Tag Archives: College

Happy Valentine’s Day To You — Now Get Shaking.

First, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you started the day as beautifully as the Siren and I did: our 6-year-old son marched into our bedroom at 7:30 holding an oversized birthday card one of us received last year, and opened it wide so that the sound chip played The Chicken Dance at top volume. Romance lives in the Unfocused household. With that rousing call to wake, I wished the Siren — the love of my life — a happy Valentine’s Day, and we hid under the covers until the children went downstairs and we realized they were making their own breakfast — yay Montessori-trained self-reliant older kids! — with the milk that had gone bad but was still in the fridge (because we weren’t absolutely sure it had turned) and I had to run down to the kitchen and dump the cereal out of their bowls.  Good times.

I had my first full 10 mile outdoor run in weeks? months? this morning. There’s just enough ice on the ground to make it hard to really pick up the pace, and wearing enough layers to make a run in 17-degree weather comfortable slows me down too, but I was glad to be outside. One of the podcasts I listened to on the run was Escape Pod #237, “Roadside Rescue” by Pat Cadigan.  It’s a very short story, very cool and thought-provoking, like a lot of her work. Cadigan gave me nightmares my senior year of college with a short story about an alternate history where the 1968 presidential election went so much worse than it did here, and what happened to the country after. I can’t remember the title or find it easily online, but it was published around 1990 or 1991 in either Asimov’s or Analog. I was a political science major in college, and I wrote probably half a dozen papers on either the ’68 election or the careers of candidates who ultimately ran for President in that election, and the story sank its claws deep into my brain.  I haven’t read a lot of her work since then, but now I’m planning to go back and catch up on everything I missed.

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Today’s My Birthday.

Today’s my birthday. I’m 39, and I have to leave off harassing Mrs. Unfocused about being the older woman.

We celebrated yesterday with cake and a visit from a college friend and his daughter, which was good fun. On Saturday, we got together with another college friend from out of town, and his wife and daughters, so it was a very collegiate weekend.

I did get my long run in yesterday. I went out late, at about 10:30, so it was already pretty hot, and again, my training fell off in the last couple of weeks, so I wasn’t terribly fast: 9.85 miles in 1:27 and change (don’t have my watch in front of me for the exact time). I’m okay with that, because at least I got it done. I should get a little more running in this week.

Birthday or not, I’ve gotta go to work.

It Isn’t a Party Until Someone Gets Hit With a Golf Club…

which means that what we had Saturday night was, officially, a party, once Junior knocked one of the younger guests on the noggin with an old golf club in the basement (beat that, Professor Plum!). One of our good friends from college was in town for the first time in many years for an academic conference, so the Mrs. and I invited a number of our college group who are still in the area over for dinner, along with children and spouses/partners/significant others. I always enjoy our parties and this one was no exception, but I think our guests had a good time, too — Harriet even blogged about it, which is pretty high praise. To be fair, the Mrs. did most of the hard work; I just opened the wine and poured the drinks.

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.