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Archive for June, 2010

Endurance

We watched The Endurance tonight on Netflix. It’s a 2000 documentary concerning Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic adventure in 1914. I was particularly interested in the bleak landscapes, replete with their own haunting beauty, almost epic at times. That Shackleton was able to keep his crew together through nearly two years of constant struggle is quite a testament to the man. Their ship, The Endurance, was quickly seized by ice upon their arrival and they were never able to reach the continent. They overwintered on the ice pack, developing a close companionship with their sled dogs (later shot for food), but the ship failed to survive until spring thaw. The ice squeezed tight, broke through the hull, and she was doomed. Shackleton led his men on two failed attempts to reach the mainland before settling on a plan to sail to an island in the three remaining rowboats. They started out with the spring thaw, were nearly destroyed by shifting ice, and finally reached Elephant Island. Unfortunately, Elephant Island was outside established shipping lanes and their rescue was highly unlikely. The island Shackleton would have preferred to reach was upwind and unreachable. When it became clear his crew would simply waste away on Elephant Island, Shackleton had two of the boats cannibalized to outfit the third for a longer range journey. He then set out with four crew toward a whaling island some 800 miles distant. Relying on a total of four sextant readings, they actually reached the island intact, but a storm hit them with hurricane force winds and they had to land on the western coast. The whaling station was, of course, on the eastern coast. Shackleton and one companion marched over a spine of uncharted mountains, stopping only once for a five minute doze, to the station. Almost immediately upon their arrival, a snow squall hit. Had they been in the highlands at that point, they likely would have perished. Once the weather cleared, they sailed around the island and rescued their two companions. Shackleton then borrowed a ship to rescue the rest of his crew, but they were turned back by the ice pack, not once, but three times. On the fourth attempt, utilizing a tugboat lent to him by Chile, he managed to reach the crew, which had lost hope of rescue and were making their own plans to scrabble together a boat and sail West. They likely would have died. To Shackleton’s (and my) amazement, the entire crew survived.

It was a good film, with some original footage and journal entries and an accessible story line. Recommended if you like documentaries.  It was particularly timely for me, since my current project involves a very harsh landscape and hard-scrabble culture.

As an SF person, I couldn’t help imagining Shackleton’s journey in terms of planetary exploration. Will we reach that frontier before we consume ourselves down here? I’d say it’s 50-50 at this point and not trending toward optimism.

Here’s an article that suggests I’m pessimistic. I hope they’re right.

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I hit my 100th submission since December this week, so it’s a good time to check the progress of my so-called writing career.

Our fantasy book remains at our agent after two months. She’s working through it between two other projects with near term deadlines. We’ve had positive reaction from three readers, though, so we’re not tooooo discouraged.

I’ve been rejected a few more times, but Cycles has appeared in Everyday Fiction to some very positive comments. That made my day.

A flash piece has made it through first reads at New Myths and a longer story is through two rounds at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Even more encouraging I have a flash at Flash Fiction Online for 114 days at this point. That’s a market I very much want to publish in. Another story has been at Abandoned Towers for 114 days, but I’m not sure what to make of that. It’s an intriguing market.

I should be hearing about my Writers of the Future submission soon, too. I’m ever hopeful, but I did screw up something in the last $@#% manuscript page, which put a  wrinkle in the master plan.  Plus there is a (tasteful) sex scene in there, which could bollix things too.

Other than that, it’s pretty much S.O.P. Lots of stuff out and lots of waiting. My accept rate stands at 10.39% now, which is on goal at least. I’m shooting for 12% for next report.

I have started a new novel project and hope to get my lazy arse in gear on that. Gotta break this habit of waiting for something to happen before starting something new.

Onward and upward.

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Dam

On Thursday Sue received her copy of The Price of Stones audio book. It’s an attractively packaged eight CD set of the unabridged text read by Richard Allen. Needless to say, we ripped off the shrink wrap and started listening.

As Richard read Sue’s personal introduction in that lush voice of his, I looked over to find Sue hunched over her desk. “Is something wrong?”  She looked up and I saw tears streaming down her cheeks. Those of you who know Sue know that she does not cry easily.

“It’s just so… wonderful,” she choked.

