Ruminations and Ruinations
I should probably put "Part I" after the title of this short piece, for obvious reasons, some of which will begin to occur to me the night of publication as I lie awake with one eye open, looking into the darkness of the ceiling wondering if I forgot anything (a comma, an honorable mention, a notice, an HTML tag, a clever simile, what have you). And so we begin our sixth year of publication...
Those who actually read my monthly ruminations will recall that last month we celebrated five years of successful and happy publishing, and I kissed goodbye any further concern about having us recognized by the SFFH field's most prominent professional organization. That was a modest and humble, but sincere and heartfelt declaration made after years of circumspect and polite hesitation in the face of consistently deficient comportment. I had no intention of offending anyone or making any waves. I had quite simply had enough. That's not as in "well, there" or "that will be that" but a really deep, visceral "get on the bus, Gus, just leave the key, Lee" kind of ciao! after a wrong turn into a creepy neighborhood.
I am happy to report that I have had absolutely no regret, which surprises me, since I know myself to be one of those painstaking ponderers who consider every aspect of an argument and try to see the best points of everyone's viewpoint. I've had no buyer's or seller's or adios-waver's remorse, not even a shred. In fact, I feel a certain exhilaration at the freedom I have embraced. I really do think we're doing exciting and original things here. That may be the 1960s child in me, but you won't find any lava lamps or nostalgia here. We're not Backwardians, but Futurians.
I feel a bit like the westward bound 19th Century pioneers who, feeling stifled amid the narrow streets and noisy halls and frumpy gatherings and stultifying moral landscape of Victorian civilization, tossed a saddle on a nag and rode out of town with their spurs jingling and the bullets heavy on their pistol belts and a knapsack full of dreams over one shoulder. The beautiful fact is that I continue to receive a lot of very fine writing, a lot of which doesn't fit through the filters of those who minister in the mainstream of speculative fiction. I hasten to add, we have our readership demographics too, but we do take chances and I hope our readers continue to be generous. The only thing we don't ask, and in any case they will never give, is tolerance for slop. We keep our standards high, for all the best reasons including respect for our readers.
Some of the market sheets list us as "literary," and that's fine with me, although we don't go to the jugular of that demographic either. We simply publish the stories that work best for us based first and foremost on storytelling and craftsmanship. As Brian once wrote in a market blurb, "hit us with the story we didn't see coming." We treat every writer with respect (unless it's someone peddling kid porn or some other form of abuse). We don't have a "slush pile" and we don't "reject." Those terms come from the same epithetic spittoon as do words like "squaw." We have an "open transom" and we "pass with regret." I haven't commented on passes as much as I used to, simply because I have less and less time.
Well, the trouble with being an editor of 99-100% freelance fiction is that I never know what's coming when I open that next email and start reading. At the same time, that's probably the greatest delight of doing this. I've known other publishers and editors over the years, and even those who publish very small print magazines (circulation 200, in one case) but are internationally known, often get submissions from all over the world. Getting published is very hard. The supply of fiction and poetry far outstrips the tiny little pipelines, even at the bigger magazines. I continue to find that maybe 1% get published but at least 5% deserve to be, and that's not counting the stories that start well and end poorly, or start poorly but have solid spots, which nobody really can afford to offer to readers. If you want to edit, and you are looking for quality work, just get into the laundry cycle where those 5% of fine stories stay tumbling around until that lucky 1% or fewer squeeze through the keyhole into some magazine. That might be your publication.
At the same time, there really are some economies in web publishing. It is possible to publish a more "literary" story once in a while, even if you take a hit in the ratings. It's possible to be more eclectic, even if it means incurring the impatience of a few readers who might enjoy more narrowly focused fare. It's possible, in short, to take more risks and get away with it. That is really cool. It may mean having egg on one's face from time to time. I'll gladly accept that risk. That's part of the fun, once you develop a kind of thicker carapace that an editor must have to avoid going blooey.
We're still here (despite a prominent anthologist's cynical remark about magazines like ours that all one has to do is wait it out and we go away, as if that were a desired result -- cui bonehead?), and we are indeed about surviving. That is a successful magazine's first and foremost obligation to its readers and writers, and come-uppance to its critics. We recognize the economic realities of our marketplace and we stay small. We don't bite off more than we can chew. We keep our chins and our wallets close to the ground and crawl rather than jeté forward. We continue to serve writers and readers as best we can, and the first rule is to avoid getting trampled by the elephants who (to mix metaphors) hog all the oxygen.
