Interview with Myself

book-fair-1

Me wearing contact lenses signing copies of Asimov’s at the Brooklyn Book Fair, Sept 2014. My friend Steven Solomon is behind me. This photo proves I am in fact, human, made of meat, and not some disembodied renegade AI which spawned itself in the Amazon cloud, emerging out of a critical mass of monster porn.

A writer friend of mine, Kayeigh Shoen, invited me to participate in this blog-tour. So here it is.

1) What are you working on?

I’m currently working on SF short stories and novellas. Some of the stories are decades old fragments, stuff I thought I’d write when my skills were up to the task and / or I started selling. Well, I am selling now, so premises that have been lurking in the wings forever are now turning into words on the page.

I have  three novels started, but I’m waiting for some weird sign from The Cosmic All to tell me which to continue. Any day now. I hope.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I tend to write about people with, um, issues, with whom I can empathize. As a person with issues. Genre fiction is often built around kinda bland heros, decent everymen / everywomen… Side characters can be kooky and villians, of course, can always be textured and multidimensional, but protagonists… my protagonists feel to me a bit off the beaten path.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. We’ll see!

3) Why do you write what you do?

I write genre fiction because I enjoy it, and I feel like I’m allowed to write it. Genre elements, for me, push stories away from solipism, navel gazing, self-important pseudo-memoir, towards the mythic, the universal. I struggle to be purely entertaining, but of course, art and deep personal meaning creeps in around the edges.

There’s a reason fairy tales and myths survive for millennia.

There is no literary fiction from the Bronze age. All that’s left in the end is myth, fairy tales, religious texts, which themselves are a kind of fantasy. Please nobody kill me for that last sentence, OK? I devote myself to this stuff. I’m not trivializing it.

Why would anyone write anything else? Seriously, though, SF, which I mostly write, can be ephemeral and often ages badly… I am drawn into it for the usual reasons; geeky-techno lust, a brain that ceaselessly extrapolates trends into the future, that conjures worlds into being uncontrollably.

4) How does your writing process work?

My process is a work in progress.

In the past it has involved getting depressed and quitting for decades, so, I’m working on not doing that anymore. Double-plus Un-good.

Stories work themselves out on the page. There is salvation in simply sitting down and making words every day and seeing what happens without a ton of agonizing. I’m trying to think of something more cliched or less useful I can add to that, but I’m drawing a blank.

I aspire to be a plotter, and while I often am working towards some end which has been foreseen, the good parts, the fun stuff, emerges from the seat of my pants, if you’ll pardon the disgusting metaphor, which maybe you shouldn’t.

My process now involves being honest with myself about what I enjoy most in the writing of others, and what I can find inside myself which to some degree resonates with what I like to read.

This seems painfully obvious, self-evident, but for decades I found that as a person I liked to make people laugh, while as a writer I seemed intent on making them cry. It came to me that this was because some part of me disliked being alone, which one is while writing, I was also nervous about my work being rejected, and I was translating that discomfort into my text.

I call this the ‘poisonous subtext feedback loop,’

I write now in the company of my imaginary friends, who are more real to me now than ever, the made-up people on the page, with more joy and freedom than before, with some sense that what I am writing willl be read, and I want to give those readers the best experience it is in me to give.

We don’t become writers to give ourselves a shitty job. I look for the joy in the process, I look for the light, which anyone reading me will snort at, I’m sure, as there’s plenty of dark in what I do too.

And to a degree, the work is becoming its own reward. Thank God.

Practical suggestions: I leave the house to write, so I don’t do housework as procrastination. My family isn’t happy about this but I get more work done.

Cafe-writing also prevents prolonged day-time napping. (Freelance clients also prevent naps, but as I’m trying to move way from design towards writing: cafes, walking, workshops, and coffee, have been hugely important.)

I write with other people, trying to set up deadlines and expectations of word counts, hoping that my own productivity can be inspirational to others.

This can help short circuit depression and ego-fatigue.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Sales and Galleys and Readings and Anthologies…

I’m trying to move this blog away from astonished-at-my-own-small-success postings, self-deprecating humor, to something with more universal appeal. I have a small blog readership. I’d reach more people with a bullhorn in Harvard Square.

One recurring theme which I think is uplifting is the idea of the second act, the second chance. It’s pretty bloody reassuring for those of us in our fifties and I imagine, if one was in one’s twenties, it would also be reassuring. You can shit the bed for decades! And still end up somewhere!

