Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"The Moon-Eyed Stud" - by Justin Stanchfield

The seeds for the Moon-Eyed Stud struck me, not surprisingly, on horseback. Actually, a lot of the things I write come to me while riding. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the hooves or creaking leather that lulls the mind off to that place where ideas pile up, waiting to be born. Or maybe it’s simply being outside, away from the clutter and clamor of modern life, that frees the sub-conscious enough to let random thoughts flow into a more coherent form. Or, most likely, being in the saddle is just a good place to daydream.

For the record, I raise cattle for a living. Writing is just another of those bad habits I’ve picked up along the way. Part of my job - the best part, by far - is gathering the cattle in October and bringing them home from the high pastures along the Continental Divide where they summer. The day this story came to me was in the middle of a typical Montana autumn, cold enough in the morning that I wished I had worn a heavier coat, so hot by afternoon that a flannel shirt felt too warm. I was riding with a friend named Ron Russell, one of that dying breed that shows Hollywood cowboys up as the patent forgeries they are, a man who has spent the better part of his life working stock throughout the western states. The cattle we were after, half a dozen stragglers holding out above the snow line, had given a pretty good fight, leading us down some of the steepest, nastiest real estate in Beaverhead County, (Yes, I really do live in a county called Beaverhead) but by the time we reached the river bottom all involved, horses, cattle and humans alike, were thoroughly worn out. We stopped to tie our coats behind our saddles, and Ron pulled a folded bag of tobacco and a packet of cigarette papers from his vest.

“Hang on second,” he said. “I’m going to twist a smoke.”

I must have had a strange look on my face, because he went on to explain that when he was a young man in Wyoming, some of the old timers referred to making cigarettes as ‘twisting a smoke.’ At that moment I was hit by the image of John Garret leaning against the wall of an abandoned livery stable, rolling Bull Durham tobacco with cold fingers in a place he thought of as Hell.

Of course, Garret didn’t have name at point, and the plot was more sketch than portrait, but the basic story was there. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of fate, that we are given certain tasks or lessons to face and if we avoid them in this life they might well hound us into the next. I knew this story would be about a man obsessed with breaking the horse that killed him, a feral stud with a pale blue eye. I also knew it would be about coming to terms with the fact that sometimes the hardest thing in the world is admitting you can’t do it alone. And, I knew it would be about friendship. Beyond that, things were nebulous. Some of the plot fell into place easily, while some of it came harder, much of the story not finished until the day it was accepted. (Thanks, Edmund, for the help with the final revisions!)

And, in the end I suppose, I wanted a chance to write about the afterlife. It’s always intrigued me that Heaven - or Hell - is not just some shining city in the clouds or a lake of fire, but something more personal, something tailored to the individual. I think all of us have wondered at one time or another what, if anything, lies beyond death. And I also think most of us have given at least some thought to their own vision of Heaven. Mine just happens to look like Montana.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

“Beats of Seven” - by Peter Orullian

The genesis of “Beats of Seven” is easy: It was an assignment.

A few years ago, I attended a writing workshop on the Oregon Coast—Lincoln City to be exact. One of the themes of the entire two-week boot camp was: Write fast and get out of your own way. The idea here, is that too many writers allow their critical voice to impede their creative voice, the result being greatly diminished productivity.

To that end, many of our assignments were given late in the day with an early next-morning deadline. Now, what I learned is that most writers can do in the area of 1000 words an hour. So, do the math. In three months, you should be able to write a novel. And that’s if you write just an hour a day, and you’re slow.

Anyway, on this particular short story assignment, I was also asked to do two things: use a sleepy, costal town like Lincoln City as my setting (part of the uber-assignment given to everyone); and work on “voice” (an exercise for me, in particular).

Each of the attending writers scurried out into the town to consider locations, gather details, look for inspiration. I hadn’t needed to do so; I’d seen my setting already.

A music store.

Which was perfect, since it got me to the second part of the story assignment: voice. For me, the easiest way into voice was to go straight to music. I’m a musician, and for those of you who are too, you’ve no need of an explanation here. For the rest of you, I’ll paraphrase by saying it involves things like timbre, phrasing, dynamics, note selection. All of which should be internalized and forgotten before you try to perform; just like studying the craft of writing, internalizing it, then allowing it to come out (subconsciously) through your fingers as you pound the keyboard.

Back to the music store. There is this great place in Lincoln City, right on Highway 1, that captured my imagination. I’d thought to myself on first seeing it: How does a music store thrive in such a small community? In point of fact, the place didn’t appear to be thriving much. Closer investigation led me to wonder if it was still in business at all. But amazingly, it had this whole large, dusty, neglected room of old pianos.

I was in heaven thinking of the possibilities for stories out of this corner of the world.

