Monster Tales : Margrét Helgadóttir

Links to the Pacific Monsters blog posts are available on the book’s page.

Pacific Monsters

by Margrét Helgadóttir

Pacific Monsters is out and one year of work is completed.

Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. As editor it is a fun challenge to work on a book series stretching over so many years. At the same time as I have to concentrate on each book production – it takes about a year from when I start to research and plan the book until it is published – I need to bring out the word about the other volumes and work on the series as a whole. The to-do-list never seems to become shorter.

I love it!

It feels like I am on an adventurous journey around the world. I am so grateful to Adele Wearing and Fox Spirit Books for wanting to publish this series. The books is a world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monsters tales continent by continent. One of the greatest blessings with working on this series is the opportunity to meet authors and the artists from around the world, and to have glimpses of the multitude of cultures and monster folklore within and between all the continents.

For those not familiar with the book series, one of the goals is to show all the talented artists and authors from around the world, probably many you haven’t heard about. I spend much time researching each book. I strive to have diversity in the series and the voices and topics represented. I want to have a wide-stretched geographical representation, and I encourage the authors to tell their monster tales using many genres, like horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. It is amazing to see how many of the authors challenge themselves and use genres new to them, and how many of them manage to put old myths and legends about ancient monsters into a contemporary setting.

This tells me that not all of the monsters have lost their meaning and place in this world.

I am fascinated by how humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created monsters. No matter where you are in the world, monsters have been something to blame when bad things happen or a way to explain things like thunder and lightning. Many monsters also challenge our thoughts and fears of what will happen when we die, or the relationship between humans and animals in the wilderness.

One mission with the book series is to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak. I have started to think that despite all the monsters crawling around our world, all the important roles they fulfil, can’t they be allowed to be just scary monsters? Can’t we just allow them to put terror in our hearts?  Do we have to categorize them all and try to make meaning of them all? These are questions I will ponder further.

It might seem that the monsters today are either forgotten or watered down and overused in the popular media. Also, only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture.  Another mission with the book series is to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. A signifier in the third volume, Asian Monsters, is the close link between spirits and ghosts and Asian folklore. This is very different from the second volume, African Monsters, where the stories were more about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much soil means to the African authors.

In Pacific Monsters we present you 14 tales of beasties from Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Pacific islands like Hawaii and Guam, told by authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. I had been warned and sadly it turned out they were right; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from the Pacific islands have been extremely difficult. It is thus with regret that we can’t give you more stories from authors on the islands. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the Pacific region.

When I edited Pacific Monsters, I was struck by the strangest feeling of being at the end of the world, isolated, where the sun arrives first and you are surrounded by the vast ocean, the stars and the weirdest and breathtaking wildlife and fauna.

A large amount of the monsters the authors chose to write about, reside in water. One reason is of course the endless Pacific Ocean, being both a threat and a blessing from ancient times, and the Antarctic Ocean, a world of extremities. But, even a few of the stories from Australia, even though they take place in the bush, the monsters still dwell in fluid environments—billabongs, lakes, rivers, swamps. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters.

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.

Editing Round Table

I reached out to a whole bunch of my favourite editors with a few basic questions around short story collections and the editors perspective.  For today’s session I am delighted to welcome Jonathan Oliver of Solaris/Abaddon, Mhairi Simpson and Margret Helgadottir who have edited for Fox Spirit and Farhana Shaikh who runs Dahlia publishing. 

When you put a call out do you already know exactly what you are looking for?

Jonathan Oliver : I start with a theme, so generally I know what I’m looking for, but when I put together submissions guidelines, I always say to authors ‘here’s the brief, but play with it, stretch it to its limits.’ So, I want to give my writers as much room as possible to explore within the theme I’ve given them. After all, I don’t want to end up with an anthology of similar stories.

Mhairi Simpson : No. When I did my first call I had a very specific idea in mind. By the end of it I realised I knew nothing and was just happy to be astonished at the wide variety of tales even a relatively narrow prompt can produce.

Farhana Shaikh: I try not to be too clear about what I’m looking for because I don’t want a piece of writing to fail before I’ve had the chance to consider it properly. This is especially true for an anthology because the breadth of style tends to be so broad and different writers respond to themes in such different ways.

What I’ve realised though is that a short story is successful as long as it does what the writer set out to do. In the simplest of terms, I could try and break down what that success often looks like. For example it might mean strong characterisation and a refreshing voice, but I find those terms can be reductive because it might also just be a beautiful story told in the simplest of ways. 