What’s more, the nitty gritty reality of the writing life has never been more on display. Simply follow and friend your favorite authors and you’ll be exposed to the process in a way that, even a decade ago, was unheard of.

Follow and friend the people you publish with in the magazines, your editors; google your reviews…

…Ok, lost a half hour there. Sorry. I’m back. Even ambivalent reviews of my work give me chills. People are reading me!

Authors tweet, blow by blow, their struggles with manuscripts; word counts, revisions, the dark, bleak moments of hopelessness which seem to be a part the process, and the heady joys of completion and success–and publication, and, on occasion, acclaim.

And so, I’ll say now, casually, that I’ve sold my second story to F&SF, a story titled Things Worth Knowing, and that I have galleys in hand; if they’re from the same editor who worked on my first F&SF story I know there will be a bunch of really smart changes in the PDF.

It’s  a delight, to have someone work on your text, make it better, as it goes out the door. Every now and then you’ll disagree, you’re making some point the the editor didn’t get, but nine times out of ten, you smack your forehead and say “great googly moogly, how did that get by me?”

I’ll also mention, oh so casually, the possibility of being included in a very cool anthology, which I’ll know about for sure in a month or so.

Mostly, I’m here to tell you, I’m out in the world pounding on my aging Macbook Air with the flickery screen, lugging my backpack full of books, drinking coffee in Cambridge Massachusetts, surrounded by people younger and hipper and more beautiful than I am, to be sure, but I’m here. I’m writing. People are reading what I write.

Life is good.

Take a stab at whatever it is you really want to do. Humiliate yourself at an open microphone, get your stories and poems rejected, write a goddamn screenplay, fiddle with a useless agent for a decade, paint a picture, write a song, make bad art, make good art, and play nicely with others while you do. Keep your heart open, keep your head in the game.

You never know where you might end up, in twenty years or so.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications

Reading Out Loud

One of the several hundred books I've read to my kids over the last eight years. I include it as an illustration because I have fond memories of this trilogy; great characters and good plotting.

One of the several hundred books I’ve read to my kids over the last eight years. I include it as an illustration because I have fond memories of this trilogy; great characters and good plotting.

About eight years ago, I started reading out loud to my two boys. My wife started the job, using board books, picture books from the library. At some point we stopped being selective, we’d just grab a fifty pound stack off the shelf every week and read them all. I didn’t do all that many of those, for some reason, I was doing freelance stuff a lot and opted out. I’m not sure why.

I came into my own when we started reading chapter books, middle grade stuff, and young adult. I read on school nights only. Its part of the on-going negotiations required to make them go the fuck to bed. And if it sounds as if our parenting style packs the punch of UN security council resolution, well, you’re right, and shut up about that.

Because my boys are teenagers now, 14 and 16 and I’m still reading to them. Which is amazing and wonderful.

At some point, a few years back, I realized that this was the best time of the day for me. The reading. I’d turn out the lights and use a head mounted flash light; or I’d buy the books for the iPad or Kindle Paperwhite. My words would fill the darkness. And I’d be transported to another time and place.

Like anything else, if you do something for hundreds and hundreds of hours over a span of years, you get better at it. It becomes comfortable, and then second nature.

Hint: writing should be like this, too.

You do simple voices for the characters; then you add accents; it helps a listener, who has temporarily zoned out remember who is speaking. Keep the protagonists voice very close to your own, though, or you’ll be very very sorry.  You may end up with a generic male / female voice, an old person voice and a little kid voice; maybe that’s all you need.

When you read something out loud, you’re forced to notice it. You see and shape each word, engaging multiple brain regions and sensory motor cortex machinery. Reading aloud is more than reading to yourself.  It’s also of course, much slower. That’s the trade off.

If you’re me, as you read some part of you is reading ahead, and seeing dialog tags, so you know which voice to use (and you every now and then get it wrong; I always say, ‘whups, wrong voice’ and reread the passage in the right voice when that happens.)

You sense prose mistakes viscerally. like hitting a pothole while driving. A conversation that is interrupted by some huge block of description or interior monolog, which you return to — only now you don’t remember what people are talking about? Yup. You spot those.  Some prose tinkering engine in your brain will automatically rewrite sentences lightly as you read, snipping out names that could be pronouns, swapping in names when you feel the pronoun has become ambiguous, etc etc. You can’t stop yourself.

When the kids were younger, I’d hit a word I thought they didn’t know, I’d ask them what it meant; if they didn’t know it, I’d tell them what it meant; then I’d read the sentence again. Do this a few thousand times over a few years and I’m guessing you’re helping your kids with reading comprehension.

