Award Eligibility 2016

written by David Steffen

The year is almost over, and here we are with the obligatory award eligibility post.  I know some people get annoyed by these, but to me they’re kind of like those Christmas letters from family members–I like reading other people’s posts to see what they’ve been up to for the year if nothing else.

I’ll start with my own stories, then on to Diabolical Plots stuff (I thought about making separate posts, but for those who don’t care for award eligibility posts I thought that might just be twice as annoying).

Please note that I’m not asking anyone to vote for these things.  There is a lot of amazing work out there and I hope you all read as much as you can and vote for what you think is the absolute best, no matter who publishes it.  But I do like to put these posts together partly to look back at what happened this year for myself, and also to put some links together for others who might be interested in checking some of this out.

If you would like to share your own award eligibility posts, please feel free to leave links in the comments to those.

My Stories

Not too bad of a year, with 5 original stories by me published at various places (especially since I’ve written almost nothing new!)

These are eligible in the Short Story category for most awards.


“A Touch of Scarlet” at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show

This is one of my favorite stories of anything I have ever written.  Described as briefly as possible, it is a YA coming-of-age science fiction story in a democratic dystopia.  Our nameless protagonist has reached the age where they are no longer sheltered in the childrearing creche, and is beginning their year of transition between childhood and adulthood.  Inside the creche, they were accustomed to constant contact with all of the other children.  In the world of adults, that kind of contact is forbidden.  For one year, they will have contact with their Mentor who is tasked with helping them acclimate, but apart from that temporary connection, no personal connection with other citizens is allowed, nor any expression of identity that would set them apart from anyone else.  Violation of these laws (which are determined by instant voting across all the citizenship) is punishable by death for adults, though adolescents are allowed some latitude.

You can read the beginning of the story and see the wonderful illustration here.  The rest of the story does require an IGMS subscription.  But, the subscription is quite a good deal.  $15 gives you access to not only the upcoming year’s stories, but also every issue in their back catalog.  So, if you’ve a mind to catch up on some of those stories, the price is very affordable for a whole lot of fiction.

“Mall-Crossed Love” at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

A star-crossed lovers story that takes place in a ubiquitous shopping mall.  A boy from the tech shop and a girl from the stationery shop across the way falling for each other despite the hostilities between their families.  It’s absurd, action packed, romantic, and fun.

You can pick up the copy of ASIM, or I can send a copy of the story on request.

“Divine Intervention” at Digital Fiction Publishing

A science fiction story of a man going into the drug slum known as Heaven to save his brother.  His brother has joined a techno-drug cult that, among other things, installs metallic halos onto their members as part of their ritual, and no one has been broken away from the cult if more than 24 hours has passed since joining.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon for 99 cents.

“Morfi” at The Colored Lens

This is my attempt to write a story reminiscient of my childhood favorite author:  Roald Dahl.  The story begins as young Johnny arrives at class (late as usual) with a sample of the mythical and magical morfi fruit.  Hijinx ensue.

The story is free to read, and it’s rather short, so I won’t talk about this one further.

“Subsumation” at Perihelion

Science fiction/horror story from a non-human point of view, as an alien crash lands.  It’s very short, and free to read, so I’ll leave you to it.  It’s probably not safe for work.

Diabolical Plots Fiction

This was the first full year of fiction at Diabolical Plots.  Since the stories are all free to read, I’ll stick to very short teasers for each.

The first two stories I put on the top of the list because they have been ones that have gotten particularly strong traffic and feedback, so I think they might be of particular interest.

These are all eligible for Short Story categories.

“Further Arguments in Support of Yudah Cohen’s Proposal to Bluma Zilberman” by Rebecca Fraimow

“The Banshee Behind Beamon’s Bakery” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

“The Osteomancer’s Husband” by Henry Szabranski

“May Dreams Shelter Us” by Kate O’Connor

“One’s Company” by Davian Aw

“The Blood Tree War” by Daniel Ausema

“The Weight of Kanzashi” by Joshua Gage

“Future Fragments, Six Seconds Long” by Alex Shvartsman

“Sustaining Memory” by Coral Moore

“Do Not Question the University” by PC Keeler

“October’s Wedding of the Month” by Emma McDonald

“The Schismatic Element Aboard Continental Drift” by Lee Budar-Danoff

Other Categories

Diabolical Plots itself is eligible for the Semiprozine category in the Hugos.

I (David Steffen) am eligible for Editor, Short Form in the Hugos, between my editing of Diabolical Plots and the Long List Anthology.

Laurie Tom and I are both eligible for Best Fan Writer category for our articles here, and individual articles could be for Best Related Work.

