Monthly Archives: February 2008

Blog Chain on Absolute Write

Today I volunteered to spearhead a blog chain jumping off from the Absolute Write Blogging forum.  If you’re interested in participating, you can see the rules here.  The deadline for signing up is Saturday, February 9, at 6:00pm (Central).  If you just want to follow the chain, I’ll start it here on Sunday.

Advertisement

My Last Rejection Slips (so far)

This is the last in a series of three posts, discussing rejections I received from science fiction magazines years ago for stories I wrote in high school and college. My prior posts are here and here.

My most recent rejection slips are also in the file, both from Aboriginal Science Fiction. I didn’t make notes on these, and I didn’t save a copy of my cover letters, so I can only estimate when these stories were submitted and rejected. Based on the address I used on the cover sheet, I would have written these stories during my senior year of college or the year after, between October, 1990 and June, 1992. I wrote these stories (“Return of the Chicago Tribune” and “Encounter in a Bar”) on my first real computer, a Mac SE with 1Mb RAM and a 20Mb hard drive. I printed them either at the University’s main computer center or at Kinko’s — I didn’t own a printer at that point — which means I saved it onto a floppy disk and walked the disk over to USite or Kinko’s, probably late at night. Here are the rejections (the first is for “Return of the Chicago Tribune”):

abo1b


Just following the checked off categories of badness, “Return of the Chicago Tribune” was too expository (I told, instead of showing), the characters weren’t alive and/or were too bland, and the plot wasn’t strong enough. I flipped through the ms, and I agree with all of those. Plus, the whole idea (involving the 1948 Chicago Tribune edition with the “Dewey Beats Truman” headline) was pretty bad. At least by the time I wrote this story (age 21 or 22), I had started to gain some historical perspective; after three or four years of college, I had learned something, which I think must be helpful even for fiction writers — you can’t make up everything.

The next one is for “Encounter in a Bar,” which I wrote around the same time:

abo2b

“Encounter in a Bar” had all of the same problems as “Return of the Chicago Tribune,” according to the editor who rejected it, and one more: the underlying idea had been used so often as to have become a cliche. At least it was a different cliche than the one that made up the plot of my first attempt at publication, “The Laws of Chaos.” I didn’t have to read “Encounter in a Bar” to remember the plot; it all came back to me as soon as I saw the title. I am happy to share it with you, because this blog is anonymous: the main character is in a bar, meets a guy, who puts to him the time traveler’s classic dilemma — if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, preventing the Holocaust and World War II, would you? The main character says of course, and the other guy pulls out a gun and blows him away, because it turns out that he actually is a time traveler, and the main character would, in a few years, get elected president and start a horrible global thermonuclear war. The end.

Like the idea? It’s yours. I’d tell you not to submit it to Aboriginal Science Fiction, but it’s gone now. Wikipedia describes it (at least today) as “a high-circulation semi-professional science fiction magazine,” and that it ran from 1986 through 2001, which is consistent with what I remember. Whatever the former editor, Charles C. Ryan, is doing now, I owe him a debt of gratitude. The checklist may come off as a little impersonal, but the guy took the time to handwrite my name at the top, check the boxes he thought applied to my story, and sign his own name at the bottom. Even if he just had an intern do it, I had no idea; it just meant a lot to me at the time that someone in the business was giving me real feedback.

I have a lot of trouble remembering the process of writing from that far back; was it easy? was it hard? did the ideas flow, or was every paragraph like pulling teeth? I have no idea. Based on the brevity of the stories, it looks like my main concern was getting out of the chair as quickly as I could.

What I do know just from looking at the hard copies is that in just those 5-7 years from “The Laws of Chaos” to “Encounter in a Bar,” the speed at which I could have been writing would have changed significantly, because once I moved to the Mac, I didn’t have to load up a new piece of paper every 300 words. The physical process of writing, if nothing else, had become much simpler.

