December 22, 2011

The Goings-on

Here Be Monsters, like any super villain empire, or league of super heroes, wants global domination. The power to shape the world to its every whim. It’s pretty simple. That sums it up. I guess I should “reassure” you that our whims are art heavy and involve speculative fiction. Whether that places us in the super villain or hero category is debatable. If this version of the future makes your brain itch then stop reading now, or please continue so we might win you over.

To enact our plans will take hard work. Dedication as seemingly intense as you can find here or here These folks also seem hard at it

We’re impressed by the number of submissions we’ve received in support of our cause, currently issue 6. You have all been sending us so much, it’s amazing.

A couple of questions come up rather frequently. Many of you want to know about genre and length. Is x number of words too short? What kind of genre are you looking for, or similarly is a story about x where x happens at location x ok? These are the two most popular types of questions. We like both types of questions. So thanks! I’ll try to clarify somewhat here. They’re good questions.

First, when it comes to length we are allowing up to 10000 words. That is quite a lot for most anthologies from what I gather. It sets us apart (I like to think, it’s one of the many things). Of course, the shorter the stories the more writers we can include and the greater variety we can provide the readers.

Is it possible to have fiction that is too short? Yes. Is it determined by word count? My opinion: most often not… well within reason. There are some very entertaining stories that are spectacularly short. They can stir a thought, entertain us, or make us question ideas, or ideals. If they do this in 750 words or 1500, for example then they aren’t too short. A good length for me is determined by whether the story tells the story it has to tell in a way that makes me want to read it.

Second… genre… please don’t feel constrained by it. We all have our preferences, but they are just preferences. We can read stories from our preferred genres that we don’t like, just as we can read stories from genres we generally turn to last and be pleasantly surprized. So it may not be about genre, but we do enjoy strange. When in doubt, try us.

December 14, 2011

Writing in Boxes

A couple of weeks ago I discussed our collaborative writing project that we did over the summer. That was one of the two writing projects I started during the publishing break. The other one was building a portfolio for video game writing.

Now, this is a separate field in a lot of ways, and not something that the other HBM authors dip their toes into, so this whole post is basically a tangent. But, for me, it's been a really interesting journey learning about the writing that goes into a game.

First off, the craft of video game writing is incredibly young. It's juvenile in every sense of the word. It was hard for me to pin down how it works, or even when it is needed. Many games don't have writers in the traditional sense. Some games don't have (or need) writing at all. Tetris doesn't even have a story, and it certainly wouldn't be better if it did. Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favourites and an important work when it comes to story in games) does most of its story-telling through action and not writing. RPGs like Bioware's Dragon Age are bursting with writing, with text or dialogue making up huge portions of its 40+ hour play time. All this to say, video game writing can mean a lot of different things.

And the professional advice that I got matched with that. Other writers in the industry said that an aspiring writer should learn to have breadth and show that in their work. So, while my first few ideas revolved around stories that I would love to see in games, I later tried to do stories for games I wouldn't even enjoy. Or writing pieces that have nothing to do with story. So different from my fiction, where if I'm not liking the story that I'm writing, it won't get finished. I also learned some great exercises that felt a lot like the prompt-based writing that started Here Be Monsters. "Write 100 variations on 'I've been shot'" was always one of my favourites. After a few simple versions, I started looking at it like micro-fiction. They may be a bit elaborate but I think "I'll miss the birds on the pond the most" or "So I fall, as she prophesied, to a heathen's bullet" are a lot more fun than the usual barks you hear in shooting games.

I'm really excited about games and where they're going, so this was fun for me. But I found myself butting up against a lot of walls when doing the writing. There are the limitations of technology and scope. More constraining however, are the limitations in content. Games, by and large, have had a narrow field of stories. They are mostly about direct, violent conflict with another group or character. Literature teachers tell us not confuse the concepts of "hero" and "protagonist" but games have almost never made that distinction. And this isn't even taking into account the glut of remakes and sequels that makes the summer movie blockbusters look like a parade of film-fest darlings. It was so ingrained in me that I found myself looking back at a lot of pieces and thinking "isn't that just like the game x?"

