Thursday, November 30, 2006

General News

I got my first look at the next issue of NCCNM and must say that the new graphic designer has definitely moved it forward in terms of the look and feel of the magazine. There were any number of little things I wanted tweaked and adjusted, but overall it looks very good and I am quite pleased. Optimistic, even.

In IGMS news, I've just about got the line up for issues four and five set (just about) and Kathleen (managing editor) and I are looking at having issue four out around the first of February. That date isn't set in stone, but it's the target we're shooting for. It's four months from the release date of the last issue and to be truly quarterly we'll need to get it down to three, but it's good progress in the right direction.

I also just found out that the December issue of Locus magazine is going to have a review of issue three. I have no idea what the overall review will be, but I did get an e-mail from the reviewer, Rich Horton, a little while back, saying how much he enjoyed the cover story (Tim Pratt's "Dream Engine"). We shall see, shan't we?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why I Love Being A Writer

Well, there are a lot of reasons, really... but in the past couple days I've gotten to take advantage of one of the best of them. Being a writer, you see, is a great reason (okay, excuse) to start conversations with people you would otherwise have next to no chance of getting time with. Specifically, in this case, I have, in the name of research, begun e-mail correspondence with the only two people to ever trek to the North Pole during the summer. It's research for the new novel I've just started, and I have to tell you when these guys answered my e-mails and said they'd be happy to help me out, I was as excited a ten year old at Christmas who just found out that the biggest present under the tree had his name on it.

I get to talk with guys who have been to the North Pole. Why? Because I'm a writer. I'm still pinching myself.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. (I know what I'm thankful for...)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Paper vs. Electronic (and a diatribe about style)

I was trading e-mails the other day with Doug Cohen, assistant editor over at Realms of Fantasy, about preferences for reading submissions on a computer screen vs. printing them out. It’s a very different kind of reading experience, paper vs. electronic, and even though the stories I’m reading (the ones I buy anyway) are going to be published on-line, I still have a major preference for judging them the old fashioned way. I believe I get a better feel for the flow of the story when reading it on paper, and flow is a big thing with me. I want everything about a story – from plot, character, and word choice, to seemingly little things like punctuation – to flow in a way that keeps me lost in the story. Anything that pulls me up and reminds me that I am reading a story is bad. Frankly, that’s why I hate pretentious, writerly writing. It tells me the author thinks he or she is more important than the story they are telling. A lot of people misinterpret me when I say this, thinking I don’t appreciate a fine writing style. Nothing could be further form the truth: I love a great writing style. I also see a tremendous difference between writing that has style, and writing that is about style. It’s the second I have no patience for.

(Now look what you’ve done; you’ve got me up on my soap box, preaching again.) (Get back to the point, Edmund…) (What was the point?) (Right, paper vs. electronic submissions...)

But anyway…

I have to admit that I had not anticipated the time, ink, and paper that would be required for this job. I'm beginning to understand why so many publishers won't accept e-subs: it shifts the burden from the writer to the editor. When you ask 500 writers to each print their own story out, it's not that big a deal. One editor printing out 500 stories is a very different cup of tea. But IGMS’s policy is and will remain: electronic subs. It does have some advantages, such as transferring them and editing them. C'est la vie. You can’t have it all. You really can’t even have most if it; where would you keep it?

Have a good Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 17, 2006

My new friend, Edgar

Twilight Times Books, the publishers of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine has been added to the Mystery Writers of America list of approved publishers. This means (among other things) that they are now eligible to nominate stories to the preliminary ballot for the Edgar Award (the Mystery Writers version of the Nebula Award).

All of which is a lot of preamble to say that I just got an e-mail from the publisher/owner of Twilight times Books telling me that they are nominating my story “Good With Directions” (one of the featured stories in the May/June ’06 issue of Futures) for the Edgar in the category of best short story. It’s just a preliminary nomination, but it’s my first brush with a major award and I’m pretty excited.

