For Exposure cover reveal

Behold, the cover art to FOR EXPOSURE:

For Exposure_CVR002sm

Click for a larger, better view.

Justin Stewart did the art and design. Dude has mad skills!

The book is coming along. It’s about 50% written. The “Eyewitness Rebuttals” by Justin, Maurice Broaddus, and Sara Harvey are great. The ‘Oral History’ piece is nearing completion. The ‘Apex in 10 Years’ essays are a hoot. I think folks will enjoy For Exposure immensely!

This comes out on June 20th, at the Apex 10th Anniversary Party.

A few people have asked about preorders. Our target date is late April/early May.

Hard to Be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Hard to Be a GodThe last five years has seen a resurgence of interest in non-Western European (for the sake of keeping things simple I’ll include the United States, Canada, and Australia in this group) genre fiction. I can speak to this personally, as I’ve had much success with The Apex Book of World SF anthology series. We’re seeing fantastic translated work such as The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu from China, fine work out of Viz Media, and a rise in the number of translated stories appearing in the short fiction zines.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the tone and flavor of eastern European genre work. Stanislaw Lem was one of my earliest favorites. The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko is a fantastic modern fantasy thriller. When a publicist for Chicago Review Press queried me to review their new translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s classic Hard to Be a God, I ditched my usually policy of not doing solicited reviews and accepted the challenge.

Admittedly, part of my decision was influenced by the release of a new film adaptation of the novel by the recently deceased director Aleksei German. German’s film is a messy, muddy, and bizarre affair…and quite possibly one of the most realistic portrayals of early Medieval times ever put to the visual medium. A respected reviewer on RogerEbert.com declared Hard to Be a God one of great films with a capital ‘G’ (I take this to mean it is up there with the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Godfather). It is a challenging 3 hour slog, so I’m not prepared to agree, but I do encourage my readers to look it up.

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The novel is the story of Anton, an operative from our future who is placed on an alien planet to observe a world that has not advanced beyond the technology of the Middle Ages. On this world, Anton is a powerful and infinitely wealthy nobleman named Don Rumata who lives in Arkanar. Through the course of the book, Rumata works in subtle ways to obstruct the usurper Don Reba (a vile, evil fellow) from taking over the region of Arkanar. Reba orders all “learned men” to be killed (the literate–scientists, artists, writers, etc.) and installs a vicious order of monks to carry out his instructions. Rumata despairs at such inhumanity, but hands are tied, as he is bound by the code of his profession to not interfere with the machinations of history. In the end, Reba has his way and Rumata goes on a killing rampage and has a nervous breakdown.

It’s all some deep and depressing stuff. It’s also entertaining and a page turner. While not loaded with action, the dialog is often humorous and ironic in the darkest ways possible. The plot moves along at a fast pace. There is one sequence that will always stick with me…Don Rumata and a rebel friend discusses the role of God and why he should or should not help His suffering people…the sadness in Rumata’s replies and the desperation in the rebel’s questions strike the heart hard.

The thrust of this classic novel is a common one: that religion and misguided faith can be effective tools of the wicked. It’s title is in reference to the technological powers Don Rumata has at his disposal, yet he has to stand by and watch his people murder and torture each other. Rumata is a literal placeholder for God. The metaphor is quite explicit and Rumata does plenty of despairing about his predicament in the narrative.

I know little about Russian history in 1964 (when the novel was published), but based on an essay by Boris Strugatsky that accompanies the book, writing a novel that openly questions and challenges the role of religion and the stark authority of those wielding during that time could be bad for one’s health. It is an impressive thing that Boris and Arkady did.

As a fan of science fiction, I believe Hard to Be a God to be essential reading. As a display regarding the power of literature, Hard to Be a God is a shining example.

I’ve included a trailer to the movie adaptation below.

Millennicon + Apex + Me this weekend

I will be attending Millennicon this weekend! If you’re going, look me up, I’ll be easy to find. I have the red hair, the accent, and an Apex table in the vendor’s hall.

Millennicon is a science fiction and fantasy convention that caters heavily to the literary crowd. This year’s GoH is Laura Resnick.

Millennicon info
When: March 20-22
Where: Cincinnati, OH
Website: http://mvfl.org/millennicon/

Dealer’s Room Hours:
Friday 5-9pm
Saturday 10am-7pm
Sunday 11am-2pm

Please overlook the website they use. It does not reflect that this is a fairly well-run and fun convention.

