I have a lot of family, friends and aquaintences who teach. This blog post, from Jim Van Pelt (SF and Horror author, high school teacher) is exceptional.

A New Buckeye Trail Adventure

Recently I was elected to the board of trustees of the Buckeye Trail Association.  This was not something that I was actively seeking.

I feel that I owe something to the BTA.  When my doctor told me that exercise would help with my arthritis, I decided to hike, mostly because of my lifelong love of the woods.  So I joined the BTA mainly because I wanted to get the discounted prices for their trail maps.  When my arthritis specialist told me that hiking was okay, but that if I wanted to have any quality of life in my golden years, that I needed to exercise my arthritic spine.  He prescribed manual labor.  I can think of no better form of manual labor than building hiking trail.  Wielding fire rakes to clear the forest litter and hack through greenbrier (shudder); swinging mattocks and pulaskis to dig out saplings and to bench trails; and bending over to hand move rocks and logs and whatever else needs moving is manual labor in its basic form.  And it worked.  My back got into the best shape that it had been in for a very long time.

But more than the beauty one sees when hiking or the benefit one gets from strenuous exercise is the community of people that claim the BTA as their own.  The diversity of people is amazing.  And during my years associated with them, I have yet to meet anyone who did not embrace kindness.  Perhaps it is the nature of those who practice volunteerism.  Because that is what the BTA is, a volunteer organization.

And I get to help guide it.  This is an adventure I think I am really going to enjoy.


RIP: Frank Frazetta

We  lost a singular talent yesterday.  Best known for his fantasy sword and sorcery artwork, Frank Frazetta is in my opinion responsible for the resurgence of that genre in the popular culture of the 1970’s.

Molly Hatchet's 1978 self-titled album feachered Frazetta's "The Death Dealer"

His artwork has appeared everywhere:  Conan the Barbarian book covers, rock and roll album covers, movie posters and yes, pulp fiction magazines.

Regardless of how you feel about the imagery he used, it is hard to argue that his work has not been influential.  Many of today’s genre artists cite Frazetta as their major influence.

One of the most inspiring things about him was that when he suffered a stroke that destroyed the dexterity of his primary right hand, Frazetta taught himself to paint with his left.

I think I am going to spend some time today browsing his artwork online, and listening to Molly Hatchet.

Hunting the Gerrymander #1: Marginalization

I have been part of many political discussions lately, and regardless of the topic, or the spin, one single thought keeps occurring to me. ‘ This would be less of a problem if Gerrymandering was not allowed. ‘  I am going to write several posts about Gerrymandering and why I want to hunt the Gerrymander down and kill it.  To illustrate why I feel this way I’ll reference gerrymanders in my local area, past and present, whenever possible.

Topic #1: Marginalization.

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing voting boundary lines to control an aspect of the voting populous within the boundary.  Drawing the boundary so that a specific social, political or economic minority is a majority within the boundary and has a clear voice and clear representation does seem like the moral thing to do.  It some cases it can be a good thing, other times it isn’t.  You see, drawing the same boundary can be used to isolate a community.

For example there used to be a historical subdivision of my county township.  It was known as East Jackson Township.  This division was used to marginalize a racial minority.  The rest of the Township had a higher population and by isolating them within a single low population subdivision of Jackson Township their political voice within the entirety of Jackson Township could be ignored.  The remainder of Jackson Township spoke for them and thus this community was silenced politically.  Remnants of this political subdivision existed as part of the school system in the county into the 1970s, when the small, ignored, poorly funded, community school was finally fully absorbed into the Waverly City School District.

This marginalizing of citizens does occur at a higher political levels.  Non-economic social marginalization (hopefully) is rare, but political party marginalization is not.  The redistricting of Ohio’s Congressional districts, based on the 1980 Census, placed a large low population area containing several of Ohio’s southwestern counties under the direct political sway of high population Cincinnati suburbs.  Initially the district was mostly Republican, but the ensuing thirty years have seen the most poor and rural of these counties swing further towards the Democratic party.  This is evidenced by the election of Democratic county commissioners, Sheriffs, and by the percentage of Congressional, Senatorial, and Presidential votes cast for Democratic candidates.  What this means is, especially for the Ohio 2nd Congressional District issues, the carefully drawn district boundary that includes small area, high income, heavily Republican, suburban neighborhoods of Cincinnati carved out of Hamilton and Warren Counties speak for the vastly larger rural area.  Issues unique to the rural areas within the district are ignored.  Our representative in Congress speaks for her base; for the area near Cincinnati.  The rest of the district has been marginalized.  We don’t really have a voice in the House of Representatives.  A good example is that Pike County was in desperate need of Health Care Insurance reform, yet our representative would not even discuss the issue with her Democratic counterparts, let alone vote for legislation that her high income Cincinnati suburban constituents do not see a need for.  Another good example is the loss of jobs.  On top of double digit unemployment figures it was already suffering, it was recently announced that Pike County”s largest employer is closing shop.  People would like to blame the President and Ohio Governor, but what about our Representative?  She should have been our voice for the the past five years.  She is more to blame for the economic woes because she has been in office longer and should have done deeds to help the poor areas of her district.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many Republicans in rural areas.  At present there is a good mix of both major parties within Pike County.  This is a good thing, because this causes true debate and forces our locally elected officials to reach out and really work with those who may not hold the exact political viewpoints as they do;  to work together for compromise and the good of all.