(Insert picture of me with big dumb grin here: _____________;-))

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

That Darn Business Magazine

Yes, it's that time again. Time to get the next issue of NC Career Network Magazine together, which means (sadly) that things on IGMS slow down a bit. On the other hand, we've temporarily brought in a new assistamt editor to help whittle down the submission pile. Recently retired Air Force officer and former OSC Literary Boot Camper (apparently he didn't get enough Boot Camp in the military) Gray Rinehart has taken on a portion of the submissions that come in via the web-site and is diligently chipping away at the pile and forwarding survivors to me. One I get things in shape with NCCNM (hopefully by the end of this week), I'll be able to get to the rest of the IGMS goodies. If you find yourself getting impatient, just remember that I've now got someone sending out rejections who has been trained and authorized by the U.S. government to kill.

For those of you keeping score at home, if you recall the problems we had with the graphic designer during the layout of the last issue of NCCNM, we have hired a new designer. The only problem at the moment is that the designer the publisher decided to use is in Charlotte, NC, and 100 miles from where I am. So if things go wrong, I can't just pop into the graphic designer's office and beat him with a stick. Now I have to drive and hour and half first.

Or I could just send Gray...

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Rat Beneath The Ice

It occured to me today that since I'm now judging other writer's work, it would only be fair to occasionally put my own neck on the chopping block and let you all see some of what I write. I mentioned in a previous post that I'm working on a story for an anthology with a cryptozoology theme (Crypto-Critters II, published by Padwolf Publishing). The following is the opening that I wrote and then abandoned. I like it well enough (for an early draft), but it wasn't leading in the direction I wanted to go, so I wrote a new opening. But this is a prologue of sorts, it sort of has an ending (it doesn't just trail off or leave you hanging), so I figured I'd throw it out there for your entertainment.

(It's that or hear me bitch about that business magazine, which is mainly what I've been working on this week.)

The Rat Beneath Ice

It was January, 1932, and under a gray sky that hurt his eyes Nikolai Truyev knelt on the frozen ground to examine the bizarre treasure he had just unearthed. Nikolai and his fellow zeks – inmates at the Siberian Gulag – were digging a trench next to the Kolyma River, and he had just discovered a giant salamander frozen in an ice lens. Never in his life had Nikolai seen such an odd creature. It was half a meter long, with mottled bluish-green skin, a bulbous body, and eyes as black as a Siberian winter night.

What jumped out at Nikolai though, was as much where he had found it. The trench was three meters deep. A salamander, three meters down? Digging this trench was taking forever precisely because the Siberian tundra never thawed that deep. Never.

Nikolai was neither zoologist nor geologist, but he had learned enough at the university to know that this salamander must have been frozen here for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands.

From behind him, Sergei Solztnr startled Nikolai by swinging his pick axe into the lens where the salamander rested, and they both winced as ice chips sprayed. A series of cracks appeared where the pick struck, including a large dark line. Sergei swung again, his experienced hand guiding the pick precisely to the small dent his first blow had made.

Half a dozen swings later, Sergei had freed a hunk of salamander-filled ice.

“Hey,” Nikolai cried, “I found that!”

“Yes,” Sergei said, “you did. Congratulations.”

Nikolai started after them. “We have to figure out what it is. Where it came from. It could be important.”

Sergei whirled back and stuck his pick axe in Nikolai’s face. “Quiet, you damn fool, or you get nothing. If you want a share of your discovery, follow me.” And without another word, he dropped his pick to the ground and tucked the piece of ice under his coat. Nikolai followed Sergei and they trooped down the ever-widening trench to the edge of the Kolyma River.

At some point one of the officers running the Gulag had the brilliant idea that if they could divert the river, it would simplify their gold mining operation in the summer months. Whether it would work or not, no one knew, but even Nikolai, who had only been interred here for a little over a week, had learned that if the officers or guards said to do something, you did it – quickly - with no questions asked.