So, I restarted. After a couple of months of work, I've taken a couple of pieces from the original eight or so and left the rest. Now I'm looking for more ways to tell stories in the rhythm and language that games use. Like, weaving a story for key units in a strategy game. Anyone who plays these gets attached to that one plucky pack of soldiers that have been with you since you started your campaign in Italy/Japan/Tatooine. Many games even have mechanics to reflect this, so I was looking to reinforce the feelings that already exist with dynamic story. I would also love to work on an adventure/mystery game. They're not as popular as they once were, but the ones that are made are often gems. Plus, you can add something to the traditional whodunit -- in text, a mystery can only end in one way (the one that is written) -- In a game, it's possible to have endings where the mystery remains, a lie stands as truth, or the real truth is revealed. The story can accommodate all of those.

I still have a lot to learn in this area, but I can see the potential there. I plan to keep going with game writing until I figure out how to make it feel as good as my fiction writing.

Thanks for reading this. If you'd like to hear more about it, I'll happily talk ad nauseam with you in the comments. Otherwise, look for more posts from HBM next week. And if you haven't seen our microfiction yet, please check it out.

December 8, 2011

Writing In Your Second Language

It's been about four years now since I started writing in English.  I mean in a serious way.  I had of course written in English before: for school, for work, or to write love letters to my English wife.  But about four years ago, I decided to start writing fiction in the language of Shakespeare and Stephen King, as opposed to that of Molière and Daniel Pennac.

I have, occasionally, been asked why.  And also pourquoi.

The first answer is: to make tons of money.  This is working out splendidly *coughs in hand*.

The second answer is: I'm not sure.

The third answer is: I've had a fascination with the English language for a long time.  I think it began with a great English teacher, in high school, who would take us to the park to read poetry out loud, analyze Leonard Cohen's work, and tell us about how he'd moved from Ontario to Montreal because you could buy beer at the corner store in Quebec. That's when I realized English was beautiful.  And that I would never move to Ontario.

As I started to explore English, its strange spelling, unfathomable pronunciation and wonderful music, what I discovered was that writing in my second language freed me from constraints I hadn't even realized I'd felt.  Whereas in French I'd been obsessed with sounding literary and deep, in English I could concentrate without guilt on doing what really interested me in writing: telling stories.  And so what if it didn't sound quite so deep?  After all, it was only my second language, so this was just for fun, right?

That's what I've been doing ever since.  Having fun.

December 1, 2011

Strategies for Writing: Super Vague and Hard to Do

First, Expozine happened in Montreal last weekend. I hope people made it out to see some of the great things people are doing!

Down to “business”. I’d like to talk about stories. Many elements can help create a good story, for example, interesting character development, conflict, intricate plot, or simply an emotional atmosphere. Sometimes you get all of these and more. Other times it’s just one that carries the weight. Then there are the bad stories, but hey, so much is also subjective.

A writer’s ability to be creative can influence all of these elements. Creativity may be a mix of experience and talent. What do you think? Is it more one than the other? Regardless, I think it also benefits from process. For example, everyone knows brainstorming. It’s basic. You can brainstorm at the beginning, but also as you go around specific elements.

I like to bring together random ideas or elements and think, what if…. What I bring together can be concepts or objects. The fun is in playing with these things to see how they can fit together as a piece of a story, or in some cases it can be in seeing what stories may be possible. So you could toy with: bad ideas as a commodity and a merchant; cloning to allow for physical immortality and a secret society; or octopi and human gene splicing…

When I have an idea or a combination of ideas I try to imagine what could happen if I slip the ideas into different situations. I never stop at my first situation. Often even my original ideas change. It’s a rather deliberate pursuit beyond the first idea and situation. The idea and situation become interwoven and changes in one often mean changes in the other. Whatever I have in mind I don’t hold it too tight. The whole process is fluid and things never happen as I plan them… they happen as I write them (… and again when I revise).

Layering is important for me. I start with something simple, but add to it. I’m looking for strangeness. Whether I achieve what I want is always debatable. Especially, because I don’t know what I want until I have it.

What I’ve mentioned here is just a piece of what goes through my head, but even that was hard to put into words. How accurate is it? Honestly, probably, not very. Mostly, because it leaves out the whole thing I do with peanut butter, balloons and parking meters.

Following us on FB helps you know when we’re looking for submissions (which we are doing now!), and when we’re launching. Do that if you want. Thanks for the submissions so far. They’re great. We’re looking forward to the ones yet to come!

