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.

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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.

Rejectomancy

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.

Successes
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.

How the Human Got His Free Will

Every Day Fiction has decided to publish my story, “How the Human Got His Free Will” as part of their November line up.

The framework for this story started as part of my desire to create modern stories in the vein of Kipling’s ‘just so’ stories. You know, “How the Camel Got His Hump” and the rest. While I had intended to have social commentary as part of the story, I did not intend for the commentary to become the story. Alas, as it is in most cases, this story turned out much differently than I had originally envisioned it and it is likely a much better story because of it. If is going to be published on November 25th, 2009.

Summer and Autumn distractions have really eaten into my writing time. I have gotten good feedback from critique readers and editors on a number of stories. I haven’t done anything with it. The stories are just sitting there waiting for revisions. I really need to do a better job at time management.

Becoming Anthologized

Good news about one of my short stories.
Every Day Fiction has chosen my story “Becoming Cottontail” to be part of their “Best of Every Day Fiction 2009” anthology. I am stoked about this.

Sadly, the old cottontail rabbit that was the inspiration for getting this story started was not around this spring and summer. Last year she would sit in our front yard and watch us. We could exit the house, slam the door, stomp up and down the sidewalk and she would just sit there watching, only running if we approached her within five or six feet.