The text becomes a shared experience you can talk about. Not something that you’d think would be all that special, but if your family has devolved into a group of people watching their own personal screens, if sitting together on a couch and watching a movie or TV show all together has become increasingly rare as your kids get older, then the shared book is very cool indeed.

Mostly it’s a chance to be there, with them, when they read stuff that will get inside them and change them.

When Sirius black dies in the forth Harry Potter, my kids both burst into tears. They’d never known death, not even a pet, at that point, and those people were so real, my kids hope that Harry could have a family was so strong, that that experience was mind blowing. It was sad and I felt for them, you felt bad, for making them cry, and I felt jealous, for the immediacy, for the experience they were having, so raw and real.

You can vicariously re-enter the texts of your youth, the books that made you, and you drag your kids along with you.

I know that it won’t go on for much longer. But it has been a great thing. I recommend it for all humans, but for writers particularly.

Read out loud. It’s awesome. I’m guessing it makes you a better writer, too.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Self Indulgent Mémoire

Looking for Writing Workshop Members in Cambridge, MA.

Me in bald phase with contact lenses. Mugging for the camera. I will  not make this face while critiquing your story.

My entry into Chuck Wendig’s awkward author photo contest. Me in bald phase with contact lenses. I will not make this face while critiquing your story.

I have a writing workshop which is now down to 4 people which meets weekly in Cambridge/Boston. two pieces are workshopped traditionally. It is currently composed of two Emerson MFAs, a guy who works in publishing who is an associate editor at Fantastic Stories, and me, repeat Asimovs offender, publishing there and in F&SF and Interzone.

Currently we are three men, one woman, with one woman on hiatus expected to return and two men who may return. So we’re 4 people, potentially 7; until we have any firm withdrawals we will cap at 8 people.

So we have one slot at least.

The meeting schedule may need to be revised, as expecting people with jobs to produce something every other week is going to lead to raw fragments. Oh, that’s the other thing about the group, it is essentially a challenge to come up with something and fragments are preferred to punting.

We do not meet for a single piece, unless it’s novelette/novella length, and we do not meet with less than four people; we postpone. Sessions are after work (6) in Kendal square. Meeting frequently but only talking about two (or three) pieces and keeping the group under 10 makes the sessions shorter, less than two hours generally, less painful, more focused, at the cost of the extra travel time.

If anyone knows anyone looking for a genre-friendly fiction writing workshop in the area, please let me know. There is an approval process, which is essentially just letting us read a finished piece and a trial workshop session in which the candidate is revealed to be mostly sane. We are currently writing a mix of genre and literary fiction in the group.

The goal of the group is publication. I’m currently the only group member pursing both trad and indy-pub. The group does not workshop poetry. We are inclusive in every way imaginable, in terms of race, creed, ethnicity gender identity and sexual preference. We’ll even accept Vogons, but we won’t workshop their poetry.

Feel free to contact me at ejayo1963@gmail.com with any questions; feel free to cut and paste this post, share it how you see fit.

*** End of Ad for Workshop***

I write best with other people, for other people, knowing that there will be people who read what I write who will talk to me about it. I hadn’t known really, how much I would still need that after I started publishing more frequently; my stuff is now routinely sells and is read.

But I’m still a tiny fish, and beyond a handful of web-reviews and the few people who seek out this blog, some part of me still feels like I’m telling my stories alone at a campfire with crickets chirping loudly in the background. Sometimes I see the reflections of eyes in the dark past the edge of the circle. But I’m not really sure it isn’t my mind playing tricks on me.

I’ve started reading stories by peers in my magazines and reaching out to some of them and that has been great; the problem is, I’m not, by nature, a guy who reads a lot of short fiction by different writers at the same time.

I had this great insight that I usually find someone I like and read many books by them in a row, learning their voice and digging in for the long haul. Once I have their voice down, I’ll revisit them as they create new content.

What I have never done is read dozens of short stories by dozens of people at the same time, dozens of books in a year all by authors I have never read before. Turns out I’m bad at it. Which is ironic, because that is the only way I could reasonably be expected to be read myself of course, which makes me some kind of reading / writing hypocrit. So I’m working on it.

The loophole in this for me has been reading stuff by people who sit in the room with me and let me talk to them about what they’re writing.

Hence, the workshops.

Anyway, I’d love to workshop with folks who are publishing short fiction; I’d like to be a beta-reader for someone publishing novels, too. I need few more people in my eco-system. Dropping out for twenty years sort of thinned that community down for me.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Oh, the Places We Go

The book given me by a workshop mate as I went off to my Clarion and twenty years in the wilderness.

