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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 01:51 pm:   

Writer Justin Stanchfield asked me if it was possible to make contacts in the writing field without going to conventions, which I thought was a pretty good question. Here's my reply. I'd love to hear other folks' thoughts on this:

Hi, Justin. I do think it's possible to make contacts without attending conventions (like you just did here *g*). I have several friendships now with folks I've never met in person. Bruce Holland Rogers and I have corresponded quite a bit, so much so that when my short story collection was in preparation, I felt comfortable enough to ask him to write the introduction, which he did--it's a darned good one, if I do say so myself. It made ME want to reread the book. I'll meet Bruce for the first time face to face at the Black Hills Writing Conference in September, where we both are speaking. My first contact with him was a fan letter I wrote him because I thought "The Dead Boy at Your Window" was so brilliant.

Another good online connection I made was with Brian Hopkins (multiple Bram Stoker winner). He was cruising the web one day and found my website. He sent me a how-dee-do and, several dozen e-mails later, we were collaborating on short stories which we were able to sell, one to Realms of Fantasy and another to an anthology project.

I also have made contacts through my snailmail correspondance with editors. This is a good argument for providing a cover letter, by the way. My most fruitful contact this way has been with George Scithers whose editing not only goes way back in this field, but he's also one of the current editors at Weird Tales. We'd been exchanging pleasantries for several years (mine in the cover letter and his in the rejections) before he bought a story from me. I finally met him at World Fantasy last year.

I think I have a good relationship with Andy Cox at the Third Alternative because of cover letters and e-mail. I've never met him, but now I'm writing a column for him for The Fix.

So, here's my suggestions, and it's not just about making contacts. It's about getting involved with the people who are the industry. It's about professional growth, I think.

First, I think if you read something you like, you ought to drop the author a note. You never know how a relationship with someone might start. But I don't think it ought to be done cynically, as in "If I write an appreciative comment to someone, they'll tell me when there's an anthology opportunity," but because you genuinely liked the story. You'd be surprised how little feedback writers get sometimes about their stories. Sometimes publishing a story is like tossing a rock into a bottomless chasm and waiting for the echo.

Second, correspond with editors. This is easier online now, and some editors visit bulletin boards regularly. Ellen Datlow, Andy Cox and Gardner Dozois are frequent readers and posters to bulletin boards. This is in addition to the cover letter suggestion earlier. In my cover letters I might thank the editor for a comment on a previous story, or say something about the last issue of their magazine, or, if I've heard news about them, about what I'd heard. Just normal conversational stuff. Nothing obnoxious (I hope!).

Third, watch for author or editor chats online. SCIFI.COM lists online events. Join the chat with your real name.

Visit and post to writers' bulletin boards, like the Rumor Mill or this one. You never know what you'll learn or who you'll meet.

That's what I can think of off the top of my head. Can anyone else think of ways to deepen your involvement in the field without going to conventions?
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Jay C
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 02:25 pm:   

Yeah, Jim, don't forget publisher's and launch parties. Particularly in Britain.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 02:34 pm:   

I go to any author reading I can. There are a fair number out here in the burbs of chicago. This has more to do with taking the mystique out of the writer's life than it does with making contacts, though. When I met william gibson, in the act of shaking my hand he dumped coffee onto the table, and spent a few seconds swearing and looking generally flapable. Comforted my heart, that did.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2003 - 05:22 pm:   

Jay and Tim, great ideas! In Grand Junction (which isn't an urban center), we don't get many author readings, but Denver has quite a few. The Tattered Cover, arguably one of the best book stores in America, does a continuous readers' program with several events a week.
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 07:28 am:   

Is there a reason why you can't go to conventions? Is it location, $, or some other reason? I don't mean to pry, I'm just curious.

If you can't get to conventions because of location, it's unlikely that there will be readings or other events in your area to go to. While there isn't a convention everywhere, I'd be surprised to learn that there wasn't something you could get to. SFSite has a great list of conventions: http://www.sfsite.com/depts/cons01.htm and you go see that they happen everywhere year 'round. You could always start a con if there just isn't anything near you.

If it's money, well, most conventions are not all that expensive, but I understand. You can ask to be on programming, or volunteer to work at the convention, both ways will provide a free membership. Also, since most cons are at hotels, if you can get to the location, often you can go to the bar/reception area and mingle with people there without buying a convention membership.

