can’t force a free soul to act.”

Two days later we’re standing on the windy beach at Chatham, Massachusetts for the annual Sunken Memorial, facing the steel-blue Atlantic where Hggibbia once stood. Senator Halton leads a group of representatives through the Silent Evocations of the Eighteen Forms, their dark trench coats snapping in the wind like ravens fighting over scraps. Two assistants have to help the elderly Health Secretary Johnson through the movements, sometimes physically lifting him to position his limbs correctly.

Fifty yards away, behind a mesh fence and a police line, there’s a protest taking place. I’m not surprised to see Ace at the front, leading a chant of WE’RE NOT INSANE, WE’RE JUST MAD, WE BLAME YOU FOR A  WORLD GONE BAD.”It’s all a distraction!” they tell me to a chorus of agreement from their fellow protestors. “They’re using the myth of the Elder Dark to stop you noticing their corruption!”

“Yeah,” interjects another protestor, her pink hair straggling over a loose-fit chunky sweater. “Like, did you know they used this stuff to justify some super racist ideas? Most people can’t spot the subtext now, but if you read the old stuff they basically claimed Jews were in league with the Watchers Just Beyond, right? It’s unbelievable!”

Ace picks up the argument, a real bitterness in their voice. “They like, try and handwave that racism away now, ya know, claim you have to understand it in the historical context, but it just proves how they fit it to their agenda at the time. It’s all bullshit. You can’t trust them.”

I go back to see Bob Rawlins. He’s invited me up for the traditional orgy that marks the Approach of Winterdark, more commonly called the fall equinox. He prepares for the night by stripping naked, beating his tattooed skin raw with a branch of Hggibbian driftwood, and pulling a tight red hood on that covers his eyes.

He offers me the branch and a spare hood, but I respectfully decline.

There’s fifty or more participants gathered at the edge of town for the ritual, all naked bar that same red hood. It’s meant to evoke a feeling of insignificance, reminding supplicants they are only anonymous flesh to the Watchers Just Beyond, but the effect is undercut somewhat by small town America: everyone is easily identifiable from their voice and body shape, and Bob chats casually about DIY projects and school district elections as the sun sets.

Once dusk grows dark and a chill settles in, Bob climbs onto a flame-lit stage set up for the event, reminds everyone to stick around for the barbecue afterwards, then begins the Rituals of Unending Vigilance. I find myself talking to a late arrival: Eric Rawlins—Bob’s son.

“I’m only back for the weekend,” he explains, shuffling uncomfortably. “It means a lot to Dad that I get involved.” He’s eschewed the naked dedication of his father and kept his jeans on, a single Screaming Gshvaddath tattooed in Shifting Ink just below his red hood, dancing wildly in contrast to Eric’s diffidence. 

Presumably his father is grooming him to continue the family tradition?

“Yeah, he’s really enthusiastic about the whole thing. Dad’s worried that if I’m not ready to continue his work the next time his back gives out then the Elder Dark will flood the world and shackle humanity to an eternal yoke of madness while he waits on his pain relief prescription. He honestly believes he’s the only one holding it back right now.”

Does Eric think participation is down because people are coming to terms with the history of it and stepping away? I repeat some of the theories I heard at the rally.

“Yeah, I’ve heard those ideas too. I agree with them, to be honest, with the people saying the Worship has racist underpinnings, but don’t tell Dad. He thinks the texts are sacrosanct, and it’s like, if you criticise them, you’re criticising him. But there’s a growing online movement to embrace the original truth of the Unknowable Scriptures, peeling back the layers of human influence and prejudice. We’re all just meat to the Watchers after all, regardless of our skin or beliefs, beneath the notice of an unfathomable Universe made of madness and unending time. I can show you some really interesting Subreddits after this.”

