Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shameless Plug

Indulge me a moment while I enjoy being a writer instead of an editor.

The month of July saw the publication of two anthologies with short stories of mine. The first is the anthology "Crypto-Critters II," a cryptozoology-themed antho published by Padwolf, which has my story "Lair of The Ice Rat." "Lair" is about a group of prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag in the 1930's only to find unexpected perils in the frozen tundra.


Also out this month is the anthology "From The Asylum: Year 3," which reprints my story "About Time." "About Time" is a tongue-in-cheek time travel yarn (a flash-fiction piece) originally published on the "From The Asylum" website back in October of 2005. The antho is available (among other places) here:


Friday, July 27, 2007

“Rumspringa” - By Jason Sanford

By Jason Sanford
I began writing "Rumspringa" after a visit to Holmes County, Ohio,
 which contains the largest concentration of Amish settlements in the world
 and is only a short drive from where I live. While there, I realized
 how many misconceptions we English-what the Amish call outsiders to their
 order-have about Amish society. I also began wondering what Amish
 society would be like in the future. Hence the story.
There are a number of stereotypes and misconceptions about the Amish in
 the popular imagination. First, the Amish do not consider technology
 evil, as many people think. Instead, certain types of technology are
 seen as harming the Amish separation from the world, a separation the
 Amish base on Biblical teachings. Certain technology is also seen as
 promoting vanity and causing dissension within the Amish community. Anyone
 who has ever watched their children pick TV over playing outside on a
 beautiful summer day can easily appreciate the Amish worldview on all
There are also different groups of Amish, each with different beliefs
 about how much technology to accept into their lives. When most people
 think of the Amish, the picture in their mind is of the Old Order Amish.
 This group shuns most modern technology, wears the "traditional" Amish
 dress, drives the traditional horse-pulled buggies, and so on.
 However, other Amish groups exist, including the New Order Amish, the Beachy
 Amish, and others, all of whom follow different Ordnung or rules of
 living. For example, the New Order Amish allow the use of electricity and
 mechanical tractors. Some Amish groups are also receptive to solar power
 arrays and kerosene-powered refrigerators. The Mennonites, who are not
 Amish but are descended from the same Anabaptist tradition, follow a
 similar pattern. Their most conservative groups prohibit a vast amount
 of modern technology, while their more liberal groups have no special
 dress requirements and little or no restrictions on technology use.
An interesting fact about the Amish is that they are one of the
 fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States (although most Amish would
 claim they are not an ethnic group, but a religious order). The Amish
 are known for settling new lands both within the United States and
 around the world-lands which are opening up as more and more English abandon
 farmlands for large cities and suburbs.
Many people today see the Amish as an antiquated group, doomed to
 disappear in the relentless pace of technological progress. I would argue
 that the exact opposite will happen. As technology pushes more and more
 of us English into lifestyles which are more and more removed from the
 land, groups like the Amish will fill that void. And like they have done
 in centuries past, the Amish will continue to adapt and thrive in the
 years to come.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Original Audrey" - by Tammy Brown

"Original Audrey" - by Tammy Brown

I was at OSC’s original Literary Boot Camp in 2000, and I was desperate for a story idea. To get into the class in the first place, I had submitted the first page to a story that I had never finished. Actually, I had never finished a story before.

I had some story ideas floating around in my head, but I didn’t have any idea as to how I could possibly write an entire story in a few days. Then, late one night, when I was trying to write a story that involved cloning, my mind started wandering. What if cloning really were possible? Would people clone their dead family members, themselves, who? It was at that point that I ran into a news story of the paparazzi going too far, and suddenly I knew what would happen.

The next step was to figure out who they would clone. It would be happening in the future, so it had to be someone with huge star power. Then the first line of the story, “Elvis Presley watched Audrey Hepburn eat her breakfast in front of the Tiffany’s window in the Caesar’s Palace Mall.” came into my head, and the rest wrote itself… almost.

