Saturday, June 24, 2017


Years ago someone asked in a panel discussion;"Where do you get your ideas?" to which I replied that there was a man in NJ who sent me a postcard of ideas each month for a few bucks.  Afterward several of the audience asked for his address*....  Such is the desperation of the idea-poor whose desire to have written often exceeds their common sense.

When I began writing I had too many ideas and, honestly, most of my ambitious concepts were beyond my fledgling ability to write competently, although that did not stop me from doing so, submitting them, or stem the tsunami of rejections that resulted.  Eventually, I began to reduce the scope of my ideas to match my ability and produced some decent short stories. This did not unfortunately stop me from having ambitious ideas, so for years I maintained a file of story ideas and prompts in hopes that one might be interesting enough to write.

Few of these ideas ever managed to encourage me to write the stories, but those that did kept coming back, time and again, until I could no longer ignore their cries.  I often wrote just to get them out of my head and, of these, a few were published. Many more of my ideas remained too ambitious to be completed and languish still in the file. Someday, I promise myself, I will finish them.

Some day.

Other ideas arise from reading magazine articles, newspapers, or someone else's story.  A few come from chance conversations at conventions or overheard remarks. One was scribbled between panels on the back of a program book so I would not forget it.  Sadly, the note made no sense when I later read it, much like the scribbled notes of half-remembered dreams.  For me, dreams seldom ignite a spark, although they seem to be a source of inspiration for others.

Rarely do ideas come from editors and, of those that do, are mostly for themed anthologies where an external prompt is provided to inspire the story and whose length, scope, and deadline constrain the story possibilities.

 So the true answer to the question of where ideas come from is "everywhere."

* This was a lie: There 
is no such place as NJ.


Saturday, June 10, 2017


As most of you know I am the SFWA CFO,  job few want and even fewer care about.  Nevertheless that makes me a member of the SFWA Board who are fucking desperate to get a grip on SFWA's membership demographics and wishes.  This is part of a multi-pronged effort to align SFWA's operations and policies with the problems facing all writers in this emerging chaos of writing and publishing where no one not only grasps where the changes are taking us nor understands how to survive, given the tiny rewards from the e-publishing industry and the declining number of pro magazines.

Recently SFWA created a survey form that now resides in your in-box that attempts to gather such data as we move forward.  Filling out this form gives you, the writer, a voice in how SFWA is governed, the policies that are written or modified, and the actions necessary to improve the lot of all of us.


Historically response to anything having to do with SFWA has been poor; few people recommend stories for the Nebula Award, fewer yet vote for the final awardees, and only controversy seems to impel members to become involved.  I've often joked that were SFWA to have a survey on apathy we'd only get a 16% response - which coincidentally is about the same response we get on recommendations or awards.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

Shop Talk

I came to the realization at BaltiCon that writers at conventions talk a lot. A whole lot.  They babble on and on as they sit on panels.  They gabble in the con suite.  They converse in the Green Room.  And, whenever they meet in the hallways between panels or while wandering aimlessly in the dealers' room(s) or art gallery they talk, talk, talk. It's very much like the evening congregation of crows squawking their  presence to each other as if the flags on their badges were not sufficient evidence  of their existence in this time and place.

Sometimes liquor is involved and always, food!

I used to attend business conferences and, inevitably, there would be a gathering of like-minded souls in the bar exchanging friendly insults, observations, occasionally politics, and always focusing attractive people who were also attending but never among your group.  Sometimes the conversation would veer into business-land for a few moments, or turn to the subject of the conference.  Hardly ever would there be discussions of hobbies, pastimes, or family. Certainly no one mentioned being blocked, or feelings of alienation, or having fits of intense creativity.  Self-doubt was NEVER mentioned although Imposter Syndrome was laughingly referred as a small bother at times.

And yes, sometimes liquor was involved and always, food!

So what do the authors discuss you may ask?  Well, we talk about where the green, party, and con suite rooms are located, what panels we're on, and where the most convenient rest rooms are located. Seldom is there serious discussion of our current undertakings or the craft of writing.   Contracts are seldom discussed but opportunities frequent populate the conversation.  We talk about who is writing what, gossip about the industry (altho this had diminished enormously with the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, and similar social time wasters), and commiserate with one another on the cruelty of editors and slow payments from publishers.  In other words, writers at conventions have much in common with shoe salesmen, accountants, or engineers.

Including the liquor and food.

The one thing that differentiates writers is that occasional spark that ignites the what-if-ness within each writers' soul and flares into an intense conversational conflagration of ideas, concepts, and suppositions that everyone involved is eager to steal adapt to their own uses. The ad hoc discussion that might encompass this (and other) universe(s), each person contributing to the  crowd's mix that is altered as the participants churn like a pot of stew.

It is for being a part of these impromptu  conversations that I am willing to put up with the craziness and chaos surrounding every convention. Yeah, that and the adulation of adoring fans.

As if!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Curse of the Galley

It takes hours of Herculean effort to finally get a story polished to the point that some kind editor finds it acceptable enough to respond with a contract.  That response indicates that the work was not, like so many, a failure and doomed to sit in the darkness of a trunk forever.  The response alone is ample reward for what was clearly a well-composed, structured gem of the genre.  Pat on the back, cheers, and dancing follows before the writer must return to the electronic anvil and pound out the next speculative masterpiece as the pleasant glow of success continues.

That is, until the galleys arrive.

You read through them and are devastated. Clearly whoever prepared the galleys screwed up the sentence structure, substituted inappropriate words in some places, misspelled others, and clearly randomly missed the stellar punctuation.  You experience feelings of being violated, abused, and hurt that some ignorant lackey could so interfere with an obviously well-crafted story.  With rightful indignation you vow to go through the galleys mistake by agonizing mistake against the clean submitted manuscript and reveal what that unskilled fool had done.  The harsh words of a cover letter are forming as you proceed to the first error.

