Friday, December 21, 2018

Six Questions for Stephen Kilpatrick, Host, Tales to Terrify

Tales to Terrify is a podcast featuring short horror, dark fantasy, and other disturbing fiction. “Feel free to challenge the definition of horror.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this podcast?

Stephen Kilpatrick: Tales to Terrify was founded at the beginning of 2012 by Tony C. Smith, who runs the District of Wonders network, and Lawrence Santoro, the original host of the show. Larry had a passion for horror and a close affiliation with the Horror Writers of America. He also had a strong background in entertainment that made it a rather good fit for the founding of a podcast filled with stories from friends and an extended social network. During the first year of the podcast's existence, my only involvement was that of a listener. Periodically, as all labor of love creative endeavors do these days, there would be requests for help, typically in the form of financial donations. At the time, I wasn't able to even consider kicking in more than a few dollars, so I volunteered my time as a narrator.

While working with previous editors and Larry as a narrator, the staff dwindled, was looking for editors, and I stepped up to become one. Not too long after that, Larry let us know that he was sick. I feel that as a matter of either pride or optimism, he initially downplayed the extent of the seriousness of it to me. Unfortunately, we lost Larry to cancer, and Tony left me the choice of closing up shop or continuing on.

I chose to carry on as a sense of duty to Larry and a sense of obligation to the many authors that we had pledged to air their stories and narrators that had already submitted completed narrations. At the time we had, literally, a year and a half of stories to air. It felt disrespectful to the aforementioned parties to simply discard all of that work, but I was uncertain if I'd be winding down the show or if I'd continue on past what we had. Year on, it's obvious that I continued on.

During that time I've had the help of several fine editors to help shoulder the work of the podcast.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?


* A measure of mastery of English.
* Something new or a novel take on something old.
* Something that we feel we can easily find a narrator for.

The first item can be subjective. Tales to Terrify is one of the few fiction podcasts that will accept original stories from unpublished authors. This does come with the task of receiving stories from people who have passionately created something that they love, but, frankly, need to polish their craft more. At the opposite end of the spectrum are authors who read like their co-author is the editorial staff of Roget's Thesaurus, needlessly wordy. Earlier this year I read Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and found it to be a prime example of mastery of English.

The second one can also be subjective, but we do also receive a fair amount of stories that are yet another vampire or serial killer or ghost story that you've read so many times before. Again, these were written by creative people who put love and hard work into the story that they took a risk in submitting, but if the story is one I've read before, or I can't understand why I need to care, then why would I want to air it? Tales to Terrify's listeners do enjoy a nostalgic trip down the halls of horror's history from time to time, but I wouldn't take them on that journey knowing there is going to be a good chance they'd be bored.

The third one is something that is likely unique to our format. Magazines and short story anthologies do not care how many speaking characters are in a story. Nor do they care about the use of difficult to pronounce words or the inclusion of phrases from another language. These can all be landmines for finding an unpaid narrator to read and read confidently.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

SK: The previously mentioned "writing out of a thesaurus" is something that has made me doubt if I want to continue reading a story during the first paragraph. Typically, if I see someone using strange or archaic words in the opening of a story, I'm presuming they've put lipstick on their pig. However, there have been quite good exceptions to that, where a story was told in the first person by a strange protagonist, for example. I would encourage any author to carefully consider their word choices. A intriguing plot and vivid characters is more important using ten letter words.

Another common one are people who don't understand the submission guidelines, didn't read them, or did and just disregarded them. We have a minimum word count, but we still get submissions that expect payment that fall under the word count. We've received stories that by only a stretch of the imagination could be considered “horror." And we do get stories from people that we call "torture porn," which is probably horror, but is always a terrible story.

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

SK: Short stories, by definition, have a limited amount of time to execute their plot and, by that virtue, a short window of time to hook the reader. Having the story narrated doesn't change that. The first few sentences of the story are the most important for that endeavor, in my opinion. I like something that either fires the listener right into the story or makes a promise of something that will be found out later in the story.

"Grandmother's passing left the two of us emotionally destitute, but financially rich." Lays out a sort of background for the story, but is pedestrian.

"Something cold and wet lay in my grandmother's basement. That's what I had dreamed about. And when my cell phone woke me, the premonition already told me what grandmother's lawyer was about to say." This has an air of mystery to it and a promise of a pay off. The author then would have to deliver on what that thing in the basement would be, of course.

"Howling with rage, the thing pounded its heavy, wet hands on the bathroom door. I fumbled with the painted over window latch looking for escape. The conditions on grandmother's will had been clear, and I had betrayed them all." That is a wild start to a story. What might come next? Who is this trapped in this bathroom and why and what is this "thing" about?

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?

SK: Our listeners absolutely hate animal abuse. We've got more angry emails about animal abuse than anything else. Child abuse is a distant second. Although animal abuse is a hard sell for us, there are still variations on that theme that we think we'll let an author get away with. A dog tortured to death is going to get us a bundle of angry listeners, but a witch chopping up snakes for a spell is probably going to get a pass. People really like cute animals.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

SK: "Who should an author show their story to before you?"

Tales to Terrify has a real soft spot for fledgling authors. We hope that at least one of our original stories came to us from someone who had never been published before and in twenty years that person is going to be mentioned in the same breath with Stephen King or Clive Barker. But, I think, we do get a good number of fledgling writers that knocked out a story in a couple of hours, had Microsoft Word or Google Docs check the spelling and grammar, and then sent it to us, and then we rejected it. My fear is that our rejection, which usually is done with a form, not with additional notes, will dissuade someone who has a new passion for writing from doing any more.

I think that anyone who has decided to take writing seriously should find a writers’ group or a few friends who are willing to give some honest notes about their work. Then, just before they send their work to be torn to shreds, grow some thick skin and pass it on to those people who will be honest and give specific and clear feedback about what they liked and what they didn't. And the reason why I specifically mention multiple people is because the opinion of a single person is of limited value to a new author. If the intent is to write to a wide audience, you have to have more than a single person look over your work. If two out of three of your reviewers are in agreement, they might be something to it. If one person doesn't like an element, you might be fine to ignore it.

My point is - if Tales to Terrify, another magazine, or another podcast rejects you, that should not discourage you. Chin up, soldier on, get back to work.

Thank you, Stephen. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

No comments:

Post a Comment