Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Hi Ho Everyone."

Current Reading: Symir: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

Inspirational Quote: "And now a man who needs no introduction, so what am I doing out here?" Kermit the Frog

I missed Jim Henson's birthday, which should be celebrated every year by gluing half-ping-pong balls to your mother's old socks.

However, in a belated celebration of the creator of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, Rolf, Dr. Teeth, Animal and too many more to name, I direct your attention here.

And, in memoriam, this seemed appropriate:

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Boot to the Head

Current Reading: Symir: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

Inspirational Quote: "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

It's nice to have someone around to give you a kick when your thinking diverges too far from considerations of reality.

Take last week's post. I raised my points to Penelope and expressed my general discouragement with the state of short-story markets. She nodded and then said, "Well, yes, but what do you really want out of publishing them anyway? Recognition? Readership? Feedback? It can't be money, because you know nobody can make money writing short stories."

Um. Well, yeah, but... Um.

Okay, I hadn't been thinking like that. I hadn't been thinking sensibly. What I want out of my short work is to have them published and read. I want them to be out there as visible reminders to me that my efforts to string words together aren't hopeless. I want people to see them and think, "Hey, I liked that. I wonder what else this guy's done?" As measures of my ability, I want to see them pass editorial standards and succeed.

Note that, despite my assertion last week about wanting to be a "professional," there's no mention of money in the above. Nor should there be, although I'd welcome some negotiable currency in exchange for producing publishable material. For my short work, money isn't the primary motivator. I should stop thinking of it as such and just put my work out there in whatever venues are willing to publish it.

In related news:

I notice that Fantasy magazine is looking for slush readers. Now THAT would be an interesting (unpaid) job. I'd apply, but I'd need to add a few hours to my day because the standard 24 are already stuffed.

In closing, a clip from The Frantics (a Canadian comedy group from the '80s, headlined by the inestimable Rick Green) set to an animation of Transformers because everything is better with giant Japanese killer robots. Let it serve as a reminder that the Hand of Correction is not always a gentle one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Death of the Short Story

Current Reading: Symir: The Drowning City, by Amanda Downum

Inspirational Quote: "I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries theshort story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing." --William Faulkner

I have short stories, and I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do with them.

I like to think of myself as a "professional writer" in the same sense as Kristine Kathryn Rusch intends when she uses the phrase: I sell my words. I don't give them away free.

However, the glossy print magazines I remember from my 90's foray into publishing have shrunk to digest-sized, and circulations have dropped dangerously low ( Most of the magazines to which I marketed my work (and most of which subsequently rejected said work... but that's the writing life) no longer exist. Their decline has spurred the advent of webzines, which is wonderful, but these are most often run on such a tight budget that you can't honestly write for them and say, "I did it for the money."

The problem is a lack of paying readers for short speculative fiction markets. If readers don't pay, how can publishers? I think part of the reason is the nature of the web. If a reader wants to read short fiction, they don't have to pay for it. It's out there, and not just the grammatic abominations and spell czech disasters that are the usual run-of-the-mill, but high-quality stuff ( gives a list several times a week of places where professional writers and publishers have posted free work on the web). As the old saying goes, why buy the cow when you're getting the milk for free?

If I'm not going to get paid, I could post my work here. A lot of professionals are doing that, raiding their existing work for material to put up as a kind of loss-leader to entice readers to buy their books. It makes sense if you have a published book, and if you have a name or marketing prowess sufficient to drive traffic to your site.

I don't have a published book, and some days I couldn't drive traffic to this site with a bullwhip and a fog horn. I suppose I could post some short stories to entice readers to free magazines wherein they could find other short stories. The net return there approaches zero by a roundabout route, but still gets there in the end.

I've been approaching the professional markets as approved by the sfwa ( They pay, but the stuff I've been putting out lately hasn't really been the kind of thing they prefer to publish. (Enormous ego moment: it's good enough, it's just not "right for us." Thank-you, yes, only the truly great can afford to be this humble. Remember to genuflect on your way out.)

I don't know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book Report: Best New Fantasy, ed. Sean Wallace

A collection of short stories by up-and-coming writers like Jay Lake and Holly Phillips compiled by one of the editors behind Fantasy Magazine ( It's an interesting collection, covering everything from a spin on Japanese myth to a campfire tale that ends badly. Most of the stories are dark fantasy which, like horror, is not a genre I usually enjoy much. Many of them present bleak or tragic stories in which hope dies by degrees. They're well done, though, and the occasional lighter story breaks up the tone. Every one of the stories is brilliantly executed. My personal favorites are Pip and the Fairies and Summer Ice.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fairy Tale Endings

Current Reading: Best New Fantasy, ed. by Sean Wallace

Inspirational Quote: "The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy." -- John Galsworthy

"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." -- Maria Robinson

Happily ever after.

That's the way fairy tales always end, with the witch defeated, the princess rescued and prince having earned her hand in matrimony. That's it. Story over. Close the book. We're done. Nothing more to see here, move along.

It's the nature of human existence that we see everything in terms of our own mortality. We are born, we live, we die: beginning, middle and end. The stories we tell reflect that, but that's about as accurate as the reflection gets.

The stories that we live rarely come to an end. One "adventure" just leads to another, and the chapters of our lives don't come to an abrupt stop. If they stop at all, they trail off. Friends lose touch, events become memories. The chapters terminate in an ellipsis.

There's really only one period in a life, the full stop, "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns," as Shakespeare put it. It's an ending, but it's not often a happy one.
By that definition, human life is a tragedy. Everything ends with a death, whether deserved or not, a passage that is mourned by those who are left behind to carry on. In the story of their life, the end of the protagonist's story eventually becomes a memory, a chapter that trailed off and is left behind.

But, as Santayana said, "There is no cure for birth or death, save to enjoy the interval between."

I think we write stories to change all that, to present a world with happy endings. We put periods in. We write the end. We give characters a happily ever after that trails off into imagined bliss. When death occurs, it's necessary for some higher purpose. It serves the plot by spurring action, provoking sympathy or punishing the villain. More often, the end of the story is an affirmation of life, of the potential of human existence. The reader is given the illusion that the characters have a blissful life beyond the end of the book, an immortality of sorts.

It's a nice illusion.

Other things on my mind:

The 2nd was my twentieth anniversary. Ulysses took twenty years to return to Ithaka, where Penelope waited. I've been around the whole time, but I still look forward to coming home. It hasn't exactly been twenty years of bliss, because you can't tell how strong something is unless it's stressed. It has, however, been strong and comforting. It's a refuge in which two people who know each other as thoroughly and intimately as two people can somehow still manage to think better of each other than they do of themselves.

Telemachus started high-school today. That can't be right. He's only... what, nine? Ten? Who the heck is this stranger who left my shaving stuff all over the bathroom and set off for school this morning with his hat on backward? Nope, sorry. Aliens arrived last night, took my boy and left a young man in his place.

When I catch them, I'm going to give them such a kick...