Hmmm, the galley seems to agree with the submission.  All right, so maybe you made that minor mistake,   You correct it and move on.  At the second error you feel shame that you had so poorly chosen that word, when another would be so much better.  You concede the point and correct that as well.  Later and you blush that you structured a sentence so badly and scribble a better phrasing in the (virtual) margin.

And so it goes, page after page of correcting what you realize with growing horror were your own damn mistakes!  The galley bleeds from wounds inflicted by your red pen as you try to undo the damage and bring the story to perfection you require.  There was no abusive copy editor: You have been the perpetrator of these mistakes.  The red ink makes clear where the necessary changes are needed, except in the process of corrections even better phrasing occurs.

Finally you return the much edited galleys, satisfied that you have avoided embarassment and polished the submission to gleaming perfection.  Only to realize moments later that there were a few more things you should have done.....

Is a story ever finished?


Saturday, May 6, 2017


Every writer eventually comes to the point where they question whether to follow the arc of their writing career or to find something equally fascinating and interesting elsewhere.  Perhaps this angst occurs when you find that you just can't write another crappy scene/story/novel like the (mostly unsold) hundreds you've struggled with before. Or maybe it happens because you discover that you just can't muster the elegance and sophistication others seem to achieve without effort. Maybe it's because you want to add depth to your project but have not yet developed the skill and/or emotional intelligence to pull it off.  Could it be because you are simply tired of sitting for day after day trying to get something done or editing your earlier crap drafts into the crystalline clarity readers demand?

Well, join the crowd.  Your angst is the curse of being literate in a world that places little value on the effort involved to produce a cogent contribution to literature.Yours are no different from the difficulties of millions of us who daily struggle with the challenge of sculpturing raw words into elaborate stories that resonate with readers.  The great majority, regardless of how much they struggle, will not succeed in ever publishing their work or gaining recognition. Those so discouraged may decide to consign their efforts to the trash, unread and unmourned. Alongside the trail of literature are the remains of the many who wanted their words to inform the world but only saw their creations die unrealized.

Despite the many setbacks there nevertheless is that burning desire of every nascent author to express their personal view of the world as it should or could be, or discourse on another's view. There is a long line of literature stretching back thousands of years that speak to the human condition, to dreams, and aspirations, all of which beg commentary through whatever glass the writer wishes to use.  It matters little how successful you become so long as you continually perfect your craft, hone your sense of structure, and continually craft more interesting stories.

In the end, the only audience that counts is yourself.


Monday, May 1, 2017


By the time I publish this RavenCon will be over and done and I will be exhausted.  Too many panels*, too many friends, and too little time for a decent conversation, which, in all honesty, is what a convention is all about. If I missed anyone let me apologize for the oversight.

Put out two short stories last week, both of which had passed peer review of my writing group before submission and one that the editor asked me to rewrite.  A good week which left little time to start another until this week; the week when you are probably reading this meandering prose.  I feel like a time-traveller in that I'm probably getting my tenses mixed up between the now of writing and the whenever you are reading this, which might not be for weeks after I put it up, making my opening paragraph inaccurate in the extreme. Maybe I should use future-intentional verbs: declarational (implying  intent), assumptive (implying that it will definitely have happened), or rhetoricalish (in the sense that it probably won't happen at all, but it's just being mentioned for effect.)

So, I'm on an imposter panel, which will probably devolve into agonizing soul searching about why everyone wants to piss on you, a submissions panel in the last hour of the last day probably be attended by those with hangovers that just want a quiet place to sleep,  a reading where I hope someone other than a relative is present, then a couple on exposition and MilSF in which someone will inevitably argue the virtues of a Glock .223mm versus the Walther P38 or some similar argument about future weapons a la STAR WHATEVER's.**

Great fun!

By Monday I will be exhausted.

*Well, I did ask for them
**Most of these did not  come
to pass, thank heavens!

Monday, April 24, 2017

That Damn Dark Presence

I must have hit a nerve: three separate conventions have placed me on an Imposter Panel.  I guess they want to exhibit me as a sample case since my self-esteem, as far as writing ability, is so pathetically low.*

For those of you who have not experienced this affliction, let me explain. Imposter Syndrome is a curse that, in its simplest form, is the belief that everyone will eventually discover that you are not that deserving of whatever status you've earned.  You daily fear that when (not if) you are eventually exposed your reputation will be destroyed forever.  They do not see the panic, sweat, concerns, and mistakes that haunt your early drafts and that it is only through sheer luck you are finally able to produce a readable page.  Every completed submission is followed by days, weeks, and months of nibbling doubt. Even after something is accepted you fear the copy editor's blue pencil for it is they who clearly see how poor are your compositional skills.

The imposter syndrome is always present, a looming menacing presence standing behind you as you struggle with your muse, It is a presence that soundlessly screams that if only you had a modicum of appreciation for English you would not produce the dribble of meaningless crud that only wastes electrons. "You will never be able to improve this draft" the presence shouts as you struggle with each hard-fought sentence. straining for a better way of expressing it.

The imposter syndrome is also present when you meet a writer appears to effortlessly spin gold from dross, never choosing the wrong word or composing a bad sentence, never struggling with the effort to bring life to cold words.  They often declare that everything they produce is perfect on the first draft.  But if you get real close you will recognize the dark presence lurking over their shoulder and the fear that their failure may too be eventually discovered.

Imposter Syndrome is what drives us to continually improve and grow.

*I may have mentioned 
this a time or two