The History of Writer’s Cramp

In the beginning there is always the Word. And in the case of Writer’s Cramp, ten years ago, the Word was NEED.

Like most writers desperately looking for an outlet for their fiction and poetry, I consistently found myself receiving rejection letters from ever more prestigious publications, but rejections nonetheless. This is not to say my submissions were necessarily bad; more than likely just not what was in vogue for that editor’s readership at that time.

Publishing, especially the publishing of short stories and poetry is an interesting combination of self-fulfilling death wish and slow suicide.

On a large scale, one can count the number of successful, self sustaining and regularly publishing authors on two hands, and on a much smaller scale—in Canada or Great Britain, say—one needs only one hand to count the money-making authors. Can this mean there are so few writers out there typing their fingers to the nubs and being rejected by editors of all major publishing houses? Of course not! Their work never sees an editor’s desk! Well, who needs short stories and poetry when people want to read novels?

Let’s say there’s room for three romance novelists, four crime writers, three solid horror and suspense writers, only one (maybe two in a slow year) western writers, three good cop procedural, three good spy and two long-winded combat writers. That’s it. Limit reached.

The publishers know these are hot properties and they will sell their next five books at least and at a book a year staggered over twenty years among them, the publishing houses are sitting pretty. They tell their editors and acquisitions editors to sit back and relax. No new writers needed. Especially no short story writers.

But even back in 1998 I saw the magic of the Web opening up new avenues to writers, and I still think we’ve left it largely untapped. There’s so much we have done and so much left to develop.

But my first order of business was to find the writers out there needing to be read and let them know of a place where readers and other writers would accept their work, and where a community of serious people eventually developed. This was largely done by email – I stayed away from BBs and chat rooms because of the labyrinthine booby traps and psychological barbed wire encountered at every turn.

Soon a number of interested writers were in correspondence with me and sending in submissions for my opinion, and this worked out to my benefit, because by personal contact, we struck up an acquaintance first and a working relationship second. So, when criticism was required, it was accepted as from a known source as well as an editor. I found the serious writers usually worked with the criticism and tweaked their stories and sent them back to me for publication. Those who didn’t take well to criticism usually faded into cyberspace and hooked up with like-minded dilettantes who wrote of life in uniform galaxies.

Sometimes writers are sorted, categorized, identified and relegated by the first paragraph and the editor simply stops reading.

It’s true you have to catch the interest in the first sentence, but some writers weave their stories in layers and through a building process. That demands a longer story and many editors can’t use long stories. Strike one.

Some writers have specialties in genre that they like to write and they excel at the delivery of such pieces to the exclusion of all other styles. In many cases that’s strike two with editors who don’t particularly enjoy that genre of writing.

The list of Strike Three’s is as long as there are magazine editors, and the slush piles of unused, unread and rejected stories are frightening, teetering towers, indeed.

I do my best to avoid these missteps when reading a new submission. I believe it has a great deal to do with having made smart choices in the past. A number of those who have become star contributors to Writer’s Cramp have taught me to be patient and to wait for the payoff. If I had the nagging urge to curl my lip at a new story and bitch to myself that, “this isn’t what she’s good at, why’s she taking this chance?” Or, “He can’t do this, it’s too big, he’ll never pull it off!” I knew from experience to read on for all to become clear. And I, along with the readership of Writer’s Cramp reaped such rewards from my learning trust and patience with writers.

So, editors are subjective human beings and are always swayed by that with which they are familiar, comfortable reading and recommending, what they like [don’t like] (genre preference) and whether they’ve heard of a writer or not. It’s an occupational hazard. Sometimes editors are swayed by what they believe their readers will accept from their publications and I fear many new talents go unpublished through a form of timidity. And a lack of respect for their readers.

While I have been a published magazine journalist throughout a long career, I never could crack the fiction barrier. I’ve been hailed as a masterful writer and story teller and a poet of the ‘Neolithic’ school—poetry that tells a story and has meter and meat—and if I was having trouble convincing other editors of the value of printing my work, I surmised there were others out there being equally overlooked.

As for poetry—I didn’t see even the glimmer of hope of infiltrating that Alabaster Tower of congenital pretentiousness. I considered it then, and for the most part consider it still; a self-congratulatory clique of dilettantes and literary wannabe’s frenetically chasing the illusion of made-to-measure esotericism and the concretization of their own small worth in their own sad circles. That may sound unduly cruel but the shoe, in the majority of cases I’ve found through experience, fits. Most poets only pretend to tolerate one another in their clawing, gouging struggle to read their own work in print first.

So, what was the answer? I decided to create a market niche for writers and serious poets where they could publish their work with confidence and perhaps gain feedback and perspective from readers and other writers. The perfect vehicle for this market niche, from the point of view of a jack-of-all-trades like me, was the Internet.

It became important to me to level the field, in that publishing has always been a nepotistic, almost cannibalistic process, wherein publishers and editors go back again and again to the well for the tried and true and nothing, and no one, new ever sees the light unless by fluke or accident. I wanted to give more writers a fighting chance to have their work read by a wide audience.

So the saga began in 1997/98. The way I saw it, it wouldn’t cost me anything extra to start my own magazine--I was already paying for ISP, which included a free web space. I had many of my own stories and poetry to seed the first few issues and I had time to teach myself the new technologies involved. Not to mention I was sitting pretty in a cushy, well-paying job that taught a wealth of Web design and maintenance as on the job training.

