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The Howl Society
I went looking for some writing groups online last year. I joined maybe a dozen Discords and left maybe eleven of them. The one I stuck with was the the Howl Society.
This is a community of horror authors that is unlike anything else out there. They welcome newcomers. There is a charming group of horror fans to discuss stories with. There's a reading club that tackles some really cool stories, like From Hell.
There are over a dozen published authors who participate daily in discussions. There is a system where you can trade feedback on your stories. The community is active and supportive.
Complete strangers, talented authors of really cool stories, gave me eye-opening feedback on my stories and ideas for how to restructure them. I learned to love in-media-res here (and now I even use it in tabletop RPGs).
The community also produces annual horror anthologies that grow out of an extensive community workshopping process.
This year's anthology is Howls from the Wreckage. It's being kickstarted right now, and I was lucky enough to get its editor, Christopher O’Halloran, as well as some other contributors, to answer some questions.
In part one, Christopher answers some questions of mine. In part two, I'll write about the conversations I had with contributors about the annual workshops they host as part of their anthologies.
I badly want to know what it is like to take part.
The subheadings are me; most of the body text is Christopher, except where indicated.
What is the Howl Society?
In March 2020, COVID-19 forced society to adapt to a more insular way of living. To combat that isolation, horror readers formed their own society: HOWLS.
The branding wouldn't come until later, but at its core, the Horror Obsessed Writing and Literature Society is a book club, a supportive resource for writers, and a meeting place for friends.
Who is the Howl Society?
Members of HOWL Society come from all over the world. We represent diverse cultures, gender identities, sexualities, and ways of living that make our weekly book discussions a tremendous—and occasionally contentious—time!
What are these anthologies the Howl Society produces?
Our three anthologies—Howls from Hell, Howls from the Dark Ages, and Howls from the Wreckage—are curated stories from the writers who hang around our community. Every author in the collections is also a friend with a few invited authors in the latter two anthologies who have interacted with HOWLS in some way, whether joining us for a Q+A or helping us in a professional capacity.
What's a high-level overview of how these anthologies come together?
Everything is crowd-sourced and community driven, from the themes to the artwork. While Howls from Hell had responsibilities shared by a collective, Dark Ages and Wreckage have been directed by editors, so they reflect that community passion through the lens of either one or two editors. They choose the theme from a community-proposed list, the stories from the pool of members, and help direct and encourage our incredibly talented artists.
(Me: I got to suggest and vote on some of next year's topics!)
After you pick a theme, I understand you have a workshopping process? I'd like to know a lot more about that
Workshopping is a valuable tool for writers of all levels. It's an intensive opportunity to both give and receive feedback for those who might not regularly get the chance.
During three rounds of feedback, each story is seen a minimum of six times, with the optional third round providing a little extra polish for those who want it. So if you're submitting to a HOWLS anthology and utilizing the workshop, your story is likely to come out closer to how you envisioned it.
Additionally, you'll get the chance to provide feedback on six to nine stories, which will help you hone your own writing and develop your critical eye!
(Me: I spoke to several workshop participants on their Discord. Part two of this article will go into a lot more detail about this workshop.)
As an editor and project leader, what's it like going through this? How do you actually make a book like this happen?
The editing process was a pleasure from the get-go. Even setting the guidelines got me amped up for the stories we'd be receiving. By the time I got the first ones in my inbox, I was ready to rapidly consume them all!
And these writers brought their A-game. It was hard to choose which stories to include because there was so much excellence, but also easy for the same reason. Putting together the ToC was incredibly rewarding, but the following process might have matched that feeling of excitement.
The art for this anthology is seriously next level. From the three cover designs to the marginalia inside, the aesthetic for Wreckage gets me giddy. I wish I could say I had a hand in that, but it was really just artists bringing their magic to me, and me picking my jaw up off the floor.
This is the third time going through this. How did it go in previous years?
The previous years were excellent. Howls from Hell was a scrappy little project with tons of heart behind it. Just a group of writers who decided the rejection game was fun and all, but it would be nice to just put something out there. Luckily, I was able to sneak in my 14k word novelette, Possess and Serve, before we decided on a word count restriction!
Dark Ages was a little different. We had grown exponentially since the days when we could just put out a collection with all interested writers. It was the first year we had to submit, and that made things all the more exciting—and disappointing.
It was hard to celebrate an acceptance when you were surrounded by people who didn’t make it in. Rejection is part of the writing game, and any author serious about submitting will have hundreds of them, but when you’re in a group with dozens of people wanting to make it into the collection, it’s hard not to feel that dejection when the hammer falls. I’m still unsure how to remedy that. Maybe disappointment is necessary.
(Me: the story quality seems to have been quite high. Other publications seem to be snatching up several of these rejected stories, and one looks like they want to adapt one into an interactive story via a new platform
Note: I reviewed many stories from their previous collection, Howls from the Dark Ages. Some of those are here, and others are in subsequent articles)
Any closing thoughts about the Kickstarter?
This is the first year we launched a Kickstarter, and it has been LOUSY with growing pains. The amount of work that goes into it is next level, but we’re so lucky to have the whole team onboard. We’ve got artists designing stickers, multiple editions, the chance to have your name included in the book, and something really unique that I would LOVE to see become standard in the industry.
With our Kickstarter, if you order any physical copy, you’ll also get access to the ebook and the audiobook—free of charge. This is something I feel really passionate about. I do a lot of my reading on the go but I love to have a physical collection, so this is great for readers like me who want to display the beautiful covers while also being able to listen to the excellent voice performances during their commute.
The one thing that threw a wrench into the works of the Kickstarter was the arrival of my second son! It’s tough managing Kickstarter updates and promotion when you’re in the hospital for three days or at home trying to juggle a newborn and a toddler, but I’m so lucky to have an incredible support system in HOWLS and in my lovely wife. Let’s just hope the Wreckage stays on the page and not in my living room!
This is me again.
The Howl Society is a really cool community, and if you check out their kickstarter you'll be happy you did. This is a really cool group of people and I'm looking forward to when this gets released.
There are only four or five days left to back this!
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