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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 06:17 pm:   

I had an interesting experience at NASFic. None of the panelists showed up for a Monday panel, and I was asked to pinch hit. The panel was on "Sense of Wonder: How Do You Do It?" So, instead of a group of folks who had time to think about the topic, they had me, by myself. Then, a minute or two into it, in walks Larry Niven. I thought, "Thank god, the master of sense of wonder. He'll help out." So I ask him if he'd like to join me up front, and he says, "Nope. I'm here to learn," and he takes a seat with the audience. Ach! Talk about intimidation. I plunged ahead.

Here's the gist of what we talked about in the "Sense of Wonder: How Do You Do It?" panel that Larry Niven watched me do as a one-man show:

First, I posited that sense of wonder (s.o.w.) is a discovery that the universe or life is grander/vaster/more awe inspiring than we thought was possible. For a lot of folks, this is what science fiction is supposed to do, or it's what first attracted them to the genre. It's the "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" effect, where the character and reader find that there's so much more to the universe than they thought possible before.

One of my favorite s.o.w. moments in film lately happened in GALAXY QUEST, where Tim Allen's character has been cacooned for his trip back to Earth, and then the doors open to send him on his way. Before that moment, Allen thought he was in a nicely-done mockup of his television show's spaceship, but when the doors open he's looking out at space and planets. His reaction is great. There's a similar s.o.w. moment when his crew sees the real version of their spaceship for the first time.

So one kind of s.o.w. moment is when the character in the story has it. Vicariously, of course, and if it is well done, the reader has it too. Niven's RINGWORLD is spectacular in this respect.

That's a positive s.o.w. moment. There's a negative one too that horror can provide. H.P. Lovecraft is the master at invoking that kind of s.o.w. (or maybe we could call it "sense of holy shit, I didn't know how horrible things could be" moment, although the s.o.h.s.i.d.k.h.h.t.c.b. acronym is kind of clumsy). I think that kind of s.o.w. is also valuable because is still says there's more to the universe than you thought there was possible.

The other kind of s.o.w. a writer can aspire to is where the character doesn't sense it at all. This is probably more common, because the character lives in the world of the story that the reader is only visiting. This kind of evocation of s.o.w. relies on the character not reacting to the incredible universe, but the reader does.

As part of the discussion, I asked the audience to name works they think evoke s.o.w. well. They came up with a ton. I wish I'd written them down, but my guess is that everyone can come up with their own list. Mine includes RINGWORLD, CHILDHOOD'S END, THE STARS MY DESTINATION, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, THE TIME MACHINE, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, all of E.E. Doc Smith's work, like GREY LENSMAN and the rest, Robert L. Forward's stuff, Kim Stanley Robinson's RED MARS and the rest of the series, Harry Harrison's DEATHWORLD books, and Fred Saberhagen's BERSERKER stories. There's a lot! These were the books that left me all charged up with the idea that the universe was more than my junior high school and doing household chores and the mundane nature of what I thought were everyone else's dreams.

We also talked about less obvious s.o.w. stories, where what produced the effect was technological, sociological or psychological. Connie Willis's PASSAGE is a perfect example of this kind of s.o.w.

The question and answer and discusion part of the panel was wide-ranging, with lots of the audience coming up with interesting thoughts about s.o.w. and how to achieve it.

I concluded by saying that I think that s.o.w. comes out of the author's attitude about the universe. Cynical authors whose writing reflect the world view that the universe is an unintersting place, or that no matter where you go in the universe you take your own horrible limitations with you, is unlikely to produce s.o.w. works. They might produce beautifully tragic stories, or create artistically bleak narratives, but they are all inward-looking. S.o.w. stories at some time look outwards from the point of view character. They have a tendency to say that humanity is a part of something grander and more surprising than itself. S.o.w. authors probably have to have a little bit of a kid inside themselves who are still capable of looking at something, dropping their jaws, and being stunned into silence.
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E Thomas
Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005 - 11:59 am:   

