Lost and Found

Fantastic StoriesContinuing with the purge and pack up, and in the process of cleaning out the closet in the library, I came across an unmarked box. Inside were several things I thought I’d thought gone forever, namely my accumulation (I wouldn’t dignify it as a collection) of digest magazines from the late 1970’s. It was originally much larger, but I’d reluctantly purged it during one lack of space or other. In my faulty memory I thought I’d purged them all. There are several AMAZING STORIES from the period, and even a COVEN 13, but I was especially glad to see the FANTASTIC STORIES from Ted White’s editorship. FANTASTIC was the first fantasy magazine I ever discovered. More to the point, I soon realized that there were such things as writers who sent them stories. I soon became one of them. I never did sell to Ted White, and by the time I sold one to his successor, Elinor Mavor, FANTASTIC had been folded into its sister magazine, AMAZING. Yes, I know. Just a second tier digest back in the days of ANALOG/ASTOUNDING and GALAXY, but there was something about the stories there that appealed to me more.  I still regret that I wasn’t good enough soon enough for FANTASTIC, but I remember what I was shooting for.

No sooner had I turned in the final manuscript of THE WAR GOD’S SON to Paula at Prime than I got an email from Audible.com telling me that the audiobook version is already going into production. I don’t know yet who’s doing the narration, but it should be out at the same time the print and ebook versions are available, still officially set for October. Which should happen on time, since the book is being typeset even as I write this.  Not much longer now, people. If/when there’s a link for pre-orders, I’ll post it here.

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.

Losing My Religion

I’m going to get a little autobiographical here. Consider yourself warned.

I used to haunt the Post Office nearly every day. That is to say, I would check the PO box dedicated to writing correspondence, submissions, etc., every single day, save only holidays. By any reasonable standard, it was obsessive and overkill.  Considering the usual number of stories I had in circulation and the number of available markets, two, three times a week at most would have been plenty. Of course in my head I knew that at the time, but it didn’t stop me. Obsession and I were old friends. I’d often said that, if I didn’t have obsession, I wouldn’t have any discipline at all. It got the words out, the stories written. Now I actually do check the PO box once or twice a week, but of course these days I’ve switched my obsessive focus to email because that’s where the action is. Most submissions and acceptances and rejections, even contracts are arriving by email, and the Post Office lost its…well, I won’t say “luster.” It was the Post Office. It never had luster. Say rather its focus and attraction for me. Gone now. I do not really miss those daily trips to the Post Office.

Book stores, on the other hand…well, here’s where I start to worry a bit. Continue reading