Friday, October 15, 2010
We are visiting with Elaine Ash, who, along with David Cranmer, edited the fantastic new anthology Beat to a Pulp Round One. Elaine has agreed to answer some of my questions, and, as you know, I also solicited questions from the blogosphere. Below are Elaine’s answers, and if you have others just ask in your comments here and we’ll make sure you get answered. I’ll leave this post up for a few days. Questions are in italics, the answers not. Thanks to Elaine for joining us, and without further ado, here she is:
Charles: Elaine, can you tell us how you chose the stories you did? And how did you get major names like James Reasoner, Bill Crider, and Ed Gorman to contribute?
Elaine: Hi Charles! First let me say that you are not only a prolific writer, but you seem to be on top of every blog on the web, offering comments and encouragement throughout the community. You’re one of the pillars, and thank you so much for offering Razored Zen as a forum for the release of Beat to a Pulp Round One. Your readers have been very generous to supply such great questions.
This project started as a gleam in David Cranmer’s eye almost 3 years ago. Back then, Beat to a Pulp was a little acorn of a site; it did not have the established author and agent attention it now enjoys, and we had no idea if we’d get any stories at all for an anthology.
So we started with what we had—some really terrific writers like Glenn Gray and Patti Abbott, Frank Bill and Chap O’Keefe, who had been with us almost from the very start. In Chap’s case, I loved his satire “The Unreal Jesse James” so much that I begged for its inclusion. We just started asking for stories, and then word got out and stories rolled in. About halfway through, I got the idea to contact bigger names like Ed Gorman and Charles Ardai for stories, and David said, “Okay dreamer, go ahead.” Now I knew an ordinary email stating a plain request was not going to cut it. I spent hours and hours crafting customized pitches as to why we deserved the story and our track record with respecting short fiction and our plans for the book. I proofed and proofed those emails, because I knew both of them were sticklers for spelling and punctuation, and they’d be judging me, as an editor, to see if one extra space got through. When they both said yes, David about fainted on the spot. All of a sudden this project was bigger than he had ever imagined, with well-known names associated. He’s already been working on Robert Randisi and James Reasoner for months and months, and got them onboard. He also wrangled Bill Crider into doing the Introduction, and Bill has been a stalwart supporter of BTAP from the first story. Anyway, David was coming up with the cash, so he took an assignment overseas to earn money to finance it.
Charles: You and David Cranmer edited this book together. How did you divide up the duties? Did you butt heads over anything?
Elaine: I started as the developmental editor on BTAP and it became obvious, as the thing grew like kudzu, that I couldn’t handle the webzine stories plus the anthology. So I’ve exclusively worked on the anthology for about the last year. David and his brilliantly talented wife, the web designer and book designer, Denise, handled production, including the cover, and of course, David does what he always does; vetting the first round of stories that come in, vetting my suggestions and changes, and then keeping the promotion and publicity stoked on his blog, Education of a Pulp Writer.
Creative debate makes every project better. Did we butt heads? Like two rams on the side of a clover hill, you betcha. I come from the Hollywood tradition: He Who Cares the Most Wins. I argued passionately for “my” stories and reasons for printing them, and David argued for his. Why do you think there’s a boxer on the cover of this thing? The result is an eclectic collection that reflects the breadth of our contributors and readership, plus a touch of whimsical this and that. You gotta lighten up once in a while.
Charles: What makes a story hard or easy to edit?
Elaine: Plotline, plotline, plotline. Did I mention the plot? A story has to have clear plot points on which to hang its hat, or it just gets off in the weeds and is hard to follow. I take out a scalpel and trim away some fat, if necessary, so the plot shines clearly. When the plot is good, the rest is much easier. It doesn’t matter how great and colorful the characters and setting are, without events that twist and turn the story, and move it along, ya got nuthin’. A story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Proofreading is the next biggest time waster for an editor. Never rely solely on spell-check. It’s not your last friend standing. Webster’s latest edition is your friend and you have to pick up that ten pounds of paper and use it. Did you know back seat is spelled backseat? How about loose versus lose, know the difference? Put the time in with Webster’s before you send a story out. Editors really appreciate the effort. It separates the pros from the not-yet-pros. I might have found one teeny proofing item in Charles Ardai or Patti Abbott or Ed Gorman. The less well-known the writer, the more riddled and riddled with typos, misspells etc. In a 140,000-word anthology, that means weeks of work for me, for David, and for the designer who has to go in and laboriously change every letter by hand. Late nights, lots of late, late nights. Yes, it’s my job to do this. I’m not complaining. I’m just lifting the curtain on the process.
That being said, BTAP has always pushed the envelope and we appreciate experimentation. Case in point: George Miller Jr.’s “Cedar Mountain,” which can be found in our archives on the webzine. It does not have a classic plot, it follows the four seasons, which still qualify as a beginning, a middle and an end.
Charles: The anthology has an awesome cover. How did that come about?