The book given me by a workshop mate as I went off to my Clarion and twenty years in the wilderness.

So, one of the things about being a writer is that you do it by yourself, mostly. You do it anywhere, everywhere. You create your own structure. Most writers have day jobs or do freelance work and have families and all these things eat up  time.

Your kids lives rush by in an eye blink. Your day job teeters precariously in the jaws of the global economy. There are about a million reasons not to write fiction.

Your chances of ever making a living are infinitesimal.

Channeling the mental energies of writing into anything else will yield tangible results. Ph.Ds, real estate, happy children, a cleaner house, stacks of neatly folded laundry, tasty meals, european vacations, better local elected officials.

Why in the name of God would anyone want to know what Jay has in the box?

(Google: Let’s Make a Deal.)

It’s going to take you a few years, lets say five, but it could be ten, to see if you can even do this thing. That’s five years of mostly solitary confinement.

And so, as with any rite of passage, any exile from the mainstream, any gulag, any ghetto, any polar expedition into the arctic, the people with you, the ones you walk with, become hugely important; because mostly, you choose them, and mostly, they have chosen you.

You’re not working on an assembly line, or as part of a team in a corporation; if a relationship isn’t working, you can walk away from it. A workshop, a beta-reader, a fellow writer whose work you follow, who follows yours, nobody cares, it’s all up to you and down to me, as a former business partner of mine used to love to say.

I’ve been workshopping off and on for twenty years, doing social media heavily for as long as it has been around. I have people but, ah, this is thing, the people come and go.

Writers seldom stay put. Oddly, I do. I’m embedded in Cambridge, in my family, and nothing is likely to pry me out of here any time soon.

But my people come and go.

As writers we size each other up, and try to help each other. You look for signs, that your input is helping someone, or changing them; are they getting any better? Do they keep doing the same thing over and over again? Do they really get what you’re trying to do? Is their feedback useful?

So I have reconnected, to some degree, with the people I’ve written with over the years, around my raft of 10 professional sales over the last year. They’ve been wonderful, supportive, happy for me, and jealous and pissed off to a degree that is reasonable. (I’m a white het cis upper middle class middle aged male soaking up valuable publication slots. Even I piss myself off sometimes. I am diversity kryptonite.)

So I went looking, online, for a smart, compassionate man who gave me a copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” as I went off to Clarion in 1994, to tell him the places I went; the decades of darkness and my short sweet time in the sun.

I looked for evidence of his publication, hopeful. This guy was smart, focused, driven. He’d been a corporate lawyer.  He’d gotten himself and his family situated, and cut his hours back drastically to give himself time to write.

I remember thinking, in the 90s, wow, that was the right order to this in. Get a real gig, get comfortable, and then, scale back your lifestyle and clear the decks and put the time in, from a position of strength; knowing that you could choose to be richer, choose to have a bigger house or a nicer car, but instead, choosing to write. Know, first of all, that you aren’t a loser–then, write.

He looked me in the eye, and told me, he simply had to do this. He had to write. He couldn’t live with himself otherwise. He impressed me. I was sure he’d do it, he’d make it.

So I looked and looked and looked. Maybe he was writing under a pseudonym?

Finally, I looked for him on Linked In, knowing that finding him there would not be a good thing.

I found him. A bank president. A man in a suit. I barely recognized him, he’d put on weight and gotten grayer, but he looked happy, in the photo, happy and maybe a tiny bit sad. But you can’t really tell from a photo how someone is feeling.

Linked in profiles are scrubbed clean of anything resembling humanity. Linked In is your resume personality. This is the version of you that when asked, what is  your greatest weakness, answers, “sometimes I work so hard I forget to eat and sleep.” Linked in is a world of professional lies.

Oh, the Places we Go.

I hope he writes under a pseudonym.

If he doesn’t, I hope he never sees my name on a magazine.

I wish him nothing but the best.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Stranger from the Depths

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The wraparound dust jacket for the hard to find, unabridged edition of Stranger from the Depths. These go for about 300 bucks on ebay now. If anyone has access to the unabridged edition in some way, please let me know. I want to read it. I don’t want to spend 300 dollars.

Writers of middle-grade and young adult fiction get there first.

Who introduces the young reader to dystopia? To artificial intelligence? To generation ships and apocalypse and cloning and galactic empire?