 

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

Embedded in yesterday’s announcement regarding the June 20th Apex 10th Anniversary Party was a not-so-hidden mention of a new Sizemore book release. Five different people have asked me about it. My viral marketing plan has worked!

The book is titled For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. It will be a collection of essays detailing some of the more entertaining shenanigans I’ve gotten into over the past ten years. A memoir of my time running Apex, if you will. The essays are all written in a “creative nonfiction” style, though everything I share is rooted in actual experience. Because this books ties in so closely with Apex, it will be published through Apex Publications.

The title is, of course, a sly double reference to exposing my ten years to the public and the small press habit of offering to pay contributors “for exposure.”

Justin Stewart is providing the cover art.

Past/Current Apex authors and editors are contributing to an “Oral History of Apex” and a chapter outlining where they think Apex will go in the next ten years.

The book releases June 20th! Another reason to attend the history making 10th Apex Anniversary Shindig.

In the next few days, I hope to share the Prologue on the blog. Until then, here is a taste:

See the child cower behind the pew. He’s a matchstick of a kid, pale with a ball of thick, curly red hair towering outward like a healthy flame. At the age of ten, his imagination is an uncontrollable beast, and he can imagine the demonic afflictions that affect the men and women jerking about on the worn brown carpet of Big Creek Baptist Church.

Mark your calendar: June 20th, 2015

Ten years ago today, we released the first issue of Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest. It featured an original cover by Justin Stewart and new stories by MM Buckner and Lavie Tidhar.

It is time for a celebration!

Apex Publications, in league with Joseph Beth Booksellers, will be hosting an Apex 10th Anniversary Bash at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers Lexington location on Saturday, June 20th.

We’re still putting together an official guest list and official activities, but we wanted to announce the date so that you can set aside the time if you wish to attend.

Here are some of fun things that I know so far will be happening:
*The release of my new book FOR EXPOSURE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A SMALL PRESS PUBLISHER.
*A reading from FOR EXPOSURE with a signing afterward.
*Door prizes throughout the evening.
*A Q&A with prominent Apex editors and authors (and sure, the publisher).
*Dinner with Apex from 6 to 8 p.m. with a special ‘Apex’ menu at Bronte’s Bistro.
*A cocktail mixer with Apex from 8 to 10 p.m. with a special ‘Apex’ shot and mixed drink.

Other stuff in consideration includes: A group signing for Apex authors, a panel discussion regarding the small press, a workshop for writers, special appearances by a number of authors, an art display… Ideas are still brewing!

JUNE 20th! I better see you there!

(PS: I normally don’t copy posts from Apex directly here, but this is too big a deal not to share!)

FB event page for the Apex 10th Anniversary Celebration. Everyone is invited! https://www.facebook.com/events/364986863693946/

Apex_Digest_(front_cover)

The cover of issue 1. History, yo.

 

Saying Good-bye to Another Friend

On Wednesday, we lost our other furry family member. Shadow was fifteen years old.

Shadow, 2000-2015

Shadow the Cat, 2000-2015

Shadow was the strangest and sweetest animal I’ve met. His personality was eccentric and funny, which made him popular with other family and friends. My family has an incredible number of great memories about the different weird and amusing personality tics Shadow had. He and Phantom had a love/hate relationship, but they did love one another…he passed away two weeks to the day after Phantom.

My wife and I found Shadow at a pet store that was adjacent to our vet. Dr. McClain and his staff had found a group of tiny kittens (they had just opened their eyes) and the pet store had them on display in their window. One little black kitty shivered in the corner, all big eyes, scared and malnourished. Susan and I had our hearts stolen immediately. We adopted him and named him Shadow, the black counterpart to the white Phantom. Instead of doing kitten things, he liked to play fetch and have his belly rubbed like a puppy dog.

Shadow went from a fragile little creature that fitted in the palm of my hand to a large 20+ pounds adult cat who could nearly knock you over with a pounce. In a quiet house, his rumbling purr during a good belly rub could be heard in the next room.

Lymphoma took him away from us Wednesday. The same vet that had found him 15 years ago, still next door to the location where Susan and I saw Shadow for the first time, administered the compound that put our baby sleep. We scratched his chin and rubbed his stomach the way he liked.