So why did I stop? I didn’t, entirely. I also found, stuck in the same file with all of my rejected science fiction stories, the never-completed draft of my first attempt at a novel. It was a coming of age story set, unsurprisingly, in Hyde Park, with a first person main character who had just graduated from college and couldn’t find a job — strikingly similar to my own situation at the moment I started the novel, except that to add to the main character’s misery, he didn’t have a girlfriend, while I was living with the future Mrs. Unfocused in a little basement apartment an easy walk from the lake. I stopped writing science fiction stories because I thought I should be working on the novel, and I stopped writing the novel because I was so undisciplined that by the time I got 75 pages into it, I had finished my first year of law school and the story of this lazy, self-pitying kid no longer interested me.

I’ll end this series of posts in the next couple of days with some thoughts about what I’ve learned from this little trip down memory lane.

In the meantime, I made good progress yesterday in Meet the Larssons, 2450 words. I’ve brought my MacBook on the train the last couple of days, which has let me write around 450 words each day just during my commute (I have a short train ride, and don’t always get a seat in the morning), which has been helpful, too. I took advantage of the warm weather this morning and went for my first outdoor run in weeks — it was gray, and the sun wasn’t entirely up yet, but still, it was great. All in all, a pretty good couple of days.

Now it’s back to the election coverage. Unfocused Girl is rooting for Hillary, but will be happy enough if Barack does well, since he’s from Chicago, too. Junior doesn’t have an opinion, except that he likes to say “Baaaaa-rock.”

All Full of Votery Goodness

It has taken 20 years, but I have finally voted in a presidential primary that matters.  This is the first time that the candidate I have been supporting has still been on the ballot and actively campaigning by the date of the Illinois primary.   That candidate, as I have said before, is Obama.

I encourage you, if your state’s primary is today, to get out there and vote for Barack, as many times as they’ll let you.  Pull the lever, punch the chad, touch the screen, or, as we do here in Cook County, take the little felt tip pen and the giant piece of floppy cardboard and carefully fill in the missing segment of the black arrow pointing to your preferred candidate.

Who comes up with these voting systems?

Today’s Tribune had a letter with the weirdest criticism of Obama’s candidacy that I have seen so far:  a letter writer from Norfolk, Virginia, wrote the Chicago Tribune to complain that Obama should serve out his full Senate term — “One would think that he would serve at least one term as senator representing the people of Illinois; I suspect they expected him to be their senator for six years.”

I don’t pretend to speak for the entire state, but most of the people I know here who voted for Barack  in 2006, myself included, hoped then that he would run for president in 2008, and are voting for him today.  Don’t worry about our feelings being hurt by his attempt to leap onto a larger stage.  We’re right there with him.

Gotta run to court.  More rejection slips tonight while I’m watching the election coverage.

February Flash Fiction Posted

This month’s theme for the 2008 Flash Fiction Carnival is “cowardice.” You can see my contribution by following the link on the Fiction page (click on “FICTION” above the photo at the top of this page), or just click here.

Update:  It helps to actually push the “Publish” button.  I have now done so, and the link to the story is active.

A Few More Rejection Slips

To continue the thread from Friday’s post: I didn’t give up submitting my science fiction stories to professional magazines after my first rejection for “The Laws of Chaos.” I had completely forgotten about that story until I dug out my old story file on Thursday night. I haven’t had the guts to read it, but even without reviewing my likely abominable teenage writing, I can tell you why it was, and should have been, rejected: the ending reveals that it was all a dream, a horrible, horrible dream. In other words, it was all a cliche, a horrible, horrible cliche.

You may find this hard to believe, but when I resubmitted it to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Gardner Dozois rejected it, too. Shocking, really.

But I was persistent. Just for example, on October 29, 1985, IASFM rejected “Democracy”:

iasfm-10291985-3.jpg

I thought it was particularly kind that Mr. Dozois did not add “In your case, it was all of the above.” That would have been wrong, of course; my spelling, even in high school, has always been pretty good (unlike my handwriting).

The hits just kept on coming, but really, what did it cost me? Some paper (which I “borrowed” from my parents, anyway), but not much, because my stories were always very short, because (1) I had read that shorter stories were easier to sell, and (2) I had a very short attention span. The cost of envelopes and postage. Some stories I sent in cheap plastic report covers, because I thought it made them look more professional.

