Friday, August 18, 2017

Only 16 hours left!

We're down to 16 remaining hours in our Kickstarter campaign for Mysterion 2. At this point, we're 71% funded, with 89 backers.

That means we need to raise another $1412 before 8:11 am tomorrow morning (EDT, or GMT-0:50) in order to succeed.

This is a lot, and it might seem impossible. But is that true?

For example, if each of our 89 backers increased the amount of their pledge by only $16, we would be funded. (Or, since obviously some backers are able to contribute more than others, if everyone increased their pledge amount by 29%.)

Or, if we were able to find just 15 new backers who were able to give $100 each. Or 29 who could each pledge $50.

When you break it down like that, it doesn't seem quite so insurmountable, does it?

So if you're as passionate as we are about the need for more thoughtful, high-quality fiction that openly and honestly explores both the successes and ambiguities of Christian faith and the Christian experience; if you want to see more markets that pay authors a professional rate for their hard work; if you're excited about independent publishing and how it gives creative people the freedom and ability to pursue projects that aren't easily categorized, for niche audiences who aren't finding all of what they want to read in the output from traditional publishing ... then please help us reach our funding goal of $5000, so we can pay authors for enough fiction to publish a second volume of Mysterion in 2018.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stories We'd Like to See More Of

As our Kickstarter nears its end, we've put up some posts about the kinds of stories we don't want (or see too often). We thought maybe we should also talk a little about what we'd like to see more of.

So, if you're looking for ideas, here are some themes, sub-genres, and perspectives that don't show up in our submissions inbox quite as often, and where it might be easier to write a great story that stands out from all the others:

1.  Horror. We published maybe 4 stories (out of 20) that could be categorized as horror, and would have been open to including more, but we didn't get a lot that we both really liked. However, neither of us is especially fond of common horror tropes like vampires, zombies, Cthulhu Mythos, etc. Also, horror seems to be a genre where it's especially tempting to portray characters who disagree with your politics as monsters. Don't do that.

2.  Secondary world fantasy. This is actually the favorite sub-genre of both editors, but the Christian focus is often a difficult fit for fantasy set in alternate worlds. We only published 2 stories that could fall into this category. The problem is that, in this area, we tend to see either Pseudo-Medieval Europe with an actual Christian church, or Narnia pastiche (with an omnipotent Emperor / Ancient One / Creator, and some kind of animal Jesus). We don't really mind European-inspired secondary world fantasy, but it's going to be easier to stand out from the crowd with a less overused setting. (And if you really love medieval Europe, we'd probably be more interested in a well-researched historical fantasy set in an actual time and place.) Don't be afraid to be a bit heretical when creating your imaginary religion (Narnia is, after all--where's the 3rd person of the Trinity?). However, there does need to be some Christian connection, even if it's just through exploration of popular Christian themes such as forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, the nature of the soul, the character of God. Also, we see a lot of secondary world fantasy about patriarchal monotheists oppressing the noble, egalitarian, environmentally-conscious polytheists, and we're honestly kind of bored by it. (Though we're not especially interested in the reverse, either, with noble monotheists persecuted by evil polytheists--in general, try to avoid "this culture is the good guys and this other one the villains".)

3.  Stories about encounters with the unfathomable mysteries of the divine. Especially stories that don't try to explain everything. Donald has written that "There's a tendency in Christian fiction to write theophanies as if they're altar calls. I would have liked to see more of the strangeness, fear, and bewilderment found in the theophanies you read about in the Bible. They are warnings, commands, prophecies. Even Paul's road-to-Damascus calling was more challenge than instruction. He needed other people to explain to him what he was supposed to do about it."

4.  Stories about Christians who aren't (only) American, Canadian, or western European. Christianity is a global faith, and we'd like to do a better job of representing that. We would love to see more stories about Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean; and about Christians who live in the West but also have strong connections to another culture (including African-Americans and pre-European indigenous cultures of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand). We do want authentic, well-researched fiction. Just as we're not interested in stories about Christians where it seems that the author doesn't really understand or know much about the aspect of Christianity that they're describing (very common in stories about missionaries, BTW), we don't want shallow portrayals of cultures from around the world. If you're writing about a culture that isn't part of your own heritage, make sure you really do know what you're talking about.