Fluid in his lungs and around his heart made breathing difficult in his final moments. Yet, Shadow purred until the very end. It wasn’t the rumbling, room shaking purr of old, but a soft, weak purr. Susan and I like to believe he was saying “Good-bye, I love you.”

 

Give me your suggestion. I give you my book.

I need your suggestions. I have an old iPad that I’m placing in a display frame. I plan to run an image slide. What type of slides would prompt you to consider buying one of our books? The frame/iPad setup looks a bit like this:

zions_bank_table_top_ipad_display

This will be in a vendor hall at a fandom convention.

If I use your idea, I’ll give you a free copy of Irredeemable (or any Apex book)!

What Some People Don’t Get

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that my family has suffered a loss. Our cat, Phantom, passed away Wednesday. She lived a long, good life of 18 years. She was a best friend, and I’m blessed to have had her for so long (since I graduated college). Everyday with Phantom was a joy.

We got the bad news Tuesday evening from our vet that Phantom’s latest health scare was serious. She had had chronic kidney issues for over a year leading to sporadic dehydration and constipation. I was giving her IV fluids every other night to combat the problems. So taking her in Tuesday morning I expected (hoped for?) a similar diagnosis.

My two girls asleep on a Saturday night.

My two girls asleep on a Saturday night.

Turns out she had a tumor resting on her bladder. A scan showed what were likely metastatic tumors in her bladder and her lungs. Without removing the tumor, she would be unable to urinate. Treating the cancer would likely kill her or only prolong her life by a few weeks. Not treating the cancer would cause her to suffer and die within 48 hours.

The vet used a needle to extract all the urine from her bladder. He wanted us to take her home and spend one more night with her. And we did. Phantom did not feel well, she was throwing up, and kept making empty runs to the litter box. But she stayed sweet and loving until the very end.

Wednesday morning I carried her to the couch, sat down, and placed her in my lap for the last time. I thought of all the times she and I had ‘fought’ for that space, me wanting to sit my laptop there so that I could work. She wanting me to know that I was her human (and therefore she was the boss) and she would sit there whenever she pleased. 95% of the time she won.

She purred. She napped. Like she always did. I petted her. I cried. And then it was time for the last trip to the vet.

An hour later, my baby was gone. Watching the vet sedate, then inject her with the drug that would stop her hard is one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured.


Here’s the thing that many people don’t get about cats, dogs, rabbits…the pets that become important in your life. An animal dies, and you’ll hear as many “Eh, you’ll be okay, it’s just an animal. Get another” as you’ll hear “Christ, I’m so sorry, I know that’s tough to handle.” These unsympathetic individuals are blind to the two-way street of friendship and love a good pet provides. Either they’re blind, or they’re simply cold-hearted and don’t care.

Phantom with two of her favorite humans.

Phantom with two of her favorite humans.

Phantom did something that exemplifies her importance to my family, and why we love her as much as we do.

I was scheduled to pick her up before the vet closed on Tuesday. I stopped on the way to get the kids. I didn’t foresee any terrible diagnosis, and the kids delight in helping with the animal and chatting with the vet. I get their and by the serious look on the faces of the reception and nurse, I knew something was wrong. I ask the kids to stay in the lobby while I went to the exam room. The vet explained what they found and what it meant. I became upset, but composed myself so that I could bring the kids back into the exam room with me.

But my daughter reads me like a book. She knew immediately something was wrong. The nurse brought Phantom into the room. Phantom was lethargic and had a hard time standing. She looked in a bad way.

“What’s wrong with Phantom,” my daughter (ten years old) asked.

“She’s not well. She has cancer.”

“Can they fix her?” my son (seven years old) asked.

“No. I don’t think so.”

“She’s dying soon, isn’t she?”

“Yes, baby, soon,” I answered.

As understanding dawned, both my kids brave faces melted to sadness and disbelief. Tears erupted. They dropped to the floor, leaned against the wall, and started crying.

Phantom’s ears perked up upon hearing them. She forced herself up, wobbly and weak. She looked at my kids and emitted a quiet, soft meow. I noticed she was prepping herself to jump off the exam table (about 4 feet high), so I grabbed her and helped her down. She had a distended bladder and didn’t want it to burst.

Phantom limped over to the kids, meowed at them, and rubbed her face and body on their legs. She sat between them and let them pet her. She had always hated it when they were sad, and despite being on the verge of death, she still couldn’t let their heartbreak.