The other thing I should mention is that I’m taken with odd time signatures in music. It ain’t easy to dance to something written in 7/8 or 11/8, but I don’t dance much anyway.

All these things coalesced for me, as I imagined a sound engineer doing cheesy ocean-wave recordings (you see these in spas and new age shops all the time) because he can’t get another gig and is tired of the over-commercialization (and dilution) of Jazz music—think Kenny G.

Now, I just needed to write it all down.

I rushed to my room, which I simply must tell you about. This workshop on the coast was held in something of a writers warren. My room was about 7x10, and completely lined floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves (packed—no spaces—with books) save the door into the room and a door out the back of the large house.

No windows.

I loved it.

I imagined the worlds that rear door opened upon. That closed portal proved a wonderful leap point for stories as I sat in the dark, huddled over my laptop, typing like mad.

In about 3 hours I’d finished my story; it’s really rather short. But it felt complete, as it had allowed me to get to the heart of a few things. I was happy with the cadence and the character voices, too. Plus, I’d managed to underscore my own feelings about the power of music.

This second thing mostly came to me when I read the story back. And I recalled a conversation I had with David Morrell at World Horror 2000 in Denver years before. He and I spoke about the degree to which most writing is autobiographical in some sense. I can’t recount it all here, but since that conversation, I’ve been interested to look back on my writing (once its complete) and consider it anew.

The last bit of the back-story on “Beats of Seven” goes something like this. One of the writing instructors, Kris Rusch, at the two-week workshop read my story, and wrote simply at the top: Mail this!

I did no such thing, breaking one of Heinlein’s rules of writing—not to mention ignoring the advice of a successful fiction writer.

Then I happened to be interviewing Scott Card at E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) a while back. We got talking about writing, he mentioned his new digital magazine, and I dug up “Beats” and sent it in.

The day before my birthday, I got a note from Edmund expressing interest in the story. Made my day!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

IGMS Issue Four Is Live

Now available: Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, Issue Four, featuring -

"Tabloid Reporter To The Stars" - by Eric James Stone
"Call Me Mr. Positive" - by Tom Barlow
"Wisteria" - by Ada Milenkovic Brown
"Beats Of Seven" - By Peter Orullian
"Moon-Eyed Stud" - by Justin Stanchfield
"Miniature" - by Peter Friend
"Approaching Zero" - by Kelly Parks
new YA stories by David Lubar
and, as always, a new Ender's Universe Story (in progress)


Next post here: more Stories Behind The Stories - Essays by authors in this issue about their story.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

From The POV Of An Elephant

After all the hullabaloo over my friend's blog entry about reading submissions last week, it gives me immense pleasure to tell you that the story written partially from the POV of an elephant (the whole story isn't written that way) is going to appear in issue six of IGMS. Apparently the reader read the entire story, judged it on its merits, and liked it enough to pass along to me. I agreed that it was an excellent story and am going to publish it. It's actually a very touching story.

So you see, it's possible to find humor in a concept and still be professional enough to judge a story on its merits.

I love a happy ending.

(And before anyone reads too much into that last statement, I also consider and publish stories that don't have happy endings, so don't get hung up on that... ;-) )

Friday, February 16, 2007

Give Me The Klingons and Stormtroopers

I spent yesterday at a Women's Business Symposium and Luncheon sponsored by the other magazine I edit, NCCNM. It was a tremendously successful event, with our keynote luncheon speaker being North Carolina’s Lt. Governor, Beverly Perdue, who was wonderful. But I have to tell you, as much as some guys may think that the idea of spending the day with 200+ women sounds like fun, let me tell you it was a lot of work and definitely one of the... I don't know how to put it... one of the most "interesting" days I've spent in quite some time. I have more women friends than men friends and frankly I usually feel more comfortable talking with women. But that many of them?

Women are not treated the way they should be by far too many segments of our society. There’s no question about that. My wife was once offered a job at $12,000 dollars less than any man in the company doing the same job was making, so I've seen the inequities first hand. And as the father of two daughters, that causes me no small degree of concern.

But try being one of three men in a ballroom full of speakers using terms like "sheroes" instead of "heroes" and saying "you go, girl" and "my sisters" every five minutes. I felt like a puppy in a room full of alley cats and the best thing I could do was keep my back to the wall. Whooo-boy, what a day.

If you've ever been to a science fiction convention, you know there are some odd sights to be seen. People dress up in some pretty outrageous costumes, and say and do some pretty strange things. But you know what? After yesterday, I'll take the Klingons and stormtroopers every time...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Viewpoints Sought

My decision on Feb. 12 to repost a friend’s blog entry has raised some interesting points, as well as a few hackles. But it also has raised my curiosity, so I’m going to take a chance by bringing the conversation up here again.