Good grief, that's crazy that you had to be a one-man panel with an entire audience staring at you including Larry Niven. :-)

As for sense of wonder, I can't imagine anyone hasn't experienced this feeling at one time or another. If they haven't, it is certainly sad. It's great when a story can illustrate that "wow" feeling.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005 - 04:21 pm:   

As a writer, the challenge is in learning how to illustrate it. The audience makes a big difference. A rocketship might do it for an 8-year old, but the real challenge is to get to a jaded fifty-year fan of SF and knock her/his socks off with a s.o.w. moment.
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Steve Parker
Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - 07:00 am:   

Hi Jim,

I just posted a 'thanks' over on Speculations for your posting of this summary. Excellent stuff!
Thanks again,

Steve.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - 08:10 am:   

Hi, Steve. I didn't realize that anyone other than myself was reading both bulletin boards *g*.
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kenscholes
Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - 02:59 pm:   

Well, if anyone COULD handle a one-man Sensawundah panel it would be YOU, Jim. I'm betting there are bootleg copies already available on the web somewhere.

You were GREAT on that panel we had together!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2005 - 08:46 pm:   

Hi, Ken. Thanks! I liked that panel too. In fact, the entire convention was fun. How are your writing projects coming?
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kenscholes
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - 06:05 am:   

Coming along well. Last week, I sold my collaboration, "There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (A Fortean Love Story)" with John Pitts to Fortean Bureau and wrote "The Doom of Love in Small Spaces." Monday, I started the first chapter of my novel. This week I'm also hoping to tackle a spicy slipstream story for the new Wheatland Press anthology. But it's already Wednesday and I'm moving a bit slower this week. How goes your writing?
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Steve Parker
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - 06:08 am:   

Congrats on the sale Ken!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - 10:35 am:   

Things are buzzing along nicely. I sold a short story, "The Road's End," to Realms of Fantasy a couple of days ago, and I'm setting up signings for the new book.

What I'm not getting enough of right now is writing time. My three sons are all taking part in after-school activities, which involves me driving or attending; I'm teaching my regular full load at the high school, and I'm teaching an evening class at the college.

Sometimes during the year (I'm sorry to admit), I'll call in sick so I can write for a few hours in a row instead of the fifteen-minute long snatches I get now.

I'm still riding my 200-words-a-day-minimum streak, but there are too many days where that's all I can get done. My ability to write until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, and then get up at 5:00 is long past me. Now, I really, really feel better if I'm in bed at 10:00.
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kenscholes
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2005 - 05:30 am:   

Thanks Steve! Congrats, Jim, on the RoF sale. It sounds like you've got a pretty full plate this quarter. My saving grace has been the lunch hour at work and the laptop. I can usually get a pretty good start with just the lunch hours, then wrap up my writing goals for the week on Saturday and Sunday mornings when Jen's asleep. In the evenings, I sometimes plug away too...or focus on marketing. Yeah, I'm with you on the sleep thing -- we're in bed by 9pm most nights, up at 5am.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2005 - 09:22 am:   

I've set up my debut signing for THE LAST OF THE O-FORMS AND OTHER STORIES at the same store where I did my first big signing for STRANGERS AND BEGGARS. For that first signing, we sold 55 copies of the book in two hours, which was a record for that store. This time the book section manager, who is the same one as last time, decided to order 75 books. The pressure to put together a good crowd for the signing is intense!

There are techniques, by the way, that an author can do to help her/himself. Promotion is not a passive activity on the author's part. I will be contacting everyone I know to get them to that signing. We'll party afterwards.

In the meantime, I'm also talking to librarians, the local media, teachers, book clubs, SF clubs, the college, etc. to let them know the book is out (and also to set up author talks, signings, workshops, etc.).

It's surprising how much an author can do. When the difference between a small press book doing well and one doing poorly is only a couple thousand copies, then the author better be helping out.

