Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Fond Farewell

Twenty-six years ago I bought a nice little ETAP 23, a Belgan sailboat I could single-hand on the various rivers and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay.  I was not new to sailing, having sailed on other people's boats as a teen and then renewed my skills on a little ten-foot Wesort at the headwaters of the Severn River for a few years before upgrading to a larger boat.

Over the years Sparrow, as I christened her (the dingy was named Hawk, in case you were wondering,) and I explored the various rivers and creeks feeding the Bay.  First sailing out of Back Creek in Annapolis, through the mouth of the Severn, and into the Bay itself.   From there I sailed across to circumnavigate Kent Island, cross under the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and once, sailed all the way to Baltimore.

After I moved to a marina on the South River I learned the pleasures of reaching the more southern reaches of the Bay and later, in the Magothy River, I managed to explore further.  Sparrow finally ended up in Pasadena, quite near where I first learned to sail and from where I could sail by the huge carriers and transports entering and leaving the waters of Baltimore's inner harbor, often lying in irons off Fort Carroll to watch the tugs and Bay pilots maneuver the large container ships to dock.

Sparrow was ever ready for a day;s sail, responding to the wind, current, and my steady hand on the tiller and lines. She sometimes acted the frisky colt, eager to run and at other times like a tired plow horse.  There were hours of crushing, searing boredom when the summer failed to produce sufficient wind to blow the chuff off a dandelion.  There were also moments of near terror when gale winds and storms came with little warning.  I once had to chip ice from the shrouds on my way to winter storage because I procrastinated too long by wanting one more day with her.

But as time and tide cannot be stayed, neither could my ability to sail Sparrow as I wished. The last year I ventured no further than six nautical miles from the marina, far less on windless days, and often regretted the other things I could be doing instead of limping along.  For the past two years I wouldn't go out when the winds were stiff and dreaded the weaker winds that failed to give Sparrow  a good run.  I'd like to think that Sparrow understood, wishing instead that we could sail as we did before, brisk against the wind, surfing the cresting waves, and running free and happy.

But all good things must end and so I finally admitted that we had to part. I donated Sparrow to charity so she could find a happier home with someone who loved her as I had.

I will miss her.


Friday, July 18, 2014


When my very first stories appeared in Analog too many years ago I used to hang around the newsstand and wait for someone to pick up one of the few copies. While I waited newbie published thoughts ran through my head: Should I offer to autograph my story? Perhaps introduce myself as one of the magazine's writers? Rip the magazine from their hands and open it to point at MY story? What would be the neatest, bestest thing to do now that I was a published author.  My first story - what a rush it would be to meet an actual reader!

And so I lurked for hours, waiting, waiting, waiting and, sadly, since no one picked up a copy I never acted out those fantasies.  Eventually, the impulse to expose myself in public faded, although I still look for someone buying those magazines when I'm in at the bookstores. Now I restrict myself with meeting a fan or two (usually less, most of the time) at conventions.

As my sales increased I began documenting my efforts recording when a piece was written, to whom I'd submitted, and when I could expect an acceptance or rejection.  That latter was more frequent than I liked, but I persevered and, over time, I was fairly able to predict how soon I'd get a reply from any specific editor. My list also clued me as to when I needed to send a gentle reminder that I still existed and was waiting for a reply.

I learned that some editors take a long time, others a very long time, or in a few forgotten cases, an eternity.  I placed the more tardy editors at the bottom of the rotation. I did have a cut off when it was obvious there would never be a reply of any sort, which also removed that editor from future consideration. Rudeness should not be rewarded. I'd rather an unequivocal rejection than no answer at all.

You would think that receiving an acceptance by a magazine would be the end state - joy at the notification and happiness when the check arrives.  But acceptance is one thing and publication another.  First you wait for the galleys to arrive, a sure sign of imminent publication, you hope.  There is no certainty, even at this stage.  Few editors provide an anticipated publication date, so I am constantly in a state of uncertainty after the notice contract, check, and galleys. Will it appear next month,  some future month, next year, of in a fat collection?  Author copies arrive after distribution so you have to check again; waiting.

Some things never change.


Monday, July 14, 2014

And Here I Thought I was the Only One

For the past umptynine blogs I've been bitching about how lonely is the plight of the poor writer who slaves away in darkness and only rarely emerges from his barrow to embrace the company of others, sometimes even those who share his affliction.  I have often pondered if all writers feel this way and commented on the fallacy of thinking their success comes easily.

But that was before I read an article by Gwenda Bond that confirmed my worse suspicions.  My eyes have been opened to see that other writers share my special circle of hell; ever cursed to "scribble, scribble, scribble..." in a state of perpetual concern that we have neither the skills nor talent to write anything worthy and that any success we've achieved was through sheer luck or a mistaken acceptance by an editor.  Perfection always gets in the way of sufficient as we polish our prose endlessly, submitting only when fatigue or deadlines overtake us. We all know, deep in our hearts, that we are impostors and- dare we say it - inadequate.

It matters little how well others might praise or curse our writing. In our tiny writer's minds we know that we were merely lucky, that our best work were largely accidental, and that we are undeserving of whatever praise is being bestowed.  We are all pitiful, sniveling wretches, doomed like Sisyphus to be forever striving, only to discover there's always another boulder, another hill, another damned deadline ahead and each momentary success only leads to more opportunities to fail, fail, fail.

But, by God, despite all that, all the misgivings, self-doubt, and time required, I do love writing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Memory Lane

While browsing my files I sometimes take another look at some stories that never found a home despite, in my humble opinion, being the finest literary work of the century*.   Of course one does look for reasons that the tales failed to resonate with editors, some of whom might have liked the work, but demurred for reasons unconnected to the story itself or its presentation. Some of these stories have been rewritten numerous times in an attempt to correct whatever problems others might have perceived. Others I've re-read to discover where the plot sags or the characters morph into creatures untrue to their established nature.  Some of the older ones are simply outdated, speaking of things overtaken by technological progress, or thrown in the trash due to scientific advances.

I browse the past whenever creativity lags and, as I do so, I have to face the inevitable questions about their disposition.  Do I attempt yet another rewrite, a better edit, a slight modification, or simply send it on another round of editors, hoping that at least one might be in a better mood when they read it again or at least suffer from sufficient memory lapse that they no longer recall rejecting it.

I have far more completed, but failed pieces than those that were successfully published,so don't even get me started on those incomplete messes that I simply abandoned. They outnumber the completed ones by a substantial number.  Someday, I mutter to myself in my darker moods, the future will recognize my brilliance and grant me posthumous success. This is a dream shared, no doubt, by legions of other writers who also flail against the cruelty of the speculative short fiction market.

I have such an abandoned piece before me at the moment. It is a perfectly respectable story. Do I work on refurbishing it, or do I push on with yet another new story, hoping that it might find better success?  It's a problem, and one I despair of ever solving.

Or maybe this sort of self-abuse is just a way of avoiding writing.

* Or maybe not: I'm somewhat biased.