It isn’t Orwell or Huxley or Shelly (or even Heinlein or Asimov, anymore). It’s some middle grade / YA writer from the most recent decade, maybe someone great, like Neil Gaimen, or maybe a hack who somehow got popular. They wrote the book in the school library that the kid picks up on a whim; because of a cover or a blurb, or maybe, simply because it was there.

In the late sixties, and to this day, Scholastic Publishing produces a flyer handed out in public schools; cover thumbnails, descriptions, and prices; an order form with little checkboxes, the books delivered to you in homeroom. As a kid I also had free books through the RIF, Reading is Fundamental program, a non profit still active forty years later; it’s mission is to get books into the hands of kids under eight; two thirds of low income americans own no books whatsoever, according to the RIF website.

Wow. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that.

So we got free books in Charles Andrews Elementary School, being in a mixed income, majority minority community. I don’t remember if I paid for my copy of Stranger from the Depths by Gerry Turner or not.

The cover price is 50 cents.

My copy has an unsigned RIF sticker in it… is it my original copy, or one I picked up twenty years ago, with far too many used books in one of the Cambridge’s many vanished used book stores? I had this book, the abridged edition, in third grade, which was 1970 or 1971. My current copy is a first printing, in 1970.

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The abridged Scholastic Edition, paperback, 50 cents, cerca 1970.

The book is about a few young men and one young woman and a kindly professor who revive a 60 million year old Lizard Man named Saa, who inhabited a crystalline city which sank beneath the Earth during what we now call the CT event, the iridium rich boundary layer which represents the end of the Cretaceous, the age of the dinosaurs; kids these days know the comet and subsequent nuclear winter is what did those wonderful animals in…

Back in the 60s, though, nobody knew. Turner guessed some sort of seismic event which made the atmosphere toxic, this inescapable thing. Stranger’s Lizard people manage to barely survive, though, in ways familiar to SF readers, then and now.

Here’s a list of stuff from Stranger that is now badly used furniture, which felt newer in 1969, and which worked for the third and forth grade me perfectly.

  • Parallel evolution which produces a humanoid intelligent species which resemble us strongly enough that we can wear their clothing, and vice versa. Saa is a seven foot tall man with frog eyes, scales, webbed fingers and toes and needle sharp teeth. (He is also a vegetarian, which makes the teeth a, well, a mistake.)
  • Learning an alien language in a quickly glossed over bloc of narrative summary which spans a few weeks or months.
  • Ancient civilizations for which there are no fossil records; species without any fossil record or any evolutionary antecedents in the fossil record.
  • A teaching/learning machine which directly implants knowledge into brains with tiny wires. (Human and Lizard people brains are so similar that the machine can be used on people without a single test or modification. It’s a Babel Fish machine.)
  • Food pills. Food synthesizer machines which assemble meals from grids of buttons you press for different types of flavors and textures.
  • An entire technological civilization which is confined to a single city of a few thousand individuals. (I guess Turner was trying to help explain the lack of fossil record, but he simply creates this more difficult problem of a technological civilization far too small to be technological.)
  • A humanoid species without any identifiable culture to speak of. The city is full of barely described apartment and municipal buildings…. with no roofs, because they live under a dome with a giant sun thing handing from the apex like a chandelier. We see no art and hear no music. We never learn anything about Saas family structure… the alien minds we see all behave in ways easily understood by humans.
  • The sterile city of the future as imagined by many a SF writer at the time; Asimov foresaw windowless houses perfectly illuminated artificially by flat colored panels, programmable auto-kitchens, cleaning robots, etc. Saa’s city of Haad has all these things.
  • A mole machine which can bore through solid rock and travel through the earth’s metallic core, protected from heat and pressure by, well, forcefields and stuff. It is moved by… forcefields. It also has antigravity. Which is never really used anywhere else in the city.
  • Energy from the earth’s core; not simply heat driving  turbines to make electricity, but some sort of degenerate matter created by heat and pressure which can be used as fuel in reactors.  Turner may have been thinking about stellar degenerate matter here; at any rate, it gives the lizard people something to do with their mole, which is to go deep into the earth and hunt for this stuff.
  • The Evil Retrograde culture. Surviving members of a terrorist lizard people breakaway culture live in a another city, but their tech is deteriorating, and they can’t fix the old machines. This culture also has teaching machines and memory disks, so it’s uncertain why they can’t fix things. They have been eking out an existence since the cretaceous, presumably waiting for the surface to become livable. Even though they have the mole, nobody ever uses it to check on surface conditions, because… um.