Remember how I said that I had never finished a story before? It turned out I didn’t know how to, not effectively anyway. I worked at it most of the night, and finally, sleep deprived, I slapped on a very generic happy ending and turned the story in for critique.

The story received very high praise from almost everyone in the class, including OSC. At one point, he even guaranteed that with some small revisions it would one day be published, thus inflating my fragile writer’s ego for all time.

After boot camp, I immediately sent the story into F&SF, and it was almost as immediately rejected. The truth was that even though most people who read my story liked it well enough, it was ultimately unsatisfying. The slapped on ending didn’t provide any resolution or closure. I knew it, but I couldn’t seem to fix it.

Over the years since then, every time my writing skills would improve, I’d pull out the story and try a new ending. Each time, it got closer to what I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t quite there. Finally, after IGMS was announced, I dusted it off one more time and sent it in. Quite a while later, I got a response from Edmund saying that he liked the story, up until about page 14 and that the ending “felt like you had simply gotten tired of writing and thrown them together for the proverbial happy ending without any clues as to how either of them changed, grew, and developed into their new, true selves. It was rushed and incomplete.” Yikes! Yet, he also said that if I could fix these problems, he would consider including me in a future issue of IGMS.

He had called me on the carpet, and he was right. At the end of the story, even I as the writer, wasn’t sure about this couple. Had either of them changed? What would their future hold? If as the author, I didn’t know, how could I expect the reader to understand? So I sat down and gave myself an ultimatum, find the climax, find the resolution, or else. By now, I knew Audrey and Elvis like two intimate friends. I knew that Audrey need to break down her perfect fa├žade, and that Elvis needed to be the person who did it. Then, as my mind began wandering, I saw Audrey, losing control in a dish of ice cream. I saw her face covered with tears and whipped topping and I saw Elvis, falling in love, for good.

The moral of the story? I should let my mind wander more often. That‘s when my ideas seem to come. In fact, while writing this essay, my mind started wandering again. I’ve started thinking about Audrey, and Elvis’s future. And you know what? I don’t think their story is over. In fact, I can guarantee that there are many adventures in store for them yet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

IGMS Now An SFWA Pro Market

I am very happy to announce that IGMS is now a SFWA Qualified Professional Market, and that all sales - retroactive to the very first issue - now count toward those authors' SFWA membership requirements.

A ton of credit has to go to Orson Scott Card for agreeing to remove the $500 cap and approving a new pay rate of 6 cents a word for the first 7,500 words and 5 cents a word for every word thereafter. IGMS already met all the other SFWA requirements and that was the last hurdle to be cleared.

Of course, I'll now have to be doubly selective of those stories I buy over the 10,000 word mark, but I don't see that being a major issue. I've only bought two so far.

Congratulations to everyone already (or soon to be) published in IGMS: you've now got one more SFWA pro sale to your credit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"When I Wrote the Learned Astronomer" by Jamie Todd Rubin

"When I Wrote the Learned Astronomer"

When I wrote The Learned Astronomer, I never thought I would work so hard, take so long, and end up with a sale. Up until the moment I started to write the story, my biggest literary success had been a glowing rejection letter from A.J. Budrys for a story about a reincarnated Jorge Luis Borges. It was also, perhaps, my biggest failure. Up to that point, the hardest I worked was scrubbing burned lasagna noodles of the sides of cooking pans in the dorm cafeteria. This made me think twice about becoming a student again, or working in any other profession that involved lasagna noodles (including chef), and which resulted in me concentrating on my far simple vocation at the time: software development.

Tracing back the events that led to my accidental story and sale, it boggles my mind to think that it might never have happened if I had not been listening to that particular program on that particular day. And to think that it all started with that title. Well, not quite...


It all started with a poem.

Sometime in 1995, I was driving into work through Topanga Canyon, listening to KNX-1070 news radio and trying to come up with an idea for a story. Winding my way around the canyon curves, Charles Osgood's, "The Osgood File" segment came on the radio. I've always liked Charles Osgood, but this segment was a particularly good one. He was talking about astronomy and humanity's fascination with the universe, something that I had been interested in since I was a little boy. At the end of the segment he quoted, in its entirety, Walt Whitman's famous poem, "When I Heard the Learned Astronomer". I had never heard this poem before, and while I am not the biggest fan of free-form verse, I absolutely loved the poem and the sentiment behind it. I thought to myself: a poem about an astronomer? There has to be a story in there somewhere?