Our Kickstarter is now 52% funded, but we only have 4 days left, so we still need to get a lot more people on board for this anthology to happen. If you're interested in the kinds of stories we've been talking about, please consider backing us, and help us get the word out to others!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kickstarter update: One week left

We're nearing the end of our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2, the second volume of our anthology of Christian-themed speculative fiction. With only a week left, and 44% funded, we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal. Since Kickstarter is all or nothing, if we do not make our goal, we do not receive any money, and Mysterion 2 will not happen.

While that would be unfortunate -- we believe that Mysterion is a unique market, paying professional rates for speculative fiction with Christian characters, themes, or cosmology -- we decided to use Kickstarter for exactly this reason.

For the first volume, we used Patreon. Patreon's normal campaign is as a monthly subscription, but it can also be set so that the patron pays for every post you mark as a paid post. You can put up multiple paid posts per month, or you can put up none. This allowed us not to charge our patrons anything until we delivered an anthology. We felt this was necessary since we were first time anthologists. My wife and I had no idea whether we would receive enough good stories to make a worthwhile anthology. Even if we did, did we have what it took to select the best stories, edit them, format them, put the book together in an attractive package, and deliver an actual book that we would be proud of? We thought we could, but given that we didn't actually know, we decided not to take anyone's money until we had the book ready. But whether we did the anthology or not was completely independent from the amount pledged on Patreon, although the pledges did let us add a couple of stories.

This time was different. We knew we could get enough good stories: we received over 450 last time, and only had room for 20. We also knew that we could put together a quality book. That was mostly a matter of figuring out who to pay to do stuff for us. Our main task was selecting and editing the stories, which admittedly was a lot of work, but now we had experience.

What we didn't know was whether it was worth it for us. Sure, we've sold some copies of the first volume, but we're still short of breaking even. If we were going to do a second one, we wanted to raise some money first, at least enough to pay our authors -- or, well, mostly enough to pay our authors. This time we didn't want to commit unless there was enough interest--in the form of people willing to exchange cash for books--to get us started. So the Kickstarter is a go/no-go for us, and a no-go is just as useful of a signal as a go, and certainly a lot less work. Once the Kickstarter runs its course, at least.

But I would be remiss if I didn't give you the opportunity to give us a go signal instead. So let me give you the spiel:
Mysterion is the only short fiction market that specializes in Christian-themed speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror) and pays professional rates. 
Unlike many pro-paying anthologies, we don't reserve most of our space for established authors. The first Mysterion was assembled entirely from open submissions. This gives newer writers a better chance of acceptance, and gives us the freedom to select stories entirely on the basis of how much we like them and how well they fit with others we've chosen. 
Unlike many Christian publishers, we don't expect all our authors to be Christians. Nor do we maintain strict content guidelines around sex, violence, and language; or around theology. We've published stories written from deeply Christian perspectives, and stories critical of the Christian faith. We're more interested in the questions than the answers, in promoting dialogue than in telling people what to believe.
If Mysterion 2 sounds like something you want to see happen, please consider backing us, and--at least as importantly--help us spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other platforms.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stories We See Too Often

As we gear up to hopefully re-open to submissions (depending on how our Kickstarter does), we've been putting up some posts that might help authors who are interested in contributing to our next anthology decide what to write for us (or what to send us from the stories they've already written).

We had a post on some of the most common reasons we reject submissions, and another on why we're usually not too keen on retold Bible stories. Today we thought we'd mention some of the story concepts we see too often.

These aren't necessarily concepts we dislike; but given our limited space, we aren't going to publish more than a couple of stories on any given theme. So rather than say that you can't send us any of these, we'll just caution you that the landscape is much more competitive, and you might have a better chance if you send something more unique.    