There were too many new prisoners being shipped to Siberia every day for one to be missed if anything happened to them – and in Siberia things “happened” all the time.

Puffing a small cloud with every breath he took, Nikolai followed Sergei along the bank of the ice-locked Kolyma, wondering what he was up to. Now that he wasn’t working anymore, Nikola was suddenly, painfully, reminded of how cold it was. Trying to dig through the frozen tundra was an exercise in futility, but at least it was an exercise that kept him warm.

About forty meters from the mouth of the trench, Sergei turned and clamored up the steep river bank, and when Nikolai climbed up behind him, he saw where the man was heading. By following the curve of the river, they had positioned themselves on the far side of the bonfire the guards had built. And at the moment all three guards had their backs to it.

Moving as stealthily as he could, Sergei crept up to the fire and held out his salamander. As he did so, he turned to Nikolai and put a finger to his lips, directing him to be silent as he crept up.

This made no sense. Given how unusual this creature was, Nikolai it they must be an important discovery. He had assumed they would turn it over to the guards, who in turn would turn it over to scientists who would study it. He didn’t see what difference it made if it was frozen or not. In fact, it occurred to him that it might travel better if it was still encased in ice.

Sergei, however, seemed to be in a race to thaw the specimen. Soon Sergei was thawing the salamander head first.

Suddenly Nikolai grew irritated with himself. Sergei’s salamander? He had found the salamander. He. Nikolai. Sergei had taken it away form him. Yet here he was, thinking of this thing as Sergei’s.

He was a bout to speak when Sergei took the salamander’s head between his thumb and forefinger and wiggled it up and down. It had thawed sufficiently to move, and the flesh was surprisingly pliable. Nikolai watched with fascination as the creature’s head bobbed up and down between Sergei’s fingers, as if saying, Yes, yes, very nice to meet you, too.

Then Sergei pushed the salamander’s head to one side and bit into its neck.
Nikolai could only watch in mute astonishment as Sergei clenched his teeth together, tore a chunk of meat from above the thing’s left shoulder, and gulped it down. He thought he was about to vomit, but suppressed the reaction through sheer force of will because he knew he couldn’t afford to lose the calories.

As Sergei went for a second bite, Nikolai shook himself free of his trance-like state and shouted, “No!”

Sergei stopped. Slowly, he turned to face him… just as the three guards did, too. An expression of horror washed over Sergei’s face.

“Well, well, well,” said the first guard. “What have we here?” He strolled around the perimeter of the fire, stopping in front of Sergei. His rifle was slung over his shoulder, but the other two guards had theirs in hand. As if the zeks needed yet another reminder who was in charge…

Nikolai stood tall and said, “I found this salamander and thought it might be important. I was going to bring it to you, but this lunatic took it and tried to eat it.”

Sergei did not respond. He simply crouched by the fire, looking like a caveman gnawing on bones he would not readily give up. His defiant expression melted the instant one of the guards cocked his rifle.

“Very interesting indeed,” said the first guard as he studied what Sergei held.
Nikolai took a step toward the guard. “Based on where I found it, I think it might be very old - ”

One of the guards swung the butt of his rifle into Nikolai’s stomach, dropping him to his knees. As he gasped for air, he was vaguely aware of the sound of laughter around him. When he looked up, he saw the laughter was coming not only from the guards, but from Sergei as well.

The guard snatched the salamander away from Sergei and then hunkered down next to Nikolai. He said softly, “This is a valuable thing, tovarisch. I promise we will examine it thoroughly.” He then stood back up and said loudly, “Now get back to work, all of you.”

The two zeks trudged back toward the trench, but Nikolai allowed himself a smile, comforted by the guard’s promise. He may have alienated his comrade, but it would be worth it if that salamander was as ancient as he believed it to be.

But as Nikolai climbed back into the frozen ground to resume his work, he spotted the guards rigging something over the fire with tree branches and their rifles and immediately realized what a naïve fool he had been.