Fairwood Press sent me a royalty check for STRANGERS AND BEGGARS a few weeks ago (it's still selling!), and we realized that the book has now earned for me about what the advance for a novel at a major publishing house would be. That's really, really good performance for a small-press, print-on-demand, single-author collection of short stories. I attribute a lot of that success to Patrick and Honna Swenson's expertise in helping a book along (a lot of publishers either don't know how to get the book where it needs to be, or they don't make the effort).

Part of the success, too, is to some good luck. S&B made the American Library Association's list of Best Book for Young Adults (75 out of 900+ books made the list for 2003), and that resulted in a lot of sales to Scholastic Book Fairs and to Perma-Bound Books (they hardbound paperbacks for schools). The publisher and author don't have control over that kind of serendipity.

So a new book out means for me a lot of work related to doing good things for the book, plus we keep our fingers crossed and hope for good luck, good reviews and good word of mouth.

An author's job is never done *g*.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Sunday, September 25, 2005 - 08:38 pm:   

Hey, I'm absent from my board for a few days, and look what happens! :-) Been a busy weekend. I ran a dealer table at a small local convention called Foolscap. Yesterday I was done there at 6 pm, then I had to get in the car and rush from there back near home and run the clock for a varsity football game! Long day.

Welcome to the board, Ken. It was great to hear about your new sale (with John). And if y'all don't know, Ken was a 3rd place winner in the Writers of the Future contest.

Re: writing... I had a good summer for writing. Writing during the school year is always tough for me, but I've been trying to sneak it in when I can. I guess teaching full time, having a family, and running two side-businesses might have a slight effect on free time, eh?! I still don't get to bed until midnight or later, and I'm up at 6:30 in the morning (or lately, 5:45 if it's a workout day). But it does get more difficult.

Jim, when's your signing? Are you doing it in conjunction with Mile-Hi con, or around the same time, anyway? We are, of course, extremely proud of your accomplishments, and are honored to have you as one of our authors!

Now where's that novel? <vbg>
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 05:17 am:   

Hi, Patrick. MileHi is the weekend of Oct. 22, and the signing is Oct. 29.

The novel will be on the way as soon as I can find a free couple hours to print and package it. It's amazing how long a big manuscript takes to go through a printer that has a tendency to jam

I sent a story. Doesn't that count? *g*
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - 11:40 pm:   

It's a start, Jim. <g> I saw it come in a few days ago. Too bad we're behind on the submission pile right now!
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 12:38 am:   

A discussion prompt for writers: What tricks do you use to make sure your characters are reacting the way they should to external stimuli? Making sure they're asking the right questions, thinking the right thoughts? And when is it okay for them NOT to do the right things?

Is this a loaded question? :-)
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, December 30, 2005 - 11:24 am:   

My REALMS OF FANTASY story, "The Road's End," has appeared in the Feb. '06 issue.

What I didn't mention about that story before is that it originally started in response to the David Moles' antho project, TWENTY EPICS (I think that was the title). The antho idea was that writers were to recapture the feel of the classic epic story, and the challenge was to do it in under 1,000 words! (he paid less if you went over 1,000 words). I started the story but didn't get any real momentum going on it, and then the deadline came and went. I still liked the story, though, so I kept tinkering with it, and when I finished it at about 2,200 words, I sent it off to REALMS.

REALMS pays better than David's project, and the story gets wider exposure, so the whole thing worked out well.

The moral of the story, I guess, is to keep tinkering.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2006 - 05:56 am:   

Every once in a while I've been posting reports about good moments in my Science Fiction class at the high school. I had one this week as I introduced the unit on space opera. I think it's important to incorporate real science whenever possible in a discussion of science fiction, so I had put together a Powerpoint on the problem of distance in space. It's a cool presentation, but it's not particularly visceral, so this time, before the Powerpoint, I did the following:

I borrow a ping pong from the P.E. department, then take the kids into a long hallway in the school. Of course, they have no idea what we're doing in the hallway! So, I point to the ping pong ball and say, "Imagine this is the sun. It's 1.5 inches in diameter. At this size, Mercury is 5 feet away." I have a kid stand 5 feet away, and he's Mercury for the rest of the demonstration. "Of course, Mercury is not to scale, here. He would be about the size of a microbe. At 9 feet from our ping pong ball is Venus." I put a kid there. "At 13 feet is Earth." Several kids wanted to be Earth. "At 20 feet is Mars. Now there probably should be another planet a bit closer, but, instead, there is the asteroid belt, so the next planet, Jupiter, is 69 feet away, which is about 25 strides down the hall." I have a kid walk off the 25 strides. "Saturn is 128 feet away, which is the end of this hallway." I send a kid to the end of the hall. We have some fun shouting answers to questions Saturn has from 128 feet away. "Uranus is 257 feet away, a bit more than twice as far as Saturn from the sun, about in the middle of our parking lot." Here a kid asks me what the sun would look like at that distance. "A bright star," I tell him. "Neptune is 404 feet away, which would put it past the Mormon seminary across the street from our school, and Pluto is 531 feet away, somewhere in the plowed field beyond the seminary." At this point, one of the kids said, "Travel is a bummer!" Everyone laughed. I wish that I had set that kid up with the comment so I could take credit for the segue that it produced, because what I asked the class next was, "If you think that is bad, how far away is the next closest star?" The longest guess was a couple of miles. I actually managed to stun the class with, "The next closest star to us, if the sun is the size of a ping pong ball, is 687 miles."

It was a great lesson.

If you want to play around with solar system distances, a fun web site is at http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/solar_system/

It allows you to make the sun (or any of the planets) any size you want. Then it calculates how far away everything else would be, and how big they would be.
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Steve Parker
Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 06:55 pm:   

Thought I'd mention how much I enjoyed Jim Van Pelt's 'The Road's End' in Realms of Fantasy (Feb issue). It made me think about how settled I've allowed let myself get here in Japan. These feet are always itching a little to see new horizons(maybe I should buy some foot powder).

Here's a writerly question for you all:
What should I do with a short story AFTER it's been published in a magazine?

Does it just languish and disappear? Are there steps one can take to find further places for it?

I've seen very occasional reprints in various mags, and the anthologies are chock-full of them, but I'm afraid I haven't a clue how to keep a story alive after first publication.
Any advice or comments on this, guys?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 08:38 pm:   

Hi, Steve. Thanks for the comment. It's amazing how often a published story in a major magazine can appear and generate NO comments from anyone anywhere. It's like tossing pebbles over the edge of the Grand Canyon.

I think there is a small but lively reprint market for stories. I haven't explored it much, to my regret. Some of the markets are overseas. As far as the reprint anthologies go, many of them contact the writer, not the other way around, at least for the Year's Best ones.
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kenscholes
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 06:19 am:   

Hey Steve,
I've heard good things about this site for foreign markets: http://www.geocities.com/canadian_sf/smith/foreign_market_list.htm

Like Jim, I haven't explored reprint markets much.

And hey everyone, I'm on the web now at www.sff.net/people/kenscholes

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Steve Parker
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 05:47 pm:   

Thanks, Jim and Ken.

I'll check out that link to see if there are any reprint possibilities. In the meantime, here's another question:

How many times do you make editing and rewriting passes on a single story? Do you have an absolute limit for time spent tinkering?

I seem to make an awful lot of passes on a story before I submit it. It means my overall productivity is lower than it should be -- which means less work in circulation than I'd like. :-(
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 07:51 pm:   

Hi, Steve. No real limit for me if I'm not happy with the story yet, but I generally get happy on a third time through once the first draft is done. That's not quite accurate, though, because I compose on the computer, so every time I open the file while I'm working on the first draft I go over what I've already written, changing a word or two here or there, or sometimes doing more extensive revisions like the additions of whole new descriptions, dialogue or scenes. Those revisions are not needless tinkering either; they are a reflection of my growing understanding of what the story is about. The first couple pages of the story might be "revised" dozens of times by the time I finish.