I wracked my brain, only half paying attention to the canyon roads. But no ideas were coming. Then I tried a trick. I decided to run through permutations of the title and see if that would jar anything loose. I tried two or three silly versions, and then just as the Pacific Ocean came into view, I landed on "When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer." I just loved the sound of it. But it had something more: it had outer space, it had romance, it was perfect!

But I had no story, just a title.


I am a huge Isaac Asimov fan, and back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I felt that I could write just as effortlessly as he could. This is embarrassing to admit now, as you might imagine, but it is nevertheless true. And write effortlessly I could. But no matter how effortlessly I wrote, I simply couldn't put a story together. Over the space of three years, between 1995 and 1998, I must have made half a dozen "effortless" starts on "Learned Astronomer" each one worse than the one that preceded it. My best effort came sometime in 1999 when, sitting out on the porch, I took my laptop outside and hammered out 10 pages of what I thought was really funny material, but which still had no story to it, and which, in hindsight, was really pretty terrible stuff.

At the same time, I was trying to write another story that I was calling "A Ship That Passes Through the Night". I started to write this story after I read a Robert Zubrin science essay in the August 1994 issue of ANALOG called "How To Find A Starship". The essay talked about the science behind detecting an alien starship (and the descriptions of that science in "Learned Astronomer" owe a debt to this essay). The story I was attempting to write contemporaneously with "Learned Astronomer" was about an astronomer who detects an alien spaceship, and has what is essentially, concrete proof of its existence, and yet the ship is so far away from earth, traveling between two distant stars that there is never any chance of catching up to it. I was fascinated by the idea of discovering the existence of aliens, but never being able to communicate with them in any way. So I worked on "A Ship That Passes Through the Night" and that story went even worse than "Learned Astronomer".


Beginning about 1998 or 1999, I got very busy at work. It was the Dot Com boom and it was an exciting time in the software industry. I put in longer hours and focused more and more on my work, winning a series of promotions but bringing my writing to a virtual stop. Only once or twice a year would I fire up the word processor for something other than writing a Requirements Document or Statement of Work. I did write a few stories, and continued to send them out. And I began to notice that my stories were getting better and better. But nothing happened with "Learned Astronomer" or "Through the Night".


Fast-forward to April 5, 2004. I had been through a period where I was attempting to write darker stories, which was pretty unusual for me. I'd written three stories in a row, all of which had a darkness to them. I sent out the stories to various magazines and I was getting better feedback on the stories, which means that my rejection slips were no longer form letters. Instead, they started saying things like, "Nice writing, but..." I felt like I was improving but I was also sick of writing dark stories. I wanted to write something cheerful for a change.

I was never a huge fan of Robert Heinlein. That is to say, I haven't read every one of his books. I've read, perhaps 10 of his books, and the only ones that I really like are the older ones, like Double Star or The Puppet Masters or The Door Into Summer or Podkayne of Mars. What I did like about Heinlein's stories was the optimistic tone that he captured. As an exercise--a kind of challenge to myself--I decided to try to write a story that captured a Heinleinesque tone. But I had no ideas.

Then, on April 5, 2004, I remembered "Learned Astronomer" and "A Ship That Passes Through the Night". And I had a thought: what if I combined the two stories into one somehow? The notions I had for "Learned Astronomer" were images of romping across the moon for some reason or another. Clearly, there would be an astronomer involved. And, of course, an astronomer played a key role in "Through the Night". Maybe I could make it work. But there was still one problem. All along, with "Learned Astronomer", I was having trouble telling the story. Maybe it was because I wasn't sure what story I wanted to tell, but I happened to remember two pieces of advice that Isaac Asimov had said helped him in his own writing:

First, he said that John Campbell told him that if you are having a problem starting a story, you are almost always starting it too early. Pick a point later in the story and start there.