If conventions are still a no go for some other reason, I think Jim's suggestion of these online forums is the best. This is a great board where you can talk with people ranging from me (small press zine) to Michael Moorcock (well-known talented author), which is pretty darn cool. The Asimov's board is very good, too. And SFF.NET has great stuff, etc.

The links page on my website [http://www.electricvelocipede.com click on links] will connect you to a number of places, which in turn will connect you to even more places. All of these publishers, big and small (and many authors), will provide an address (be it e-mail or not) so that you can contact them.

Don't be afraid of checking out and submitting to smaller venues. Not to toot my own horn, but while my zine is small, I've published the likes of Alex Irvine, Rick Bowes, Jeff VanderMeer, Stepan Chapman, Jay Caselberg, Neal Barrett, Jr., Norman Partridge, Paul DiFilippo, etc. There might be someone making a cool zine or small press chapbooks just up the street from you. I guarantee you if you offer to help out, they would be more than grateful for it. As a master of the beer and pizza bribe for collating parties, I know I'm thrilled for everyone who shows up!

I think Jim's advice is the best. Write to the people you admire. That's how I got to be in the business. Everyone on this board started out in a similar position to you: they didn't know anybody and weren't sure where to start. Don't know if I've added anything, but this post kept rumbling around the corners of my head, so I had to say something.

JK
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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 09:46 am:   

I went to maybe two conventions before I was selling and, though I had fun (and got to meet Ted Sturgeon and the deCamps, worth the price of admission alone) they were more useful for the fanboy side of me than the writer at that time. It was online that I really started making contacts, and these days I mostly go to conventions to meet people I "know" from online, and it was these contacts that proved most useful from a professional standpoint.

Conventions are probably more useful for people with more outgoing personalities, but to naturally shy guys like me they're more fun _after_ contacts are already established.
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Jay Lake
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 12:46 pm:   

I don't neccesarily recommend this as a career path for a writer, but I did a lot of reviewing work for a while (at TANGENT ONLINE, in my case). It sure helped get my name in front of a lot of people, familiarized me with the work of different editors and writers, and launched a number of acquaintances and even some friendships.

But unlike Richard, I'm also relentlessly social at Cons, so it was all mutually- and self-reinforcing.

Jay
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 01:35 pm:   

Yeah, I'm doing my first con at TorCon this year, and I'm a little nervous. I'm fairly shy, but that's only rivaled by the fact that I'm very driven. So, I'll blush and stammer and make myself go around and shake everyone's hand. So, if some skinny drunk shambles up to you at TorCon this year, shoves his hand into your chest and mumbles something that sounds like I'm Bakers or Jim Takers, be nice to the poor sod.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 01:50 pm:   

Tim, I'm naturally shy too, but with folks like Jay Lake, who is gregarious, generous and funny to a fault, even a drooler like me can still be part of a fun conversation.

Jay's thoughts about other ways to make contacts is a good one. There are some pitfalls to reviewing, but if you know them, then that is a way to be actively involved in what is happening in science fiction. Another way is to figure out a way you can be a service to the genre. For me, I started the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer Web Site at http://www.sff.net/campbell-awards. Through that I have met literally hundreds of new writers, some who quickly went on to be rising stars, and in a few years will be firmly established pros. Hopefully they won't forget me when they are famous *g*.

I want to stress, though, that the "contact thing" is sort of a red herring. Although I make a lot of contacts through online work and e-mail and web page managing, I didn't primarily do it because I thought it would give me a leg up on the competition. I wanted to express my appreciation to writers who wrote amazing work, or to thank editors who publish the great new stuff, or to recognize the efforts of new writers who are just breaking in. The contacts are a great by-product of that genuine interest in what is going on in the field.

If someone went after contacts like it was some sort of contest (or secret key to the magic kingdom), I think they would come off like this guy I saw at a WorldCon who looked like he was on the edge of a stress-induced coronary, who walked up to a major agent and said, "I've been told that writers should introduce themselves to agents. My name is _______, and I'm a writer." Then he walked off.

It's was the most awkward display of social dysfunction I'd seen in some time.
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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 02:55 pm:   

Whoa, Jim, that incident makes even my social skills look world class by comparison. It's also good to point out that the object isn't to acquire contacts like a Lakota brave collecting scalps. Editors don't like being treated as trophies any more than anyone else does.