November 24, 2011

The Collaborative Project

I mentioned earlier on the blog that we had all taken on some projects during our break from publishing HBM. For me, this meant working a little on video game writing ideas and a little on nothing at all. Then, Duane, Vincent, and I decided to write a truly collaborative piece. For those who don't know, Issue 3 of Here Be Monsters (called "Where Cities Tread") was made up of three stories that were all set in the same world. We'd designed the concept together, but each story was still written by the author on his own. During the summer though, we started on a story that was actually written by all three of us.

To do this, we used Google Docs. It allowed us to write on the same page at once, comment on eachother's writing, all while chatting from our computers at our separate houses. I'd known about the tool before this, but to see it in action was pretty incredible. During our first session, we were brainstorming all kinds of ideas. Characters, themes, rules about the story, publication plans, everything was pouring out faster than we could have done around a kitchen table (our usual meeting room).

There was even some healthy debate going on about ethics, religion in fiction, all sorts of things. And, keep in mind, this is with 3 passionate writers, so the fact that we were able to keep it to "healthy debate" is a testament to how well we get along and work together.

The plot was slower to come together than some of the other parts, but we had enough to start with. So, each of us began writing from a separate point in the story. I was doing a scene between two characters, going back and forth, when I got stuck. I wrote "I'm stuck" on the screen just so that the guys knew why I'd stopped, and then the amazing thing happened. Vincent picked up right from where I'd left off and continued the scene. He stayed true to everything I'd written so far but brought the story forward in a way I wasn't expecting. And I was totally on-board with it.

For those of you who are writers, or even other artists, you can probably imagine how scary it could be to work together in this way. You see all of eachother's mistakes before they can be corrected, you're required to buy in to other people's ideas and hope they buy into yours -- But this worked. Really really well. We all ended up tagging in and out like this as we formed the first few scenes of the story. It was so exciting.

Sadly, the project did get put on hold, but that's okay. It led us back to Here Be Monsters and a new issue. Also, it proved that we could do it. I don't doubt that we'll pick it up again. Whether it will end up as an HBM publication of some kind, I don't know, but it was too fun to not follow through on.


November 17, 2011

A Microfiction Best-of

A few months before my son was born, I was looking for a way to keep writing even as new demands were about to be made on my time.  It was around that time Duane decided to open a twitter account for Here Be Monsters.   That reminded me of microfiction, these little, 140-characters stories that started on twitter.  It seemed like a cool, if challenging, idea.  So I started writing some.   To my delight, I found it to be great fun, and a good way to keep the writing alive even when I had very little time to sit down at the keyboard.  I started thinking about my small snippets of fiction at every moment of the day, driving to work, burping the baby, changing a diaper, making dinner, all the while trying to figure out a way to tell something fun without going over the character count. 

You can find some of those on the blog in the “Microfiction” section.  Some are also on Here Be Monsters’ facebook page.  And for today’s blog post, I’ve decided to post a microfiction best-of.   Here are some of my personal favourites, a top-ten of sorts, though the choice was hard, so I might post some more later.

The froth on his coffee sank as he waited. Not that he expected anyone in particular. He just liked    to wait.

Nothing but stars and nebulae broke the vast monotony of his fall. It ended somewhere in time, and when it did, he was really hungry.

They met at a restaurant none of them liked. They ate for the benefit of the surveillance team, went to the cellar and never came back up.

An accident on a country road started it. The first driver died on impact. The second did not, and nothing would ever stop him again.

He could honestly say he loved partying. Almost as much as food, or sex, or executing transplanar demons.

The elephant shattered the mirror. Professor Yi, frantic now, picked up the shards. Maybe he could still fix the machine.

They breached the vault at 1am. At 2:35, they broke into the box. At 3:04, they strolled out the front door. At 4:13, the world was changed.

Istanbul bustled. Suits, tourists, muezzins, boats on the river. In the music store, she asked for a ghost drum. They took her to the back.
She watched the sun rise over downtown after a sleepless night. The man on the couch was no longer hers. Sad and relieved, she made coffee.

He didn't stay long in Prague. Her smell was in parks, cafés, on bridges. His pain rose with the wind; he waited for the next good train.