Second, know your ending. Think up a problem and a solution, and then make up the rest, but always working toward your resolution.

With those two pieces of advice in mind, I began to combine the two stories together. In my diary for that day, I noted that I wrote 8 pages. By April 8 I had 5,000 words written and I was hoping that the story would be finished soon. I was very happy with what I was writing. I finished the first draft on April 16. After struggling for nearly 10 years with the idea, I had written the entire story in just about 10 days.

Over the next few years, I sent the story to various magazines. It was rejected here and there, but always with favorable comments and suggestions for improvements. I tried to learn from those comments and each time, I'd take the suggestion and try to make the story better and then send it somewhere else. By the time I sent it to IGMS in 2006, I felt the story was just about as good as I could make it.

But it managed to get a little bit better.


When Edmund Schubert, editor of IGMS, got in touch with me about the story, he told me he liked it but there were parts of it that didn't work for him. He was then kind enough to take the time to point out what he thought were the flaws in the story--things which were inconsistent or made the story hard to believe. You couldn't ask for a gentler critique of a story, and you couldn’t ask for a more perceptive one either. In each case, I felt that Edmund was right. He asked me for some rewrites and I agreed to do them.

I then sweated more than I have ever sweated in my life over a piece of writing. Now I was writing for an Editor and I didn't want to let him down. I made the revisions over a period of two days and then got them back to Edmund. A short time later, he told me that the revisions were good and he would be taking the story. I had made my first sale!

Up until that point, I had three things on my List of Things I Must Do Before I Die. Number three was to get my pilots license, which I had done back in 2000. Number two was to fly in space and while it hasn't happened, I'm still hopeful. Number one was to sell a science fiction story. And while I think I had a pretty good story to begin with, it was with Edmund's help that I was able to push it over the top, and for that I will be forever grateful.


My favorite part of the story is the ending. I knew how it was going to end, with both Danny and Audrey parting ways, but of course, I didn't know exactly how that would all fall into place. As I was writing the end of the story, I recalled the Walt Whitman poem once more (which I had committed to memory almost as soon as I heard it back on that day in 1995) and realized that the ending was right there. Audrey had left for the outer solar system and she was "out among the stars". Danny stood in his back yard looking for her. He "looked up in perfect silence at the stars". Those familiar with the Walt Whitman poem know that is the final line of the verse. In a way, the story became a tribute to that poem and what it represents.

In another way, the story is a tribute to my grandfather, Paul Friedlander. Most of my friends who have read the story suspected that Danny, goofy as he seemed, was a thinly masked representation of me, goofy as I am. But that was not the case. When writing the story, I tried writing Danny to be what I thought what my Grandpa might have been like when he was Danny's age. My Grandpa passed away in November 2004, but not before he had a chance to read and enjoy this story.


When I wrote The Learned Astronomer, I never thought I would work so hard, take so long, and end up with a sale, but as Danny says, it's the things you don't expect that make life interesting. Writing this story was a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Writer Profile Project

Kelly Spitzer has been working for most of the year on something she calls the Writer Profile Project. She interviews all sorts of writers and editors and she interviewed me recently. The results can be found here:



Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Under Janey's Garden" - by Margit Schmitt

"Under Janey's Garden"

By Margit Schmitt

I wrote "Under Janey's Garden" in the summer of 2006 while taking part in Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp (Providing devastatingly-accurate, always friendly critiques of your fiction -- with doughnuts). The assignment was to fill out five different note cards with story ideas from an assortment of sources, and after having chatted up the locals and admired the beautiful countryside, I was in the library, hoping to see something there that would spark enough creativity to fill out that last card. I found it in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

“The Hare’s Bride” was not a story I’d read before. But it sparked an idea that tangled itself with everything I knew or had read about rabbits, weddings and brides, including a movie I’d once seen about Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) called Dreamchild. The result was “Janey’s Garden.”