  • Stories about dead people who don't know they're dead
  • Time travel stories about someone trying to change the crucifixion
  • Stories about angels and demons that are all too human
  • Angels in general (we did publish four stories with angels in Mysterion 1, but we received a lot more)
  • Missionaries to aliens/natives/mythic creatures
  • Vampires and zombies
  • Gabriel annunciates to a modern woman
  • St. Francis meets a mythological creature
  • Someone famous meets a Lovecraftian monster
  • Retelling a Bible story (see our earlier post on this)
Having an original concept isn't everything, but it isn't nothing, either. 

Keep following the Mysterion blog for a future post on what we don't see enough of. And, if you want to see a Mysterion 2, don't forget about our Kickstarter! It's running for another 9 days, until 8:11 am on Saturday, August 19th (Eastern Time; GMT - 5:00).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why We (mostly) Don't Like Retold Bible Stories

Last time we were open to submissions, we received quite a few retold (or re-interpreted) Bible stories, and didn't accept any of them. Why not?

While we're not necessarily averse to publishing these kinds of stories, we find that they mostly fall into three main types, each of which is irritating in its own special way.

Type 1 stories posit that whatever really happened is completely different from what most devout Christians have believed through the ages. God wanted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and be thrown out of Eden. Jesus wasn't God incarnate, but a human sorcerer (or alien, or time traveler, or...). There's no such thing as miracles; here's a totally rationalist explanation for the plagues in Exodus, or the feeding of the five thousand, or the Resurrection (these probably don't even qualify as speculative fiction).

Type 2 stories go too far in the opposite direction, when careful Christian authors are so afraid that it would be heretical or even blasphemous to change anything in Scripture that they end up with basically a scene-by-scene retelling, sometimes with Jesus's dialogue lifted straight out of a popular Bible translation (usually either the King James or NIV). At that point, why should we even read your story? Why not just read the Bible? Even if you're expanding on the original material--filling in dialogue and adding characters--if you don't provide something that either deepens our understanding of the story, or pushes us to look at it in a new way, what's the point?

Our problem with both types is that the story itself is too often subservient to whatever point the author is trying to make about Christianity, and that doesn't usually lead to fiction that either of us wants to read (whether or not we agree with the point being made).

Type 3 stories are those set in the modern day, or in another historical period different from the original setting, or in a different culture. The main problem with these stories is that--like modern settings of Shakespearean plays--they're so overdone. It's usually pretty easy, for Bible geeks like us, to figure out which story it is, and from that point on there are rarely any surprises.

Type 3 stories often fall into Type 2 errors at the same time, which can be as jarring as watching characters in 1980s Manhattan speak Elizabethan English. We once watched a short film retelling of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The filmmakers were obviously going for an "edgy" modern version, set in the present day and starting with the woman's backstory before she meets Jesus. She has a fight with her abusive boyfriend, runs off to be alone at her special place in the woods ... and meets a guy in a white shirt whose face is never shown but who is surrounded by a nimbus of light. From that point on, the two characters just recite, word-for-word, the dialogue recorded in John 4. Never mind that the dialogue doesn't make any sense transposed to 21st century Massachusetts, or that it didn't address what the first scene had set up. We understand and respect that some Christians don't feel comfortable changing any of the details recorded in Scripture, even in fiction ... but if that's you, you should probably avoid Bible retellings if you hope to sell us a story.

Are there any Bible retellings we'd be interested in? Yes, definitely. There were a few that we seriously considered for the first Mysterion anthology, even though they didn't quite make it. You are probably better off telling Bible-adjacent stories, not least because you're less likely to be rehashing material that's been done and done to death. Your protagonist might be a minor character from a Biblical narrative, or an event that appears in the Bible might be part of your story but not the main plot. You might tell the story of a different stage of a character's life, before or after events described in Scripture. We don't actually have a problem with re-imagining, rephrasing, or rearranging Biblical content, or with stories in which certain events or perspectives recorded in the Bible aren't true. We're publishing fiction, not Bible commentaries. But we do have a problem with unoriginal stories.

