Posted onAugust 25, 2022|Comments Off on Significant Dates and Anniversaries, Part 2
Ten years ago, I attended Viable Paradise 16, where I met many fine folks and learned a lot, especially how little I actually knew about writing. Up to that point, I’d been running on ideas, ego, and caffeine. (The official term is “pantsing” but you already knew that.) Sure, I’d attended a moderately competitive and stupidly expensive MFA program, but my primary advisor didn’t really grok “fantastic literature” and my utter lack of life experience didn’t help.
Since having my words dissected, inspected, and cheered on by 23 other students, 6 instructors, and 3 awesome house elves, I am happy to report (and a little surprised, honestly) that I’m still doing this thing. And I’ve made friends. Thank Buddha for the interwebs, for apart from a few cons and weekend writing get-togethers, most of my interaction has been online. Zoom, of course, is a game-changer (as was Google Hangouts before that). Most weeks I get to see at least a couple of friendly faces who understand what it means to grab a pick and shovel and head into the Word Mines.
Doing a very unscientific review of my fiction efforts (thanks, Submissions Grinder, you’re the best), here’s what I came up with:
Stories accepted since VP: 25
Total all submissions same period: 357 (approx)
Fewest submissions to sale: 1 – Tie: “The Long View” and “Jizo Rides the Bus”
Most submissions to sale: 23 – “The Astrologer of the 5th Floor”
Most submissions without a sale: 44 (and counting) – “Schadenfreuders”
Stories in submission as of today: 10
Stories abandoned to the trunk/did not finish: 6
Stories in progress: 8 (some of which will probably be trunked)
Public readings: 5 (including podcasts)
Total $$ to date: Don’t go there.
Next week is Worldcon in Chicago. It is my sincere hope that I sit down with some of my fellow Fire Wombats and raise a glass to 10 years of serious mining.
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Posted onAugust 18, 2022|Comments Off on Significant Dates and Anniversaries, Part 1
So… I woke up this morning another year older, as such things are measured. Not thrilled to be reaching such a high number, but as wise people have noted, it sure beats the alternative.
To help me celebrate, my spouse and daughter bestowed upon me a number of gifts that shows they do, in fact, understand me:
Single malt scotch from Skye
A package of edibles (“the relaxing kind, not the take-a-trip kind”)
A bit of pottery: a Felis domesticus fighting off a band of garden gnomes
An open gift certificate to acquire something fun from the Dealer Room at Worldcon next month
Tonight will feature Indian takeout and something with dangerous levels of chocolate.
For my part, I acknowledged the event by getting a deep-tissue massage, a chiropractic adjustment, and braces. Yup. Braces. I’ve never liked my smile and hide it in most photographs. (There were also some long-term issues with my front teeth that will be addressed at the same time.)
By the way, when you see this well-known brand:
it’s important to note they don’t mention the appliances need anchor points, so that procedure makes you feel like this:
I also participated in DayJob today because I wasn’t brave enough to call in sick. Yeah, bad choice.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of paying a mortgage. That fun won’t end anytime soon, although we’re accelerating our payments to try to put a stake in it ahead of schedule.
And it’s been 10 years since I was accepted to Viable Paradise (which took place in Oct 2012!). More thoughts on that later.
Now I must return to planning meetings. A heartfelt thank you/tusen tack to You Who Read the Blog.
You’re the best.
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Posted onJuly 14, 2022|Comments Off on Hey, I did my first (video) reading
My first reading took place (mumble mumble) years ago when I was teaching English Comp and Creative Writing at a community college in Puyallup, WA. I think I did about 15 minutes of my story “Walking Backward Through Death’s Door.”
Since then, I’ve done one reading at FogCon and another in San Francisco for the Abandoned Places book launch. That was a dark and stormy night, literally, so we had only 4 people in the audience.
Last night I participated in Story Hour at the invitation of fellow SF/F writer, Laura Blackwell. This is a weekly online event that gathers together some excellent writers to read a complete story. In my case, I didn’t have anything of the appropriate length (20-25 minutes), so I did a selection of flash fiction.
Man, I wish I had a TelePrompter – it was a bit of a challenge to balance reading from my screen and monitoring the Zoom call. Having said that, folks seemed to enjoy my performance. (And kudos to the other author of the event, Izzy Wasserstein. Go read her stuff. She’s really good.)
In March 2020, California decided that non-essential employees should start working remotely. You know, just for a bit, until all the fuss died down and we could all return to our cubicles.
By Feb 2021, after numerous in-person events were either canceled or migrated to online formats, I realized it was probably going to be a serious stretch before I could hang with my fellow word miners. No coffee shops, no bar-cons, no weekend workshops, and no woodsy retreats. Thank you, pandemic-enablers. Really, you shouldn’t have.
