Lovecraft’s heroes fit a type: the educated white male, the avatar of acceptable and normal. A type that some of his successors have sought to invert, casting those his work often labelled villain as hero. But most of humanity is neither utterly normal nor a clear outsider. Most live lives of quiet dissonance. Lives that are equally vulnerable to revelation of an uncaring universe.
Instead of stories about people defined by the status they present, I’m seeking tales of cosmic dread featuring protagonists who are hiding an otherness. White male mechanics who are the epitome of traditional masculinity in public but submissive on the weekends. Respected academics who collect life-sized dolls. Inner city teenagers who secretly want to live in a library not graffiti it. Protagonists who aren’t what those around them would consider normal, but aren’t publicly defined by it.
How would they find themselves facing humanity’s insignificance? How might they cope with cosmic dread?
Genre: Cosmic Horror.
Word Count: 1,000 – 10,000 words.
I don’t want to miss your story just because it’s a bit longer than the traditional short story.
Submission Window: Closed.
If you have something that fits, I’ll give it equal consideration. Just let me know where it’s previously appeared.
Simultaneous Submissions? Yes.
Please tell me if your story is accepted by someone else first.
Multiple Submissions? Yes.
Within reason. Please send each one in a separate email.
Rights Non-Exclusive Worldwide right to publish the story in the specified anthology for the term of copyright.
i.e. I can keep the anthology on sale for as long as I choose but you can freely sell/publish the story in the future. As I’m accepting reprints, I’m not requiring a period of exclusivity; however, I’d prefer successful contributors leave at least a few months following publication of this anthology before selling/author-publishing the story again so the releases don’t tread on each other.
Payment: All successful contributors will receive £15.00 paid via PayPal on publication and an electronic copy of the anthology.
Submissions: Email the story as an attachment to email@example.com with the subject OUTSIDERS WITHIN – Your Name – Story Name.
Stories should be a ODT/DOC/DOCX file. They don’t have to be in standard manuscript format but if I struggle to read them then they probably won’t be selected, so use a sensible typeface and layout.
Please include your PayPal address, either in the email or on the manuscript.
Cover letters are optional; feel free to write one if you want to practice, have any questions or information you want to share, or don’t feel right not sending one. My decision will be based purely on the quality of the story and not the number or prestige of your previous publishing credits.
In light of the volume of submissions to previous calls, I will not be acknowledging receipt.
I intend to make final decisions by the end of July 2020. If you haven’t received a response by 31 August 2020, please feel free to query.
Can my protagonist be an educated white male?
Yes. As long as there’s a part of their life they don’t feel comfortable publicly sharing that shapes their character but doesn’t define it.
Can my protagonist be openly a member of a minority or other oppressed group?
Yes. As long as there’s something they are concealing from others as well. For example, a story set in the heart of the homosexual club scene where the protagonist is concealing they support a family values party.
What does shaped but not defined actually mean?
I want stories driven by characters not thinly veiled allegories. While all stories that speak to the reader are—in one sense—political, alien entities as a clear metaphor for capitalism can be as tedious as alien entities as a metaphor for non-Caucasians. I want complex characters whose otherness is part of what makes them interesting not the one thing that makes them special. For example, I’m not going to reject a story because the protagonist is a First Nation character who discovers their tribe’s ancient traditions give insight into an eldritch threat uncovered by strip mining, but it might be a harder sell than one with a First Nation character who is hiding his love for anime from his traditionalist family.
Should I include/avoid references to the Cthulhu Mythos?
I’m looking for stories about protagonists facing cosmic dread, the fear of humanity’s insignificance in the face of an incomprehensible and uncaring universe. Lovecraft’s monsters, books, places, and people—and those of the wider Mythos—can evoke that sense of a vast hidden reality; but—like all famous symbols—the best known of them can have a sense of familiarity and comprehensibility that counters cosmic dread. So, include or omit them depending on whether they enhance the cosmic horror: for example, Hastur’s association with moral decadence might enhance a story about a protagonist hiding their love of BDSM if the horror derives from sexual mores being irrelevant but not if the horror is that kink does weaken the soul.
Does the protagonist have to be a hero?
No. The heart of cosmic horror is that human choices don’t matter to the universe, so the character needn’t be heroic, develop personally, or win in the end; they don’t even have to survive. So, protagonists with an extreme or immoral characteristic could fit as long as they are engaging characters rather than thinly veiled political statements.
What about bad language?
Cosmic horror isn’t tidy, controlled, family friendly; in fact, it’s the opposite. So, if a character would swear then feel free to write them that way. Remember, salty language is like real salt: some can add flavour, throwing handfuls in smothers the taste.
What about gore?
The goal is to inspire dread not merely gross readers out. But if your graphic descriptions of maiming and torture also convey our insignificance then that could fit.