Margrét Helgadottir : I have only put out an open call one time, for the Winter Tales anthology. I knew then what kind of stories I wanted – a strong voice, an interesting plot, atmosphere, and also a more unspoken chill of the dark and cold winter season – but other than this I tried to be very open both in the call and when I read the submissions. As for the monster books (working on volume four now), they are invitations only. I am hunting for monster stories. They can be written in all genres but they have to have something monstrous about them and they have to be dark. I am very clear in the invitation what I am not looking for (satire, erotica etc).


What things will make you discount a story quickly?

Jon : Badly presented and with obvious errors. The other thing is if the story has completely ignored the brief. So, if I say this anthology has to be about a haunted house, and I get a submission that’s about a mutant spider or something, with no haunted house in sight, then that will be pretty quickly rejected. Fortunately it’s not something I have to worry about a lot as all of my anthologies are invite only.

Mhairi  : Condescension on the part of the author. A pushy author asking if I’ve made a decision yet when the submission period is still open. Any mention of sexual assault which doesn’t feel right in the story.

Farhana : My pet hate is writing that is cluttered with adjectives or flowery language. I tend to steer away from writing that is trying too hard or clever, or where the writer clearly hasn’t worked out what the heart of the story really is. Having said that, I do like to re-read writing (this is especially true for short stories) because I don’t like to make too rash a decision about whether something works or not. Editing is after all, hugely subjective and sometimes I have to challenge myself to work with writing that is not necessarily to my taste.

Margrét: Except for not following the guidelines and the idea of the book, I will quickly put a “no” on any story that uses racism, rape, violence, discrimination of gender or sexual orientation, when it is clear that it doesn’t do anything for the plot. I don’t discount a story because of bad grammar or language if I see a potential—a core in the story that will shine if the story is polished in the edits. I have had 2-3 stories in all the volumes I have edited that required more work from me and the author than the other stories but I am very satisfied that they are part of the books today.


Would you consider taking a story that doesn’t quite fit the idea behind the call and whatever your answer, why?

Jon: I like to be pleasantly surprised by submissions. So, for example, we all have an idea about what constitutes a haunted house and a haunting, but I also like to see new takes on such traditional subject matter, new twists on the formula. Sure, I’m a sucker for a traditional ghost story, but more so I love the possibilities that new fiction explores.

Mhairi: Yes. I’ve initially said no to a story which didn’t seem to quite fit the call. I had something else in mind. Then as more stories came in I realised I had an opportunity to show ideas which weren’t in line with my own thinking, because none of the stories quite fit the call, certainly not what I’d been expecting to get. It was a learning experience – I learned not to make assumptions about what did and did not fit. It broadened my mind and was a tad humbling, too.

Farhana: I’d be reluctant to accept anything that was too far from the initial concept, purely because I think collections have an odd way of working in that the stories once ordered have their own life and rhythm. I’d be reluctant to upset the balance of that. But as I’ve said, the scope for an anthology tends to be quite wide, so it’s rare that such a thing happens. Where this has been the case, I’ve simply asked the original contributor to submit something else.

Margret: No and yes. If it’s far out from the book idea, no. If the book is about Europe I will not include a story that takes place on the Moon. However I can include a story if it plays with the boundaries of the sub call but still has one foot inside the frame. I have done this a few times but only when the stories were so excellent in both language and plot that I just couldn’t say no. Often they can be shaped a little bit in the edits so they fit the book better.

How do you approach running order?

Jon: You want to start with a belter right out of the gate. You want something substantial in the middle and you want to end on a story that packs some sort of punch. In between you can get the reader settled and explore all the wonderful variations on the ideas your authors have sent you.

Mhairi: I try to find a thread or arc which links all the stories together and then decide where each story falls along that arc. For Tales of Eve it was a genre thread, varying from hard sci-fi to high fantasy so I started with the hardest sci-fi and ended with the highest fantasy. It was actually really difficult!

Farahna: By the time I get to a running order, I’ve probably read the work separately a good few times and something will be emerging about how I’d like to start and where I’d like to begin. Of course, a reader may choose to go in whatever order they wish, but sometimes as an editor I think such things are important.

Margrét: I try to put the strongest stories up front and in the back. You need to catch the readers right away. A short excellent story as number one is a very good tactic. It sets the tone of the rest of the book quickly. The last two stories should be the after thought of the book, something to make the book live a little bit longer in the readers’ minds, make them reflect a little bit about the book theme. Other than this I am concerned about putting the stories in anthologies in a natural flow, vary it a little for the reader. This goes for both the length of the stories, style and theme. I don’t put two vampire stories next to each other of the other ten stories are about were wolves for instance.

