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Story Contests Need Drama, Too

Over at the normally mild-mannered lit mag, storySouth, it’s time for the annual Million Writers Award, which highlights and rewards the best online fiction of the year. At least, that’s what they say in the press release. The truth is far more sinister.

storySouth announced their longlist of notable stories last week, and included B.J. Hollars’s hilarious nudist romp, “The Naturalists,” and Andrea Uptmor’s lyrical dream story, “Liz Phair and the Most Perfect Sentence.”

Just last summer, our collection of our favorite online fiction, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology (which you can download, now and forever, for free), had the honor of including both Hollars and Uptmor for those very stories. Now, storySouth pits them against each other, vying for the attention of fellow anthologee and Award judge Svetlana Lavochkina, whose lovely piece, “Semolinian Equinox,” made the Million Writers shortlist last year (and was also a story selected for the C4 Anthology).

We can only assume storySouth engineered Svetlana’s Choice as some kind of study in behavioral morality. We predict Lavochkina demands pushups in the yard by week’s end. We’ll interrupt our regular schedule with breaking news, as warranted.

(In all seriousness, each of those stories is outstanding, storySouth always does great work, and their contest is well worth exploring. Here’s the link again.)

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, And The Winner Is…

To celebrate our Best Books of 2010 series, which continues Monday, we’re giving away a free paperback copy of The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Everyone who commented on Chamber Four this week, replied or retweet us on Twitter, or commented or like any of our Facebook posts was entered into the drawing. You can read all the story descriptions we posted through this link.

For the drawing itself, we used the tried and true method of writing names and handles on scraps of paper, and mixing them up in a hat. The winner is commenter Gaby, who took the time to comment on Sara Lehoullier’s I Loved This Book When entry on The Sun Also Rises.

For those of you who aren’t Gaby, you can buy a paperback copy of the anthology at the Harvard Book Store, and you can always download the ebook for free. We’ll probably do similar giveaways again real soon, in the meantime, check out our Best Books of 2010 series for suggestions of what to read next.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, Day 5: “Seven Little Stories About Sex”

[Every day this week, we’re posting a quick description of a story from The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Comment on this post—or any other post before midnight tonight (11/19/10)—for a chance to win a paperback copy of the anthology. More details here. Follow the whole series here.]


Seven Little Stories About Sex, by Eric Freeze

Presented in seven short vignettes, this story perfectly captures one man’s life through his sexual maturity. It begins with a young boy’s curious first kiss on his blue-furred teddy bear, and works all the way up to a wife’s pregnancy several decades later. “Seven Little Stories” does an excellent job of capturing a large scope with a small lens; plus it’s moving, a bit sad, and as well-written as anything in the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology.


Read “Seven Little Stories About Sex” in its original environment at Boston Review. Download the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology for free here.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, Day 4: “The Next Thing on Benefit”

[Every day this week, we’re posting a quick description of a story from The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Comment on this post—or any other post before Friday (11/19/10) at midnight—for a chance to win a paperback copy of the anthology. More details here. Follow the whole series here.]


The Next Thing on Benefit, by Castle Freeman, Jr.

Sharon isn’t in the habit of running away to tropical islands with strange, wealthy men, but when she wanders into the seemingly charmed life of Duncan Munro, it seems like a good time to try something new. Her last real lover is only a memory, and Duncan isn’t like any other man she’s ever known. He’s honest about keeping secrets. He says nothing about his business or his family life. He tells her that there are things he isn’t telling her. Going with Duncan may not be the best idea Sharon’s ever had, but it’s the one she has now. Joining Duncan and his British valet, Patrick, she takes off on the first private jet ride of her life to find out what can happen when you go to a private island in the Caribbean with a man you hardly know.


Read “The Next Thing on Benefit” in its original environment at the New England Review. Download the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology for free here.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, Day 3: “Dragon”

[Every day this week, we’re posting a quick description of a story from The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Comment on this post—or any other post before Friday (11/19/10) at midnight—for a chance to win a paperback copy of the anthology. More details here. Follow the whole series here.]


Dragon, by Steve Frederick

One morning, after drinking some bourbon and vodka, Wyatt decides to use a can of gas and some matches to rid his fence line of tumbleweeds. After setting his yard on fire and deeply upsetting his wife, Wyatt hops in his truck and starts driving, perhaps looking for his lost youth.  What Wyatt finds in the next 24 hours—his long-time friend, Simms, a woman whose entire backside is tattooed with a colorful dragon, the old caretaker of a cemetery and an abandoned church—will change everything about the way Wyatt views his life. But it all may happen too late to matter.


Read “Dragon” in its original environment at Night Train. Download the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology for free here.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, Day 2: “How to Assemble a Portal to Another World”

[Every day this week, we’re posting a quick description of a story from The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Comment on this post—or any other post before Friday (11/19/10) at midnight—for a chance to win a paperback copy of the anthology. More details here. Follow the whole series here.]


How to Assemble a Portal to Another World, by Alanna Peterson

This quick, surreal story alternates between a scientific voice describing the specifics of assembling a portal to another world, and the seemingly more ordinary story of a girl who meets a guy.

In less than a thousand words, these two narratives knot around each other and create a mesmerizing meditation on sanity and bravery, loneliness and the possibilities of escape. It’s a intricate, sharply written story that you’ll have to read more than once.


