Brushing Away Sawdust

I’ve received a few questions about my submission call for Fears of a Clown, both while drafting it and afterwards. I added the ones clarifying the call to the call itself, but wanted to share some of my process in drafting the call for anyone who wanted to try compiling an anthology themselves or was curious about the inside of my mind.

The Barker Beckons
©Jack LawrenceCC BY 2.0

What inspired you to choose ‘things that scare clowns’ as a seed?

Just after Misha Burnett posted his challenge to publish an anthology, he posted a humorous theme generator to “help” people who were having difficulties thinking of a theme for their anthology.

My random seed was “horror noir clowns on the run”.

Clowns on the run immediately conjured an image of a comedy thriller; similar to Some Like It Hot but centred around pretending to be part of a circus rather than female impersonation. Which produced the slight chuckle that Misha admitted had been his aim in posting the generator.

However, horror and noir are two of my favourite flavours of story, so the result seemed a little too relevant to my interests to just ignore. Which prompted me to wonder how a gritty, scary tale of clowns running away would work.

An entire anthology of people in greasepaint waddling their way down mean streets to escape a killer or a monster felt a touch restrictive. However, it did inspire the thought that in modern media (fiction and less so) it’s usually the clown that is the killer or monster.

In the hour following that, I had three ideas for very distinct stories, confirming it was worth putting out there to see where other people took it.

Why such a broad range of word counts?

Both I and other short-story writers of my acquaintance have encountered calls that are perfect—apart from the word-count requirement. Either our story is too long or it’s too short; and—while a little judicious rewriting can ease something over the line—there’s only so much one can add or remove without losing the voice and ideas that make the story that specific story.

So, I decided to create a window that would both give space for a story to properly get going and remove the need to hide crisp lines behind padding

Why isn’t the call open immediately?

My swift—and entirely unscientific—survey of short-story writers, strongly identified 3 months as long enough to hear about a call and still have time to craft a submission, but short enough that authors who submitted early weren’t left in limbo for an interminable period before discovering if their story had been accepted.

However, there was also a significant minority of authors who find their best ideas come if they’re compelled to wait for a bit rather than being able to submit straight away. So, as no one indicated they wrote so fast they’d forget to submit a story if they had to wait a little while to submit, I created a three-month writing window with the first month blocked off to force people to let their unconscious get to work.

Stories sent the day submissions close will get the same consideration as those sent on the day they open. However, I did realise after posting the call that the gap does allow people who don’t like submitting later in the window more chance to hear about the call in advance.

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Call for Submissions: Fears of a Clown

Toward the end of last year, Misha Burnett challenged the Nasty, Brutish, and Short writing group to each compile and release an anthology this year. As Fauxpocalypse, a project he conceived, marked the start of my career as a professional author, it felt right to not only accept but dive in. So, I’m issuing a call for short stories.

Scary, thrilling, unnerving, or weird stories featuring clowns; but ones where the clown isn’t the thing that’s scary, where there’s something worse. Full details here: davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/submission-calls/call-for-submissions-fears-of-a-clown/

The Barker Beckons
©Jack LawrenceCC BY 2.0

If you know someone else who might be interested in submitting, please pass the details on.

Advent Ghosts: Protected Speech

As in previous years, I’m part of Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts, a 100-word scary story project. Read my submission is below.


Protected Speech

Josh strode up the beach, Bible clutched in one hand. Heathen arrows and spears flew toward him, only to be gusted aside by the wings of the angel behind him, the angel who had inspired him to become a missionary.

Smiling broadly at the unfortunates, he spread his arms wide. “Brothers. I’m here to tell you about Christ Jesus, the one true saviour.”

He’d done it where others had failed. He’d—

An arrow pierced his lung. “Wh—why?”

The angel grinned. “He’s so unspeakably just about everything. If they’d never heard of Jesus, they’d get to Heaven whatever they’d done.”

Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) by Nicholas Gagnier

Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) by Nicholas GagnierDriven by a mix of fear his life will have so little impact that his obituary will contain unnoticed spelling errors and a converse irony about the irrelevance of celebrity, Gagnier gathers poems that both showcase the arc of his life and gently mock the project as a naïve attempt to encapsulate something both complex and incomplete.

Anent the Prose of that Indescribable Scrivener

Discussion of Lovecraft’s work tends to focus on three things: racism, cosmic dread, and tentacles. However, as anyone who’s spoken to witnesses to an event knows, the same story becomes different depending on the author: so, while a tale of a Englishman who discovers a debased African tribe summoning a writhing horror and is traumatised by the realisation the universe isn’t designed for humans is immediately recognisable as Lovecraftian, what might distinguish Lovecraft’s version? While the exact combination of qualities might well require a theorem as long as his works put together, his core of his prose style isn’t that complex: Lovecraft’s sought to replicate a formal British style that was already considered archaic when he was writing and was more inclined to reportage than immersion.

New Pulp Action Story Available

My short story “Bad Beat” appears in the latest edition of Millhaven’s Tales of Suspense, the latest edition of Millhaven’s themed short-story magazines.

The cover of Millhaven's Tales of Suspense showing a woman sitting in a bedroom next to a dead man and holding a large gem
©Mark Gunk/Millhaven Press

In addition to my tale of poker games gone wrong, hard-headed debt collectors, and just a smidge of weirdness, there are seven other tales of mystery, crime, and espionage, each packed with pulp action.

The edition doesn’t officially release until 1st July, but US readers can pre-order copies from the publisher today.