The Living and the Dead, by Todd Travis (1:37)

IOD-LivingAndDeadToday we see that self-publishers must be diligent in the entire book production process—not just the manuscript.

What I gleaned about the stories: The horror probably won’t get you if you don’t involve yourself.

Find this book on Amazon.

Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move on to the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.

WTF #1: Deflated tension

Analysis: The collection opens with a précis of the contents; the last of which is described with: An elderly store manager, disturbed by a stranger eyeing the armoured truck deliveries, takes matters into his own hands, to shocking results…

By the time I reached the end of the sentence, I felt (mentally) out of breath, which raised the question whether all of the collection would have the same rushed feel.

In addition, a précis supposedly reduces a story to it’s essence, so I started with the expectation each fact would be important; however, there seemed to be too much here; would the manager’s age really be important? Once I doubted one fact was vital, it tainted the others.

Occurring together, the blows to both flow and content deflated my curiosity to find out more. Uncertain if the stories would hold my attention, I moved on.

WTF #2: Over certainty

Analysis: Partway down the first page of the foreword, I encountered: Prehistoric man’s first thriller – for which he was rewarded with a warm fire, roast strips of mammoth venison, and ample grunts of approval – was called “The Terror at Black Rock” and told of a brave warrior’s near-death experience with a sabre-toothed tiger.

As the name and audience response are stated as certainties, I expected the foreword to expand on this specific prehistoric man’s life, to continue in the same vein. Instead, it didn’t expand the conceit at all.

While many stories lose tension through too much uncertainty, in this case the statement is too definite. Without the trappings of speculation, it moves from placing horror among the first genres of story to placing this specific story as the first story; a bold assertion that makes the unconnected following paragraphs seem flat by comparison.

This was a true foreword (being written by someone other than the author), so I considered not scoring this; however, the issue had broken my immersion, so is no less a subjective WTF than other issues not created by the author such as distracting punctuation introduced by a proof-reader.

I therefore moved on.

WTF #3: Sorting contradiction

Analysis: The first story in the collection opens with a shop manager noticing that a man is watching armoured truck deliveries. However, the précis that solidly matched that opening wasn’t the first in the contents description, so this wasn’t the story I was expecting.

This disjunction was enough to bring the précis that was first into the front of my mind. And start me puzzling over whether this opening could progress to that story. While it wasn’t unfeasible, it seemed unlikely that two stories would have the same opening but only one of them would build on them enough that they were key.

So, I started wondering why the order at the start of the book wouldn’t match the order of the stories themselves.

Realising I was firmly out of the stories and into theories of why authors/editors/publishers might do something, I pulled the plug.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.

Grenheim's Thorn, by Clay Lewisson (2:26)
Winds of Aerathiea, by T.E. Adams (10:21)

About the author

Dave Higgins has worked in law and IT for both public and private sector organisations. When not pursuing these hobbies, he writes poetry and speculative fiction. He was born in Wiltshire, England. Raised by a librarian, he started reading shortly after birth and has not stopped since. He currently lives in Bristol with his wife, Nicola, his cats, Jasper and Una, and many shelves of books.