Elaine: David and Denise have always been art collectors and avidly follow new painters and photographers. When Denise came up with her wonderful and unique design for the webzine, I knew she was very special and I defer to her judgment, always. I think she and David, together, found James O’Barr on-line, contacted him, and commissioned the original artwork for the anthology. This was not existing art; it was especially commissioned just for the anthology and David now owns the piece. It’s this kind of enthusiasm and dedication for the book as a whole, from the words to the layout, font, design, cover, that set Round One apart from other works, in my opinion.
In fact, “looks” set BTAP apart from other webzines, in my opinion. Again, I’m from Hollywood, where how it looks is very, very important. BTAP’s web design and graphics are colorful and well-balanced. The archives are beautifully structured and maintained. I’d love to see some other webzines team up with art students or budding designers and let them show what they can do to showcase words. I think the world, even the world of reviewers and critics and competitions, have shown they are willing to take on-line fiction seriously. As a result, IMO, it’s time for on-line zines to step it up a notch and take proofing a little more seriously, for a start. Utilize an independent proofreader. Writers are too close to their own work to accurately catch mistakes. It’s entirely possible to find a crime-loving proofer who will do the job for a credit on a webzine, you just have to ask. Find him/her and use them to get rid of the typos and punctuation gaffes. If anybody’s listening, maybe I’ll never have to grit my teeth at the sight of another double hypen in place of an em-dash! Attention journalists: your fiction can’t be proofed againstthe AP Handbook. You gotta crack that Webster’s. Now then, you see what David puts up with? :) Not taking my advice won’t kill you in the zine world, but it will in bigger competitions. A typo knocks you out of the field, say in the Thriller Awards. They’re ready to take zines seriously. The question is: Are we ready to take them seriously?
Deka Black: Well, here is one question I’m very interested in so... Any chance to see Beat To A Pulp published in Spain?
Elaine: You know, even with internet and all that e-shop stuff, sometimes it’s hard to be a pulp reader in the East of the Great Puddle.I’m very flattered that you show an interest. The market decides, you know. It’s all about demand. BTAP is a teeny, tiny player funded with capital from our personal piggy banks. But publishing is changing rapidly. People buy more and more books online and big players like Barnes and Noble are getting left behind. They were very slow to recognize the on-line sales trend and are hurting because of it. The good news is, all it takes to launch a book in a new market is a translation and throw it up on CreateSpace. Or if you mean just selling the book in English, in Spain, CreateSpace ships internationally. There are no borders to internet selling. That’s the great thing about it.
Ron Scheer: Were there stories you liked but didn't select for reasons other than space?
Elaine: Yes, undoubtedly there were. But we were already hefty at 397 pages, and had to draw the line somewhere.
Ron Scheer:Did you start out with an agreed balance among past, established, and new writers? Were there any differences between the two of you from the start about selection criteria? Any that came up later?
Elaine: No. My criteria is and always will be a compelling story that makes me give a damn. I don’t care if you’re nobody from Bumlost, Nobodyville. David always checks resumes, but I’ve been known to give thumbs-down to stories that may be by big names that I don’t feel are as good as one by somebody not well known. Case in point would be Jake Hinkson’s story, “Maker’s and Coke.” Nobody would call Jake a household name, and David suggested, rightly so, that we might push the story a little further back in the lineup to make way for a writer who is, very much, a household name. But I felt strongly about the emotional impact of “Maker’s and Coke.” I felt that anybody cracking open the book and reading that story first would be unable to put the rest of the book down. It sets the tone for editorial excellence and our taste and eye for great crime writing and characterization. “Maker’s and Coke” may be a tough-guy story but it’s as much a heart-rending tear-jerker as any literary drama out there. I just said my piece and let David make the final decision. Jake stayed first up.
Ron Scheer: Doing this all over again, what would you do differently?
Elaine: Nothing. It would just get done quicker and more efficiently because the trail has been blazed already.
Tom: Will there be a "Round 2" and if so, when can I submit a story?
Elaine: That will be up to David Cranmer. I think somebody asked that question on his blog, Education of a Pulp Writer, and he said he nearly fell on the floor. He’s swamped with publicity and business demands right now, trying to get the word out about Round One.
Scathach Publishing: Are the authors paid a lump sum? Do they get royalties? If so, how much per copy goes to the author, how is it worked out?
Elaine: BTAP contracted and paid writers outright for their stories, which is more than some anthologies are doing. We also provide a free copy per author. Royalties are something that may be discussed at reprint time, if and when it comes around. Remember, this anthology is a labor of love, and David and I went in and invested in it knowing we might not make our money back. So although we don’t pay a lot, at least we pay something, and believe me, the writers got paid a year ago and we’ll probably have to wait another year to see anything, and maybe we won’t ever. But it’s worth it. We raise our own profile while providing a vehicle for our writers, and that’s the main thing. BTAP would be nothing without writers trying their best, over and over again, and we appreciate it so much. The on-line crime writing community is the best, most supportive, decent bunch of people in the world, IMO.
Thanks very much to Elaine for visiting and answering our questions. If you have any others, now’s the time. Just put ‘em in your comments