In terms of content, there are lines we won't cross, but we're hesitant to say what they are, since some of the most interesting stories come close to the edge and we don't want authors to self-reject. Don't be afraid to try us with a story you're not sure about! The worst that can happen is that we'll say no.

So send us your Bible retellings (once we re-open to submissions)--but keep in mind that we do get a lot of them, so competition is fierce. And show us something we haven't seen before.

Our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2 has only 11 days left to go. We're now 36% funded with 56 backers. If you like what you've read here about the kinds of stories we're interested in, please consider making a pledge!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why We Reject Stories

At Realm Makers, we spent some time chatting with Robert Liparulo about the reasons why stories are rejected. His feeling was that many editors reject stories on the thinnest pretext, looking for the least mistake of grammar or spelling as an excuse to toss the story. This was confirmed for him by the fact that many of the same editors would tell him, as a famous author, not to worry so much about grammar and spelling.

While he's not wrong, I like to think that's not how we approach it. Many of the most prestigious magazines reject somewhere close to 99.9% of their submissions. When a story only has a one in a thousand chance of making it in, you really are looking for reasons to reject.

While we did reject 95% of our submissions, that's still an order of magnitude better chance of acceptance. We felt like we were looking not for reasons to reject stories, but for reasons to love them. So what are the reasons those stories didn't make it in?
  1. Weak prose. If there's a reason we stop reading after the first couple of paragraphs, it's probably this. We're not looking for perfection, but we are looking for clarity and flow--does your writing clearly communicate what you're saying, and is it painless and easy to read? Minor imperfections of grammar or spelling, or the occasional awkward phrase, we can handle, but if it's a slog to get through, we don't want to inflict it on our readers. Now this is harsh, and it's hard to fix. Grammar and spelling you can learn, but how do you make your writing good?  The best advice is to read more and write more, and over time, you'll get better.
  2. Unrelated to the theme. We're pretty broad in our interpretation of "Christian-themed". We'll publish stories that don't mention church, God, or the Christian faith, if they delve into concepts or ideas with special significance for Christians (like forgiveness, or the existence of the soul). But if your story is about fairies in a Celtic-inspired secondary world, and, hey, some of the Celts were Christians! ... don't send us that one. Also, having an angel in your story doesn't automatically make it Christian (see below, under "Unoriginal").
  3. Nothing happens. This is especially a problem for long stories. If we get ten pages in and we're still reading backstory, or an uninteresting debate between characters we have no reason to care about, or some character's moping about their feelings over some unspecified event in the past, we're going to lose interest.
  4. Shallow characterization. We want to care deeply about the characters. For Mysterion, we're especially interested in the faith of our characters, and how it moves them. We find that if we don't have any investment in the characters, and no insight into what ideals and desires drive them, we tend to lose interest. This is especially a problem for antagonists, who are often egotistical, amoral atheists or hypocritical, self-righteous believers, rather than real people who have an understandable reason for opposing the protagonist.
  5. Preachiness. Most sermons are less preachy than some of the stories we've received. People read stories to be entertained, and to encounter interesting questions. If your story presents easy answers, your questions aren't hard enough.
  6. Not compelling. A story that's compelling, where we care about the characters and their problems, where we want to keep reading to see what happens next, can keep us going through a lot of technical issues. We’re far more forgiving of problems with the writing if we're invested in the story. By the same token, technical excellence isn't enough to keep us reading an uncompelling story.
  7. Unoriginal. You may think your take on vampires/zombies/angels/demons is amazingly original. It probably isn't. And no matter how great your vampire story is, we're not going to publish more than one or two, and we receive a lot of them. So make sure there's more to your story than a vampire who wants to be saved, and then ask whether the vampire part is necessary at all.
  8. Doesn't deliver on its promises. If we reject your story for this reason, that means we were engaged enough to read all the way through, but ultimately didn't think you had written the ending the story deserved. Sometimes stories just trail off, and we wonder whether the writer forgot the last few pages. Sometimes there's a strong climax, but it doesn't address the conflict the author introduced in the beginning. When you write those first few paragraphs and show us the protagonist(s) and their problems, you're making promises to the reader. Not necessarily that the protagonist will solve their problems, but that they will address them in some way--whether they defeat the problem, are defeated by it, decide it's not really a problem, or turn away from it in favor of defeating a bigger problem. And we expect important characters and concepts from the beginning to play a part in that resolution. When they don't, we feel cheated.
  9. Not good enough to be so long. We'll consider stories up to 10,000 words long, but most of what we published was under 5000 words. Sometimes we get to the end of a 9000-word story with interesting characters, a compelling plot, and strong prose ... and we just don't like it enough to justify the amount of space it would take. This doesn't necessarily mean that the story would work better if it were shorter (although sometimes it does). It does mean that it wasn't special enough to have earned 10% of the anthology's total available word count.
  10. We don't have room. At the end of our submission period, we had winnowed the submission pool down to sixty stories that we would have loved to publish, and only had room for twenty. This is an issue with all publications, especially those paying pro rates. There are more good stories seeking publication than there are resources with which to publish them. We did try to make sure we published the handful of stories that we both ranked among our favorites; but we also needed to make sure we had enough from each genre, that we didn't have too many angel stories, that we had stories that spoke to each other, that we could trade off between Kristin's favorites and Donald's favorites. Some stories didn't make it in not because they didn't deserve to make it, but because there simply wasn’t room.
We hope this post has helped writers to see their antagonists (i.e., editors) as real people with believable motivations (i.e., getting a book or magazine out without having to spend hours on each story, even the rejected ones). Keep an eye on this blog for additional posts about the kinds of stories we're looking for (and not looking for)!

