So, I’m wandering around the net one day last year, looking for the next place to market my wares, when my trusty sidekick Duotrope says, “Hey Boss, check this out” and directs me towards a dark and sinister place, a place for “Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted”… A place called “Shock Totem.”
Check it out, I did, and found an excellent magazine filled with top-notch horror writers. I also found a flash fiction contest run by Head Honcho Ken Allen Wood that absolutely intrigued me by the quality of work it drew. I mentioned last year that, despite the fact that first prize was basically bragging rights and the chance of getting published in an upcoming issue, the entries included several absolutely ready for prime-time pieces. It was an experience both humbling and exhilarating, and I’m hooked. Shock Totem also houses several forums that give their fans and followers an excellent venue to chat, comment, and support (and sometimes lovingly mock) each other.
I asked Ken if he could answer a few questions, and – despite vastly multiplying obligations, responsibilities, and rapidly approaching deadlines – he graciously and quickly accepted. Here is what he had to say!
Okay, right off the bat….what the heck is a “Shock Totem.”
This is cheating, but I’m going to partially quote myself from the intro piece in Shock Totem #1:
“In the early days, we knocked around a long list of possible names for the magazine. There were some cool but not quite fitting names, like Papercut Stigmata, Nightfall Overture, and Shades & Shadows. But for every one of those, we had a Purgastories or Bleeding Pens (or as everyone would have called it, Bleeding Penis). Eventually, we whittled it down to a short list of potentials, Shock Totem being one of them. As things began to take shape, this name continued to stand out, especially in light of each word’s definition.
shock: a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities.
totem: anything serving as a distinctive, often venerated, emblem or symbol.
For a magazine of horror fiction, this struck us as a perfect combination of words to describe what we were about. It was later, after we’d settled on using the name, when we discovered an old book titled Shock Totem, by Thom Metzger. It was published in 1991, and John, who had originally suggested the name, had read the book long ago in college. He had not remembered this, though, when the words first popped into his head.
So we had on our hands a bit of a dilemma. We discussed coming up with a new name, but we’d grown fond of Shock Totem. You can’t copyright titles, so we were free to use it without worry, of course, but instead, to clear our conscience, John contacted Metzger through the university he teaches at in New York. John asked for his blessing, Metzger gave it, and we were on our way.”
And so there you have it. Probably more answer than you asked for, but in a nutshell the “totem” is the book (or e-reader; that works, too) , and the “shock” is its contents. Of course, what shocks one may not shock another, so some people have criticized the name. But we still think it’s cool.
How important is the small press to today’s authors?
Very important, but it depends on the author, I think. The small press can be a launching pad for some, but quicksand for others. Still more will find it the perfect home for their work and thrive in the small press for their entire writing career, and some will be quite successful. But really the answer to this question is a personal one, different—and no less right or wrong—for each author.
You run a series of flash fiction contests throughout the year. Why has flash fiction become such a popular format over the past few years?
Well, I think the answer is different for readers and writers. The popular answer is that readers have shorter attention spans these days, so flash fiction is more appealing. There is definitely some truth to this and it’s allowed the style a little more time in the spotlight.
The less popular answer, and I think there is even more truth to this, is that many writers are lazier today.
In addition to your books, the magazine, and the flash fiction contests, you’ve also built an extensive and supportive online writing community. How important is having that support to authors?
It’s greatly important. If we don’t support the authors, why should they support us?
What are some of the common mistakes you see in the submissions you receive?
Multiple submissions and stories over our word count are probably the most common mistakes we see. To be honest, it’s pretty amazing just how often our guidelines are completely disregarded.
What’s coming up next for Shock Totem?
We just released the paperback/e-book versions of James Newman’s Ugly As Sin, which Thunderstorm Books had originally released in a very limited edition hardcover earlier (in 2013). Our version comes with exclusive artwork (created once again by the amazing Mikio Murakami) and an interview with the book’s protagonist.
But to really answer the question of what’s coming up next…
Any day now we’ll have available a print edition of our digital-only holiday issue from 2011. This will officially mark the first in an ongoing holiday series. These will be somewhat different—and smaller; 4×6 in size—from our main issues, featuring fiction and anecdotal holiday recollections; the latter of which provided by a wide range of people, not just authors. The next holiday issue will be Valentine’s Day 2014 and is scheduled for a February release, followed by a Halloween issue in October.
Before that, however, we’ll release Shock Totem #8 in January 2014. Sometime around April we’ll be releasing Zero Lives Remaining, by Adam Cesare, a novella which will come out in e-book, paperback, and limited edition hardcover. The hardcover is going to be amazing!
Beyond that and more issues of Shock Totem, who knows what we’ll do.