Ok, I didn’t mean to do a plot summary here, I just wanted to list these tropes, but I got sucked into it, and as I did, all these gaping plot holes opened up…

After a wonderfully detailed opening featuring scuba diving and a tidal wave striking a shore which sets up the discovery of Saa’s Crypt, the descriptions grow more and more vague, as to what it’s like, to be walking around a mile or two beneath the earths crust in a ‘fire suit’ which protects you, but somehow, there are…I guess caverns and underground lava seas…you can’t really see much of anything, the story moves along at a good clip… more and more tech is introduced, working flawlessly after 60 million years, which allow stuff to happen. There are long winded explanations of the tech.

…oh, you wonder, what the hell was in the unabridged edition!

…Jesus, the reason  I wrote this was to tell you that this book was wonderful to me, in second grade, and I wanted to say it still holds up, but like a Jerry Lewis movie, its one of those things that can’t really make the leap, from youth to mature appreciation.

But I believed in Saa, the lizard man, last of his super intelligent, rational reasonable and kind race. I believed in the undying underground diamond city of Haad, preserved perfectly for 60 million years by a mysterious gas. I believed in the mole, which could travel through rock in one of two modalities; one which leaves tunnels behind, perfectly round smooth tunnels, or in an invisible mode, where the melted rock just hardens again leaving no trace of its passage. I used to think about the mole a lot, as I recall.

Boy could I believe in stuff, when I was in second grade.

What is this story, though, really about?

It’s about adventure; finding a hidden world beneath your feet, about voices out of ancient time talking to you, it’s about encountering the alien other and befriending it, finding out that the other is just like you. It’s about fearlessness, as the amiable professor drags along his young charges, into the underground city, and into the mole, to travel deeper and deeper into the earth.

This is Turner’s only SF book.

As I contemplate what to do with the rest of my writing life, this book confronts me, haunts me, weirdly.

Middle Grade and YA authors get there first.

Could I lean how to be one of them?

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Reinventing Science Fiction

I’m on the cover of the September Interzone…

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Cover for the September 2014 Interzone, which will feature my short story “A Minute and a Half.” This is a print publication in Great Britain. Eventually the rights will revert and I’ll anthologize it but I’ll be delighted to see it in print.

I’m not the cover story, understand, but I’m on the cover, in that may name is on the cover, and my short story is inside… and the cover is cool looking. Love the graphic design here.

Happy about this.

Posted in My Publications

On Graphic Design

I’ve made the bulk of my income over the years as a graphic designer; during the tech bubble, graphic design got mixed up with software development and ‘information architecture’ and User Experience and Branding and became briefly valuable and deeply respected by a lot of business people who were trying take over the world with web pages.

Since web pages lack the ability to shoot tear gas or launch grenades or mesmerize like a TV show these people figured that Design would have to suffice, stand in for armed Pinkertons shooting up striking workers or the other traditional methods Important People had used in the past to stay on top and own everything.

I’d been to art school; I loved photoshop and the Mac and graphic software and I was, and still am, smart. Standardized test smart, I mean. I’m smart in the same way a crow is smart—smarter than I need to be, for the things I generally end up being paid to do. Crows periodically get themselves electrocuted messing with wires and things. I’m smart like that.

During the tech bubble, briefly, that kind of smart could make you rich.

You’re a crow, doing mediocre crow things, and you start poking into the wires, and a farmer shows up, and says, “you know about wires? Can I pay you six figures a year to keep doing what you’re doing?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” the Crow (me) says.

“That’s OK,” says the Farmer. “Nobody does. Please take my money.”

In the beginning I was absolutely terrible at everything I did; I knew how to use the software to make UI elements, buttons and panels and whatnot, but I had no taste. None whatsoever. After I’d been working for a few years, I was paired up with a variety of designers and art directors with taste, and I learned from them, to the best of my ability, what taste was.

I began to be able to emulate taste, to a degree; I could look at exquisite things made by talented people and extract a visual language, a vocabulary, and ape it, crudely. This makes me better than about 95% of the people who practice design professionally.

Branding was the most interesting part. This futile but seductive attempt to compress pure meaning into visual form, hopefully, into something that could be instantly recognized at any size or distance. It was a kind of endless wordless ache, working on these things, but for awhile, I was paid handsomely to do so. There was so much to be branded, you see; every company in the world was pissing all over things trying to own them forever, with a name, a brand, a logo, an animated thingy.

