You Didn’t Tell Me There Was Gonna Be a Test

Cover Art (c) 1979 by Tim Hammell

Cover Art (c) 1979 by Tim Hammell

Well, okay, I’m not grading this. I’ve talked before about the magazines that have come and gone, but today I started in on some of my files in preparation for moving, and I’m turning up things even I’d forgotten about. How many of you have heard of a magazine called The Twilight Zone? Maybe a few of you, since the TV show will likely appear in re-runs until the heat death of the universe and there was a well-regarded print magazine (redundant at the time. ALL magazines were print) dedicated to publishing TZ-esque stories. In theory. In reality it published dark fantasy of many types. It was a good magazine, I read it and hoped to write for it one day, but it ended before that happened.

Well, I can get a lot more obscure than that. How about Shayol? No? Perhaps Myrddin? Anyone? Bueller? Prelude to FantasyEldritch Tales? Fantasy Macabre? Fantasy Book? Copper Toadstool? Weirdbook? Maybe a few more on that last, since it’s been recently revived, or at least is going through the process. These were all small press fantasy/sf magazines that existed back when producing a magazine meant printing and distributing a magazine. It was expensive, and most didn’t last any longer than the publisher’s money and enthusiasm. Quality of the package ranged from saddle stapled with typewriter typography to typeset and perfect bound, usually with b/w line illustrations, but sometimes full color.

They’re like little time capsules, many of them. At a time when there weren’t that many outlets for fantasy writers/artists especially, people flocked to magazines like this. Which is why you’ll find names like Charles de Lint, Steve Eng, Tom Reamy, Pat Cadigan, and Brad Foster among the names on the contents pages. Right there along with people you’ve never heard of, and likely never will hear of, but that was the thing—everyone, from publisher to writer, to artist, was participating, creating, strictly for the love of the form, because nobody was making any money.

One or two even had someone named Richard Parks. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that guy. Regardless, I’ve been doing purges because anything I don’t get rid of, I have to move. And that is a hassle. I likely will be tossing a lot of rough drafts and ephemera, but most of these old zines? Yeah, I’m keeping them. There are some things, some ideas and ideals, you just can’t—and shouldn’t—let go of.

Why Yes, I WOULD Cut Off My Nose to Spite My Face, Why Do You Ask?

 Anyone can be a published writer if all you want to do is make ebook versions of your stories/novels and put them up on Kindle/Nook/iBook/Whatever. I’m not slagging on the idea. I’ll grant you, there’s a time I would have, but times change and it’s adapt or die. Now I do it myself when doing so makes sense to me. However, if you still want to sell stories to professional  science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) markets in the traditional way, deciding between Garamond vs Bookman Old Style is no longer your concern. It’s also no longer about whether your stories please you. Before you see print/online publication, you’ve got to please someone else–the editor.

The traditional SF/F short fiction market is a buyer’s market. Always has been and probably always will be. Even with the explosion of online venues, there are more good stories than there are decent homes for them, for varying values of “decent” and, let’s be honest, varying values of “good.” Fortunately there are enough variances in editorial taste that eventually things usually work out. “Eventually” meaning just that–it can take years to place some stories. “Usually” meaning, sigh, not always. But I’m not here to lament this sad fact, merely to state it, to place what follows in context–The Sh*tlist  Continue reading

The Sky is Falling – Not

Or: “Rumors of the short story’s death are greatly exaggerated.” 

It’s obvious to even the casual observer that the print sf/f magazines are holding on by the skin of their metaphorical teeth, but as I’ve pointed out before, that’s been true for a long time. When I was starting out as a wannabee, the Ted White Fantastic Stories was my holy grail, and it probably never had a circulation greater than 20,000. It’s fair to say that the situation is not getting any better. Are the current print magazines tenable long term? Probably not, and I’m not happy about that, but people who should know better constantly confuse the decline of the traditional magazines with the death of short science fiction and fantasy. Which is equating a particular delivery system with the product, to use the cold capitalist designation. Or to put it another way, a lot like saying the death of the stagecoach meant people could no longer travel.

Magazine circulations are declining in general. This is not confined to the fiction magazines. This is across the board. There are a lot of reasons for this: time, competition, distribution…. I’m sure you can think of your own. If you love a magazine that still appears in physical paper form, subscribe. Heck, if there’s an online magazine that deserves support, do your bit there, too; it’s all good. Regardless, the short story form will be around. Maybe book publishers will sponsor them to draw attention to their book lines, as Prime did once and Tor is sort of doing. Maybe they’ll go to NPR fundraising models like Strange Horizons. The point is that venues will remain, and people will write short stories to fill them. For that matter, people will write stories solely to collect them in books, and self-publish if they have to. There may or may not be any money in it, but other than Howard Waldrop, almost no one has made any kind of living off short fiction for half a century or better. Hasn’t slowed things down in the least.

The reason is simple. People tell stories. That’s what we do. And until someone invents a true full-immersion VR (don’t hold your breath) there’s simply no other medium that can do what narrative fiction does: puts you in another time and place. Makes you see through another’s eyes. Lets you see through another’s eyes. Lets you feel, taste, smell the world of the story, experience it in every sense of the word, not simply observe. Reminds you of things you didn’t realize you knew. Tells you things you never knew. We’re a species of storytellers, and story listeners. That’s not going to change. The short story form itself will be around simply because not every story is an epic, but every good story is important in its own way. They’re part of what we are.

Does that sound a little self-satisfied? Arrogant? So be it. I think it’s true. While I may now mourn Realms of Fantasy just as I still mourn Fantastic, Galaxy, SF Age, et too many ceteras, I know the short story will go on. I’m not the least bit worried.

A little more problematic is the notion that only short story writers actually read short stories these days, that there are no actual readers any more. Kinda like poetry. Which to me rings false immediately because I read poetry. Not in any organized or systematic way, but I do it. And I am not now and never will be a poet. Yes, of course short story writers read short stories. It’s part of the job to study a form you’re trying to master, and the writer who did not start out as a reader is a rare bird indeed. Yet even a cursory examination of the premise that there are no readers proves it simply isn’t true. Even a quick informal poll in an online f/sf discussion board showed that writers were at most about %25 of the readership. Granted, that was a self-selected sample, but telling for all that. The readership is and will remain fragmented, simply because there are so many competing mediums, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It many not be enough to sustain short story writers commercially, but this is nothing new.

As someone who loves the short story form I suppose I should get all worked up about its so-called death. I would if I believed it for even a moment, but it just ain’t so. All the rest of it, as the zen Master Yogi Berra once said, is just déjà vu all over again.