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

Dystopian Love on sale at Fantastic Books!

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My anthology of previously published short fiction is now on sale at Fantastic Books. Read this post to learn why buying it there is a cool thing to do.

So much has been written of late about Amazon’s marketing tactics vis a vis Hachette, and I don’t have much to add to that discussion. As a progressive liberal, I would point to the example of Microsoft, which recently laid off 40,000 workers, which was the last monopoly that was going to destroy us all; the marketplace seemed to take care of that problem, though, doubtlessly, the threat of antitrust was one of the reasons that we lived through that era, to the new one, in which we now fear Google and Apple will destroy us all.

So here is the free market position, from Forbes. And here is the we need more regulation position from the Atlantic; since I made my little free-market pitch up above, I’ll excerpt the progressive view below:

Long-time industry consultant (and partner in Digital Book World, my employer) Mike Shatzkin explained to me what would happen next:

Let’s say Amazon goes to 70 percent and they’re basically the pipes for everything and they’re indispensable and you can’t publish a book without them. So, what do they do then?

If they’re still trying to maximize profits, we’ll still have lots of romance books and James Patterson will still write his books. But serious nonfiction books won’t get published. Those are the books that will go first.

So, we’re told, don’t worry about the escapist crap, (like, well, SF) Serious Books will suffer, the ones that the Big Five publish as a kind of public service. Huh. As a progressive I’ve lamented the shifting fortunes of the mid list writer, (the writer I could imagine myself as being) as publishing culture changed as a result of massive media conglomeration, mostly repeating the second hand stories of writers I saw being pushed out of the business and back into day jobs.

But now I’m in the strange position of personally knowing several new mid list writers, making healthy incomes, independently publishing through, well, mostly Amazon.

So. Complicated. Reminds me of ISIS, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Not something I can sort through in this blog post.

One thing remains true. We have the freedom, especially online, to shop anywhere we want.

Fantastic Books is offering me a great royalty on my books sold through their site. Buy wherever is most convenient to you, certainly, but if you are the kind of person who is interested in such things, I’ll make more money if you buy my book from Fantastic, and you’ll be supporting a more diverse publishing ecology.

The downside? If you are a kindle reader, you will have to learn how to email your downloaded book to your kindle emails address. Learning how to do this actually makes your kindle a wonderful proofreading / business reading device, as the emailing auto-converts .doc files, RTF files, and of course, .mobi files, the Kindle native file format. If you have an e-ink device, you know it’s  much much easier to proofread on it. Mistakes invisible on screen leap off the page and hit you in the face like a furious fish jerked from a deep cold lake.

Seriously. E-ink. The devices stay charged for a week or two, and if you have a backlit model, it doesn’t shoot blue wavelengths of light into your retina, breaking your circadian rhythms, disrupting your sleep.With e-ink, you read, you don’t watch video, you don’t do social media, you don’t browse. You read until you’re tired and then you go to sleep.

Anyway, buy my anthology, people who do write nice reviews, frequently, it seems to work for them; it’s about a decade of struggle in eight stories. My last 4 stories will be released in a new antho any day now. Just got it proofread. If you had a hard time finding Asimovs and haven’t yet subscribed, like you really should, you can buy the stories from me here.

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Posted in Fantastic Stories, My Publications

Fantastic Stories Site Live

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The first webzine issue of Fantastic Stories, the ebook edition, available exclusively at the Fantastic Stories website.

I’ve taken a short break from writing to work on a website for long-time friend and publisher Warren Lapine, a webzine version of Fantastic Stories. The last magazine I worked on was Realms of Fantasy, which was also published by Mr. Lapine. Both experiences have been fascinating, being on the other side of the publishing process, working with writers and editors to get their stuff out and into the world. I’ve worked about half my life as a designer; graphic designer, interface designer, illustrator, animator or photographer. I’ve frequently morphed ‘design’ into various forms of original content creation, even when the budget wasn’t there for that, enjoying the creative side and maximizing the time spent there. So this cover is mine, repurposed out of the site illustrations. The New Beaches illo is the best, a photo montage of three images that barely looks like a montage; I’ve combined a weird super-cell storm with a flooded beach and some people running. Check the site out, and if the stories intrigue you, buy the magazine for $1.99. The texts are free online for a month, but novellas are tough to read on screen, so seriously, just spend the two bucks. It’s why we have the ebook edition; read the short stories and the reviews online. I’ll be selling my own reprint anthologies of short stories at Fantastic, at a higher margin than any other online marketplace; I’ll announce that in a few days and if people have been considering buying my stuff, and have had a hard time finding Asimov’s on the stands, you can pick up my stuff from the Fantastic / Wilder book store at the site. I’ll be putting a week a month into the magazine but hope to get my writing back on track and start meeting my word counts in and around that.