People ask me once in a while what the Submission Grinder is eligible for in the Hugos.  The answer is:  nothing.  The Hugo Awards are focused on things of interest to science fiction fans, who aren’t as a whole going to be interested in online tools for writers, so there is (fittingly) no category that it would really fit into.  Which is fine.  Probably the closest way to send a nomination for that would be to nominate Diabolical Plots as a semiprozine, since the Submission Grinder is one of the features of that, even if your average SF reader isn’t going to care about the Grinder.

People also ask me once in a while what Hugo categories the Long List Anthology editions are eligible for.  The answer again is: nothing.  The Hugo Awards don’t have an anthology or collection category.  For most anthologies, one could nominate the anthology indirectly by nominating your favorite stories in it, but because of the premise of these anthologies, all of the stories are from the previous year and so are ineligible for this year’s awards.  The closest way would be to nominate for Editor, Short Form.


MEDIA COMPARISON: Wayward Pines, Book Trilogy Vs. TV Season 1

written by David Steffen

In the summer of 2015 I watched the summer miniseries Wayward Pines on FOX which they ended up renewing for a second season in the summer of 2016.  The events of season 1 of the Wayward Pines TV show  (reviewed here) are based on the events of the Wayward Pines trilogy of books written by Blake Crouch:  Pines was published in 2012 (reviewed here), Wayward in 2013 (reviewed here), and The Last Town in 2014 (reviewed here).  After I finished watching season 1, I read the trilogy of books, and I thought it would be fun to list out some of the major changes between the two.

I’m not going to make any effort to avoid spoilers of the TV show or spoilers of the book, so get out of here if you don’t want that.  Many of the comparisons are going to have to do with major spoilery things.

This list is not an attempt to note every thing that was changed from the book to the TV adaptation, but just the most major ones that affect the story on a big level.  Not included in this are changes to character appearance and age because while there were many of those, they generally didn’t affect the plot, and if one has a casting call and finds someone of a different age that seems perfect for the character and the age difference doesn’t affect the story, there’s no good reason for the TV director to not go ahead with it.

I’m not going to give a full rundown of the plot which has a lot of major revelations and twists and turns and I’ve covered it all before, it would take up a lot of space.

OK, so here we go.  To the list!

1.  The Ending

The ending is the most major difference between the two.

In the books, once the immediate threat by the abby incursion has been cleaned up, Ethan organizes the town to make a vote about what their next move should be.  Supplies of food in the valley are running out, so trying to keep living there is going to end bleakly.  But the numbers of abbies outside the valley are simply overwhelming that trying to live outside of the protection of the valley isn’t likely to work either. In the end, the town votes to put themselves all back into cryogenic sleep, and in the one-sentence epiloge Ethan wakes up there.

In the TV show, Ethan Burke dies to save the townspeople from the abbies.  With everyone at the top of an elevator shaft and hundreds of abbies climbing up the sheer sides to kill them all, Ethan blows a C4 explosive to kill all the abbies in the shaft to let everyone else live.

And, just in case we might be left with the impression that this is a mostly happy ending, the last few minutes see a sharp reversal as Ben wakes up in the hospital and finds out that the First Generation of young people has taken over the town, and they’ve forced those adults who haven’t followed the rules back into cryo.

2.  Sheriff Pope’s Death

Sheriff Pope is one of Pilcher’s highest ranking henchman, responsible for policing the actions of the town.  In both stories he dies before Ethan assumes his role.

In the book, Sheriff Pope accompanies Pam and Pilcher to go find Ethan in the wilderness outside of town.  This is the point where Pilcher offers an olive branch to bring Ethan into the fold.  When it’s time to leave, Pilcher locks Pope out of the helicopter and they take off as abbies eat him alive.

In the TV show, Ethan kills Sheriff Pope in self-defense inside the wall, and is promoted to sheriff himself soon after.

3.  The People in the Mountain

Pilcher has a staff of people working in the mountain to keep the people in the town under constant surveillance.

In the books, although Ethan is always the main character, we get to get a pretty good sense of these people and their point of view and how it differs from the people in the town.  Especially in regards to wishing they could have a facade of a nice normal life like the townspeople do and how the townspeople don’t even appreciate it.

In the TV show, there is some interaction with the people in the mountain, but not nearly as in-depth or sympathetic.

4.  The “Rebels”

In both versions Kate Hewson (ex Secret Service agent and former lover of Ethan Burke, who has been in Wayward Pines for 12 years) is partially responsible for organizing a band of townspeople who resist the rules placed upon them.

In the books, the band of “rebels” is really just a social club.  Everyone in the group sneaks out from under the watchful eye of Pilcher and his staff, but all they do is hang out in a cave and talk about their past lives and drink smuggled liquor and enjoy some music.  They have sent people outside of the wall, and they don’t know what’s out there, but they’ve pretty much given up on leaving when no one ever comes back.  Pilcher implies to Ethan that he thinks that the rebels are a danger to the town, but Pilcher isn’t exactly a reliable witness.