Cover by S.L. Johnson

What are some of the things you think people underestimate in regards to the time/effort involved in the anthology editors role?

Jon: Coming up with the theme always takes the most time. You want something iconic enough that people will pick the book of the shelf, and bring some sort of expectation, but you also want something different enough that you stand out. In an invite only situation you know to some extent the strengths of your authors, so editing the stories is the easiest and most pleasurable part of the whole affair.

Mhairi: It’s not the typos – if a story’s got that many mistakes I’d send it back and tell them to run it through spellcheck or a beta reader. When it comes to figuring out what a story is trying to say and if it can be said better, however, that can take a while. It’s usually a clarity issue – I’m not sure what’s going on and the author makes some changes and through the various changes we get closer to the diamond at the heart of the tale.

Farhana: I don’t know if anyone does underestimate what an editor brings to a collection but of course, they bring a whole deal of experience and expertise. It’s the editor’s role to not only select the stories and collate these in some order, but often it can mean a lengthy battle with contributors to undertake revisions, and ensure these come back on time, as well as project manage the entire thing. It’s fine, if you have around ten contributors or so, but once you start veering in to the twenties and beyond it can become challenging. An editor may also be involved in promoting the book, and keeping all the contributors in the know, so it’s a huge effort with lots of emailing back and forth. If the editor is also the publisher, as in my case, then there’s lots more going on behind the scenes away from the anthology with regards to choosing the title, managing the jacket cover designs, and working with suppliers to ensure the project can be delivered on time and on a shoe-string budget.

Margrét: I think many don´t realize what the editor job is. If you are editor for books from small presses you must involve yourself in the book production and getting the book out there. In addition to the editing of the language and grammar, editing of the story flow and angles, proofreading and all that, I would say that at least 30 percent of my tasks in a book production is preparing the book production (researching the book, invitations to contributors etc) and all the work when the book is published with marketing, trying to get reviews and spreading the word amongst the thousands of other titles. I spend a lot of time researching what magazines and venues which might be interested in looking at the book. The monster books are a challenge since I try to reach book bloggers and media also in the continents we cover: Africa, Asia etc. It is hard work but it is so satisfying when you see results.


Waxing Lyrical : Daz Pulsford on Editing the Fox Spirit Way

Welcome to the waxing lyrical series in 2016. The series is open to any creative (writers, artists, publishers, editors, musicians etc) who want to air their opinions on the creative industries, from any perspective. If you are interested in contributing please contact for more information. The only real rule is no personal attacks, we don’t have to agree with you but we won’t support attacking a person or group of people. 

Daz has been editing for Fox Spirit since we began and has always been fairly flexible with us about enforcing the house style on submissions, however as we’ve got busier it has become more important so here he is with some tips to make sure your submission is in tip top shape. It’s important to note that any publisher or agent will have their own submission rules and (and this can not be said enough) you need to follow them, or you risk your submission being discounted without even being read. 


Editing the Fox Spirit Way.

(Or how I learned to love the ellipsis…)

First up: let me begin by saying how utterly wonderful all you lovely authors are, with your colourful use of languages, broadly acceptable adherence to word count and slightly less than universal conformity to Microsoft Word 97-2003 or later. I’ll waive the varying acceptance of English (UK) as standard because it’s actually fun adding the letter ‘u’ and reversing instances of ‘er’ over and over again.*

House Rules on submission guidelines are on our website at:

Please read them – you would not believe** the number of stories I have to spend ten minutes simply reformatting and tidying (fonts, double spaces, random tabs, wrong dialogue marks and other egregious crimes.)

Please note – if you submit a story in Open Office, a very old Microsoft (MS) Word format, or some other random hipster notepad format, I will hammer and curse at it until it opens in MS Word and does as it’s told.

Stop waffling and tell us what you mean!

Sorry – what I am stressing  is the importance of reading our House Rules, plus any additional rules on language, tone, sex & violence etc. set out by either Aunty Fox or your Editor (if it’s for an Anthology). It will ease my burden considerably and make us far nicer to you.

Because I’m frightfully vain and convinced half of you think editing is worthless before the Proofing stage; I have a lesson for you: using Review in MS Word.

Proper use of Tracked Changes:  (see screenshot)

It’s on the Ribbon under the Review Tab. My amendments are shown in the left hand column. Any changes you accept will disappear. I suggest you do these one at a time if there are not many, or if you plan to dispute or amend your text further. Any changes you make will show in the left column with your reference in (which is whatever name you set in the Word Options menu – you did do this, right?)

There is an ‘Accept all changes in document’ option, but make sure you are happy with all the edits first. This way both you and I can see what has been accepted as an edit and what further there is to look at.