Also, our Kickstarter campaign is still ongoing. We're 34% funded, with 54 backers, and 13 days left to go. If you haven't pledged yet, and would like to see more of the sort of fiction we've been talking about, head on over and help us bring Volume 2 of Mysterion to life!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reason #7 to support Mysterion

The seventh reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you want to help us promote the work of newer writers.

Most anthologies that pay professional rates of 6 cents/word and up for fiction don't have much space for authors who aren't already established. If they consider open submissions at all, it's usually for a maximum of 4 or 5 spots, after the rest of the Table of Contents has already been filled with recognizable names.

While we've read and enjoyed many such anthologies, we also know that amazing stories are being written by authors who aren't already well known. And we want to give those authors a chance to shine.

We assembled the first Mysterion anthology entirely through open submissions, and we intend to do the second volume the same way. Yes, we invited established authors whom we knew personally to send us stories, and we even ended up publishing one. But no one had a spot reserved. We didn't accept any stories until we'd had a chance to review and consider each one submitted to us.

Now, our choice to proceed this way is not entirely unrelated to the fact that the two of us are new editors who don't exactly have long lines of famous authors clamoring to send us stories about Christianity. But we are absolutely committed to reserving the majority of our available publication slots for stories sent to us through open submissions, where new authors can compete on equal footing with established professionals and the only thing that really matters is how much we loved your story.

So if you also believe in making space in publishing for writers yet-to-be-established, please consider supporting us on Kickstarter!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Realm Makers Con Report

Enigmatic Mirror Press (i.e., Donald and Kristin) spent the last weekend at Realm Makers in Reno, Nevada. Realm Makers is a speculative fiction conference for (primarily) Christian writers, and this was its 5th year. It just keeps getting better. When we first attended two years ago, we weren't convinced it was worthwhile for most authors aiming to get published by general market vs. Christian publishers, but each year the conference organizers manage to bring in more agents and editors with general market credentials, and we run into more and more authors who may be Christian, but are aiming for a broader audience.

We were particularly excited to connect with other independent publishers that are--like us--coming out with books that don't fit into a traditional Christian publishing mold (Uncommon Universes Press and The Crossover Alliance, for instance; check them out!). Bestselling Christian horror writer Ted Dekker was this year's keynote speaker, with plenty of interesting and provocative ideas to share with the crowd. A great weekend, and we encourage other Christians who are speculative fiction authors and artists to look into Realm Makers for next year. (Although you certainly aren't required to identify as Christian in order to attend!)