We were truly stuck inside for the duration. So, taking a page from a weekend Google Hangout group, I decided to try my luck at this whole Zoom thing. I called it “Story-breaking and kvetching” after two of my favorite group writer activities. It started out as a Saturday thing, and then an occasional Sunday thing, with the times alternating from morning to evening to accommodate folks in different time zones.
Once, last summer, I even held a late-night session from Sweden and was able to snag a guest appearance from a London friend. Score!
The number of participants varies. A few times I’ve been alone and used the time to write quietly. Once we had 10 people. Mostly, it’s a die-hard core of 3-5 folks from Viable Paradise, Paradise Lost, and CODEX. Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings. Plus the odd Thursday when I’m on deadline.
I’ve moved away from the “kvetching” aspect (although that still happens, because, writers) to focus more on a 30-minute check-in before we do 90 minutes of writing. I’m always interested in how people are surviving the Permanent Health Crisis, what are they working on, and hey, did you sell a story or finish your novel? Excellent! Virtual high fives all around.
I’ll be honest. I would much rather sit with my friends on comfy furniture with laptops and beverages than stare at this screen and chat in a side window. And that time will come again, in some form. Meanwhile, I hope people continue to show up, or stop by for the first time, and mine some words.
You are most welcome. Tuesdays and Fridays. Plus the odd Thursday.
In March 1998, I was working with a small market research department at Macmillan Publishing in Santa Monica. It was also my second gig working with my friend John Arthur Maynard. (The first was another industry publishing house whose name is lost forever.)
On that fateful day, Macmillan’s parent company (which I believe was Paramount) decided to liquidate our department as part of a larger corporate reorg. The guys in suits considered the writers and researchers superfluous and handed us our severance checks with only terse instructions to clear our desks. While their goons were trolling through our paper files, I took the opportunity to wipe my PC’s root directory (one quick script) and cut my local backup disks in half. Yes, they were floppies.
For some weeks, we had been hearing rumors about layoffs, and John casually asked me if it were possible to leave some sort of boobytrap for our corporate masters in case they screwed us. I told him I’d look into it.
When the marketing team reconvened across the street for Mexican food and a view of the Pacific, I told John what had occurred at my workstation. He bought a round for the table. And I think the waiter brought us extra drinks when he heard we’d all been sacked. It was a terrible day shared with good people.
We even gathered the mob two years later at that same restaurant. We all agreed that it was good to be out of publishing.
John and I had become friends while toiling away at the University of Southern California main library. I was working on my MFA (Writing) and John was finishing up his Ph.D. (History). When he wasn’t working on campus, he was usually hanging out at one of the old-school gyms in Venice Beach, pumping iron with the locals. He was great bear of a man, fond of mugs of decaf espresso and beat poetry.
We went our separate ways after graduation, but both ended up in trade publishing, selling ads and convincing doctors to write free articles for us “to promote their practice.” You did what you had to do to make those student loan payments.
I went into consulting and software training and John eventually found a proper gig teaching American History out at Cal State Bakersfield.
He shared an interest in photography: he was a talented amateur who always carried a small 35mm. He did my wedding pictures. I returned the favor with a borrowed Apple QuickTake. Good times.
While we hadn’t seen each other since his wedding, we kept in touch. I sent him stories. We talked about getting together but I was never in Bakersfield and he didn’t get up to the Bay Area.
He contracted Lewy body dementia some years back. I sent him news and stories, which his wife read to him. She said he enjoyed them.
John died on Monday. I will miss his humor, his intellect, and his unfailing commitment to call me on my shit.
I put on a medical-grade mask and drove into San Francisco today to get a checkup. It’s been over two years since my second surgeon evicted The Squatter, and what with all the events in my immediate family (plus the pandemic) I haven’t done any follow-up.
The good news: my left maxillary sinus appears clear. Not particularly irritated, and no suspicious new tenants.
It’s fascinating to look at the sinuses side by side (as it were) with a scope connected to an external monitor. The doctor gave her best guided tour of the right side (control) and the left (surgical site). Sinuses are weird: you go through a crazy forest of mustache and nose hair, and enter into a strange cavern that would challenge any serious spelunker. At least on the right side.
On the left, the whole of one turbinate is missing, and the remaining area has been fused and smoothed over, like a sheet of drywall you patched after your college roommate punched a hole through it.
From the perspective of the scope, my left sinus is an underground cavern that could accommodate guided tours every 30 minutes.
The downside of all that space is it creates a cavity that allows all the mucus to pool during the day. Believe it or not, your body is continually producing mucus, which it needs to keep the breathing passages lubricated and deter would-be invasive germs.
For folks with allergies, they get more mucus than needed. Same for very dry weather.