I turn Review Changes on after I have made broad formatting changes – otherwise your eyes would bleed from all the hundreds of Red lines and notes about using double spaces after a full stop (stop it, I mean it!) and using an ellipsis 3 different ways in 27 instances.

Comments are left for suggestions, or ‘What on earth are you babbling about here?’ sort of questions. They cannot be accepted, only deleted. Ideally; you make the suggested change, or comment yourself about it and leave the original comment there.

See It wasn’t that painful was it? Now, with comments accepted, your own changes made and comments dealt with – send it back and I’ll decide you’re talking nonsense and put it back the way I had it it’s really rather nice now and ready to add to the ‘Completed, no bribes extracted’ pile.

Please – learn to use Track Changes. If you don’t have MS Word, there is still likely to be an alternative within your software that will know what my edits are trying to show you and convert them.

Things to avoid

This is an ‘Oh no, they didn’t,’ list compiled from the array of blisteringly baffling returns I’ve had.

  1. Typing your edits out into an email, either as text fragments or with line references. This is instant head/desk for me, and also I re-format the document for margins, line numbers are irrelevant.
  1. Using the wrong language. Sending us a Novel? Use whatever language you like, it’s yours. Submitting to an Anthology? Check with the Editor – it’ll usually be their language or English (UK) as default.
  1. Accepting all the changes, including the ones you made after getting the edits back. Not helpful – how do I know what you’ve changed?!***

    No kittens or authors were harmed in the making of this post.
  1. Leaving my email in Spam because you haven’t been checking after Aunty Fox sends out the ‘Edits will be with you soon’ email. I don’t mind chasing you up once. Twice is a disappointment. Three times means missed deadlines and starting another voodoo doll with your name on it.

And that’s it – your easy guide to keeping the Editing Den moving efficiently and pleasantly.

*Find & Replace you say? Try it – see what happens…

**If you do any copy-editing yourself then obviously you will be shaking your head and muttering about ‘blinkin’ authors, coming over here with their freedom from any sense of formatting and crazy ideas about dashes.’

***Actually, I do know, and can fix it – but I’m not telling you how as it will only discourage you from paying attention to Leaving The Tracked Changes On, Please.

Writing is not a Zero Sum Game

AMZfinalWeird NoirI saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the virtual streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of publishing, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating ebooks, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated by flickering gifs…

All because they could not get a grip on a simple concept:

Writing is not a zero sum game.

JK Rowling’s popularity is not dooming you to obscurity. Nora Roberts does not bathe in the tears of would-be writers. Stephen King does not laugh at you from atop huge piles of money (probably).

But writing for exposure exposes your willingness to write for exposure. Every time you share a HuffPo link, you say, ‘I’m okay with not paying writers for their work’. The choices you make build the world around you. A world that is willing to settle for ‘good enough’ if it’s free. There are a lot of people who write ‘good enough’ and are desperate enough to see their name in print that they will accept not being paid to do so.

There is a revolution happening via ebooks, but ‘the revolution will put you in the driver’s seat’ and you have to take the wheel. It won’t just happen of its own accord. People have to be lured into change. Seduce them.

Writing is not a zero sum game.

It’s a community–that’s why we have the skulk here at Fox Spirit. Do you read as well as write? Do you write reviews? Do you rate the books you read? Do you leave the kind of reviews for books that you long to see for your own? Do you comment or share other people’s books? Do you promote other writers the way you wish people would promote you? Do you share the writers you love?

They’re not your competition.

Apathy is.

The ease of letting hours slip away on Facebook or Twitter is. The quick clicks that take you to Netflix or on-demand television or movies is. All the mindless media that allows you to be barely conscious, to idle the days away without effort — that’s your competition. Reading is more work — yet a joy for those who hunger for it. A great book makes you hungry for another, and another, and another.

Make them hungry.

Write the books you want to read, the books that aren’t out there. Don’t get caught up in how your stories get to readers, just try to get them in front of them and lure them into reading them. Don’t spend your time sneering at the kind of books someone reads. The people you might score points with probably aren’t the ones who’ll be reading your books. Share the stories that hooked you, inspired you and made you want to write. Try to convey that excitement. A hook might get you to buy a book, but it’s the story that keeps you reading even if the writing isn’t all that good.

We’re still sitting around the campfire, waiting for the magic to happen — for characters to come to life, for imaginary adventures to seem more real than the fire (or monitor or phone screen) in front of us, to fall through the hole in the page and into wonderland.

Make some magic. Write.

[with apologies to Allen Ginsberg and Gil Scott Heron]