Contacts happen naturally when you're around people who share your interests and like talking about them, and the sharp guy discussing Leiber and Bradbury with you in the pit at WFC may be editing an anthology next time you see him. It's all part of the process. As is the fact that knowing an editor on a first name basis isn't going to sell your next story. Only writing a story that he or she wants to buy will do that. To pick on Jay for a second, we met when we autographed each other's copies of 3SF #1 at WFC. That didn't stop him from rejecting my sub to Polyphony. ;)
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Tim Akers
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 02:57 pm:   

People play much poker at cons? Seems like a good icebreaker...
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003 - 05:53 pm:   

I don't know about Poker, but I do know that people play Mafia at cons (it's a Clarion thing I don't know about at all).

At WorldCon I invented Hugo golf, which is a great way to kill time while sitting in the auditorium waiting for the Hugos to start. To play you have to give a numerical ranking to every finalist in each category, with the one you think will win being given a "1," your second prediction a "2," until you've numbered them all. You have to do this even in categories you might know a thing about, like best fan artist. Then, as the Hugos are announced, you keep score. The person with the lowest score wins (which is why it is called golf).

The last WorldCon we had about twenty people playing, most of whom I didn't know.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 06:08 am:   

Hey Jim! I just made my first pro sale! WOOOO!!!!

Sorry. Just excited. Thanks for all the advice and stuff. I'll be appearing in the January issue of ChiZine. Very happy, Tim is...
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, September 09, 2003 - 09:26 pm:   

Tim, that's great news, and what a wonderful place to appear. What's the story's name? Do you have a cool acceptance story to tell about this one now (as in, "Well, I was going to throw the story away, and then my wife rescued it from the waste bin," or something like that).
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Tim Akers
Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 06:24 am:   

Name of the story is MEMORY ANALOG. It had gotten fairly positive feedback from several places, but they all decided that it wasn't quite for them. Once I found the right market, though, they were really happy to accept it. I was a little worried, because it is clearly sf, and I hadn't seen much sf on chizine's site.

Anyway, still getting over the giddies. woo hoo!
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Michael Kelly
Posted on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 08:06 pm:   

Actually, Tim, in the latest issue the pieces by Nina Munteanu, and Charles Tuomi are certainly SFnal. I think so, at any rate. The tale by Jean Seok is a fantasy, albeit dark. No matter, Memory Analog is a damn fine read.

-Mike
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 08:35 am:   

Hi Tim (or Michael). Do you have any idea what the readership is at ChiZine? I remember writing about electronic venues for fiction a couple years ago that given enough time some of them would last and gain a reputation for fine fiction. ChiZine and SCIFI.COM have certainly done that.
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Michael Kelly
Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 06:34 pm:   

Jim,

Strange Horizons, as well. You could ask Brett about the readership. He keeps track of the hits, though that certainly isn't a true measure of readership.

-Mike
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 05:15 am:   

I had to add a message here because the last one was on Sept. 11, and that date next to my name started to bother me. Pretty compulsive, it I do say so myself! *g*
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Lou Antonelli
Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 09:59 am:   

That's OK, Jim, we understand.

(knowing look....)

Uh, how were things at MileHiCon, anyway?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2003 - 10:30 am:   

Hi, Lou. It was a great convention. Loads of fun. My favorite part was Connie Willis did an hour-long presentation on plot. She's brilliant of that kind of stuff (and funny too). That was worth the price of the convention alone.

I went to World Fantasy the next weekend. That's a bunch of conventioning in a row! By the time I got home, I was exhausted. Still, I made some good business contacts, got a line on a writing project, and saw a little of Washington D.C.

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Lou Antonelli
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 02:58 pm:   

I would like to have gone but my job as a sports editor requires me to work Friday nights - both high school football and basketball have Friday night games.
Dec. 12-14 the basketball teams are into the holiday tournament period, and I might try to run off to Philadelphia for their con then.
There's a con in the D.C. area this weekend, called CapClave, but like I said, I have to work Friday nights, so I couldn't make it.
But I enjoy covering basketball. It's fast and furious, and most importantly for winter sports - INDOORS!
By the end of the football season, the 1st week in November, it was freezing, even here in Texas.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2003 - 08:37 pm:   

Hi, Lou! Very exciting for us tonight. The high school where I teach won their semifinal game and will be playing for the state championship next week.