On stage, Bob is in an awkward crab position, thrusting his flaccid penis towards the night sky and howling in ecstasy. Blood drips from his back where a bed of nails beneath him pierces his flesh over and over; volunteers in hi-viz jackets wait at the edge of the stage with antiseptic cream, stood before signs reminding participants to PRACTICE SAFE SUPPLICATION.

Eric looks anywhere but the stage as the crowd shrieks back, lacerating their own flesh with a variety of pointed implements. There are spiked paddles in ornately carved mahogany, hand-sharpened sticks of blasted elm, and one Hello Kitty cat o’ nine tails.

“Dad worries too much, to be honest,” says Eric. “I’ve met a lot of people at college, and at the end of the day people are decent. They do what they can when they can, even if it’s just carving Escherian shapes into their avocados at breakfast. We’re not gonna let the world run to shit with shambling horrors at the bus stop and tentacles blocking up the plumbing. We’ve gotta live here too, after all.”

Eric finally responds to his father’s exhortations with a self-conscious howl, and pricks his thumb with a pocket knife. Bob looks out from the stage, and spots his son; he lifts a hand in greeting, then, unbalanced, slips and lands heavily on the bed of nails. His scream of pain is answered faithfully by the crowd, but Eric runs forward and clambers on stage. He eases his father off the nails and they limp to the side, where a volunteer frantically unpacks a first aid kit.

A brief yet intense exchange follows. The body language is clear: Bob wants Eric to finish leading the worship. The crowd is wavering, their flagellation tools drooping like their middle-aged bodies. I see the moment Eric takes the burden on: his back straightens, his jaw clenches, his shoulders square. He’s doing a good impression of being ready for this, and I find myself hoping it convinces Bob.

Eric strips off and positions himself over the nails. He picks up the chant perfectly from where his father left off, closing out the ceremony with vigour, athleticism and rather more—shall we say—rigidity than his father could manage. 

Off to the side, Bob stands with his legs wide as his bleeding scrotum is gingerly nursed by the volunteer paramedic. He’s removed his red hood, and he watches Eric lambaste the crowd with a final chant of “Yhiu! Kaftagh falln!” and receive the answer of “Engibbigth valectia!”

His face shines with paternal pride.


© 2019 by Matt Dovey

Author’s Note: If you can’t spot the inspiration for this story, I envy you. I can’t go a week without seeing some new article blaming millennials for some natural shift in an evolving world (my favourite from my research: millennials are killing bar soap. WHO EVEN CARES). That said, it was actually reading another parody article that triggered the idea: Why Aren’t Baby Boomers Eating Pho? Given that Lovecraft pastiche is never far from my mind anyway, it only took another hour for the first draft of this to flood out of my fingertips in some indescribable frenzy, typing like a man possessed, suddenly granted ideas beyond my mortal comprehension. My mind has never been the same since, scarred by the knowledge of what lies beyond my temporal horizon: younger generations, acting differently from me. Truly, a cosmic horror to chill the soul.

Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm from a ritual performed unto the Watchers Just Beyond, imploring them for the boon of great knowledge, but all he got were the lyrics to Dashboard Confessional’s watershed album The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer he still hasn’t found the right words to fully express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.

His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Flash Fiction Online and Daily SF. You can keep up with it all at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Twitter and Facebook both as @mattdoveywriter.


If you enjoyed the story you might also want to visit our Support Page, or read the other story offerings.

The Diabolical Plots Year Five Fiction Lineup

written by David Steffen

Diabolical Plots was open for submissions once again for the month of July, to solicit stories to buy for the fourth year of fiction publication.  1288 submissions came in from 915 different writers, of which 26 stories were accepted.  Now that all of the contracts are in hand I am very pleased to share with you the lineup.

There is a lot of strangeness in this lineup, varying wildly in tone from humor to drama.  I hope you’ll like them as much as I do.

All of these stories will be published for the first time around March 2019 in an ebook anthology Diabolical Plots Year Five, and then will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2019 and March 2020, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.

This is the lineup order for the website.