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A bunch of logos I did, some of which were actually used for a time. Anthony Butler did the bug for Skyrope. Suffice to say, none of these companies ever panned out, though I notice the Skyrope site still exists.

But, in the end, it was all wordless. It was dumb, in the sense that what I did for many years wasn’t about words but about a feeling, a moment of gestalt, when something was glanced at. I would work on something for days or weeks or months which you could glance at in three seconds and form your opinion on. If you even had an opinion.

Anyway, nowadays I’m mostly doing design work for my own projects, most of it genre related, and for the first time, in decades, that work is pretty fun. I’ve stopped trying to be this thing I wasn’t, this super sophisticated minimalist typographic hero, this protean figure compressing meaning out of form… in the end I was never that guy anyway.

I didn’t dress nearly well enough, for one thing.

So when I did Fantastic, I shopped for existing wordpress themes which did what I needed them to do, and I found a logo of the magazine with google, different than the one Warren had been using, which I liked. It was simpler and cleaner and involved no typographic, ah, perversion. The one on the left. Alas, this version of Fantastic wasn’t the version we were reviving, so it had to go.

But I spent some time, with the existing logo, crafting something that had a similar feel, and was happy with the result, bottom right.

Oh, we should probably focus group it, figure out what it says to people, create a brand statement and creative brief and run it through a real process…

But oh, it’s been fun, just flying by the seat of my pants.

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Oh! So if you’re interested in hiring me for design related things (book covers, ebook covers and production, and such) email me at ejayo1963 (at) gmail (dot) com. I do genre stuff cheap. If your company plans on taking over the world I cost more.

I have principles.

Posted in Self Indulgent Mémoire

The story I sold to interzone? Yeah. Let’s talk about that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 11.30.12 PM So, I sold a story to Interzone a few weeks back and didn’t blog it / tweet it as I was struggling with the Fantastic Stories launch, which was a bit delayed by, well, totally predictable web stuff.

The story, titled A Minute and a Half, is one of the half dozen pieces started and abandoned after my Clarion; it’s packed with ideas, with a world which is now a combination of the future and the future as seen from the past, and of course, it’s full of my own personal brand of tortured four-dimensional autobiography.

This was the last story ‘finished’ before I threw in the towel, and ended my First Try.

I obsessed a lot about the stories in the mail, at Asimovs, Analog, F&SF, SF Age… the semi-pro presses I was affiliated with were going bust; my third, SFWA qualifying sale to Aboriginal SF vanished with the magazine, and I was emmeshed in tech bubble culture; playing with various kinds of design and production tasks, websites and CD-Roms and industrial videos and writing testing and training materials for, well, money. I was making a lot of money for the first time in my life.

By the time my last SF story limped back to me in my own SASE (look it up, kiddos) , I was done. I wrote, like a little pissy prima donna loser whiny cry-baby, ‘the last straw’ on a form reject from Asimov’s, put the reject in my rejection folder, and filed it away.

Fuck three cents a word magazine fiction, I thought. I’m going to be rich man.

So that didn’t work out…

…which is good, right? Because, hey, I’m writing again! And no, I am not sure whether that statement was ironic or not.

I really loved this story, though, which was titled  Cafe Angst at the time, and I wrestled with it over the years, along with a few others, all of which have now been sold and or published, to Asimov’s or F&SF.

Cafe Angst was a virtual cyberspace version of the old USENET group, alt.angst, a dismal place, exactly what you probably would think it would be from the name, where an old, dear ex-friend of mine used to hang out, Dawn Albright. (I remember hopping off the plane from Clarion and attended her wedding to another ex-friend of mine, Peter Breton. I’d introduced them…)

Anyway.

I had a friend in the 90s, Glenn Grant, who I had known mainly through my friend Ron Hale Evans, who had sold a trio of stories to Interzone, which I’d read and loved. Coincidentally, I bumped into him at Readercon 2014, and he was unbelievably welcoming and supportive, funny, smart and kind.

So Glenn, I got in!

Sheila Williams at Asimov’s gave me some insight as to what was wrong with the story, but didn’t ask to see a rewrite. I took her suggestion and surgically removed about a third of the thing. What was left, after another rewrite, seemed clear, it made more sense, it was more emotionally cohesive and the excised third, to be honest, had become a room full of used furniture over the intervening years.

I lost a character I loved in the process, though, a woman named Cosine, who was based on a woman from my Clarion 94 class, Syne Mitchell, one of the many people in my class who went on to publish novels after the workshop.

