Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
A Mostly Happy Year
News of Story Submissions
Monday, September 23, 2019 12:06 pm
I submitted three stories to Stupefying Stories. Two were accepted. Weirdly I was more affected by the third being rejected. I am not a half-full kind of guy. Still, it was surely great to have two accepted.

So the story situation is as follows. 

Ambit of Charon. This is my story in the Pluto anthology. The anthology is supposedly still happening. At this point I don't believe it will ever happen. Superversive Press seems lost. One can hope, however.

Due a Hanging. This is my second Hamlin Becker story. It will be coming out (before February) in StoryHack #6.

Banana Man and Wayward Scarecrow. These are the two accepted by Stupefying. I don't know when they will come out, but I presume it will be in the coming year.

The Fourth Gift. This is the one rejected by Stupefying. It was also rejected by Superversive (from their Luna anthology, for which it was written). Indeed, this poor story has been rejected repeatedly this year. I've been submitting it, scattershot, with little concern about whether it would "fit in" (apart from targeting SF and Fantasy mags). It's actually a great story. Really. Just this morning I threw it at another mag that is sure to reject it. But hey, you never know.

That's all. If I were trying to make a living at this writing nonsense, I would be entirely impoverished. But I'm just writing to write (and to avoid squandering what talents I have). If I get published — hooray! If not — oh well.

But in fairness to the Great Balance, I concede that the news has been enough for me to declare this year to be Mostly Happy, so far as writing goes.

P.S. I have made good if unremarkable progress on my third Hamlin Becker story. I should finish it this year, in time to submit to StoryHack.

Self-Publishing Is Euthanasia for Stories
Think Twice Before Consigning Your Art
Wednesday, June 19, 2019 2:59 pm
I am a caveman. I started writing in the typewriter era. Eventually PCs and word processing arose. The gatekeepers remained, however. You were published only if an editor took a fancy to you.

Vanity publishing? That was just tawdry. There was something genuinely vain about it. It was, as well, far too much a capital venture. You were essentially starting your own business. 

Come the internet and self-publishing, though, and all those tales that had been typewritten — and turned back at every gate — could now be easily brought to the masses. Process your words, JPEG some cover, PDF the lot, and upload to some platform like Lulu or Smashwords or Amazon. Easy peasy — and barely a cent invested.

Yes, you still had to market your work. So what? That's fine. The internet lets everyone market himself. It is the era of the self! The lowliest soul can have a global presence.

In other words: You are no longer assaulting a few well-defined gates. You are instead trying to shout the loudest in the loudest cacophony ever.

Boy, you had better be able to sell yourself, and hard. Unfortunately I am a caveman. I really don't like leaving my cave. My self-published works remain unread, stored in some drawer in the cloud.

I'm not complaining about the need to self-market. Self-publishing rather reasonably entails self-marketing. My point is that, having failed to self-market (because frankly I am far too self-conscious to promote myself aggressively), my works have been published in vain — and they can never be published by anyone else.

They are dead. I have euthanized them.

No magazine takes reprints of stories — and self-publishing, it turns out, counts as printing. Hell, I've come across magazines that won't take a story you posted on your blog. Magazines are jealous beasts. The gatekeepers persist.

I naively thought that self-publishing was not final. "Hey, if this doesn't work out, I'll slink back to the slushpiles." Right? Well, maybe I can slink back, but my self-published stories are now mired in Amazon. They're done for.

Take heed, young writer. Until you have demonstrated that you can truly market a work, keep every other story in that desk of yours. Your art must be untainted by publication if you want it taken up by others.

I will never self-publish again.

A Half-Happy Year?
News of Story Submissions
Thursday, May 9, 2019 12:46 pm
Due a Hanging, my sequel to Some Things Missing From Her Profile, has been accepted by StoryHack. Biggest thanks to Bryce Beattie, the discerning and wise editor. The story will appear in StoryHack #6, later this year or early next. This acceptance really pleases me.

As far as I know, my story in Planetary Pluto is still happening. No word since February, however. Aargh. My submission to Planetary Luna was foolishly rejected.