The only real cost was my time, and I didn’t count that, because I would have been writing anyway. I could have written more, I suppose, but I had the usual high school student distractions: friends, girls, a demanding after-school job at a local newspaper, and writing for an underground high school zine loosely modeled after The Weekly World News. So when it came to fiction writing, I was productive, but not prolific.

I kept writing in college, but I definitely slowed down. I moved to a new city (Chicago), had much harder classes which I occasionally had to attend, fell into theater and later the newspaper, and met the future Mrs. Unfocused (then known as Unfocused Girlfriend). I still wrote, on a little electric typewriter/primitive word processor, with a two-line screen and a 2K memory, which meant I could type for about two pages before I had to print, instead of my father’s old Royal. I still sent the stories off, but not nearly as often as in high school.

Apparently, this was no great loss to the science fiction publishing world. From my freshman year, here’s a January 14, 1988 rejection from Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact for a story called “Exposure”:

ASF 01141988

The IASFM and ASF rejection slips acted as FAQs for authors. Why was my story rejected? What can I do to improve my story and my chances of getting published in your magazine? Every time I received one of these forms, I reread it as if it would tell me something new. I did try, I think, to follow the advice contained in the rejections. I was young, undisciplined, and, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Lord help me, I’m just not that bright.” I’m perfectly capable of making the same mistakes over and over again.

I think the biggest problem with my writing in high school and college (aside from a lack of an original plot, sympathetic characters, or interesting dialogue) was that I refused to even consider editing a story once I finished it. I had read that Robert Heinlein never rewrote anything (Robert J. Sawyer lists this as Heinlein’s Third Rule of Writing: “You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order”). Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I have read a lot of Robert Heinlein novels and stories, I feel like I know Robert Heinlein, and I am no Robert Heinlein. If 13 years of drafting briefs, motions, and nastygrams has taught me anything, it is that for me, rewriting is not just a good idea, it’s the law.

But I didn’t know that then. In the next day or two, I’ll post my last rejection slips.

My First Rejection Slip

If you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t find all the documents I’d need to prepare our tax return in under an hour. But ask me to find my old rejection slips from my submissions to science fiction magazines during high school and college, and apparently it will take me less than a minute. There they were, clipped to copies of the stories themselves. Here is the very first one I ever received, from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:

My First Rejection Slip

In case you can’t read my handwritten note at the top, apparently I received this slip on March 5, 1985, for a story called “The Laws of Chaos.” It was the first story I had ever submitted for publication; I was a sophomore in high school. I typed it on a manual typewriter, my father’s old Royal portable (which means it lived in a large square box and weighed less than 20 pounds).

Damn, that makes me feel old.

I remember discussing my early rejection slips, that year or the year following, with a friend of mine who also wrote science fiction stories. He was surprised that I’d actually had the guts to send my work to real magazines, and I asked him, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? I get another rejection?” (That friend, by the way, has been a professional writer since he graduated from college, and his work has appeared in Spy (remember Spy?), Playboy, The New Yorker, and various other markets. He has apparently gotten over his shyness about his writing.)

The Mrs., who met me just a couple of years later, tells me that I was remarkably incautious back then, and — she was trying to be tactful — “not suffering from a lack of confidence.” I’m not sure how that makes me different from every other teen-aged male of the species, except that because I didn’t know how to drive, my recklessness came out in occasionally unusual ways. I certainly got more rejections. I’ll post about some of them tomorrow.

Flagrant Violation of Law!

Oh, crap. This guy says that all bloggers are obligated to post photographs of their cats within 30 days of starting to blog. I’ve been blogging for about 6 weeks, so I’m well past the deadline, and even worse, I don’t have a cat!

I’m allergic, OK? My son has asthma. Geez.

What to do? What to do? The blogosphere has no mercy.

OK, here’s an idea: The other day John Scalzi gave his readers a picture of one of his cats to use for LOLcats. So here’s a LOLcat.

I can haz cup for ma nu bucket?!?


Does that avoid any penalties? I’d hate to get tagged as a scofflaw so early in my blogging career.