In that moment I understood. This project was always more than a book to her. She offered to ghost write the story on spec (English is not Jackson’s first language, though he speaks it well, and he is used to writing grants, not books), then used a chunk of our limited savings to travel to Uganda where she met the children who benefit from the school Jackson has built.

From that point there was no turning away. She worked furiously through the first draft and sent it to our agent, who said she would have problems marketing it. It needed a different approach. Devastated, Sue rethought the story, laid it out differently, moving to a more chronological telling of the fore story and relocating some of the flashbacks  from Jackson’s youth. Almost a year later, she had version two ready to go.

This time, I was the fly in her ointment, insisting she revise page after page to sharpen the prose and images. If this book was going to sell, it needed to be better than “good”. After some sulking, she diligently revised, often exceeding my recommendations.

She sent off the revision to our agent, who promptly sold it to Viking a week later. The editor (and what a great editor Carolyn Carlson is!)  requested some “minor” changes that required Sue cut a chapter from the opening, move another chapter, rewrite a third, and come up with a new ending chapter, all in a month.

Sue did it. All this time, the pressure had been mounting inside her. She had felt responsible to Jackson for years, now she felt also responsible for the book’s success. If she failed here, she was failing not only Jackson and the publisher, but those incredible children.

Hearing her words read back from a CD by a very talented narrator, the dam came crashing down. Sue could finally release. She had done her part.  She could honestly say to herself, “Yes, I did what I set out to do.”

I got her a tissue, then hugged her while she dabbed her face and blew her nose. If the book does nothing else, it has granted me this special moment with the woman I love.

Life is good.

P.S. The audio book is also good, though we’ve only heard a few chapters so far. We’re out of Kleenex.

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We met this weekend to judge our progress in getting the anthology out. It looks like we’re pretty much on schedule. Jamie has a preliminary layout of the book and we’re working through line-editing for the next couple weeks. The cover artwork is very nice; can’t wait to see it on glossy stock. Contracts have been mailed. I’m working on the Lightning Source angle, the launch party at Confluence is taking shape.

I’m toying with the idea of offering a free story critique to anyone who purchases the anthology. It wouldn’t be a line-by-line, but a more general analysis, kind of a here’s what grabs me, here’s what doesn’t, here are some ideas to consider in revision.  The reasons I like it are twofold. First, it would encourage folks to purchase the antho who might otherwise sit on the sidelines. Second, and more important to me, it could provide people with a way to improve upon a story in advance of formal submission to the anthology. We do our best to select the best genre stories we can, but anything we can do to improve on that process is good.

Anyone think that’s a particularly good or particularly terrible idea? Comments are welcome.

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The Pedestal Magazine rejected my post-apocalyptic dog story  today. They took twice as long as usual, but same result. Don’t they know the shelters are full? These poor pets are likely to be put down after this. Such a tragedy.

On a related note, our once-feral cat has decided to accept us into her pride. She now expects belly rubs when we pass her in the hall.

Yin and yang of life, I guess. Dog put down, cat belly up. What will tomorrow bring?

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I’ve been informed that contracts for Triangulation: End of the Rainbow have now been mailed out. It’s nice to get that off the to-do list.

We’ll turn our attention to line editing soon, with the idea of making sure authors get at least a couple weeks to review any changes. We’re happy with the stories we’ve selected and hope the community of readers will be too. Suggestions for reviewers, review blogs, etc. are welcomed. We’ll send copies to a good selection of reviewers to hopefully get the book some attention out there in the wild beyond.

On a personal note, my short flash piece, “Cycles” (500 words) is up at Everyday Fiction today. It’s getting rave reviews, but the stars rating is holding around 3.5 out of 5. This suggests to me that it’s one of those stories people either love or hate. I seem to be adept at writing those for some reason. I’m just glad it’s the lovers who are posting comments, not the haters, ’cause my poor l’il ego needs some strokes today.

Because? I got a rejection from Asimov’s yesterday. Sheila basically said the story was “nicely done” but didn’t quite work for her. She looks forward to my next.

I doubt she’d say that if she saw what I have “in stock” right now. A bunch of half-finished stories I keep putting down when I hit the hard spot. Gotta get that focus thing going again.

Those of you expecting contracts for Triangulation, be watching your mail in the next week. If you don’t have one in two weeks, shoot us an email. It could be we (i.e. I) put down a wrong address.

Happy writing and avid reading, everyone!

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