I know that some writers really stress bombing through the first draft so that you have something to revise, and so you don't get in the way of the "spontaneous flow of creation," or some such phrase, but my composition method works well for me. I like the mulling over of the story as I go along, and all the new stuff informs the old stuff.

When I just focus on one story, it takes two to four weeks for me to finish one, unless it's a short-short, which might only take one or two writing sessions to finish. I notice most of my stories are in the 4,000 word range and up. "The Road's End" is shorter, but it started out as a story for the TWENTY EPICS project, and the goal was to write an epic in under 1,000 words. I missed the deadline, and the story kept growing, as I mentioned earlier.

There were several years there where I finished stories faster than that, but that was before my kids all became school aged, and before 11:00 at night became my drop-dead point. Oh, for the days when I could pull an all-nighter and still function the next day.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 07:59 pm:   

Here's a revising method I DON'T recommend, although I know bunches of writers who do it. They bomb through the first version, give it a once-over-lightly, then put it in the mail. If the story is rejected, they revise the story, figuring that they have more objective distance, then send it to their second-favorite market. They keep going through the revison/send it out cycle until the story sells.

The problem with the system (as if any reasonable person would not see this) is that they are sending the worst version of the story to the best market. As the story improves, the relative quality of the markets goes down until, eventually, the story is good enough to sell to a less than #1 market.

So, the goal should be to send the very best version of the story to the very best market. Stephen King, among others, recommends putting the story in a drawer for six weeks before revising it. There may be something in that system, but for me the story dies in my head over that time. I finish the very best version I can, show it to my favorite readers and writers' group, do the final revision, then mail it.
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kenscholes
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 06:04 am:   

Hi Steve,

My method is closer to Jim's. I write the first draft and then I revise based on input from my crew of first readers. Revision sometimes is just culling out the words that don't quite work or sometimes it's adding a clarifying scene. I tend to write really strong first drafts but there are always exceptions.

Once I decide a story is ready to go, I don't look back again unless someone points out something HUGE that I missed. I also don't sweat it if I can't make a story work. Sometimes the stories we get are bigger than our writing muscles can lift. In those instances, I move on to the next piece until I know how to fix the broken story. In some instances ("The Man with Great Despair Behind His Eyes" for one) it can be years before I have the muscles I need.

But for me, the secret is to keep a good "works in progress" file and to keep producing new fiction. I actually put a good summary of my writing process up on my nifty new website, www.sff.net/people/kenscholes, if you (or anyone else) is interested.

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kenscholes
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 06:06 am:   

Oh, there is ONE OTHER TIME that I will look back and do revision on a story that has gone out to market. If the editor requests a rewrite I nearly always will do so.
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Steve Parker
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 06:30 am:   

Thanks to Ken and Jim for their timely and informative replies. Both of you seem to suggest methods along the lines of what I'm actually doing (though I may make more passes on the stories than you guys do).

I've read elsewhere that some writers limit themselves to three passes. Asimov, I read somewhere, usually just popped his first or second draft in the post (but that's Asimov).

What kinda works for me is keeping a shortcut on my Windows desktop that opens each unfinished story directly. That way, they're always staring me in the face until I finish them.

All else must be a matter of putting the work in. It's here that I fall down - too many other easier things to enjoy doing. I need a good kick up the arse! And it might be better if my Xbox would just blow up! ;)
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honna
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 06:53 am:   

Hi guys!
Great chat you've got going on! I agree with your writing styles--sounds like me.
I couldn't imagine sending a quickie version out the door. I work the story while I'm still in love with it, dressing it just right, until it's ready. If I fall out of love with a story, I set it aside until I re-discover it with a new twist in my head. Just recently, I re-worked a story I sort of liked. Now I like it much better. Actually did that with two--Ken, you're going to kill me! I changed "Satan Buys a Valentine". I know you like that story but I really didn't. Discovered I didn't like the protagonist anymore, so I morphed him a bit into something more palatable for me.
Since I've been in-between novels, I thought I'd tend the short-story garden awhile.
Congrats on all the sales, gentlemen!
Honna
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Paul Melko
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 04:08 pm:   

My writing involves no revision. I travel to the universe next door and steal the manuscripts from my more-successful self over there. (He has a Hugo, a Nebula, and 5 Van Pelts, but everyone has those, so they don't count.) Then I submit them as my own -- well, technically they are my own, aren't they?