In the TV show the rebels really are dangerous to the people in the town, even though they are being dangerous in the name of trying to free the townspeople.  They are building explosives and are not opposed to killing to serve their purposes.

5.   Pam’s Character Arc

Pam is Pilcher’s second-in-command.  She serves the important role of nurse at the Wayward Pines hospital where she is one of the first influences on abductees after they wake up, to help them get accustomed to the town.  She is also ruthless, and willing to torture to serve the town’s needs.

In the books, Pam is psychotic through and through, and never really changes.  It seems that she has not taken this role because she believes in Pilcher’s plan, but because the role lets her carry out her psychotic urges.

In the TV show, Pam starts out just as psychotic and ruthless as in the books, but by the end of the season it appears that she has only been doing bad things for the good cause of helping the town and when it becomes clear to her that Pilcher’s plan is deeply flawed, she becomes a much more sympathetic character to Ethan and the others, even becoming an ally.

6.  Theresa’s Time in Wayward Pines

Theresa Burke is Ethan’s wife.  In the present, Ethan is abducted by Pilcher and put in cryo sleep first and then Theresa is abducted some time later.  They are reunited after Ethan escapes from death at the hands of the town when Sheriff Pope orders his death.

In the books, Theresa continues on in the present for more than a year before Pilcher visits her and her son at their home.  Pilcher offers to reunite her with her husband and she gives in but then tries to back out, and Pilcher gases both Theresa and Ben and abducts them.  Theresa is woken up first and is a resident of Wayward Pines for five years before the beginning of Ethan’s involvement from the books, so she has a long time to acclimate.  She spends one year of that time married to Adam Hassler,  Ethan’s former boss at the Secret Service and his betrayer who had sold out all the Burkes in return for Pilcher’s promise that Adam would be able to marry Theresa after cry-sleep.

In the TV show, Theresa and Ben choose to travel to Wayward Pines on  suspicion of what Ethan had been doing, whether he was dead or hiding from them.  Only days or weeks pass until they go there and Sheriff Pope triggers a car accident to abduct them.  They are woken after Ethan in the future and so are only learning of any of the town’s strangeness after Ethan becomes sheriff.

7.  The First Generation

In the books there is no reference to the “First Generation”.  We know that one of the rules is that parents aren’t allowed to talk to their children about what they learned in school, and children are not allowed to tell their parents what they learned in school.  But we never really find out what they learn in school either.  We see the children of the town acting pretty wicked during Ethan’s fete, when a pack of them corner him while he’s trying to run, but this doesn’t make them particularly different than the adults.  We can guess about what they learned but it never became a big reveal.

The TV show coined the name “First Generation”, the town’s name for their first generation of young adults who are growing into adulthood in the town. Ben is one of those, and we get to follow his point of view as he goes to school.  The teachers at the school use a combination of hypnotic techniques and good old-fashioned propoganda to steer the First Generation’s thinking into the intended course, telling them about the abbies, encouraging them to start romances that will be used to produce children, and otherwise prepping them for the times ahead.



Award Eligibility Post

written by David Steffen

I know some people don’t like award eligibility posts, thinking that they’re desperate pleas for attention.  As a reader, I like them because if I am behind on my reading they are a good place to catch up on the year’s published stories of another author, and as a writer to look back  at my own.  I don’t have any illusions that anyone is going to nominate me, and that’s fine–there are so many amazing people doing incredible work every year.  But I still think an award eligibility post is worthwhile, and if you don’t think so, then you should stop reading now.

This year, since I started selecting and editing fiction for Diabolical Plots, I’ll list the Diabolical Plots work first and then my fiction writing as a separate section.  For the purposes of this list I am thinking of the Hugo and Nebula Award categories because those are the awards I’m most familiar with.  Other awards have other categories that might be suitable.

People ask once in a while whether the Submission Grinder is eligible for a Hugo or Nebula.  It is not, because there are no categories that suit it for those awards.

2015 was the year the Long List Anthology was published, but it is not itself eligible.  Neither award has a category for standalone anthology (though I believe the Locus Award does), and all of the stories were first published in 2014 so are ineligible.  As the editor I would be eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Editor, Short Form for which I edited that anthology as well as the first ten stories of Diabolical Plots.