Posted in Fantastic Stories

Sensawunda! Of All Possible Worlds Reviewed…

A key to one of the many offhand comments made in my novella "Of All Possible Worlds." Costas says, "I think we found Waldo."

A key to one of the many offhand comments made in my novella “Of All Possible Worlds.” Costas says, “I think we found Waldo.”

After qualifying her comments by saying that ‘none of the stories enthused her greatly,’ Lois Tilton at Locus goes on to say many nice things about my cover story novella in the August 2o14 issue of Asimovs.

This one is a nostalgic fannish delight, revisiting the sensawunda of the goldenAstounding age with Orgone boxes, Dean Drives, and John W Campbell, a personal friend/rival of Galen’s. The plot is a full-stuffed sausage, bursting its casing with skiffy references, alternate timelines, aliens, and red-herring gizmos.

The Tangent review by Clancy Weeks was also gratifying:

 “Of All Possible Worlds,” covers a lot of ground, selecting ingredients from several genres and mixing them in a perfect recipe of alternate worlds. Several times I was sure of the eventual outcome, only to find myself at square one again with no clue as to the possible resolution. To me, that’s the sign of a ripping good yarn.

The story consumed me for months; Sheila Williams at Asimov’s suggested the ending wasn’t quite right, confirming the verdict of all three of my writing workshops so I took another crack at it and the end result was, I think, better.

I will be releasing an expanded edition as an ebook with both endings in a few months, I think; the original ending, about a short stories worth of content, has a lot of stuff in it, and there’s an extra scene that I have wanted to write for awhile now.

I’ve gotten three or four nice notes on this blog about the story as well.

If you read and liked the piece, please feel free to head over to Goodreads and give it a rating and a short review. Anything to displace the one line written by the one guy there with the super grumpy looking avatar.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, My Publications

The No Pants Dream

One of the things I’m doing in this blog is talking about what it feels like to go from a person making an occasional sale to a semi pro or small press market to selling stories to bigger, national magazines. The August 2014 issue is the first time my name has appeared on the cover of Asimov’s; it’s my forth story published, and the longest piece of my career, a short novella.

I’ve been hugely gratified to have three or four people tell me how much they liked the story on this site. Strangers, from hundreds of miles away. I can’t really tell you what that means to me, other than to say, it’s good.

When you first start writing you imagine readers and accolades and awards, if not tomorrow then some day. As life has it’s way with you, and you settle in for the long haul, you get over that. Writing becomes some part of you, a ritual, meaningful, part of the way you deal with the world, but, often for years, the only people who read what you write are a handful of work shoppers, friends and beta-readers. You forget, almost, that you intended for your work to be read by many.

Then, in some way, it happens, and thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of people read your words.

So I’m at tens of thousands now, optimistically.

But it hits you, that you’re out there. You’re putting yourself out there. Sure, it’s fiction. Sure, those characters aren’t you.

But really they’re all you.

The world is you, the characters are you the craft is you the plot is you. Your pessimism or optimism your quirks, your fetishes, your blindspots, your weirdnesses. You’ve cracked open your skull and invited tens of thousands of strangers to wriggle around through thick glistening folds of your cerebral cortex.

Sorry about the thick glistening folds there.

There’s a flash of horror, there. Sure you’ve been trying to do this for decades. Yes, you have succeeded, more so now than ever. But if, like me, you got there by diving deep, mining any and everything you can from a lifetime of peculiar struggle, from a closet packed deep with demons, there’s this ‘oh shit,’ moment, too.

Suddenly you get why people use pen names.

You know that dream, where you suddenly realize you’re not wearing any pants? But you’re out in public? And even though nobody has noticed up to that point in the dream, you know, now that you know, that other people are gonna start noticing. Any second. Are you even wearing underwear?

You’re too scared to check.

So some new muscle needs to get stronger. (This is new metaphor, honestly, stop thinking of me pantless. My eyes are up here.)

The same muscle you first flexed with the first story you shared that scared you spitless; you shared it with a work shopper or beta reader or your friend, and you could see their face and they could see yours and you talked about it.

Your heart hammered in your chest like it was going to burst.

There is nothing like looking someone in the face as they struggle to be honest and supportive about your work–at the same time. Watching them fail, by lying, or by reducing everything you’ve done to ashes, is I think where many of us learn how to write.

(Sending stuff to magazines and editors is different, very easy at first, because you can’t rally visualize them very well and the rejection slips are so terse you often don’t get the feeling anyone is paying attention. Online workshops, ditto. )

Anyway, you’re out there, and people are reading you and they  have opinions. They write reviews. I’ll talk about that next, but to some degree it’s an entirely different thing, than the workshop, because, regardless of what anyone says about your work, it’s been published. It’s out there. You did it. You got paid. Someone believed in you enough to buy you.

Will you get used to walking around pantless?

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

Posted in Making a Writing Life

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