Some pets are indifferent to their owners and other humans. Feed them and keep them warm and that’s as far as the relationship goes. But some animals make real, personal, affectionate connections with their humans. When you find a pet like that, they do wonders to enrich your life. You learn what true, innocent love and affection is like. Your pet brings fun and levity to your life.

They’re best friends. Always on your side. Always by your side. Sometimes (literally) on your side!

These are things that pet owners understand.

And the poor souls who don’t understand why that’s so meaningful? I feel sorry for them. They’re missing out on one of the best things life has to offer.

Phantom, 1997-2015

Phantom, 1997-2015

Some thoughts about The Echo by James Smythe

echo*MOSTLY SPOILER FREE*

On my iPhone, I made a note to myself to buy and read The Echo by James Smythe. I don’t recall why I did this. I don’t recall when I did this. But I can tell you that I followed through with my note to self.

I’m delighted I did. I should listen to my sage advice more often.

James Smythe is a British author of considerable talent. The Echo is his third book, and the second in what he calls “The Anomaly” quartet. Book one of the series is The Explorer. It appears to be out of print, but it is available on the Kindle.

A blurb on the back of The Echo calls it a mix of Philip K. Dick and David Mitchell. I find that to be misleading. There’s none of the mad imagination of PKD or the emotional twisting of David Mitchell present in this book. I think a better comparison would be Stanislaw Lem and Jose Saramago.

Despite being the second book in the quartet, The Echo stands alone. I had no clue it was book two until I finished and dug around for more information about the author. An anomaly has been found some 10 million miles away from Earth. It is a void of color, sound, and form. Satellites sent to explore the anomaly malfunction and are never heard from again. An exploration crew was sent and never heard from again (apparently, this crew’s story is the plot of book one). Twenty-three years later, a pair of identical twin geniuses, Mira and Thomas, are able to convince a wealthy conglomerate of investors to finance another exploration plot when it is discovered that the anomaly is growing in size (thus becoming a potential danger to Earth).

Mira leads the crew while Thomas provides ground support. Despite minor setbacks, Mira and crew reach the anomaly. Things go sideways soon after. The last third of the novel breaks off from a solid action-adventure mode to full-on philosophical musings by Mira. The book does not contain a tidy ending…it’s a bit trippy (not full-blown 2001: Space Odyssey trippy, thankfully). Ultimately, I was pleased by how Smythe wrapped up matters.

There is a lot to digest in The Echo. James Smythe tackles some heavy themes: duality, empathy and compassion, reality vs. the unreal, interpersonal dynamics, and so on. It is after reading a book like this that I wish I had paid better attention in my Introduction to Philosophy course back in college.

This is some quality “science fiction makes you think” stuff.

I consider The Echo to be a science fiction analog Jeff VanderMeer’s fantastic weird/fantasy Area X trilogy. It doesn’t surprise me that it is paired with Annihilation in my Amazon suggestions.

You like challenging dark science fiction? Then try The Echo.

Buy The Echo (The Anomaly Quartet)

The Art of the Formal Short Story Critique

Most writers rely on story feedback in one way or another. Be it his/her momma, their best friend, or a spouse. For a lucky few, this is all the writer needs. For the rest of us, we should seek to broaden our scopes.

First, an aside.

There are several fantastic primers on the process of short story critiques. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to link them and encourage you to read them. After the links, I’ll add my thoughts.

RJ’s Guide to Improving Editorial and Critiquing Skills by RJ Blain

How to Critique Fiction by Victor Crayne


When critiquing verbally in groups, I try to keep the following in mind:

1) The story/novel is the result of a person’s hard work and time. Hurt feelings are easier to come by when criticizing in front of other people.

2) Be sure to accentuate both positive and negative aspects of the story/novel.

3) In a group, be sure to do your fair share of criiquing for the group time spent on your own work. Keep in mind that critically evaluating others’ work will help improve your writing.

4) Your job is to provide feedback, not proofreader notes.

5) Always be respectful and professional.

When I lead critique sessions, I prefer letting each person have their say without input from the author (unless the author has a specific question to ask after the critique). Then when everybody is finished, the author can make commentary as to why the story/novel was written a certain way or manner.

For those in my upcoming 6 week writing group session at The Carnegie Center, I look forward to seeing you Monday at 5:30pm!