First and foremost, for the official record let me start by saying that I'm truly sorry that anyone was offended by the post in question, because clearly some people were. I try to be very careful about what I say and do as editor of IGMS, and mocking people would be wrong. If I thought for a minute that anyone would have taken it that way I would never have allowed it to go up in the first place. Anyone who writes a story - good or bad - puts their heart and soul into it, and I know and respect that. And it's imprtant that you know that about me.

The thing that I don't understand – and this is where I’ll happily open the floor to anyone who has a reasonable comment on this subject - is HOW saying that there were a lot of clone stories could be construed as mocking. How the factual statement that there was a story written from the point of view of an elephant is mocking. Yes, we laughed at the concept. It's a funny concept. But does it say anywhere in the blog that we rejected it because of that? No. If you can write a great story from the POV of an elephant, God bless you. If you can write a serous, poignant story from the POV of an elephant, that’s an even more impressive accomplishment. But it's still a funny concept.

And that, in my opinon, is the cux of the matter. Publicly laughing at concepts vs. publicly laughing at people. The latter is wrong and I don't think anyone would agrue in favor of it. But what about the former? At what point do we become so afraid of everyone and everything that there's no one left but a fve year old child to point out that the emporer is, indeed, naked?

Let me just conclude by saying that I am genuinely interested to hear your opinions. Do you think that public statements of this kind crosses a line, or do you see it as a humorous and potentially helpful insight into the editorial process (which is largely what I’m seeking to present with this blog).

There are no right or wrong answers; I just want to know what you think. Anyone who has thoughts on this is invited to sound off, and you’re welcome to do so anonymously if you feel more comfortable that way. The only thing I’ll require is that you keep it civil, and that you keep it about the issue, not any individual’s stance on that issue. (And no, if you have a story submitted here, a negative response is not going to count against you -- any more than a positive one is going to help get you published.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Story Reading & Borrowed Blogs

The following comes from the blog of a writer/editor friend of mine (she is, among other things, assistant editor for NCCNM, aka "that darn busniness magazine"). Her name is Dena Harris (http://blogsbydenaharris.squarespace.com/), and I recruited her to help me knock the IGMS submission pile down to a more manageable size. She is much a funnier writer than I'll ever be, which is but one of many reasons why I hate her. Every word she wrote about yesterday's adventures is true, except fr the sentence about "S'djme" which is made up to make a point.

A Writerly Afternoon by Dena Harris

I spent Sunday afternoon feeling very literary. A friend of mine who is the editor for an online Science Fiction/Fantasy magazine invited 6 writer friends to join him for an afternoon of reading and evaluating short story submissions to the magazine. (He's relatively new to the position and the magazine has a backlog of submissions--some writers have been waiting for over a year to hear a "yes" or "no" on whether their story has been accepted.) So he filled a room with pizza, beer, wine, lemonade, and dessert and we plopped ourselves around a table and read for 5 hours.

It was challenging as this was not slush-pile reading. (Slush pile reading is the first go through of the huge pile of collected manuscripts. It's called such because it's easy the first go around to eliminate a bunch of crap--or slush--based on little more than reading the first page, first paragraph, or for the really bad writers, the first sentence.) The stories we read yesterday had already made it through an assistant editor's hands so all of them had merit. The challenge was to separate the very good from just the good.

For the first hour or so the room was quite as we worked through the manuscripts, marking an "X" across ones we didn't feel measured up and assigning a value of 1-10 for the ones we thought should make it to the next round. After a while though, patterns started to emerge, and we couldn't help but giggle.

"Oh my God, this is my third clone story," exclaimed one reader (Mark Rainey, who edited the horror magazine DeathRealms for 10 years). "What's with all the clones?"

"This person just spent 3 paragraphs describing the color purple," said another. "Really, let it go and move on."

More silence. Someone made a funny noise and we all looked up. The reader looked at us. "This one is written from the point-of-view of an elephant," she said. We all agreed that should be an automatic go-through. (Kidding.)

Then there were the sentences we read aloud to amuse each other. A hazard of Sci-Fi or Fantasy writing is writers get carried away with unpronounceable character names and places. Inserting an apostrophe in place of vowels in a name is one favorite trick, such as "S'djme." As a writer in our group said, "They think anything with an apostrophe and a vaguly sounding Celtic name is going to get them thr0ugh." So there would be sentences that read, "S'djme rode the Vrturn, descendents of the noble Miturian Roskslors toward Ti-quothis, clutching the Namr'iste Alqutian in his fist." Huh?

My friend the editor grabbed a fresh story from the box, read a sentence and tossed it in the discard pile. "It was written in present tense," he explained and we all laughed.

I had a hard time with it. Out of the 12 or so stories I read yesterday, there were maybe 3-4 that were a clear "no" for me. I liked all the others and had a difficult time choosing. It came down to who had the best package. One story I liked quite a lot had a weak opening and horrible ending--but the middle was quite intriguing so I considered saving it. But in the end it would take so much editing to get it to work it probably wasn't worth the time. A lot of us felt like one woman in the group who placed a manuscript in the "no" box with a sigh and the comment, "I so wanted it to be good."