Read “How to Assemble a Portal to Another World” in its original environment at failbetter.com. Download the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology for free here.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway, Day 1: “The Naturalists”

[Every day this week, we’re posting a quick description of a story from The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Comment on this post—or any other post before Friday (11/19/10) at midnight—for a chance to win a paperback copy of the anthology. More details here. Follow the whole series here.]


The Naturalists, by B.J. Hollars

Teenaged Frankie’s father, always the optimist, decides he and his son will move to the Nature’s Bounty nudist colony after Frankie’s mother leaves him for the point guard of the San Antonio Spurs. The first rule of nudist colonies: erections are frowned upon. Yet Frankie’s father sports one constantly. He sticks out (literally), yet seems to be having the time of his life. Frankie, rather unlike the surly teen one would expect from such a situation, approaches his father’s mid-life crisis with humility and humor. “The Naturalists” contains perhaps the best one-on-one basketball scene ever put to paper and stands out as one of the funniest stories in The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology.


Read “The Naturalists” in its original environment at storySouth. Download the entire Chamber Four Fiction Anthology for free here.

Anthology Paperback Giveaway: Comment for a chance to win

Win a free paperback copy of The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology! Just comment on this post or any other post this week!

To celebrate our Best Books of 2010 series, which starts today, we’re giving away a free paperback copy of The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. Just comment on any post on Chamber Four this week, reply or retweet us on Twitter, or comment or like any of our Facebook posts. You’ll get an entry for the first two comments, retweets, and likes you make per post, so don’t be shy. This contest ends Friday (11/19/10) at midnight.

We’ll be posting reminders all week, so we’re including a brief description of a story from the anthology with each post. You can find all the descriptions as we post them through this link.

About our Best Books of 2010 feature: you can find all our favorite books of the year in one easy-to-browse page, which will be updated every Monday for the next month. If you need more gift ideas, try our Best Books of 2009 page, or our Special Features page.

And, if you don’t win the contest, you can buy a paperback copy of the anthology at the Harvard Book Store, and you can always download the ebook for free. Good luck!

INTERVIEW: Scott Cheshire, author of “Watchers”

[This is the last in our series of interviews with authors featured in our anthology of outstanding stories from the web, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. You can find more information about the anthology and download it for free here, or you can read all the interviews and find new ones here.

Scott Cheshire earned his MFA in fiction at Hunter College, City University of New York. He is currently working on his first novel. “Watchers” was published on AGNI Online, And can be read here.

Marcos interviewed Scott by email]

Chamber Four: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you first about the story’s setting. The Racetrack is real, correct? And stones really do move by themselves across it? Do people really go out to watch?

Scott Cheshire: The Racetrack Playa is in Death Valley, a very flat and now dry lake surrounded by mountains. And the stones are sometimes referred to as “sailing stones,” they’ve been studied since the forties. There are still only theories as to how they move. No footage has been captured. But they do move, depending on size, some as much as ninety miles an hour and some only a few inches each year. To my knowledge, watchers, as I imagine them, don’t exist.

C4: So how did you come to know this place and what about it inspired your writing?

SC: I first heard about the playa on television, not sure how long ago. It was brief, the tail end of a nature show, but it stuck with me. Years later I read about it in National Geographic. I found the idea kind of chilling and beautiful. At some point, I read of viewing benches in the valley and wondered about who sits on these benches.

C4: What, if anything binds these “watchers” together? Do they have anything in common besides the time they spend together hoping to see a stone move?

SC: We live in a strange and special time, we seem to know more and more every day and at the same time we know so little. I’m not one for nostalgia, in fact I generally find it not very helpful and often destructive, but mystery does seem in short supply these days. Or maybe I mean an appreciation of it.
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Publishers Lie and Other Lessons Learned from Publishing “The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology”

[Just two short weeks ago, our baby, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology, launched. (Download it here for free—25 outstanding stories from great online lit mags.) After spending the summer working on it, here are a few tidbits we learned along the way.]

  • Publishers lie about the difficulty and cost of producing ebooks. The anthology cost us $25 to publish, for an ISBN (for big publishers who buy them in blocks, an ISBN would cost less than $1). That’s the only unit cost of publishing an ebook. Publishers who claim that things like things like “meta-data, the file format” and so on cost them extra money, they’re either lying or entirely ignorant of their own process. Layout still takes work, copyediting still takes work, but packaging an ebook—in formats like ePub, html, PDF, Mobi, etc., etc.—takes an hour or so altogether, and it’s entirely free. We have really cheap hosting, too, and it held up just fine, so concerns about the cost of bandwidth are entirely unfounded.
  • Bowker is a scam artist. Bowker is the company that sells ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) in the U.S. In other countries, like Canada, ISBNs are free. Bowker will also sell you a bar code for your ISBN for an extra $25. Those are also free; here’s the site we used. Basically Bowker charges money for things that should be free.
  • ePub is not the formatting answer, PDF is still the prettiest. ePub can’t do footnotes, or headers, or any of the other niceties that have been possible with PDF for almost 20 years. There are shockingly few programs that will let you edit an ePub directly. In fact, there are shockingly few programs that can even export to ePub. We used Smashwords in the end, but if we hadn’t, I had my eye on this free online ePub converter. That kind of thing should not be necessary. On the other side, PDF should learn to play better with ereaders. But…
  • PDF is still the most popular format. I’ll grant you that we don’t have full numbers from Diesel or Barnes & Noble, where the antho is available only as an ePub. But on our site, it was downloaded in PDF more than fifteen times as often as ePub. In raw numbers, that’s over 3000 downloads of the PDF, to fewer than 200 downloads of the ePub. Crikey.
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