This leads into my next post topic — entrenched partisanship — which I will post in the near future.

RIP: George H. Scithers

Sad news.   SF, Fantasy and Horror editor George H. Scithers has died.

Way back in 1978, George sent me my very first short story rejection.  It was a rubric style form letter with the story’s problems checked off.  It had his personal signature.  I was thrilled.  I had saved that letter, but can no longer find it.  I received a few more rejections from him until I gave up writing because a bad teacher convinced me I couldn’t write.

I wish I had not given up.  Not only did I miss any chance of being published by him at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, but also missed sending stories to him during his tenure at Weird Tales.  I still have some notes for stories that a bright-eyed and unirascible Deven wrote those thirty plus years ago.  I think I am going to thumb through them and find something that perhaps George would have liked.

My opinion is that Asimov’s SF would not now enjoy its status as one of the “big three” SF/Fantasy genre magazines if it had not been for George’s editorship during its first years.  It still remains my favorite short story venue.

Thank-you, George, for years and years of reading enjoyment.

The Best of Every Day Fiction Two

The print edition of “The Best of Every Day Fiction Two” is now available in hardback and paperback at the publishers site and on major bookseller sites like Amazon and B&N.

In keeping with my shameless self promotion activities, I am happy to say that this anthology contains my story “Becoming Cottontail”.

But wait, that’s not all.  Those with connections to Waverly, OH will also find “Waiting To Pounce” a terrific little horror story by my friend and fellow Waverly High School class of ’79 alum, Steve Goble.

If having two, count them, two Waverlyites in one volume doesn’t convince you to take a look, then I should probably mention that the anthology also contains 98 other flash stories by many excellent authors.  (For those that don’t know, flash fiction stories contain 1000 or fewer words, which is the perfect length for those of us with short attention spans.)

With apologies to my ego,  “Becoming Cottontail” is not my favorite story in the volume.  That honor goes to Erica Naone’s heartrending tale “Home to Perfect”, which should be read with The Outlaw’s “Green Grass and High Tides” playing in the background.  You can read her story during the guitar break.


I am on record stating that the recent Health Care Insurance reform law, while not perfect, is an absolute good.

I have told many nay-sayers to just give it some time and to please keep an open mind because good things are going to happen.

Goodness has already started.  As reported in the NY Times and Columbus Dispatch, one large health care provider has jumped the mandated timetable in the new health care law and will soon be providing wellness care to a segment of its policy holders.

And instead of costing more money, the insurance company is saying that it will be saving $3.50 to $4.00  for every dollar they spend on the program.  The savings will come from not having to pay for doctor visits and medicines.  At least one large insurance group has discovered that keeping people healthy is a more profitable business model than doing nothing except making payouts when policy holders become  ill.

For those friendly nay-sayers, here is one early example of the good the recent law will do.  Wellness care is such a good idea that this insurance provider decided not to wait until wellness programs became mandatory.  And this is happening in Ohio, our state, our backyard.

No raise in taxes for anyone.  Good.

More profit for the insurance company.  Good.

Healthier people.  Even better!

Broadcast news ignoring this story.  Bad, very bad–but not surprising.


Many magazines that buy short stories only use form rejection letters because of the volume of stories they receive each day.  These form letter rejections tell the author virtually nothing about why the story was rejected.  The only time to get excited about a rejection from one of these magazines is when you don’t get the form letter, but a personal rejection from the editor.  Personal rejection letters tend to have at least a little information about why the editor is passing on the story.  It also provides the author with the opportunity to take that information and perhaps improve the story before sending it on to the next market.  When the rejection is a form letter the writer has to apply a little magic, a little rejectomancy, to try a figure out for themselves why the story didn’t survive the slush pile.

I have been very excited to get a few personal rejections with comments from the editor.  In each case I have learned something about writing.   For me the only thing better than a personal rejection letter is and acceptance letter.