At the same time, out of all the stories I read, there was only 1 for me that stood out as an absolute, "YES! This one must go in!"

Even though there wasn't much talking during the day, it was fun to just be around writers and their energy for the afternoon. I need to do more of that. I've become a bit bored lately with writing and have been thinking I need to attend some conferences or workshops or just reinvolve myself with writers communities to stir up some energy.

Meanwhile, kudos to the writers who made it to the next round and for those who didn't, take heart. We still really liked your stories.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Got a copy of Asimov's today (March 2007 issue), which has a brief write up about IGMS in James Patrick Kelley's column, "On The Net." It's just a cursory look, but it's nice to finally start getting noticed. The one thing I wish he had mentioned was that IGMS pays six cents a word for the stories we buy, so that puts us right up there with the other major markets. Kind of like the quality of the stories we publish...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I was planning on coming back in here after my “Acceptance Letter” entry to post something (intended as) humorous, something along the lines of: “What do you mean that acceptance letter was discouraging? Why in the world would I try to discourage thousands of people from flooding IGMS with stories every year?” Etc. etc. Why, indeed.

But as I was re-reading Ray Bradbury’s essay (collected in the book by the same title), “Zen and The Art of Writing,” I was really struck with what Bradbury had to say. I agreed with him so wholeheartedly that I had to post part of it (very slightly trimmed down) here. Ignore my previous weak attempt at humor and heed a master:

“You have been working, haven’t you?

What kind of schedule?

You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you become comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done.

For I believe that that eventually quantity will make for quality.

How so?

Michelangelo’s, da Vinci’s, Tintoretto’s billion sketches, the quantitative, prepared them for the qualitative, single sketches further down the line, single portraits of incredible control and beauty.

A great surgeon dissects and re-dissects a thousand, ten-thousand bodies, tissues, organs, preparing thus by quantity for the time when quality will count – with a living creature under his knife.

An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards.

Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come.

Is the writer different? I think not.

Nothing fails then. All goes on. Work is done. If good, you learn from it. If bad, you learn even more. Work done and behind you is a lesson to be studied. There is no failure unless one stops.”

Let me repeat that. “There is no failure,” Bradbury says, “unless one stops.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Acceptance Letter

After my new rejection letter (posted here a week or two ago) I got a number of comments saying that while there are thousands of rejection letters going out, only a small handful of writers see acceptances, so it might be nice to share that letter, too. Fair enough. If you ever sell a story to IGMS, here's what you can expect:

Dear Exalted Author,

How can I thank you? How can I ever properly thank you for lifting my soul from the depths of the slush pile to such glorious heights as you did with your heart-wrenching yet insightful tale. It is art of the highest order and it is my pleasure to offer you this publishing contract.

As you review this contract, please note that clause 1.b does require world-wide and first North American print and electronic rights to your left arm, your second-born child, and your best friend from high school. Clause 6.a, refering to your "voluntary" contribution to my daughter's college fund, is set up in such a way that you can make six equal payments over the course of the next two years. However, if you miss a payment, interest and penalties will be back-calculated to your year of birth. And no, clause 7.c is not negotiable. Don't ask; just go to your grandmother's house and do it.

Thank you again for lifting my soul. I can not tell you how much I look forward to your next submission.

Editor Ed

P.S. Tune in next time for my new letter to subscribers whose subscriptions have lapsed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Don't Bother Me, I'm Reading

Stories, stories, stories. They just keep rolling in. How to pick the twenty-eight I can actually buy and publish each year - that's the challenge. And our esteemed publisher, Mr. Card, tosses a story or two into the mix, too. Issue three of IGMS had an "Orson Picks," as will issue five. These are stories that through one means or another (usually OSC's Literary Boot Camp) end up in Uncle Orson's hands and he decides to publish them. Only one or two a year, but now I'm down to twenty-six stories to pick. From literally thousands. This should be easy, shouldn't it? All I can say is ojala, which a Spanish word my wife taught me years ago. It means, "Oh God, if only..."

However, seven of those stories are about to make their way to center stage. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the next issue of IGMS is going to be released in February. I expect it will be around the 19th, so there are still a few weeks to go, but I promise it will be worth the wait. These stories are just that - stories. No literary drivel that serves no purpose, but tales that are about something. Tales that will make you feel something, yet at the same time are just plain fun to read. Tales about characters who actually do something. And our authors have once again graciously provided a backstage peek into their creative process, so we'll also have more "Stories Behind The Stories" here on this blog again.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited. It's like Christmas, and Santa's bringing me stories.

(You'd think by now I'd have had my fill of stories, wouldn't you? I guess not.)