It's very cold here and snowing. Perfect football weather.
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Tim Akers
Posted on Friday, January 02, 2004 - 07:38 am:   

Okay, Mr. Van Pelt. Help me celebrate. I'm starting off the new year right. My first sale has now made publication. Check it out at http://www.chizine.com/memory_analog.htm

And thanks again for all the advice. Going to TorCon really turned the corner for me.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, January 02, 2004 - 11:24 pm:   

Tim, congratulations! What a great place to appear. I've bookmarked the story so I can read it later.

What happened at TorCon? Details, buddy! *g*
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Tim Akers
Posted on Monday, January 05, 2004 - 07:56 am:   

Oh, nothing specific. Just where I live I'm kinda isolated from the science fiction community, so it was really good to get out and meet people. Had a good talk with Joshua Bilmes, who's a really nice guy, about the myth of short story apprenticeship in the industry, and made a resolution to get my novel into submittable form by year's end. So that's where I am, tooling through the first draft, with occasional breaks to bang out short stories.

So, mainly it was a matter of motivation. And I'm looking forward to next year.
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Rob Eubanks
Posted on Saturday, April 10, 2004 - 02:07 pm:   

ok, first off, i just found these forums and i'm roving a bit, starting with people i like/respect/admire (yeah, i'm talkin to you mr van pelt!)

but i couldn't (not in a million years) pass up the chance to read a first published story. (congratulations tim!)

tim, i gotta say, that's a dang fine story, and a good read. i especially like your work on the mental OS and all the rest. i've been cooking up similar ideas going a different direction for a while now, but you pulled it off better than i ever have. so thanks for the story, mr published writer!

ok, now i'll duck back into the shadows and go back to hacking away at my keyboard. just wanted to say hi and thanks. :-)

-Rob
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2004 - 08:15 pm:   

Hi, Rob. Drop in any time!

Tim, doing stuff for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer has pretty much put away for me the idea that the only way you can break into science fiction is through short stories. Last year about half the debut authors did it through novels.

There are lots of good things to be said for writing short stories, though, expecially when a writer is trying to wrestle with all the particulars of writing readable narratives.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Tuesday, April 20, 2004 - 12:56 pm:   

What a great thread! Lots o' good advice round these parts -- like Rob, I'm new to these forums, but I'll be sticking around.

Fittingly enough, I note that one Mister Justin Stanchfield has a story coming up in the third volume of the Kings of the Night anthology series -- alongside some wierdo named Richardson ;)

"We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men."
- Herman Melville
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Erin Kott
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 07:00 am:   

Hey guys!! I'm a high school student busy writing a paper on my future career (and of course I had to pick an easy one like writing >_<), but anywho, this strand was really helpful to me, both from an academic standpoint and from a personal one. My post is kind of random, I know, but I just really felt I should say that reading this was both helpful and encouraging for someone who loves to write but has some misgivings at how to get by in the world on it.

*~Thanks!
Erin Kott
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 07:27 am:   

Hi, Erin. Good luck with your paper! I wish I'd taken my writing more seriously when I was in high school. Mostly I wrote poetry then, and I did it partly because I thought girls would find it cool.
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 08:41 pm:   

The poems I wrote for girls in high school are started with "Roses are red..." and ended with "And so are you! It was easy to fill in the middle part. It didn't get me anywhere, though.
Nice meeting you in Seattle, Jim.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 08:47 pm:   

I wrote "deep" beat sort of things filled with faux existential imagery. The girls didn't find it (or me) cool either.

It was great meeting you too, Jack. Man, just when you get an editor to buy into your stuff, he ups and retires. What if Shelia hates us? I guess I won't send her any poetry.
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2004 - 10:36 pm:   

Hey, at least you've sold to everybody else in the known universe! Gardner was my MAIN guy. The funny thing is, I'd actually been worrying about him leaving for the last couple of weeks, like a premonition. On the plus side, Sheila and I had a long talk in the swfa suite on Friday, and she agreed to buy only from one "old guard" writer. Me, of course. Hmm, wonder if she had that same conversation with everybody else....
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 06:11 am:   

Well, she didn't have it with me!

As always, what conversations like this turn into for me is that I have to quit thinking about the outside world and just go back to the simple deviltries of trying to make stories that are interesting. Good thing it is the weekend. I can make some progress on my latest.
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Matt Jarpe
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 07:21 am:   

I'm also wondering where I might stand with the new regime. I met Sheila at Torcon and I got the impression she loves hard SF, but does she love it for Asimov's?