I created a number of purely experimental entities until I came upon a formula that took advantage of my skills in design, graphics writing and editing, and fit my vision of an online magazine that could become home to anyone looking for a creative outlet.

These were still early days in the development of Internet interest and user savvy, so when writers and readers started contacting me with questions about how to submit and what kinds of things to submit, I was thrilled. The first wave began, and as hindsight slyly reminds, it was a  pastiche of tentative attempts at fiction on the web, but with that occasional gem glimmering through the scaffolding.

My only criterion was that the work had to be well written and tell a story. The genre didn’t matter, the style didn’t matter, the subject didn’t matter, and I treated every submission as a gift, (largely because the first submissions came unbidden) and read each one with pleasure—when they were good—and with a twinge of embarrassment when they weren’t.

But I didn’t discard even the badly written stories or poetry, outright. I wrote the authors and gave them suggestions and criticism for improving their work, and many of them thanked me and did the work and re submitted much better pieces. You can find them in the Archives even today. What won’t be found anywhere in our pages is fluff or self-serving drivel. A large number of those first submitters never took the criticism wisely and disappeared from my inbox.

That’s not to say we turned away new writers or writers whose first attempts needed work; we encourage submissions from everyone who loves to write, just not all of them make it to our pages the first time they submit. If they accept the help and encouragement and technical suggestions offered and rework a piece to improve it, we spend as much time as is necessary to bring it to life. That willingness to help cemented our reputation and brought in a solid group of new and established writers who have been with Writer’s Cramp for years.

The magazine has undergone a number of changes over the years to make it easier to read and simpler to navigate. We’ve never used the glitzy tools and apps to add sizzle for sizzle’s sake like so many early venues that got caught up in the tidal wave of, “If it’s cool, let’s use it.”

What Writer’s Cramp offers is content; the creative content of modern writers across multiple generations.

Writer’s Cramp has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. We published our first short stories and poetry in the fall of 1998 under another ISP and a different domain name (even through the magazine was called Writer’s Cramp). But we didn’t catch the eye of international writers and readers until 1999, with our then Hallowe’en Special featuring Frank Thayer, Ron Carpenter, Richard Mason and Robert Liberty.

From that point our readership exploded and the look of the magazine underwent its first evolution into a bright and lively, professional online magazine for the readers to enjoy and the growing pool of regular contributors to strut their stuff and test their limits.

It wasn’t long before an atmosphere of familiar camaraderie arose among those writers who returned issue after issue to display their finest works. In fact, in the early days, before Writer’s Cramp even had its own domain name, there grew up around the magazine a core of contributors who corresponded on a regular basis and a kind of club was formed. We called ourselves variously Crampsters, The Crampsite and Happy Crampers and we stay in touch even now, a decade later.

And the readers benefited from this atmosphere, because soon the Crampsters were not content to simply submit new works; they challenged one another to feats of writing prowess that included setting popular TV Sitcoms in The Twilight Zone (see special links from the Table of Contents) or they dared each other to flash fiction contests, ghost story contests and one intrepid writer, Ron Carpenter, even challenged himself to write an entire epic poem with only words beginning with the letter ‘L’, ( see Leonard's Little Liberty).

There were also poets of immense talent attracted to Writer’s Camp. Among them are Michelle Tercha, one of the founding members of the “Crampsite,” Jan Hansen, a prolific and consummate poet whose range is still not determined after five-plus years writing for WC; Marcey Gray and Tim Lejeune have graced our pages with their prose and poetry, as has Billy Dean, Ian Little, Robert Montesino, Teri Lucia, our Eastern Brother, Swami Sampurnananda, Scott Malby, Morgan Liberty and Robert Liberty. Those are just a few of the poets who regularly share their work with us here at Writer’s Cramp.

Then there are the fiction writers.

Ron Carpenter, a founder, whose work recreating Sherlock Holmes adventures is so authentic; we first thought we were reading Doyle’s lost manuscripts. Ron has written in many genres and in many styles and whether he writes a terrifying piece like “Staying Awake” or a classical novella like “The Inheritance,” the sublime craftsmanship is the driving force behind his superlative stories.

Will Creedle, Sharon and Derek Gilbert, co-founders of the Crampsite, Ann Huseman, another Crampster who, along with Sharon and Derek have lifted the caliber of offering with every submission, JM Heluk (qv), Charles Ivie, another veteran of the Crampsite along with Teri Lucia, Marcey Gray, Tim Lejeune, Frank Thayer, Robert Liberty and Juris Rasa (the heart of the Crampsters.) These and many more are among the contributors, past and present, of Writer’s Cramp Online Magazine.

As we move into our next decade, with our shiny new face on and the dogs nipping at our heels to keep the prose rosy and the poetry pithy, we hope to welcome many new readers to our pages. As if a ten-year history of continuous publishing of the best International writing on the Internet wasn’t incentive enough to visit the website, consider the ghosts and serial killers and vampires and walking dead and talking dogs and aliens and witches and hard boiled detectives and parodies of Poe and Lovecraft and Hammett and Chandler and think about vacationing in the eerie little town of Caleb’s Crossing or haunting the marshes of Aldwych Wood, or shaking hands with the dead of Cobston.

It’s all waiting for you at Writer’s Cramp.