I don’t have environmental allergies. What I do get is a release of mucus when I hang my head in a certain way, especially later in the day. The right sinus has baffles and locks and customs official to stop that snot. The left… not so much.
The doctor said that I could explore some additional corrective surgery, but that would be terribly intricate and painstaking work.
Better just to irrigate and keep a box of tissues handy.
Either way, it beats having a tumor near my brain.
When I added a smaller IKEA bookcase next to my writing/editing chair, I dedicated it to Mt. To Be Read: books I’ve purchased, picked up at cons, and received from well-meaning friends. [Note: you can stop giving me things to read. Seriously. A written recommendation is just fine.]
When I wanted to add some non-fiction history books I acquired from my father, I couldn’t find any space, so I turned to the “main” bookcase to see where I might put them. That was a challenge. The Billy bookcases, which fill one wall of my bedroom, are also nearly full, although it’s not all books. There is one shelf of DVDs, another for toys, and one for photos and toys.
So I thought it was time to cull. The problem is that most of the books have some personal meaning, or I wanted to re-read them (ha!), or loan them to people (hard to manage these days). There are also signed editions, novels from my instructors, friends, and college textbooks. Old friends.
But, really, do I need them? Of course not. And with all the truly great fiction being published every month, would I really want to go back and re-read some of this stuff from high school? Or loan a book with problematic characters (e.g., racist or sexist) just because it was a favorite? Again, probably not.
Perhaps it’s my father’s recent passing but I found I was able to fill up several grocery bags with books. I noticed a fair number of White Male Authors in the pile, and lots of Hard SF. It certainly entertained me on summer break from college, yet it pales next to the work I’m seeing today.
Even the novels of SFWA Grandmasters can age poorly. Into the bags you go.
In the end, I cleared enough space for the new books, and was able to reorganize the remainder so it’s easier to find stuff.
Posted onJuly 9, 2020|Comments Off on Hospice 3: A Matter of Honor
My mother wasn’t the first woman to whom that my father proposed. According to the stories, he dated a lot when he left the army. Apparently it got so bad that my grandmother Ethel once pulled him into the kitchen and said something like, “And I suppose you’re not going to marry this one, either.”
His track record wasn’t great. I think at least 3 other women turned down his offer of wedded bliss before my mother broke the streak.
Fast forward to last year. A friend of mine was working at 23andMe, so I decided to get some DNA kits for the family and my mother-in-law, just for fun.
I posted my results as publicly searchable, and as it turned out, so had several of my American cousins.
Then my sister sent me a letter. An unknown woman had found one of my family on 23andMe, and the results predicted they were first cousins. That cousin reached out to my sister, who agreed to talk with her. The woman was adopted, and was interested in finding some family connections.
Her name is Honor. And her history was interesting. A sample:
She was born about a year before my oldest brother
Her birth father was listed as “German” in ancestry, tall, with black hair and brown eyes
Her profile photo showed distinct Schlosser characteristics, and
The clincher was her DNA – it shared a partial match with my daughter and a strong match with me
When my father was reminiscing about old girlfriends, my sister took the opportunity to ask about Honor. Did he remember dating a woman that fit her birth mother’s description?
O mais oui. He was completely clear on that. He remembered the birth mother, remembered dating her, knew she had gotten pregnant, and definitely remembered that the family wanted nothing to do with him. A bit later, my sister set up a Facetime call between Honor and (our) father. From all reports, it went well. He was glad that his “first” daughter was doing well and happy to make her acquaintance at the end.
So I have a half-sister. Have had one for my whole life but never knew about her until recently.
Not everyone is happy about this news, of course, but there isn’t a lot we can do at this point. At least the truth is out.
I wrote “Seven Cups of Landfall” last year, well before we had any idea of the coming pandemic. The poem is not thematically linked in any way to the illness, or the Shelter in Place. In fact, it comes from a image I had for a story — seven cups lined up on a shelf, somewhere on an alien world. But the story never materialized, and the few lines that I wrote as part of a speech for one of the characters eventual became a seven-stanza poem.
That’s what writers do — we repurpose and recycle. If a character doesn’t fit here, then it might work there. And that cool visual that messes up the flow of a scene? Nail it to the wall of a new chapter.
The last poem I published was a lifetime ago, in 1994, when I was teaching English Comp 101 at community colleges in Tacoma, Washington. One of the faculty members edited a poetry magazine and asked the staff to volunteer some words.
My contribution was something of an homage to all those dead white guys I studied in college and forced my own students to read. It was, well, let’s call it derivative. I still enjoy parts of it, though, and it reminds me that I can achieve writer goals (“Sell a poem!”) even if it takes a long time.
Now I need to get back to making new words, and wearing my mask when I leave the house because a virus and human stupidity are trying to kill us all.
Wash your hands. Stay safe. Maybe read some poetry.