April 2019
“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey
“One Part Per Billion” by Samantha Mills

May 2019
“What the Sea Reaps, We Must Provide” by Eleanor R. Wood
“Dogwood Stories” by Nicole Givens Kurtz

June 2019
“The Ceiling of the World” by Nicole Crucial
“Bootleg Jesus” by Tonya Liburd

July 2019
“Little Empire of Lakelore” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
“Lies of the Desert Fathers” by Stewart Moore

August 2019
“The Inspiration Machine” by K.S. Dearsley
“Colonized Bodies, Dessicated Souls” by Nin Harris

September 2019
“Empathy Bee” by Forrest Brazeal
“Dear Parents, Your Child is Not the Chosen One” by P.G. Galalis
“Fresh Dates” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

October 2019
“Tracing an Original Thought” by Holly Heisey
“Save the God Damn Pandas” by Anaea Lay

November 2019
“Consider the Monsters” by Beth Cato
“The Train to Wednesday” by Steven Fischer

December 2019
“Consequences of a Statistical Approach Towards a Utilitarian Utopia: A Selection of Potential Outcomes” by Matt Dovey
“The Problem From Jamaica Plain” by Marie L. Vibbert

January 2020
“This is What the Boogeyman Looks Like” by T.J. Berg
“Beldame” by Nickolas Furr
“Gorilla in the Streets” by Mari Ness

February 2020
“Invasion of the Water Towers” by R.D. Landau
“The Cliff of Hands” by Joanne Rixon

March 2020
“The Eat Me Drink Me Challenge” by Chris Kuriata
“The Old Ones, Great and Small” by Rajiv Mote

The Best of Podcastle 2017

written by David Steffen

Podcastle is the weekly fantasy podcast published by Escape Artists.  At the beginning of the year it was co-edited by Graeme Dunlop and Jen Albert.  Partway through the year Graeme retired from the position and his co-editor seat was filled by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.  As well as weekly full-length feature episodes, they also publish occasional standalone flash stories as bonus episodes, as well as triple flash stories for the occasional feature episode collection.

Because of an author pay-rate change in 2016, they qualified within 2017 as a qualifying market for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which means they have to meet certain criteria.

In February Podcastle once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing fantasy stories written by women and nonbinary authors.

Podcastle has had a solid year; it was super hard to winnow the full list of 75 stories down to the necessary count.

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Podcastle are marked with an asterisk (*), novelettes are marked with a double-asterisk.  If the original publisher was someone besides Podcastle, the original publisher is noted in parentheses for award-eligible fiction.

The List

 

1.  “How I Became Coruscating Queen of All the Realms, Pierced the Obsidian Night, Destroyed a Legendary Sword, and Saved My Heart’s True Love” by Baker & Dovey* (first published in No Shit There I Was)
Included in an anthology of bar-style exaggerated story, an over-the-top fun exaggerated epic fantasy.

2.  “The Chaos Village” (and part 2) by M.K. Hutchins**
Neuro-atypical man ventures into the chaotic ever-shifting area feared by most to explore.  Sequel to Golden Chaos.

3.  “Home is a House That Loves You” by Rachael K. Jones*
Everyone turns into structures of their choice when they get older.  You can live on to support your family long after your fleshy body passes away.

4.  “All of the Cuddles With None of the Pain” by J.J. Roth*
Artificial companions mimic human babies that won’t grow up and leave you behind.  But sometimes they become human…

5.  “Winter Witch” by Matt Dovey*
The witch can’t fix everything, but sometimes she can make a difference.

6.  “Zilal and the Many-Folded Puzzle Ship” by Charlotte Ashley*
An intricately built boat can be reconfigured in many different ways.

7.  “Six Jobs” by Tim Pratt
Recruited for magical work at a young age, moving from job to job.

8.  “Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light” by Malon Edwards* (first published in Shimmer)
A compelling dark story with less common monsters.