Diabolical Plots


  1.  Diabolical Plots (prior to this year I believe it was a fanzine, now it’s a semiprozine)

Editor, Short Form

  1.  David Steffen (for Diabolical Plots itself, and the Long List Anthology)

Short Stories

  1.  “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
  2. “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff
  3. “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick
  4. “The Princess in the Basement” by Hope Erica Schultz
  5. “Not a Bird” by H.E. Roulo
  6. “The Superhero Registry” by Adam Gaylord
  7. “A Room for Lost Things” by Chloe N. Clark
  8. “The Grave Can Wait” by Thomas Berubeg
  9. “Giraffe Cyborg Cleans House!” by Matthew Sanborn Smith
  10. “St. Roomba’s Gospel” by Rachael K. Jones

Fan Writers

  1.  David Steffen (also did fan writing work for SF Signal, and for Science Fiction Book Club)
  2. Laurie Tom
  3. Maria Isabelle
  4. Carl Slaughter

My Fiction Writing

Short Stories

  1. “Thus Spake Robby” in the Overcast
  2. “Tamers of the Green” in Sockdolager
  3. “Condemned” in the Coven Anthology, edited by Andi O’Connor
  4. “So You’ve Decided to Adopt a Zeptonian Baby!” at Podcastle
  5. “My Wife is a Bear in the Morning” at Podcastle
  6. “Echoes of Her Memory” in Stupefying Stories
  7. “Closing Statement” in T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog
  8. “Focus” in Space and Time
  9. “We Do Not Speak of the Not Speaking” in Stupefying Stories
  10. “Red Shoes of Oz” in Evil Girlfriend Media Shorts
  11. “To Be Carved Upon the Author’s Tombstone in the Event of His Untimely Demise” in Perihelion

PODCAST SPOTLIGHT: Welcome to Night Vale

written by David Steffen

Welcome to Night Vale (produced by Commonplace Books) is a fiction podcast, but quite different from any of the other fiction podcasts I listen. Most of the others publish short stories by different authors, where each new story has nothing to do with the others and is written by a different author.  The easiest way I can describe the podcast is that it is a community radio show ala Prairie Home Companion, but one which takes place in a mysterious sleepy little town ala Stephen King or HP Lovecraft.  If that sounds like something you’d like, you probably will!  If you’re not sure what to think about it, download a few episodes for free and give it a try.

The format of the show is a wonderful idea, one of those wonderful things where a clever person takes two familiar but disparate elements and melds them together and somehow the whole thing is shiny and new.  The idea is nonsense.  Wonderful, hilarious, weird nonsense of the best possible kind.  The show is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  After three years they’ve still managed to keep the show fresh and interesting, introduce new weird elements that keep everything interesting.

The show starts out strong from the very first episode, and is a good example of the kind of humor that the show excels at.  For example, the episode starts off with an announcement about the city’s new dog park.  “Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park.  Do not approach them.  Do not approach the dog park.”  (and more)  After that, a guide for parents of children playing in the sand wastes and gauging the safety of the area by carefully watching the color of the unmarked helicopters circling the area.

The main voice actor of the show is Cecil Baldwin, who plays the host of the radio show (whose name is Cecil Palmer).  Most episodes are mostly his voice, announcing the strange news of the town, traffic (which is often very unrelated to traffic), community calendar, sponsors (which are usually real companies but just made up parodies rather than actual ads), and the weather (which is actually a track from an indie musician, a different one every episode).

There are numerous guest stars scattered throughout the three years of the show, including Dylan Marron, who you might know from the Every Single Word tumblr page where he posts edited versions of feature movies cut down to only the parts spoken by people of color (a very clever and illustrative project for what an issue that is).  Wil Wheaton and Retta both have recurring roles on the show, and a number of other actors that I have only come to know through the show itself.

The show has grown hugely in popularity.  They have toured across the United States and Europe, and are now planning their first tour to Australia and New Zealand.  A book written by Fink and Cranor, also titled “Welcome to Night Vale” is scheduled to be published on October 20.  (I have read the book and will be reviewing it right here on October 19, so check back).  The live shows have a somewhat different feel to them–I would recommend listening to the podcast before attending because the show that I went to felt like it was aiming mostly at people who were already familiar with the world of Night Vale.  Also consider checking out their merchandise store which has a lot of excellent stuff that is meant to appeal to fans of the show–I have been meaning to order a Boy Scout badge for “Subversive Radio Host” among other things.

I love this show.  I think it can appeal to a lot of people, SF fans or otherwise with its strange brand of humor and weirdness.  I hope it lasts a long time and expands into new and exciting things as it goes.

Why do I Value the Hugos?

written by David Steffen

I’ve been following the Hugos closely for several years, trying to read and review as many of the nominated works as I can digest between the announcement of the ballot and the final deadline.  I also follow the Nebulas, and I glance at the results from other SF genre awards, but for me the Hugos take up most of my attention come award season.  With this eventful Hugo year, it crossed my mind to wonder why the Hugos specifically, and whether I might perhaps be better off devoting more of my attention to awards that don’t collect controversy the way the Hugo Awards always seem to do, and in escalating fashion these last few years.

1.  The Hugos are Fan-Based.

Specifically, they are based on the supporters/attendees of WorldCon, which is certainly not an exact representation of fandom as a whole.  But what I mean by this is that the fan-based nature differentiates it from juried awards or the Nebulas which are voted by SFWA members, which gives that award a very different feel.

