Gardner Dozois 1947-2018

As many of you may or may not know, the writer, editor, and reviewer Gardner Dozois passed away yesterday (May 27th). Of course, anyone involved at all in the field of Science Fiction knows that he was a lot more than that. He was the center. If the field had a heart, he would have been it. People who were closer to him personally will have to talk about Gardner Dozois the man. I can only speak to his effect on me.

I actually “met” Gardner online back in the early 1990’s, in the relatively early days of what was almost but not quite the internet. Before FB and Reddit there was Genie and Delphi, “bulletin board” sites where you logged in through an analog modem to argue and chat with friends. A lot of the sf/f field hung out on Genie, but on one night a week a smaller, very lucky group came together on the sf/f board on Delphi. Membership varied, but at one time or another there was Janet Kagan, Pat Cadigan, Lawrence Person, Jack L. Chalker, Eva Whitley, Mike Resnick, Susan Casper and yes, Gardner Dozois. And me. I wasn’t the only nobody there, of course, but on the other hand there weren’t any nobodies there. It was a friendly group and everyone felt welcome. I certainly did. At the time I had only sold one story, several years earlier, to Amazing SF, and while I was still working hard, I was beginning to think that was it. And even though talking business was generally frowned on, it was there that Gardner broke the news that he was taking a story of mine, “Laying the Stones,” for Asimov’s SF. Now imagine yourself drowning, not for a minute or two but for months, years, and somebody finally throws you a lifeline.

For me, that somebody was Gardner Dozois.

It was the same for a lot of other people who Gardner plucked from the slush pile and helped make their starts. He was unfailingly enthusiastic and generous as an editor. Not in the sense that he would take a second-rate story, of course—he was picky. It was more that he loved the field and it showed, and you knew when he chose a story from you it was because he enjoyed it, and believed his readers would too. He made you want to be a better writer, just to know you passed that test and belonged in that place you wanted to be.

I don’t pretend to know what, if anything, happens when our time on earth is up. I have my beliefs, as I’m sure you have yours. I still think of Susan and Janet and Jack and now Gardner holding court and swapping stories and wit for as long as it suits them.

Zen and the Art of Beating Your Head Against the Wall – Once More, With Rejections

I want to talk about rejections for a minute. Yes, no one likes them, but as the Corleones would say, “It’s nothing personal. Just business.” For the most part that’s actually true, though this being the small and feud-oriented family field that it is, it’s not always true, but close enough for the sake of this discussion.

The idea that it’s “not personal” flies in the face of the idea of the “personal” rejection, the one step up from the universally hated “form” rejection. A personal rejection is often interpreted to mean that you’re making progress. Often true, especially when you’re just starting out. Say you’ve gotten ten form rejects in a row from the same editor, but the eleventh gets a “try again” scribble(okay, these days maybe it’s a personal note tacked onto the end of a form macro, but the point stands), and the fourteenth gets an actual note explaining why the editor isn’t buying this one, but also (as before) try again. As Mike Resnick often says, the key word in “personal rejection” is not “personal,” and he’s right. “No” is still not a “yes.” Even so, personal rejections, while considerably short of a sale, are often rightly seen as encouraging signs.

Yet what I’m going to talk about is an exception to that rule. A case where the quite understandable response to a personal rejection would be to never, ever, bother to send that editor another story or novel so long as you both shall live. I’m not talking about the unprofessional, insulting rejection; so long as you’re dealing with people who conduct themselves professionally, those are rare, and why would you deal with anyone else? No, what I’m talking about is far more common type of personal rejection. I’ve gotten a few, and they never fail to send me into a funk of annoyance and regret.

It’s simply this: a rejection that shows beyond question that the aspects of your work that make it unique to you, plays to your strengths and interests, and that may even make your work worth doing to you, to go through the agony and sweat to get the story down in the first place, are the very aspects that the editor finds objectionable. In short, the editor clearly doesn’t “get” you. But there’s a catch to it, and one rejection like that doesn’t tell the story. You have to subject yourself to multiple instances of the same sort of cluelessness before you’re justified in writing off the market completely.

I can hear it now–“I do? What do you think I am, some kind of masochist?” Continue reading

Rejectomancy for Fun and Profit

 Ok, I lied. There’s no fun in it and certainly no profit, at least directly. What there is, perhaps, is the chance to avoid wasting time, and depending on the market, money.

I know I’ve touched on this before. Heck, everybody has put their oar in on the fine art of Rejectomancy. The consensus is “Complete waste of time, typical amateur mistake of trying to read things into a rejection that simply aren’t there.” Or as Mike Resnick likes to say: “The key word in ‘personal rejection’ is not ‘personal.'” He’ll have no argument from me here–a rejection means “no” and that’s all it means.

So. A rejection means “no.” We all agree on that, yes? However, what it means is not all that it says, and what it says is not always merely a variation on “no.” Sometimes it’s a “tell.” Continue reading