My story for the asteroid anthology was also rejected. That surprised me. The editor's reasoning was valid enough, but I'd say he was overthinking things. His loss.

Now, if I had to have only one acceptance this year, Due a Hanging in StoryHack would have been my choice. So despite the disappointments, the year may turn out happy enough.

And the year isn't done, anyhow. Submissions to Stupefying Stories have re-opened. I have submitted a story. If that one gets rejected, I have two others. I like Stupefying Stories. I hope I get in.

P.S. Since I have had good luck with Hamlin Becker and StoryHack, I am definitely going to write a third story in time for the next round of submissions, which will presumably be around December. This story will be my next project.
Am I Capricious?
Just File Under "Never Mind"
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 4:06 pm
Many months ago I modified my story The Spare Midge to make its ending less grim. I even explained my thinking in a post. A while later I read the modified version and decided it did betray the original and, moreover, fell flat. So I have restored the original ending.

In general I decided to accept the grimness of my earlier works. To that end, I also removed a couple of distracting things from The Spare Midge collection, which is now tighter and more tonally consistent.

Indeed I even put my grimmest story, The Amputated Man, into my other collection The Chicken Bone. I have always found this story rather cruel; yet it seems to me to be effective, too. It definitely darkens the collection. It also seems to fit.

I am done fussing with my earlier works.

P.S. The Endless Batteries was removed from The Spare Midge and restored to its original form as a chapterbook. I have not published this on Amazon or the like. I probably won't. But for the sake of my oeuvre, it is now as it should be.
Now at Periblogion
Soon I Will Orbit Away Again
Monday, March 4, 2019 4:16 am
So, I wrote a sequel to Some Things Missing From Her Profile. I submitted it to StoryHack (which originally published Some Things). I've been trying to write this sequel since 2017. I only finished it twelve hours before submissions closed on January 1st. Since I perfect as I write, only the last few pages were "first draft." A few days later I sent a revision, which was graciously allowed. I am awaiting judgment now.

Then I wrote a story for an SF anthology about asteroids. Submissions for that closed on March 1st. Also awaiting judgment.

Meanwhile, word is that the Pluto anthology, which will include a story of mine, has resumed production. Presumably that means the Luna anthology, to which I also submitted, has also resumed production; but no official word on that, nor on whether my Luna story has even been accepted.

Last fall I submitted a story to Stupefying Stories. It nearly made it. They liked it but couldn't quite fit it in. I am re-submitting when submissions re-open April 1st.

It would make me inordinately happy if all five of these stories got published. I am fairly optimistic about the four that are undecided. I could use a happy year.

Anyhow, I think I'll post a few more things before I resume my negligence of this blog...
Bowdlerizing Myself
So Maybe Han Didn't Shoot First
Wednesday, October 3, 2018 11:59 am
My collection of stories The Spare Midge has been revised a couple of times since its initial creation in 2007. I've dropped and added stories and changed their order. I've changed the title itself. Each story has also been polished a bit, to remove some or another infelicity.

One consistency, however, has been the tone. 

It's not a happy collection. This is because the author was not a happy person. I, that author, am not necessarily a happier person today; but the strand of fatalism in The Spare Midge somewhat bothers me. The things I am writing now, especially since The Giant's Walk, are just tonally different. Tonally better, maybe. Yet my old stories are still good. I wouldn't be presenting them otherwise.

It has crossed my mind, over this past decade, to maybe brighten the collection a little. Inserting The Endless Batteries was one brightening move. Yet even that tale has a bittersweet ending! And really, there's no way to brighten something like Tainted by Grace without nullifying the story altogether.

One story, though, that seemed susceptible to brightening was the eponymous The Spare Midge. I actually didn't have to change much. I didn't want to change the tragic outcome, but I did want to change the narrator's reaction to it. I also wanted to remove one crude aspect.

The crude aspect was trivial. The narrator referred to sex as a "wet." My intention was to be crude, to be reductive, and to suggest a cyberpunkish alteration of sex into something called a "wet." But the current me dislikes the crudity. As an author I have not forsaken crudity. But this one thing... ach, it's gone, and good riddance.