I do like the concept of the Locus Awards, since those are available for anyone to vote online, so have a broader voting audience–maybe I’ll try to pick them up next year.

2.  The Hugos Have a Long Reading Period

The Nebulas and the Locus awards have very short reading periods (the period of time between the announcement of the ballot and the voting deadline) of only about a month.  If I want to read as much of the fiction as possible, that’s not nearly enough time–I can’t finish all the short fiction, let alone start the novels.  The Hugo ballot is announced around Easter weekend (usually early April or so) and the voting deadline is at the end of July, so there are nearly four months to try to do all the reading.  The Hugo Packet isn’t released right at the beginning of the reading period, but usually enough of the short fiction was published in online venues so that I can fill my reading time with Hugo material.

3.  The Hugos Have Instant Runoff Voting and No Award

The Nebula ballot for each category is a set of radio buttons–you can only choose one winner.  On the Hugo ballot you can give a numeric vote from 1 to N, where N is the total number of nominees (usually 5).  All of the voters first choices are tallied, and the story with the lowest votes is eliminated–all of the ballots which had the eliminated story as the top vote slip down to their second choices, and so on, until there is a winner.   I like this because it’s a very common situation where I like more than one of the nominees a great deal, and this lets me give support for more than one instead of having to choose.  This is also beneficial if the same author has more than one story in a category because they don’t self-compete.

There is also a No Award vote that lets you differentiate between items you don’t care about and items you strongly feel should not win.  If there is a large enough portion of No Award votes, no awards will be given for the category, which gives a recourse in the case that you think a category has nothing worthy.

4.  The Hugos have a Graphic Story Category

I love graphic stories, but I have not been very good at keeping up with them.  The graphic story category gives me a sampler of what the graphic stories that people loved the most so that I can catch up a bit, maybe even consider picking up a subscription.  This year’s category was especially stellar, with three comics that I’d consider picking up–which I reviewed here a few weeks ago.

5.  The Hugos Have WorldCon

I made it to WorldCon 2012 in Chicago, and had a really great experience there.  That was before the launch of the Submission Grinder, so less people knew who I was, but I still knew a lot of people from Writers of the Future and Codex.  There were a lot of my favorite writers and editors there, probably partly due to the Hugos drawing them to the award ceremony.  I also thought it was fun to go to the award ceremony itself.

6.  The Hugos Have the Hugo Packet

A lot of the short fiction is available for free without actually becoming a Hugo voter–a lot of it was published for free online to begin with, other publishers (like Analog) post it there for the readers to see.  But most of the ones that aren’t available for free are in the packet, and most years most of the novels have been included as well.

This is based on kind of an odd dynamic.  The Hugo packet is only a few years old, so it’s a nice convenience.  If the Hugos were less notable, the publishers probably wouldn’t participate.  If the Hugo voting audience was huge, the publishers might be reluctant to give away that many free copies.  So it works in kind of an odd middle space where most science fiction and fantasy readers are aware of the award, enough that pasting the name on a book cover can encourage sales, but not so many actually participate (even though they all can) to deter publishers.

7.  The Hugo Rules/Categories are Chosen By Fans

OK, this one is alternately a benefit or a detriment.  A benefit because as new formats of science fiction and new publishing technologies become popular, the award can expand to include those things, and theoretically phase out those things that are outdated.  A detriment because it can sometimes end up with some long-lasting categories that don’t make a lot of sense, or new categories thrashing out of momentary conflicts.  But I like the idea in theory anyway.

Slush Retrospective

written by David Steffen

For anyone who hasn’t been following along, Diabolical Plots was open for fiction submissions for the first time in December 2014 to pick 12 stories to publish one per month for a year as our first fiction offerings. This is my first time editing fiction or handling a slushpile of my own (as opposed to being a slushreader for a magazine run by someone else).

Also, this is a long post–I tried to give useful headings so you could skip to the parts you’re interested in.


Anthony Sullivan (my co-conspirator here at Diabolical Plots) and I decided together that we wanted to give this a try. We’d been talking about it off and on for years. So why did we actually move forward with it now? The answer to that is simple–money. We knew that if we wanted to do this, we wanted to do it big–professional rates as defined by SFWA (currently 6 cents per word). We don’t have anything against markets that pay less, but we figured the best way in our control to increase the upper quality of the slushpile is to pay professional rates. And we wanted to make a market that we would be excited to submit to.  We would love to become a SFWA-qualified professional market.

