Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reality Bites

When I was a wee tadpole, barely shed of my beginner's tale on the way to writer maturity I envisioned eventually conversing with more accomplished and well-known writers. In my fanciful thoughts were images of wise heads exploring the bounds of universes, of expostulating on the possibilities raised by the latest technological innovation, of dimensions unplumbed and beyond number.  How I yearned to be a part of those conversations and perhaps being blessed by gaining a smidgen of a story idea from the intellectual crumbs being dropped as they feasted on fantastic dreams and imaginary realms.

Being able to mingle with the greats in the convention Green Rooms was an objective I dearly cherished and, when the opportunity came by virtue of being a panelist I felt privileged beyond measure. Would I be able to contribute to the rolling debate or show myself to be a raw amateur whose words were undeserving of merit?

In the days before social media seized everyone by the throat the interplay between the professionals were along the lines of "How are you doing?" or "Did you hear about..." followed by the rumors de jour of someone in the field misbehaving.  In the main the conversations were not much different than those one would hear at any professional gathering and hardly memorable.  Movies, television, music, and food loomed large, but the most frequent discussion topic was "Where are we going for dinner?" followed by arguing over the time, scheduling conflicts, and participation (which is almost always dependent on whoever is in the lobby at departure time.)

Now, with social media providing endless minutiae of everyone's daily life, the conversations have shifted not a bit although with greater nuance than before.  The most serious discussions now range from "Who's buying what?" to "Have you read...?" and only occasionally verve over to talk of agents,  Amazon, and politics.  The conversations are no different than one would hear at any sales convention.

Just people trying to get by as best they can.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

External Memories

The world suddenly became a much more frightening place this past weekend when my iPhone died en route to a distant convention.

I should have known something was going wrong when it became very, very hot and the battery indicator showed red and quickly went from 3% to zero before my horrified eyes.  Recharging didn't work and neither did a borrowed charger restore the blessed green.  Because I was traveling light I had neither my iPad nor laptop with me.  No problem says I and then tried for an hour to remember first my wife's phone number and then ANY goddamn number I might be able to use.  When none came to mind I used the hotel computer to get on the internet and send an email.  That's when I recalled that security conscious me had enabled two-factor identification on ALL of my email accounts.  Since my cell was out of service, I could not get any of the four confirmation codes that would open an account (my passwords were on the phone, along with all my panel notes, reminders, schedule and even my plane e-tickets.)

The horrifying truth hit me that I had surrendered ownership of my memory to a chunk of hi-tech plastic, glass, and software without which I have no agency save for the cards in my wallet.

Fortunately my clever wife, who had worked herself into a fine fluff when I didn't call as promised, managed to track me down at the hotel and left her phone number so we could resume contact.

I now have a new phone and a list of phone numbers with the wallet cards.

The worse part of it was that, through the entire agonizing process, I could not stop thinking the same thought over and over: There HAS to be an SF story here!


Monday, July 30, 2018

The Copyedit Curse

I'm starting to believe that the last thing a writer should do is copyedit something they wrote..  Wait, let  me amend that: the last thing a writer should do is copyedit.  Someone once said that writer would copyedit his own death sentence, given half a chance.

 I cannot read anything I wrote without mentally rephrasing it. Sometimes this happens in situ while I'm writing.  Worse when I am going over something the copyeditor caught or a sentence nearby that happened to fall within the firing zone of review - collateral damage as it were.  I try to restrain this impulse when going over the galleys but, as Analog will attest, it is a rare set that goes back to them without change.  I once managed to add a complete paragraph to a short piece to perfect the story (and to use up some unproductive space on a page.

Quote: No story is ever completed, rather it is abandoned by the author. 

It has been a  massive effort to restrain my rewriting impulses as I went over the copyedits of four long pieces needing completion by August 1, 2018. Some were done because I disagreed with the suggested changes but thought that section could have been written better, Others were things that fell under my scanning eye and IMHO  just had to be corrected/modified/rewritten.

How does one lift this affliction?


Friday, July 20, 2018

Post Retirement Life

After ten years of work on SFWA's Board of Directors and eight or nine as CFO I am now officially free to do as I wish*.

Since I also changed residence at the same time I was somewhat preoccupied and consequently didn't write anything for nearly two months; a time I fervently wished to do something, anything, to get back into the Science Fiction flow.

Finally, I got the writing forge in place, our furniture arranged, and everything we brought from Annapolis to Midlothian stored or placed somewhere.  Now, I thought, I can sit down and pay attention to the unfinished novels and short stories that litter my desktop.

That's when I discovered that I managed to "lose" about ten thousand plus words of one of the WIP.  No problem, I thought as I fruitlessly scrambled to find out where they ended up while trying to gather my memories of what I had written so I could restore what I couldn't find.

I'd barely begun when a set of galleys arrived from Analog that needed immediate review to meet the deadlines.  No problem, one of the more enjoyable tasks of writing is proof reading something I'd almost forgotten writing and marveling at my brilliance.**

I had barely gotten back to the search and recovery task when another editor sent corrections/suggestions for a novel now in its final production stages.  Once again, putting aside the search and recovery job, I started reviewing what she wanted, but before I could get the first chapter read yet another editor wanted me to confirm/correct all the changes he and his copyeditor had suggested for another long piece.