Today I was happy to get a form rejection letter.  Let me explain.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) is a market I really want to crack.  Of the big three science fiction genre markets, the other two being Asimov’s and Analog, it is the toughest to sell to.  They also are one of the markets that has a super fast turn around on stories–a full month faster than most other magazines.  Yet despite this fast turn around they have a system for communicating with the author that is very helpful.  Unlike the other markets mentioned above, F&SF uses multiple form rejection letters.  Using a little rejectomancy (and some common sense) it is easy to glean at least a little information about a rejected story.   The slush pile readers at F&SF seem to use three standard form rejections: 1) The story didn’t grab my interest, 2) The story didn’t hold my interest, and 3) The story didn’t quite work for me.

Form letter 1 means that perhaps the opening is to slow or awkward, but could also mean the entire story doesn’t flow well.  I assume by the wording that the slush editor didn’t finish the story.  This is perhaps why F&SF is very fast with turn around on stories; they don’t read every story to the end.  I have accumulated several of these rejections.  A lot of hand wringing and close editing rejectomancy is needed for these stories.  In each case I have made an attempt to make the opening of these stories a little more exciting or interesting before I sent them on to the next market.

Form letter 2 means that perhaps the story was boring or slow in the middle.  What I assume that this letter means is that maybe they finished reading the story, but felt very ho-hum about it.  I know that one of my weak points currently is that my action scenes are slow.  Head scratching rejectomancy is needed for these.  I’ll try to punch up the story, speed it up and keep it interesting, before sending it on to the next market.  Yes, future tense.  I have not received any of these form letters yet.

Form letter 3 means that perhaps the story was just fine, but didn’t work (fit) with the intangibles that give a particular magazine its voice and style.  I think that this is a valid assumption because rejection letter that is a step up from this one is a personal rejection letter from the editor.  I got form letter 3 in the mail today.  The story in question has two previous rejections: a personal rejection and a uninformative form rejection.  Very little rejectomancy is needed here.  I am going to tweak it just a smidgen, but only because I thought of a better way express a bit of one scene after I sent it out, not because of the rejection letter.  As always it will get a close re-read before I send it out to the next market.

There is a problem with rejectomancy.  Use too much of it and you can destroy a story.  Robert Heinlein supposedly gave the advice to only edit under direct request of an editor.  Good advice for a writer that has already honed his craft.  For those of us still improving our craft, we should use a little rejectomancy and then edit with care.

2009: My Writing Year

2009 was a good year for me. I continued to have sales. I consider it a highpoint that I made it completely out of the slush pile a few times, even though those stories were ultimately rejected. I got some really good feedback from the editors on these and because these stories were longer than flash length they felt like wins.
I continued to tackle the backlog of stories that I have accumulated over the years. Some of these old stories, especially the ones from the 1970’s and early 80’s will probably get complete rewrites.

I started out 2009 with a serious effort to write some fiction each day. While I did not actually write fiction each day, I did meet my 36500 word count goal for the year. I stopped counting when I passed goal and don’t have a year long total.

I wrote or rewrote 6 stories. Less than last year, but only two were flash.

I sold two stories, and had another selected for a reprint. All three were flash.
“VPN Doesn’t Work” and “How the Human Got His Free Will” both sold to Every Day Fiction and both were published in 2009.
“Becoming Cottontail” was selected to be in the Best Of Every Day Fiction 2, a print anthology to be published 2010.
“Language Barrier” appeared in the March 2009 print issue of Abandoned Towers.

Postponed Success

The publication date for “An Awakening of Shadows” is still to be announced.

Success in Limbo

As of one second till midnight, 31 December 2009, three stories were out in the wilds of submission.
I have nine stories currently undergoing editing/rewrites. I have only one story started in 2009 that I did not complete. I realized I had the POV character wrong and shelved it for a bit.
I did not permanently park any stories in 2009.

2009 Stats

6 Stories written
25 Submissions
2 Acceptances
1 Reprint Acceptance/Selection
0 Rewrite Requests
20 Rejections
3 Publications
3 Pending in Submission
11 Unsold stories, from this and previous years, being edited or looking for a market

Free Will

My latest story “How The Human Got His Free Will” is live today at Every Day Fiction. Follow the link, read it, rate it, and/or comment about it. Because I still consider myself a beginning writer, I crave honest feedback.

This story has as its theme the notion that humans somehow can obtain free will no matter the circumstances. When I wrote the story, I had that thought in mind. This was a little different for me because usually when I write a story I start out thinking about a plot device, a setting or a character. At some point during the writing process a strong theme may emerge. When I recognize a theme, I’ll sometimes edit the story to enhance it, or to tone it down. This was the first time I consciously thought about the theme before and during the writing.

Free will is an interesting topic with room for lots of themes. An addict can lose their free will to their addiction. Workers can express their free will by standing up in support of a great idea or against a bad one. Inmates are told when they can piss. Facebook users can choose not to cut and paste to their own status a viral status update that tries to guilt them into following the herd about this or that “hot button” issue of the moment.

I chose to write a story. An editor liked it. I hope you do too; but that decision is totally up to you and your own free will.