The reason we can go forward with this fiction venture now is because of generous donations both one-time and recurring from users of the Submission Grinder. Those donations go first to site maintenance costs like hosting as well as secondary costs that help us keep up with market news as well as we can. But we’ve been saving what we can to put towards projects that require money like this fiction venture. We could have run a Kickstarter campaign but we both liked the idea of providing something of value and then seeing if people would like to support it, rather than the other way around. We plan to launch a Patreon campaign in the near future–if that and the recurring PayPal donations combined reach a threshold, then we will keep publishing fiction past the first year, if we reach the next threshold above that we’ll buy 2 stories/month for the following year, and so on. I’m not opposed to something like Kickstarter, but I like the Patreon model better for what I hope will be an ongoing venture because its focus is maintenance funding, ongoing income instead of the one-off burst that Kickstarter will provide–at some point a magazine has to hit Kickstarter again and one success does not guarantee another.


Our guidelines are somewhat unusual for several reasons. One is that we were only open for a month to buy a year’s worth of fiction. Part of the reason for this is that we intended from the beginning to read all of the slush ourselves, and we knew this would be time-consuming, so we would rather do it on a short-term sprint than to be reading slush around the calendar.

Another oddity is that we only allow one story per author per submission window. There were a few reasons for this. One is to encourage authors to pick their very best work they have available that fits the rest of the guidelines. Another is to make any progress in the slushpile a permanent step–rather than rejecting a story by an author and getting another story from the same author again.

Of course the biggest oddity in our guidelines is the requirement for anonymity–there are a few markets that require this–among pro SF markets I believe Flash Fiction Online and Writers of the Future are the only others. But we’re even more strange in this respect in that there were only two staff members doing all the reading and there wasn’t a separate person to do author correspondence. Our homebrew submission tracking software had to be quite a bit more complicated because of this–it had to hide the author’s identity from us until we’ve made our final decision of accept or reject, and had to allow some basic way for an author to query us to make sure their story was received but without breaking anonymity.

The reason we wanted to make the slush anonymous is that we wanted story to trump all. We wanted to completely remove the possibility that personal relationships with an author would sway our decision one way or the other. And we wanted to remove the consideration of marketing concerns–it’s not uncommon for a publication, especially when starting up, to publish stories from established authors with big fan followings to attract readers. The reasoning behind cherry-picking known authors is that the fan following will get more eyeballs on the magazine and help make the launch more successful.  But personally, we felt that these stories can feel phoned-in because the story didn’t make it into the publication on its own merits. We have nothing against established authors with big names, of course. They got to be big names because they knew what they were doing. But if an author you recognize is in our table of contents, it means that we thought that story was in our top twelve and the name has nothing to do with it.


In the 31 days we were open, we received 378 submissions–34 of those on the first day of submissions, 27 of those on the last day of submissions.

17 of the submissions had clear violations of the guidelines. A few of those were stories with names attached against our anonymity requirements. Most of those were stories that were clearly too long for our 2000-word maximum, sometimes by several times. And the one submission that was a synopsis of a non-speculative children’s book that was also triple our maximum word count allowed. I did have to wonder, as I was rejecting these stories unread and with a note pointing out the guidelines violation, what these authors were thinking. Did they not read the guidelines at all? Did they think their story was so good the word count limit was irrelevant to them? Either answer is not particularly endearing . Because of our one-submission-per-author-per-window policy that was the only opportunity those authors got this time round.  Once those were taken out of the running that left 361 valid submissions.

I’ve read slush for a few different venues–Flash Fiction Online, Drabblecast, and Stupefying Stories. Overall the quality of the Diabolical Plots slush was much higher than I expect from past experience, and there wasn’t the glut of serial killer stories and stories about protagonists killing their spouses. This could’ve been because I tried to warn off these things in the guidelines, or because the one-story-per-author rule made authors more selective, or could just because we didn’t specifically ask for the offensive like the Drabblecast guidelines do.

The stories that were rejected in the first round were rejected for a variety of reasons. A slow or uninteresting beginning to the story is an excuse to start skimming–a bad sign, especially when dealing with stories less than 2000 words. Stories where nothing happened, or stories with low stakes. Or ones without strong characters. First and foremost we wanted stories that made us feel something, whether that was humor, fear, fun, love, but it had to make us feel something.

By January 8th we’d finished the first round of reading and held 67 stories for the second and final round of consideration. I didn’t keep statistics on the proportion of personal rejections–but I’d guess them at maybe 10% in the first round. I only commented if I had feedback that I felt would be useful to the author.


Around this same time I started drafting up the contracts based on Lightspeed’s very author-friendly publicly posted contract. Up until this point we had been pretty focused on the editorial side of things and the technical side of things (tweaking the submission system), but at this point we started getting into the publishing side of things, particularly on the topic of risk and legality. We realized that Diabolical Plots should be registered under an LLC to minimize any risk to our personal finances. And as part of that discussion, Anthony realized that he needed to step down from the co-editor position. We didn’t have a falling out or anything like that. He just realized that his role as co-editor wasn’t going to work out with other aspects of his life. So from that point forward I am the editor of Diabolical Plots.

