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,
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.
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.
Note: We welcome books and announcements. Please give us at least 3 months
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no responsibility for the content, format, contributors' editorial opinions,
or other characteristics of this information which we publish in community interest.
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material that we receive while trying to avoid any role of censorship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.