There it is.  I should also mention that we’re accepting submissions of microfiction for issue 6, if you want to try your hand at this.  The deadline is January 16th, 2012.  These are really just for fun, so we do not offer any payment for them, but will use the ones we choose somewhere in the issue.  Maximum 140 characters.

November 10, 2011

What’s so cool about the apocalypse, horror, and genre fiction?

My friends joke about my “bleak” curiosity with the end of the world, but really it isn’t that bleak – you know, the apocalypse. For me, it’s not just about the end, but the beginning. It’s about a new slate – endless possibilities to be explored though writing. Imagine if we could restart fresh as individuals, or as a civilisation. Don’t get me wrong, if an apocalypse (or the zombocalypse) happened, it would be a terrible thing, horrific on a scale I can’t comprehend. I mean, even Shaun of The Dead had its dark moments and that was a romantic comedy… with zombies. This is the joy of fiction, this freedom to play, to let slip the dogs of imagination on whatever scenario desired.

The apocalypse in fiction is a way to explore pioneer romanticism. It is our harsh place to start over, a chance to build, create, and do things right. It is our chance to explore whether we learn from history and to settle the age old debate between nature or nurture. There are similarities between Lord of the Flies and so many zombie scenarios; a group of survivors in a desolate land up against zombies, their beast.

So are zombies just about zombies? Zombies are catalysts for conflict concerning politics, science and religion. So, paradoxically, zombie fiction is often about life. There can be much social commentary. Zombies allow us to go into dark territory, removed from reality just enough so that it isn’t so dark that we can't see.

They are unthinking fodder. They act as an unstoppable force of nature, or some supernatural force. They are terrifyingly predictable as they march forth in search of flesh. They are rarely the only threat. To know someone, to truly know them, is to know how they will act in different situations and zombies are yet another situation to see how characters will react.

Submit your genre fictions for issue 6 with or without zombies. Go to strange places. Explore.

Oh and… brains… brains… brains…

November 3, 2011

Call for Submissions - Issue Six

Here Be Monsters is putting out the call once again. Submissions are open for Issue Six!

Duane, Vincent, and I spent the majority of the year working on secret projects (Duane and I fiddled around a bit, but Vincent actually created life). I'll probably write more about my time away from publishing HBM later, but right now I want to let everyone know that we're back and better than ever.

The exact requirements are available on our submissions page. We're looking for your most exciting speculative fiction, in any genre. If you've already submitted (or even been published by us) please feel free to send us something new.

You can also send any questions to our email at

Personally, I'm really excited for this round of submissions. All of us here have big plans and renewed energy to throw into the next issue. I don't doubt that it'll be our biggest and best yet. Also, spending some time away from the anthology has shown me just how impressive it is. I know I am biased, but I don't think there are any Canadian publications that put out the kinds of stories we do at the level of quality that we have. Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, whatever. The best of this stuff just hooks the reader in like nothing else, so I want to print it, post it, and share it with as many people as I can.

Thank you, looking forward to the next few months,

Alex Newcombe

October 26, 2011

Microfiction News

Good evening. For those of you who want to follow our wonderful twitter-size portions of fiction, there is now a dedicated microfiction section on this blog. From now on you can get your regular serving directly from there. In other news, we have a new twitter address: See you there! Vincent.

September 4, 2011

Follow Here Be Monsters on Twitter

Hi to all,
For those who don't know yet, you can follow Here Be Monsters on Twitter! Some mircofiction is regularly posted there for a quick dose of fun genre fiction.
See you there!
Vincent, Alex & Duane

April 23, 2011

Drawn and Quartered

Thanks to everyone who came out to the launch at Drawn and Quarterly. We had a great time as always and we hope you guys did too. The audience participation was fantastic; I think our improv writing was slightly less shameful because of it.

The bookstore venue was an interesting switch for us. We'll be discussing what worked well and what didn't so that we can plan our next launch. If anyone has any comments about how the night went, it would be great to hear from you at

Alright, back to work for me. Thanks again.

- Alex Newcombe

April 4, 2011

Issue 5 Launch Party

We'll be having our issue 5 launch party on April 14 at Drawn + Quarterly. This issue will have four new authors, as well as the 3 regulars. Expect the usual good times, entertainment, and on-the-spot writing.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Drawn and Quarterly
211 Bernard West