We also met with our friend and fellow anthologist, Travis Perry of Bear Publications, who may be helping us out on the next volume of Mysterion. We finally got to meet Jessica Snell in real-life (Jessica reviewed the first Mysterion, and shares a Myers-Briggs personality type with Kristin). And we enjoyed chatting with Scott Thomas, Arpit Mehta, Kat Heckenbach, Peter Leavell, Teddi DeppnerDavid Farland, Robert Liparulo, and Paul Stevens--and many others!

We were thrilled to see our friend Frederic S. Durbin win the Realm Award for Best Fantasy by a Christian author, for his novel A Green and Ancient Light (which Kristin is still looking forward to reading, after Donald gave it to her for Christmas). Fred wasn't at Realm Makers--we know him from the World Fantasy Convention--but he's a great guy and an excellent writer (Kristin especially enjoyed his incredibly creepy Locus-Award-nominated story "The Bone Man", published about 10 years ago in Fantasy & Science Fiction).

And of course, we told anyone and everyone about our Kickstarter for the next volume of Mysterion. It's not the only reason we went, of course, but Mysterion is what initially inspired us to start attending Realm Makers and get more connected with the Christian speculative fiction community.

But what about the food, you ask? Don't Enigmatic Mirror Press con reports usually include restaurant reviews?

Well, unlike most of the cons we attend, meals were included in the overall registration fee. Most meals. This meant that, to Kristin's horror upon realizing it at the end, we didn't go outside even once between arriving at the hotel on Thursday afternoon and leaving on Sunday morning. (It was probably for the best; daily highs in Reno were hovering around the mid-90s.)

We did, however, manage to eat at two different restaurants, both within the hotel (which was actually a casino; but are there any hotels in Reno that aren't also casinos?). Because Kristin is a picky eater, considers breakfast the most important meal of the day, and doesn't like to stand in a long line for food when she's really really hungry, she decided that the continental breakfast provided to conference attendees wasn't going to cut it, and opted for the hotel buffet breakfast instead, at Toucan Charlie's. This was amazing! And Kristin is very hard to impress, food-wise. On weekdays, it was cheaper than the buffet at the last convention hotel we stayed at, the Boston Marriott Quincy, and about 10 times better. What didn't they have? Whether you were in the mood for Mexican, Chinese, a carving station (pork belly the first day, turkey and brisket the second), fried chicken, or traditional American breakfast favorites (including made-to-order omelettes and pancakes), they probably had whatever you wanted (amusingly, they had about 4 bacon stations scattered throughout the buffet, including at the end of the Mexican food section--they know people love their bacon!). Oh, they also had continental breakfast favorites (boring!), a good variety of fruit (strawberries, cherries, sliced peach/nectarine/plum medley, stewed figs, etc.), lots of pastries, house-made gelato, smoked salmon ... the list goes on. And the food was actually good. Seriously, if you're ever in Reno, you should eat here.

For dinner on Saturday night (which was not included in the price of admission), the Atlantis Steakhouse was the obvious choice, given Donald's love of steak. Donald liked it, but Kristin thought it was kind of meh, honestly. But she usually feels this way about steakhouses. Also, she probably ate too much for lunch and wasn't hungry enough to really appreciate a steak dinner at 6:15 pm. There was nothing wrong with the steak, really, but the sauce it came with was too sweet and just not very interesting. Also, Kristin got a side order of sauteed wild forest mushrooms, and they mixed those with the same boring sauce, so they might as well have been more of the white button mushrooms that already came with the steak (except those stood up better to the bold flavor of the sauce). The steakhouse does have killer cocktails, though! (And Donald liked his steak just fine.)

We hope we can attend the 2018 Realm Makers Conference; in the meantime, we're thrilled that a bunch of other Realm Makers people are going to be at World Fantasy this fall, in San Antonio (there are still World Fantasy memberships available, currently selling for $275, so if you're a Realmie who doesn't want to wait until 2018 for your next speculative fiction fix ... you can see who's already signed up here).