Anthony will still be a big part of Diabolical Plots and the Submission Grinder and will continue to fill the same invaluable role that he has filled since we first teamed up in 2009–handling all of the technical side of the website administration, and doing the lion’s share of the software development that has made the Grinder the useful tool it is today. In fact, he is hard at work on an overhaul of the Grinder site that will make it easier to maintain as well as providing a lot of shiny new features that will make it even better than it is now. We’re aiming to launch this site overhaul to the public around the same time that we launch our first fiction publication–that date is yet to be determined, but will probably be in a couple months.


By January 8th we had finished reading and resolving all the first round submissions and we only had the 67 stories in the hold pile left to resolve. By the time Anthony reached the decision that he needed to step down, I had re-read the hold-pile stories and ranked them numerically with plans to compare lists with Anthony. So when I became the sole editor, I was already ready to go and could resolve the whole pile in one fell swoop. I made sure to give personal rejections to all the stories that made it to the hold pile because I hate it when my stories are held for further consideration but then rejected without a word.

I had enough good stories in the pile, and planned to buy so few, that I didn’t venture into any major rewrite requests. If the story wasn’t good enough as-is, then I didn’t accept it–I have made a few small suggestions for small changes and will probably do a few more as I progress from acceptance to publication. There were a lot more stories in the pile that I would’ve loved to accept if the budget had allowed, so there were some very hard decisions in this pile.

In the final twelve stories I was interested to see that there were several author names that I knew from seeing their published stories in pro markets. For at least one of the authors, this was the first pro sale. Judging by names, of the final twelve, seven of the authors are women.  I’m glad to see both sexes so well represented–I know that some publications have a real problem with getting enough women-authored stories in their slushpiles (to the point where they have to make campaigns specifically to bring in more women authors) so I was glad to see that.


Before I do anything else, I need to sort out some business details, defining what Diabolical Plots actually is. Once that’s in place I can finalize the draft of our contract and send it to the twelve authors–in the meantime I’ve requested and gotten preliminary notes from all twelve to let me know the stories are still available.  The twelve authors are free to share their news as widely or as narrowly as they wish so you may have already heard a few of them.

Once the contracts are signed, then I can publicly announce the table of contents–I’m really looking forward to that. And then I can seriously consider what kind of launch date we can manage for the fiction offerings, but I’m still planning to coincide that with the launch of the Submission Grinder overhaul, so it will depend somewhat on that as well.


You may notice that all of our planning so far has been focused on providing a single year of fiction, talking about the budget for a year, the schedule for a year. That’s because, at this point, we don’t have the capital in place for another year of fiction. We’re hoping to change that. Ideally by gathering recurring donations of whatever size through Patreon and PayPal to give a steady stream of funds to kick off the second year and beyond. If the end of year one approaches and we don’t have this in place yet, then I’ll consider doing a Kickstarter campaign to get year two funded and continue to focus on getting recurring donations so that big one-off campaigns don’t need to be run every year. If we get enough to be able to afford to publish two stories a month, then we’ll expand to that. And beyond that we’ll consider expanding in other ways. The sky’s the limit if there is enough interest and support. I’ll be posting sometime in the not-too-distant future about our Patreon campaign to this end. In the meantime, recurring PayPal donations either on the DP page or the Grinder page are the best way to help support both our necessary costs and our harebrained schemes like this.

Award Eligibility Post 2014

written by David Steffen

And now the gratuitous award eligibility post–feel free to skip over it if you’re not interested, but figured there might be someone out there who might want to see it. This post covers works by Diabolical Plots and by me personally.

From time to time people ask me if they can nominate the Submission Grinder. In the past, I thought the answer was “no” because most of the awards seemed to be very publisher focused–so the best way I thought to try to recognize the Submission Grinder would be to nominate Diabolical Plots. But there ARE a couple categories the Submission Grinder qualifies for in some awards, so I’ve listed those two first.

And just to be clear, no I don’t really think we have a shot at anything, but I see no reason why I can’t mention what we’re eligible for.

Writer’s Resource/Information/News Source

1. The Submissions Grinder

I wasn’t aware of this award until this year, part of the Preditors and Editors Reader Poll. Someone has seen fit to nominate the Grinder, so thought it would be worth mentioning.


World Fantasy Special Award – Non Professional

1. The Submissions Grinder

Likewise, I wasn’t aware of this award, but it’s another way to recognize the Submission Grinder directly if you want to see it recognized.


Best Short Story

1. “Catastrophic Failure” by David Steffen at Perihelion

2. “Always There” by David Steffen at Lakeside Circus

3. “Unraveling” by David Steffen at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

4. “A Switch in Time” by David Steffen at Perihelion

5. “The Thing About Analyn” by David Steffen at Stupefying Stories


Best Related Work

All of the articles that I’ve written here and in SF Signal are eligible for this category, but I’m not going to list all dozens of them. I’ll just mention the one that I thought was most notable:

1. The Best Podcast Fiction of All Time (at SF Signal)


Best Editor (Short Form)

1. David Steffen (for nonfiction)

Note that although we’ve been reading slush for fiction publication in 2014, we haven’t published any fiction yet, so only my nonfiction editing can be taken into account. And Anthony isn’t eligible this year for the same reason.