Cosine went, along with Dawn’s Cafe Angst itself (meaning I needed a new title) as I excised a layer of my own personal, ah, stuff, from the story, removing a big stinking slug of metaphorical subtext. Like pus drained from an infected boil.

So this is the thing, right, about my stories? It’s science fiction and fantasy mixed up with life stuff and the endless echoing interior dialog which has been hammering away inside my skull since I was a tiny kid. The voices that don’t ever stop. The love, the friendship, the fear, the regret, the mistakes, the endless romantic daydream,  and the occasional shimmering moment of redemption.

It’s real to me. It’s important somehow. So I do it.

Anyway, I hope to hell people like this goddamn story. Seriously. It was a bitch to get right.

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Posted in My Publications

My Asimov’s & Fantastic Fiction on sale—at Fantastic Stories!

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Click here to buy my last four stories from Asimov’s and Fantastic as a DRM-Free ebook from Fantastic Stories

So I’ve had an amazing streak over the last few years, selling a bunch of shorts and a novella to Asimov’s, a magazine I’ve been wanting to be in for twenty years, as well as a sale to F&SF, Interzone, and other markets, but truth be told the streak started with my sale to Warren Lapine’s 2012 Fantastic Stories anthology.

My first sale in almost twenty years.

I was delighted to find myself in an anthology with the likes of Harlan Ellison, Mike Resnick, Barry Longyear, and a bunch of other writers I recognized from Year’s Best Anthologies over the years. That publication got me on my feet again.

After selling him the story, Warren approached me with the notion of doing something on the web with him, genre-book wise. He’d published Realms of Fantasy for a year or so towards the end of its run, and I’d done a website and eventually the page layout and cover / interior design for the magazine.

I turned him down at first, wanting to focus on the writing, unsure if I really wanted to be involved with web design and development anymore. My consulting experiences in independent publishing finally pushed me over the edge, and I agreed to help him with the new Fantastic Stories Magazine / Book site.

This time around we have new models for how web-based genre fiction is done. Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and dozens of kickstarter financed anthologies have blazed new trails in the genre, garnering a good chunk of the Hugo and Nebula awards over the last few years. The days when all validation for a short genre author was intrinsically bound to paper have passed.

Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, soldier on with great stories by great authors, both new and established; the Years Best anthologies are still a vital part of the genre as well, but one can feel the center slowly shifting. Online is coming on strong. Newstand distribution becomes ever more problematical.

Short fiction is a strange thing; in a world of on-demand video and super-fat, endless novel series, it seems odd that it continues to exist in any form whatsoever. In the end, I’m glad people still want to read it; paper or ebook, traditionally published or indy-pubbed, there’s a huge world of readers out there, dozens of marketplaces, thousands of new voices. How will we make sense of it all? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? I’m no editor, thankfully. That’s not my job.

I’m a writer, again, enjoying every minute of it, and it’s my goal to reach readers, and to make money doing so, so I can do it with all of my time, By Any Means Necessary. Which brings us to the point of this post, this anthology of my first three Asimov’s stories and my career reviving Fantastic Stories 2012 sale, which I’m selling at Fantastic Stories. (My novella, Of All Possible Worlds is not part of this antho, as it is still on the stands here and there, where the magazine was distributed.)

Four Worlds is on sale at Amazon under my own name, and feel free to buy it from them for your Kindle or Kindle Reader Ap on your smartphone, iPad, or Android device. But the links here are to the same file at Fantastic.

Here’s how that works.

Pay with a credit card or Pay Pal, and you’ll be emailed a download link, good for a day.

Download the zipped archive with both the .mobi (kindle) and .epub (everything else) file.

Email that file to your device, or drag it over a cable, and there you go; you’ve just supported an independent on-line bookstore, and you’ve given me a higher royalty rate than Amazon, at the same time.

What’s the catch? Well, if you’ve never bought an independent book or moved one of your own documents onto your ereader, it will take you a few minutes to figure out how to do this. Every device manufacturer wants to keep you in their walled garden, their market vertical, but, every device supports reading indy books and personal documents, too. It takes five minutes the first time, though. They figure that’s enough to prevent most people from ever even trying to buy from anyone else.

Prove them wrong. Support local booksellers; support authors; support magazines; support indy on-line marketplaces.

My cheerfully exasperated support document which points to how to read indy books on a variety of devices can be read here.

And read my stories, even if you couldn’t find them on stands!

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications, Reinventing Science Fiction

My most recent work from Asimov's and Fantastic Stories

Eight DRM-free nuggets of genre goodness, for sale at Fantastic Stories.

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