Honorable Mentions

“Blackbird Pastry” by Megan Branning*

“The Names of the Sky” by Matthew Claxton*

“A Whisper in the Weld” by Alix E. Harrow

“Maiden, Mother, Crone” by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky

 

The Best of Podcastle 2016

written by David Steffen

Podcastle is the weekly fantasy podcast published by Escape Artists.  At the beginning of the year it was co-edited by Rachael K. Jones and Graeme Dunlop.  Partway through the year Rachael retired and her co-editor seat was filled by Jen Albert.  As well as weekly full-length feature episodes, they also publish occasional standalone flash stories as bonus episodes, as well as triple flash stories for the occasional feature episode collection.

Within 2016, Podcastle also increased their pay for flash fiction, which I believe should have started their 1-year counter for becoming a SFWA-qualifying market!  Hoping that will happen anytime soon now.

In February Podcastle once again participated in the Artemis Rising event across the Escape Artists podcasts, publishing fantasy stories written by women and nonbinary authors.

I will note, too, that this has been the hardest of the Best Of lists to make this year because there were so many stories that I was simply in love with that it was hard to weed it down to a list of reasonable length.  Everything on this list I loved, and there were some I had to make the hard decision to bump off the list that I also loved.

Every story that is eligible for Hugo and Nebula nominations this year which were first published by Podcastle are marked with an asterisk (*).

Every story that is eligible for Hugo and Nebula nominations which were first published by another publisher and then reprinted in Podcastle are marked with a double asterisk (**)–if you want to nominate them, follow the link to find out who the original publisher was to give them proper credit.

I pondered for quite a while whether I should feel free to include the #5 on the list, since I was the original editor and publisher of it here on Diabolical Plots.  I exclude my own stories from any of my lists with the reasoning that I can’t properly judge my own work, and I wondered whether I should do the same for stories that I published.  I came to the conclusion that I CAN judge stories that I published, because I already had to do so to publish them in the first place, picking those stories out of the much larger slushpile.  These stories won’t automatically make a Best Of list, but I feel it’s reasonable to consider them.  But, in case anyone would rather not see a story I didn’t published bumped off the list by a story that I did publish, I have included one more story on the list than I normally would have, so that I didn’t have to bump one off.

The List

1. “Beat Softly, My Wings of Steel” by Beth Cato*
Science fantasy story in which the souls of dead horses can be reborn in mechanical pegasus bodies, and how this is used for the war effort.  Our protagonist wants to use such a body to escape a war zone.

2. “Golden Chaos” by MK Hutchins
Different regions have different natural/magical laws, including the chaos which is constantly in flux.

3. “The Bee Tamer’s Final Performance” by Aidan Doyle*
The fleet of circus ships have been taken over by bees living in the hollowed-out corpses of clowns.

4. “Archibald Defeats the Churlish Shark-Gods” by Benjamin Blattberg*
Hilariously unreliable narrator, telling the story of a research trip with a companion in which he is always the hero, even when he obviously isn’t.

5. “Further Arguments in Support of Yudah Cohen’s Proposal to Bluma Zilberman” by Rebecca Fraimow**
Written a letter of proposal from a rabbinical student to the woman he wishes to marry.

6. “Thundergod in Therapy” by Effie Seiberg**
Zeus tries to find his place in the modern world, while undergoing therapy for some of his more problematic behaviors.

7.  “Defy the Grey Kings” by Jason Fischer
Humanity lives under the oversized heel of our elephant overlords.

Honorable Mentions

“Send in the Ninjas” by Michelle Ann King*

“Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea” by Rachael K. Jones**

“Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey**

“Tumbleweeds and Little Girls” by Jeff Bowles*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sneak Peek: The New and Improved Submission Grinder

written by David Steffen

There’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes at the Submission Grinder site in preparation for a big site upgrade.

ETA: The upgraded version is now on the main site.  See the rest of this article for a list of some new features.