That was before a third editor wanted immediate attention to the novel in front of him, of course, and which were daunting in prospect.  A three week job, I estimated.  This brought the entire review time to a month at minimum before I could get back to the WIP or maybe something fresh and new.

Nevertheless, JOY!  Nothing pleases me more than being deliriously, happily engaged in rewriting three long pieces at once. I placed that short Analog request ahead of the others since it would be a task done quickly and I could complete the more more complicated ones in a week or three, four on the outside.

Of course, all the editors expect me to get back to them by the end of the month.

I need to be more careful about what I wish for.

*That being on hot standby in case 
anything needs my attention.

** He said immodestly.


Thursday, June 28, 2018


Over a month lost as I downsized the  house and set up housekeeping in Richmond Virginia where I shall probably remain forever.  I NEVER want to repeat the downsizing/moving process!

So, dealing with packing and the un- of it consumed enormous amounts of time and energy, not to mention creating forests of boxes and hectares of wrapping paper, all of which must be conveyed elsewhere least we lose the cats and ourselves in the overburden of used materials.  Because of this there was scant time to do much writing, especially with the Nebula weekend coming in the midst of the move  Nevertheless, I did manage to do a final editorial pass on a new novel and make arrangements for publishing two more sometime later this year.

During that final editorial pass I reflected on how a novel grows as it makes its way to the publishing sea.  The plot seemed to twist and turn whenever it encountered an obstacle or rushed forward in a torrent of words when there was no resistance or distraction.  Strange characters and scenes appeared abruptly and sometimes either vanished later without notice or become a vital part of the flow. When the novel is initially "finished" its blemishes and shortcomings become all too apparent as does the overall "message" -- as Nancy Kress once told me, "You never know that your novel is really about until it's finished." She was, of course talking about the first draft.

It is sanding down the rough sections, adding grace notes, and fitting pieces into where they belong (as opposed to where you originally placed them) that occupies many of the subsequent edited versions. Finally, in the penultimate edit you face the choice of whether the product is good enough or needs further refinements to reach perfection.  The latter is impossible, of course, so often the choice is to eventually abandon further efforts and release the imperfect ms into the hands of others.

While you go on to the next project.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018


When I wrote "DOWNSIZING" for Analog back in 2015 I had no idea of how quickly the situation would apply to me.  We are in the  midst of moving from a 2700 sq ft house filled with years of memories to an apartment one third that size.  Choosing which furniture to take and what to dispose of was easy but as the triage procedure continued it becomes fraught with emotion over the memories evoked. Each piece of art brings to mind the where and when of its acquisition or creation and the images of happier times plays across your mind.  A cheap vase has no intrinsic value but as a goad to memory it is more precious than the expensive silver teapot. But the winnowing must proceed as moving day approaches and the number of people who would take ownership dwindles. The kids have come to take what they wanted (early Christmas gifts to my mind) and now we are left to make our own painful decisions.

The worst part for me was getting rid of my bookcase filled with reference material, beloved novels, textbooks, and , of course,  my private collection of every piece in which my stories have appeared.  The realization hit me as I put these in book boxes that I will never see these again.  Inscribed books from other writers are as hard to pack away and perhaps might end up at the SFWA auction sale or as gifts to close friends.  Some of the signed first editions, like Vonnegut's PLAYER PIANO and Martin's GAME OF THRONES, have considerable value and might be e-Bayed when I have the time.  Since most of my writing life is electronic I have few paper files to deal with so I am spared the agony of trashing drafts and sketches.

Needless to say, damn little writing is taking place until we are settled.


Thursday, March 29, 2018


It's no secret that we are trying to sell our home of the last twenty years and so we've begun cleaning out, packing, and choosing what goes where, to who, and whether it is worth the trouble to hang onto something that signifies only a memorable occasion - such as autographed books, con badges, and old newspapers and magazines.

Serial issues of DUNE WORLD
I pulled one box from the back of the closet that I'd brought from our former dwelling (and probably three or four before that) that hadn't been opened for at least forty years.  Inside were newspapers announcing the end of WWII,  another reporting man's first steps on the moon, and a few covering the impact of hurricane Camille on Biloxi MS.  There was also a much beloved and frequently read copy of I GO POGO, and a National Geographic issue, whose pages are as pristine as they were when first printed, covering the first moon explorations.  Towards the bottom of the box were five copies of the large format ANALOG magazines containing the original serial of DUNE WORLD and three of THE PROPHET OF DUNE, which later formed the backbone of Herbert's DUNE. The final two issues of PROPHET were in digest format and not saved.

Browsing through the pages I saw stories by many once well-known writers; Anderson, Anvil, Brunner, Campbell, Garrett, Reynolds, Spinrad,  Schmitz, and Temple. There were also stories by                                                                writers I've since forgotten or who never had another appearance. I wonder if these minor lights had only a short burst of creativity before they retired from writing or had moved on to more lucrative work than writing?

Most of the stories in these five issues are readable but dated in style and viewpoint. Rereading them sent my mind back to my more fannish pre-writing mind.  The exercise also humbled me in that some day, somewhere, someone is also going to uncover a stash of forgotten ANALOGs and thumb through the ToC to find gems written by authors who later went on to fame and glory.

And, among them, I hope they might also find my name.