I think of the people in Boot Camp, only one liked my story right off, and she happened to be a fan of the pastoral style. Almost everyone else groaned and wrote things like “Is this for kids?” and “This is going to be precious!” in the margins. But thankfully, my readers discovered it wasn’t a fluffy bunny story after all.

I am a huge fan of gardens but I don’t have a green thumb. While I can admire the look and smell of a garden, I haven’t the first notion of how to go about encouraging one to actually thrive. If the landlord didn’t come and water my lawn on a regular basis, I’d be living in a dust bowl. But “Janey’s Garden” is the one I would grow if I could, full of flowers and vegetables and trees. A lazy, welcoming place for sunny afternoons – though my ideal would be without matrimonially-minded rabbits.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Beauty's Folly" - by Eugie Foster

"Beauty's Folly"

By Eugie Foster

I've always loved fairy tales, starting from when I was a little girl. They continue to inspire me with their resonant themes and archetypes, and "Beauty and the Beast" is one of my favorites. It's such an elegant little tale, juxtaposing layers of stark contrastthe beautiful and the grotesque, savagery and civilization, sacrifice and selfishness, tenderness and brutalityto tell a sweet, coming-of-age story.

I also find Beauty to be an easy character to empathize with and admire. She's strong as well as beautiful, the embodiment of love and sacrificetwo potent themes that appear throughout the fairy tale. Gutsy and headstrong, she isn't the sort of heroine that just naps in her glass coffin or languishes in her tower, waiting for the prince to come and rescue her. On the contrary, she's prepared to give her life to protect those she loves, a young woman who dictates her own fate rather than consenting to the role of passive princess. And also, she possesses uncommon intelligence and depth, capable of seeing beyond surface appearances and transcending societal mores. How can someone not root for her?

There's also room for some interesting examination of Freudian symbolism*. Seen through the lens of Freud/Jung's Electra complex, the Beast is a metaphor for Beauty's burgeoning sexuality as she matures from a girl into a young woman. Beauty, in cleaving to her father with a little girl's devotion, sees all other men as beastly. It's only through growing up, by learning to love the Beast, and perhaps comprehending the human flaws and shortcomings of her father, that she triggers the Beast's metamorphoses into a prince, freeing them both.

Or not. It's also a romantic happily-ever-after, which I'm a total sucker for.

So I've been hankering to write a contemporary "Beauty and the Beast" story, but while it's been mulling as a free floating aspiration, I kept putting it off. I wanted to make it more than a rehash of the fairy tale; I wanted it to reflect updated themes and modern issues. Yet at the same time, I didn't want to sacrifice the integral charm and magic of the fairy tale to the gritty realism that often comes with current settings and issues.

I was doing research for another story, reading up on the plight of the homeless in America, and saw that the figures are now indicating that an estimated one-third of the homeless population suffers from untreated, severe, and persistent psychiatric illnessesmost of whom end up stigmatized and victimized, their plight misunderstood and overlooked by mainstream society who view them as distasteful and/or threatening. Then I got a note from Steve Berman asking if I had the time to write a re-told fairy tale for an anthology project he was pitching to Mirrorstone Books, the YA imprint of Wizards of the Coast/TSR.

With fairy tales at my forebrain and homelessness and mental illness at the back, my inner psychologist and my muse had a powwow. A person having to overcome preconceived notions of the impoverished and homeless brought to mind Beauty's circumstances after her family's dramatic turn in fortunes. What would a rich socialite have to confront in those circumstances? And what would a young woman able to overcome the tenets of her privileged upbringing be like? And what about one who would strike up a conversation with a panhandler in an alley rather than ignore or avoid him? And there I had my Beauty/Annabel. In keeping with the mental health theme, the Beast/Eloy became a gentle sociopath, and his "castle" transformed into a sort of a magical psychiatric ward. And I was off.

As it turns out, I ended up writing a different story for Steve's anthology, Magic in the Mirrorstone (slated for a Feb. 2008 release), but I owe him major snaps for sparking the idea for "Beauty's Folly."

*Disclaimer: I'm not a proponent of Freud's theories!