What you’re seeing is an overhaul of the site that’s been in the works for quite some time now.  The new site includes all the features you’re familiar with, plus some exciting new ones.  I’ve written this article to show off some of the new changes.  As always, the site is free to use whether you register an account or not.  I encourage you to go check out the new site for yourself, or for the first time if you’re a newcomer to the site.

Now that this big batch of features is rolled out, it should be much easier for me to roll out individual features as they are ready to launch.  I have a lot of ideas that I think you’re all going to love; it’s just a matter of prioritizing them and finishing them one by one.

First, I want to thank a few people who have contributed to this new development.

  • First and foremost, thank you to Anthony Sullivan who wrote most of the code.  You may remember that Anthony had co-edited Diabolical Plots with me for a number of years, and we collaborated to launch the Submission Grinder site in 2013.  He wrote the entire original site in a very short period of time, as well as the majority of the feature updates to that version of the site over the last 3+ years.  He also wrote most of the new version of the site, before he changed the focus of his work.  Anthony is still around and contributing to the site to help with hosting and mentoring me as I learn more about web development.  If you want to find out what he’s doing, you can check out his website, where he’s been working on video game development, at Zombie Possum.
  • Thank you to Stewart C. Baker and Matt Dovey, for your immense help with the CSS work to make the site much more friendly to mobile devices.  I have very little experience with CSS, and it’s incredible to see what someone more knowledgeable than me can do to make the site much more usable.  (There is still some work to be done yet to make the site entirely mobile friendly!  But the parts that are mobile friendly are because of their excellent work)
  • Thank you to the beta testers who volunteered to pound out as many dents as possible on this site before it became the new official site, and for meticulously spelling out what you found so that I could track down and resolve those issues.
  • And thank you to all the users, especially those who donate, spread the word about the Grinder, suggest new features, suggest market updates, or help contribute to the effort in any other way.

 

Okay, now that all the sappy stuff is out of the way, let’s get to the new features!  These are listed in approximate order of how excited I am about the feature, with the most exciting features first.  (YMMV so of course it’s possible that you’re more excited about the last ones on the list, so this is far from a scientific sorting method)

Submission Timeline Graph

This is a feature I’ve been so eager to share with more people because it shares an incredible amount of information in a very compact space.

The graph is a bar chart.  The X axis is time, covering dates between one year ago and today.  The height of the bars is the number of recorded submissions sent to that market on that day.  Bars representing submissions that have met different ends are stacked on top of each other–purple bars are pending response, red bars are rejections, green bars are acceptances.  If you are logged in and you have a pending response to that market, your submission is shown as a black dot.

For a few examples (not necessarily all up-to-date graphs mind you):

You can see, in the Apex Magazine graph, that they were closed for submissions from about June through December, that they got slammed with submissions when they re-opened.  On the far right side you can see what their current slushpile looks like (the purple portion of the graph), and the trail of small purple bars to the left of it are probably stories that have been approved by slushreaders and passed up to the editor and so are waiting a longer period of time outside the main slushpile.  (The black dot there is my own submission that was held at the time I took this snapshot)

ApexTimeline

You can see in the Analog graph that, well, they don’t really stay on top of their slushpile.  At the time this snapshot was taken in March no one who submitted more recently than the beginning of October has heard anything, and most people who submitted since the beginning of September has heard anything.  Long waits here don’t mean much.

AnalogTimeline

You can see in the Cast of Wonders graph that they closed for submissions from about September through December.  You can also see that the volume of submissions has surged upward after they reopened.  Not coincidentally, Cast of Wonders increased their payment rates from a flat 5GBP to a professional rate of 6 cents/word when they reopened (after a change in ownership as they were purchased by Escape Artists, Inc) which starts the timer for them to become a SFWA-qualifying market.  This has clearly made submitting to Cast of Wonders more appealing to writers.  You can also discern the shape of the slushpile and the hold pile pretty clearly here.