Best Fanzine

1. Diabolical Plots

Next year, instead of Best Fanzine, we’ll be eligible for Best Semiprozine because we’ll be a paying fiction market.


Best Fan Writer

1. David Steffen
–For the short fiction listed above, the large number of nonfiction articles here and in SF Signal.

2. Carl Slaughter
–Mostly for interviews

3. Frank Dutkiewicz
–Reviews of Daily SF

4. Laurie Tom
–Anime reviews



Facebook “naked link” fix

written by David Steffen

Usually, when you post a link on Facebook you get a nice little preview image from the page you’re linking to along with a sample of text from the page. Except when you don’t. Sometimes it just shows the URL and nothing else–and you know that people aren’t going to click through if it’s just a URL.

I’ve had that problem with many links, especially to Diabolical Plots articles. For a while I didn’t know anything to do about it but to try again, and again, and again. Sometimes it would work well after hours, sometimes it would be incorrect for weeks.

So I was very relieved to find that there is very often something you can do about it, a trick that I’ve found very handy. It helps work around the flaw that Facebook hasn’t bothered to correct after years and years of it manifesting.

1. Visit the Facebook developer’s page.

2. In the text box enter the problem URL.

3. click Debug button.

4. On the page that loads click the “Fetch New Scrape Information” button.

5. Now go back to your regular Facebook page and try posting the link again.


After you enter the URL you’ll see a whole bunch of technical gobbledygook. You don’t need to pay any attention to that. The important thing is to cajole the Facebook engine into fetching new information about your page. Really, it should just do that whenever you post a link in preparation for making the link preview, but for some reason it doesn’t.

Sometimes this doesn’t work either, and when that’s the case I don’t know of any other solution.

Unbranching Personal Narratives

written by David Steffen

When I was about nine years old I was out at a story with my older brother who would’ve been about eighteen years old at the time. I think it was around Christmastime and there were a few inches of snow and ice on the ground. As we were walking out of the store, minds casting ahead to what we were going to do at home. Before we got to the car, a woman walking alone ahead of us slipped and fell on the ice, ending up flat on her back ahead of us.

If anyone had asked, I would’ve considered myself a compassionate person. But my kneejerk reaction was that we would keep on walking. But, to my surprise, my brother stopped and made sure she was okay. She was capable of responding and had no apparent injury. We helped her up to her feet. Some other people came over to check she was okay and then we were on our way. She was okay and no harm done, but of course I didn’t know that at the time.

That incident comes up in my mind from time to time, especially at times when I have a chance to help someone. I expect my brother doesn’t remember it. The woman probably doesn’t remember it either. But it comes to mind when I have an opportunity to help someone, so I don’t make the same mistake. It was a formative moment even though it probably wasn’t significant to anyone else.

From time to time I wondered why I acted that way at the time? I thought of myself as a compassionate person. So why didn’t I even think to help? I learned the Golden Rule in school and believed it was right, and if I fell I’d want someone to check that I was okay. The best explanation that I can think of is that I was focused on my own personal life narrative and I didn’t see how this stranger fit in–I was ready to get on to the next scene. But that’s no way to go about life. Everyone has their own storyline and maybe sometimes you’re just playing a bit role in someone else’s story–maybe no one will even remember it, maybe they will, but doesn’t matter.



written by David Steffen

One of the most important traits to lasting as a writer is persistence even in the face of long odds. I’m nothing if not persistent–I’ve sent more than 1500 submissions since I started submitting 6 and a half years ago.

Thinking back on my childhood, there may have been some early signs that I was (perhaps unreasonably) persistent. One particular story happened in 1991 with the release of Super NES game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I’d grown up playing the first two Zelda games on my brother’s NES. I had my own SNES and I was very eager to try out the game. But when the game was released, I didn’t have $50 on account of being an unemployed child. I had my eye on the game at the Lewis Drug down the street, and I was scrounging for pocket change in the couch, doing odd jobs for family, and so on. While I was saving up, I was worried the game would go out of stock and never come back in, so every single night 10-year old me would call Lewis Drug and ask them if they still had the game on their shelves. Somehow I was genuinely surprised when, after the first night or two, they didn’t actually go check before they told me they have it. It never occurred to me that I was most certainly the only one calling every day to ask about an item I didnt’ buy. Eventually I did come up with the cash to buy the game. And I’m pretty sure that when I came into the store the clerk asked me if I was the kid who called every day… before I counted out $50 of pocket change onto the counter.