Examine it thoroughly? In this era of Soviet double-talk, where prison camps were “corrective labor colonies” designed for the “re-education of class enemies,” he should have known what the guard meant.

But just as quickly, he saw it would have changed nothing. In Siberia, where the difference between guards and zeks was simply that guards got to cook their thousand year-old salamanders before they ate them, Nikolai knew he had to adapt – quickly - or die.

* * *

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Channeling Harlan Ellison at WFC in Austin TX

Okay, so what I meant to say was that I ran in Gordon Van Gelder in the restroom and ended up talking with him for a while, despite convention con wisdom that you don’t try to engage editors and agents and such in conversation in the restroom. What I actually said, however – in an elevator stuffed to overflowing with 150 people, was, “Hey, I know I’m not supposed to, but I grabbed Gordon Van Gelder in the restroom…”

The crowd in the elevator went silent and they all took a half-step backward.

And this was but one moment in what was undeniably the best, the most fun convention I have ever attended.

Mary Robinette Kowal, art director for the wonderful small press magazine, Shimmer, (and a professional puppeteer working in Iceland (how cool is that?)) had a side-splitting story about a marionette show gone wrong that we couldn’t get enough of. We dragged her around the con and made her tell it to everyone we could pin down. It doesn’t translate to print nearly as well, though, so you’ll have to grab her yourself at a con and get her to tell it.

The staff of Shimmer (Mary (who also performed the audio bonus for the second issue of IGMS) and editor-in-chief Beth Wodzinski) threw a fantastic pirate party to promote their upcoming pirate-themed issue (guest edited by John Joseph Adams – book reviewer for IGMS (in addition to work he does for that other mag)). And agent Lori Perkins threw a great party for Jennie Rae Rappaport, who writes an amine column for IGMS. So it was an IGMS con, whether folks knew it or not.

I also met Carol Pinchefsky, who I didn’t know was at WFC until an author at the pirate party told me she had just been interviewed by someone who wrote for IGMS – “a Carol Pinch-somebody” according to that author (who had had a little too much of an Icelandic schnapps Mary brought called “Black Death”).

I met a few new folks (new to me anyway), ranging from authors like Julie Wright and Katie Murphy (who writes under C.E. Murphy) to some up-and-comers with a lot of promise like Peter S. Beagle and Joe Lansdale. I also had some interesting conversation with Jay Lake, who said my wardrobe selection was subtler than his “the same way that a car wreck was subtler than a train wreck.” Jay's analogy went on to include explosions and flying cows and such. You know, the usual.

Friends Alethea Kontis and Eric James Stone, who I hung with at DragonCon (okay, tagged along with – they are so much cooler than I’ll ever hope to be), were kind enough to allow me to do so again. And Rick Fischer, who lives not far from me in Greensboro, NC, never missed a chance to tell my “grabbed-Gordon Van Gelder” story.

I got to meet Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, who do the Year’s Best Fantasy for St. Martin’s, Patrick Swenson of Fairwood Press and Tale Bones magazine, and James Van Pelt. I picked up one of Jim’s short story collections (The Last of The O-Forms) on the recommendation of the aforementioned Eric James Stone and have been thoroughly enjoying that. I also bought Ken Scholes new novella, Last Flight of the Goddess (another Fairwood Press title) and am looking forward to reading that. Ken and his lovely wife Jen were a real pleasure, and if you ever meet Ken, be sure to ask him to perform some of his magic tricks; they are spectacular.

All in all, it was by far the most fun I have ever had at a convention. My only regret was not getting out to see more of Austin TX; a group of us had plans to go to a blues club called Antones, but we had to cancel that at the last minute and everyone was quite disappointed. I’m sure there were panels and other things of great import going on, but you’ll have to check somebody else’s con report for info on that. This is already getting to be a lengthy entry and I promised a long time ago that I would never become one of those people who posts twenty page con reports.