The narrator's reaction is a deeper issue and more directly a matter of the story's original fatalism. I realized that I could make The Spare Midge a hopeful story by changing and adding only a few sentences and words. I didn't have to rewrite substantially. The story comes to a very clear fork; and instead of going left I now go right.

No, I haven't given the story a happy ending. But the utter fatalism is gone.

Then the question becomes: Am I betraying the story?

If I had made this change when I was originally writing the story, it would simply have counted as editing. An author regularly decides that a character should do A instead of B — even though B was in the original drafts.

But if the change is made fifteen years later? After the story has already been presented to the public?

Well, first, I don't imagine more than a handful of people, perhaps no more than two, have ever read the entire prior version. In some sense I am still in the editing phase.

And second, much as the original fatalism bothers me, my reaction to it now isn't merely a kind of bowdlerization, as is certainly the business with "wet." I truly want the story to be better. I'm not making Han shoot second because, somehow, I've grown fond of the character and think it icky that he might have shot first. Nor have I undone my narrator by making her do something she wouldn't have. Rather I have placed her on a hopeful path. It is the ending I changed, not the beginning or the climax; and indeed, the new ending plays off an earlier moment of hope that was always one of the strongest moments in the story. That moment is no longer in vain.

I have not betrayed the story. I have saved it from itself.

I'm not going to be specific about what has been changed. I've probably called too much attention to it already. I suppose when I die the legions of literary scholars, intent on the intentions of the great David Skinner, will unearth the earlier drafts and identify my changes. Know ye, scholars, that I disavow the earlier drafts! I am happy with The Spare Midge as it now stands.

P.S. But see here.

As the Humans Say
Dialogue for Aliens
Saturday, July 21, 2018 5:28 pm
In The Corbomite Maneuver, an episode from the original Star Trek, an alien named Balok has decided to destroy the Enterprise. Balok then grants the crew some time to make peace with their Deity or deities. And how much time does Balok give the crew? "Ten Earth time periods known as minutes." 

Unless you're a steady fan of SF, you might not appreciate how amusing that is. It is the epitome of an SF meme, namely the alien who must use human measurements just to make it clear how long or far or big something is. And since the writer must concede that an alien would not normally use "minutes," he must therefore qualify "minutes" with "your" or "human" or "Earth."

But it sounds so silly. It's even a tad pedantic.

These pedantic qualifications are constant in Babylon 5; and it's not just for measurements such as "days" or "megatons." These past weeks I've been bingeing the series and you can all but make a drinking game out of "as the humans say." Straczynski, the prime mover and writer of the series, too often uses "as the humans say" to qualify a colloquialism or allusion or metaphor that, yes, might seem odd from the mouth of an alien. But surely the alien knows that his listener, a human, knows what humans say, and would qualify nothing. I have conversed with quite a few Japanese and Indians in the context of an English-speaking company, and they have never said "as the Americans say."

It's especially grating when Straczynski has two aliens of the same species conversing. He wants an alien to use some obvious and appropriate phrase like "kill two birds with one stone," and of course he feels a pedantic twinge and has to have that alien prepend "as the humans say." Honestly, if the phrase seems that out of place in the mouth of your alien, don't use it. Besides, why would two aliens, speaking to each other, use human turns of phrase at all? For one thing, they'd be speaking to each other in their own language, not English (the English is just a concession to the reader or viewer); and for another, they'd surely have their own phrases.

Never be like Straczynski and deploy "as the humans say." Either narratively establish that the aliens are linguistically assimilated and let them speak naturally, or bite the bullet and use a measurement or metaphor without qualification. Only in first-contact situations need you fuss with this issue at all, and in such situations do try to avoid the overblown balokisms.

P.S. Although the writing and the "humor" in Babylon 5 can be cringe-worthy, the characters and their arcs are really good. The characters actually develop. Their relationships and struggles are interesting and relevant. They're not just cogs in the plot or literary mixtures of personality traits. They support the space opera nicely — and that opera, Shadow War and all, is also really good. Hence my bingeing.

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