I'm also a believer that you write the stories that come to you and you can't make a story to fit a market. HOWEVER, since Gardner bought almost every space adventure story I sent him and rejected every non-space story, I found myself in space ships more often than not. It wasn't a concious thing, more of a skinner box reaction. I guess now there's someone else in control of the food pellets, we'll see where I go from here.
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Steven Francis Murphy
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 07:48 am:   

At least you guys did sell to Gardner before he departed. I'm afraid I won't have that opportunity, at least not at Asimov's. I'm still kind of rattled about the change.

I agree with Matt that you should write the stories that come to you as well. But in some cases, there isn't much of a market for them (like short military SF, which I've tried desperately to avoid but gave into last summer).

I'm not a poet (well, I write em, but everyone has already covered the likely suspects of the kind I write), so that isn't an option.

I guess I should ask, if I find that Shelia doesn't care for military SF short stories, where would be a good place to send them? The only place I can think of that has had military SF in it recently is F&SF. Any thoughts?

Thanks.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
http://sfmurphy.journalspace.com
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jack skillingstead
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 01:04 pm:   

Jim, she didn't REALLY have that conversation with me, either. And you're right, of course. All any of us can do is write the stories that occur to us and hope for the best. There's little point in trying to psych out Sheila's tastes, etc. It was nice having Gardner because he responded so well to our work AND was "the man" in sf editing.

Matt, while Gardner was buying your space / harware stories he was also buying my mostly "soft" sf stories. I think that's part of the delight of Asimov's, that you could find that variety in a single issue and it wouldn't feel jarring. Somehow he brought stories together that were wildly different but also complimentary to one another.

Steven I haven't read a lot of military sf, but I've seen in all three magazines. At a guess I'd speculate that Analog would be most receptive. But really, all any editor wants is a good story that they can respond to and get excited about. So if you write a great one with originality, it could go anywhere.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 02:10 pm:   

I don't think Gardner's leaving has totally sunk in for me, or for the field. My guess is that a history of science fiction in 50 years will elevate him to Campbellian status. Between Asimov's and the Year's Best, he's dominated the awards and provided a strong and compelling platform for much of the best SF in the last couple of decades.

Unlike the Campbell era, there have been more venues and more counter voices, so I don't think anyone will be able to argue that he shaped the genre in the same way Campbell did, but I think he's been as influential as any one person could be.

When I'm a codgy old writer hanging out at the fringes of a SF convention, I'll be proud to say to the still wet-behind-the-ears thirty year old who just made his first sale, "Yep, I remember when Gardner Dozois bought my first story for Asimov's. Science fiction had some real meat in those days."
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Steven Francis Murphy
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 03:14 pm:   

Jim wrote: When I'm a codgy old writer hanging out at the fringes of a SF convention, I'll be proud to say to the still wet-behind-the-ears thirty year old who just made his first sale, "Yep, I remember when Gardner Dozois bought my first story for Asimov's. Science fiction had some real meat in those days."

Hell, Jim. You can say that to me now. :-)

Jack, I'm not sure my mil SF is technical enough for Analog. The stuff in that magazine is Depleted Uranium Hard. I'd have to go back and take a lot of science courses to get to that level. But I appreciate the suggestion.

He's certainly been an excellent source of knowledge concerning the history of the genre. I stumbled across Gardner's First Edition of the Best anthology at the local library and thought, "This is history, I should read more of these."

And they have been great tools for those of us who thought we understood the science fiction market (like me). I've realized by looking at them just how little I know. I've also gotten a better grip on the major voices out there today. Just the historical value alone of the Dozois' anthologies have made a significant mark on the genre.

Then again, Gardner's anthology for the year is the only one I can afford to buy, so maybe if I read the others I'd have a different take on things.

It hasn't sunk in for me yet, that he is leaving, either. After three years of constantly reading Asimov's I was just getting used to things.

Oh well.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
http://sfmurphy.journalspace.com

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jack skillingstead
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 03:26 pm:   

I admit that I have found his announcement difficult to absorb and even depressing.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 03:36 pm:   

ABSOLUTE MAGNITUDE publishes a fair amount of adventure-oriented military SF. I haven't seen an issue of it in a long time, though, and I'm not really even sure it still exists.