If you've read my guidelines, you know I don't care at all for gratuitous vulgarity (unless it's called for in a story) not for moral reasons but because it's deadwood, a signal the writer has nothing to say. I care more for buildup and suspense than for violence. I care more for foreplay than sexual acrobatics. I confess, having lived many years here and there abroad and being a trifling linguist in my own humble way, to enjoying an exotic locale well-rendered by a writer who knows how (within a framework of the indispensable elements of plot, characterization, and storytelling). I curl up one corner of my upper lip when I see writing by someone who hasn't bothered to learn how to use commas or to spell. More and more, these are shortcomings one sees in the increasingly loveless commercial publishing business, where I bet line editors are paid less than janitors and respected just above bag persons.
Well, and then I must confess to having just gone through maybe 80% of my male life crisis, and having emerged on the outgoing side recognizing that I cannot change the world. Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you," and I've always been convinced He meant not only persons with skinny wallets, but those who through their shortcomings contribute to what is classically called "the human condition." That's not a hairdo, by the way.
Like all editors, I've developed a number of writers whose work I always like to see, though I may not buy a particular piece. I've made some great friends over the years. As I've mentioned elsewhere, there is a clear and direct correlation between the quality of the writing and the professional behavior of the writer. Many professional writers are a delight to exchange letters with (and witty in their correspondence)! At the same time, I really enjoy discovering the new writer who has something urgent to say in a fresh and original manner, and of such writers many are reflected in the archives of both Deep Outside SFFH and Far Sector SFFH, and will continue to be. I don't know what's going to be a good story until I read it and sit back saying "Wow!" Keep them coming.
Editor's Note: We welcome books and announcements. Please give us at least 3 months lead time so we can present your announcement in a timely fashion. We take absolutely no responsibility for the content, format, contributors' editorial opinions, or other characteristics of this information which we publish in community interest. We do our best to weed out irrelevant, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate material that we receive while trying to avoid any role of censorship.
ComiCon International 2003: To be held July 17-20. Preview Night July 16. San Diego Convention Center in San Diego Harbor centrally located not far from the airport; on the trolley line, near the Gaslamp District, and near downtown. Special guests at the world's number one comic event include Neil Gaiman, Stan Goldberg, Carla Speed McNeil, and many other greats. You can e-mail them or visit their website. You can also phone them at (619) 414-1022.
San Diego Book Awards: The 9th Annual SD Book Awards dinner will be Friday, May 16 6 to 10 p.m. at The Handlery Hotel & Resort, Crystal Ballroom, 950 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, CA 92108. Guest speaker will be David Brin. Call the hotel at (619) 298-0511 and ask to be referred to Bradley Steffens, the event's coordinator. Suggest to Bradley that they get a website if they don't already have one. It's the 21st Century, after all.
Pennwriters: They are a networking organization for writers of all genres, with over 350 members from all over the U.S. Their annual conference will be May 16-18 at the Wyndham Pittsburgh Airport Hotel with the theme Write Here, Write Now! 160-200 members are expected to attend, and speakers will include agent Evan Marshall and Sr. Executive Editor and Marketing Director Ginjer Buchanan of Berkley Publishing. Contact Donna Rushneck at 463 Lincoln Ave., Carnegie, PA 15106. Phone is (412) 429-8439. You can e-mail them or visit their website.
Received: The Bad Season Horror by Dennis Latham, Clocktower Books 2003, $5.00 e-book in all formats, more info at Fictionwise. Highly rated novel by a master of entertaining horror fiction. Loosely based on a true story that will curl your hairs and make you keep the lights on well into the night. Many Horror Writers Association (HWA) sites are paying tribute to Dennis, including Feoamante, who says: "...Horror writer Dennis Latham is having a pretty good season. His novel THE BAD SEASON is the #1 seller in the horror section at fictionwise.com. What's more, his story FLOATER, from RANDOM ACTS OF WEIRDNESS, is in script form in New York at the request of an independent film company." Being big fans of Dennis Latham, we stand up and cheer, and we hope you'll buy his book and enjoy it like we have.
Received: Rebellious Confessions anthology ed. Victor Thorn, 2002, Black Sheep Books, impr. of Mammoth Press, 7 Juniata Street, DuBois, Pennsylvania 15801. $17.99. ISBN 0-9718059-1-1. As the title indicates, material that may shock or offend. Some of it is interesting, some of it isn't. Some of it echoes (self-consciously) Bukowski and other City Lights Press icons. A few pieces hover somewhere between Studs Terkel slices-of-life and an autoshop student's high school essay. Includes a few gritty memoirs and a graffiti eclecticism that may interest some readers, particularly those who feel that "art" is "non-art" with an industrial kind of flavor. Some sincere lesbian coming (no pun intended) of age. On the male side, sort of a meat-beating manual for those who don't get beyond hamburger. Visit the website at babelmagazine.com for more info.