CastOfWondersTimeline

You can see in the Clarkesworld graph that they receive a lot of submissions all the time.  They haven’t closed within the last year.  And they are on top of their slushpile in an incredible fashion (look at how little purple there is!).  If you want a quick response (maybe to get one last submission before you can send that story to something else before deadline), this graph tells you that Clarkesworld is a great place to submit.  The statistics would’ve told you that before, of course, but the statistics are the summary of a year’s worth of responses, while this graph tells you what their slushpile looks like right now.

ClarkesworldTimeline

In the writers of the future graph, you can guess, without knowing anything else, that they have a quarterly deadline, and that lots of writers submit at the last minute.  You can also guess the reason why because they can take a while to respond, and so why not wait until the deadline?

WotFTimeline


There are probably other things to be gleaned from these graphs, but these are the kinds of things that I’ve been very excited to see in these graphs.

Summarized Recent Activity

SummaryGrinderThe Recent Activity list on the front page of the site looks different than you’re used to.  You’re used to seeing a list of individual responses grouped first by day and then by alphabetical order of market name.  One long-term frustration with that layout was that when an alphabetically privileged market, like Asimov’s, has a big push of rejections, then suddenly the one market would occupy most or all of that list.

Well, no longer!  Now a market only has one line per day to summarize all of its rejections.  And the page still shows the same number of lines, so you will often see more total information on that list than before these changes.  Acceptances still always get their own line, since those are of special interest, and so if you have chosen to show your name for acceptances you will still see it on the front page.  If you ever want to know the more detailed list you can always click the “details” icon to click through to that market page’s recent activity which lists all items from the last 30 days without summarizing.

Remember These Settings (Advanced Search)

On the previous version of the site, the Advanced Search page has had some limited memory of your choices, but I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the method of its operation.  In the past it would remember the settings of a few of your choices in the exclusion section by using a cookie.  But, this would not persist from device to device, it would only affect a select few parameters, and it would remember any change you made even if you didn’t want it to.

So, the new Advanced Search page has a choice to remember these settings.  You pick what values you want saved, you check the box for “remember these settings” and then every time you load the page in the future it will have those same values populated.  So, for instance, you can choose whether you want to see fee-based markets in the results, and you could set your minimum pay rate to Pro.

Zoomable Graphs

ZoomGraph

One occasional frustration with the market graphs on the previous version of the site was that if there had been a very long response reported the Turnaround Time graph scale would be very very long and it would be hard to make out much detail in the rest of the graph.

All three graphs are now zoomable, so you can zoom in on particular area of interest, see what specific days were associated with certain values, and etc, so this shouldn’t be a frustration anymore.

Average Response Days in Search Results

The Advanced Search Results and other market results pages now show the average response days for easy comparison of responsiveness.

Sortable Columns

The Advanced Search results and some other pages now can be sorted by in ascending or descending order based on several of the column headings (including the new average response days column).

Delete Piece Option

It was always perhaps a little bit odd that there was no way to delete a piece once you’d made it.  Generally the easiest way to work around this had been to just rename the piece the next time you finish a story and use the record for that new piece going forward.

But now you can delete the piece, so you don’t need that option.

Alphabetical Market Listings

Why didn’t the site have alphabetical market listings before?  I… really don’t remember.  I guess people have usually either knownwhat the exact name of a market was already, or they were searching by attribute rather than name.  So no one’s really complained about the lack. Anyway, whether it gets much use or not, it’s available.  And it might come in handy if, for instance, you don’t remember how to spell Giganotosaurus.

Exclude Retired Pieces

On the previous version of the site the Manage Pieces page let you filter your list of pieces by checking the “Exclude Accepted” box so you’d only see unsold stories.  A new box has been added to “Exclude Retired” (which are simply any pieces that you have marked as retired so they don’t show up in your dropdown list of pieces).

Grinder Favicon

The Submission Grinder site now has a favicon in the form of the site logo.  This is what shows up on shortcuts or browser tabs.  Might come in handy for spotting at a glance which tabs were Grinder tabs.