Losing Gardner as the head honcho at ASIMOV'S was almost like losing a friend even though I never met the man IRL. I've been reading it since I was 13 and have a lot of fond memories associated with the Big D, so I found it somewhat depressing as well. And, like Murph, I think it sucks that I won't be able to sell him a story (not at 'MOV'S, anyway.)

Chris Dodson
Journal: The Passion of the Chris
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, April 23, 2004 - 10:17 pm:   

If you hang around the submitting stories end of SF long enough, you'll end up with a whole string of magazines and editors who moved on (ceased publishing, took other jobs, or died) before you could sell them anything. I missed out on selling anything to Fantasy Book, Twilight Zone, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Kristen Kathryn Rusch when she was F&SF, Omni, Janet Turner at Playboy, Science Fiction Age, Amazing, Aboriginal, etc.
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Steven Francis Murphy
Posted on Saturday, April 24, 2004 - 07:07 pm:   

Jim, such changes used to be pretty regular, weren't they? At least that is what I recall from reading some of the summnations in Gardner's Best anthology. I suppose it is the nature of the beast.

Chris, I call my story military SF but from what prelim readers tell me, it really doesn't fit into any neat genre box. This is intentional mainly because I want the characters in the story to transcend the nitty gritty tech (and everyone who has read it so far says it does). But it really isn't an "adventure" story. The one I'm currently working on really doesn't fit into the military SF genre box either.

I'm rattled about Gardner mainly based on some of the good responses I've gotten from him. He has been very supportive of a guy who can be something of a pain in the ass. I figure if I ever meet him in person, I owe him at least a twelve pack of whatever it is he drinks just for putting up with me.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
http://sfmurphy.journalspace.com
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 01:25 pm:   

There's been an interesting discussion going on in the Analog discussion board at http://www.analogsf.com/discus/ in the "How Lucrative is Science Fiction" topic. As part of it, the idea of what a writer should do professionally came up. One of the posters is really passionately against anything that sounds like "waiting" for success. He posted a link to a very interesting article on waiting at http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp44.Never.Wait.html

At any rate, it got me to thinking about what are my professional behaviors, and I wrote this. A couple people wrote me back and said they thought it was worthwhile, so I'm reposting it here:

Hi, Vinsol. I liked the Rossio article. Thanks for posting it.

I don't think it contradicts anything I said. Here's what I do career-wise with my days:

First, I have a time-consuming day job, I teach high school and college English. I know this comment would get me pilloried in the faculty room, but English teachers have more work to do than the rest of the teachers (although any teaching position can turn into a 24-hour job). I find teaching to help me quite a bit as a writer. In some way or another, most of my waking day deals with the written word.

Second, I have a family, a wife and 3 sons, ages 15, 13 and 9.

So, everything I say about my writing career happens during my "free" time, after those responsibilities.

Third, I write every day. My minimum is 200 words a day. It doesn't sound like much, but I never miss a day (not since Sept. 20, 1999), and I frequently write more. This is my most important activity as a writer. This is where my growth as an author occurs. It also, quite frankly, is where most of the joy is.

4th, I finish work, research the market, and send it out. The sun sets on no rejected manuscript in my house. I continue to submit a work until it sells somewhere. My record is 49 rejections on a piece before it found a pro market to take it (a market that didn't exist when I started sending it out).

5th, I read and study constantly. I have a very nice collection of fiction and nonfiction writing on fiction that has helped me quite a bit.

6th, I go to conventions, signings, readings, seminars, etc. Anywhere professionals hang out. I've made numerous connections that have aided the business side of my career this way, plus, they are fun.

7th, I behave professionally and courteously with other professionals in the field. Besides being the behavior of a decent person, it also can help somewhere down the road.

8th, I read the professional journals. This helps me keep up with trends and the constantly shifting publishing world.

9th, I belong to SFWA and HWA. I know there's a lot of discussion about the professional writing groups, but I've found them to be very helpful in many ways.

10th, I correspond with other professionals quite a bit.

11th, I correspond with "pre-professionals." Paying it forward makes for good karma.

12th, I never rest, rest in the sense of feeling content with what I know or what I can do. I feel like the character from Chaucer who "gladly would he learn and gladly teach."

It doesn't feel to me like I have down time while I'm waiting for lightning to strike. George Scithers once put a personal note on a story of mine he rejected. He said, "I hope while you were waiting to hear about this story you were working on your next."

Best piece of advice I ever got from an editor.

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