Sometimes I sleep with his wife.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 06:50 pm:   

I've been to that universe! I don't think it was fair when they changed the Van Pelt rules in 2001 to automatically give it to anyone who successfully double-spaced their story submissions AND had no misspelled words on the first page. It's the curse of personal validation politics gone wild! Of course, when I finally bagged one in 04, I didn't give it back.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Thursday, February 02, 2006 - 10:32 pm:   

"when I finally bagged one in 04, I didn't give it back."

And that's when you changed your last name in honor of the win? :-)
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, February 03, 2006 - 09:59 am:   

Not to change the subject, but I find I'm frequently fascinated by sentence structures, sentence rhythm, and how an interestingly nested set of sentences build into tightly connected paragraphs.

For example, I was reading in THE RETURN OF THE KING this morning (we have a day off from school today), and noticed this sentence from "The Muster of Rohan":

"Flats and meads of rough grass, grey now in the falling night, lay all about, but in front of the far side of the dale Merry saw a frowning wall, a last outlier of the great roots of the Starkhorn, cloven by the river in ages past."

There's just such a nice rhythm in that sentence, particularly in the ringing ending of the "cloven by the river in ages past." Tolkien does that so well over and over again.

Often, at some point in composing a story, I start listening to my own rhythms. If the story is on the page, the rhythm follows. I read it out loud to hear gaps or missteps or clunks.

For myself, too, I'm much more conscious of the metaphoric and figurative component in descriptions, like Tolkien's "frowning wall." One of my read-throughs on a story is just to look at word choice and description to see if I can't get more out of the language. Sometimes literal is what I need, but metaphor is so much more fun. It's language and meaning at play.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 01:22 am:   

"I start listening to my own rhythms. If the story is on the page, the rhythm follows...I'm much more conscious of the metaphoric and figurative component in descriptions"

You ain't a kidding, Jim. That's why I like your stuff so much. Case in point, from the opening lines of "The Last of the O-Forms"...

"Beyond the big rigs open window, the Mississippi river lands rolled darkly by. Boggy areas caught the moon low on the horizon like a silver coin, flickering through black-treed hummocks, or strained by split-rail fence, mile after mile. The air smelled damp and dead-fish mossy, heavy as a wet towel, but it was better than the animal enclosures on a hot afternoon when the sun pounded the awnings and the exhibits huddled in weak shade."



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kenscholes
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 06:24 am:   

"It's language and meaning at play."

That's a BIG part of what brings me to the table to write. For me, writing is a safari. The discovery of the story, lining up the language and meaning of the tale in the hours that I'm writing it and in the days just after it's been written. Then launching it out to the world to see if it finds a home.

Right now, I'm reading a hard-to-find book called _The Last Western_ by Thomas S. Klise. It reminds me why I write. Klise only published one novel before his death in 1978 -- he had written it as a bedtime story for his six children and it had grown into vastly more. There is a sense of power in its simplicity and each word flies out like a well-aimed, perfectly-timed arrow.

I concur with Patrick on Jim's writing. I've loved your stories for a long time, Jim, because your love of language and meaning at play permeates your work.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 11:53 am:   

"I'm reading a hard-to-find book called _The Last Western_ by Thomas S. Klise."

Ken, I read that book in college when my roomie suggested I read it. Amazing. (There was that little trick, that something he did with the baseball, and no one could hit it!) About five years ago I wondered about it again, and you're not kidding about hard-to-find! But eventually I found a copy. I have got to reread it some day. I envy you getting through it for the first time.
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kenscholes
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 08:38 pm:   

It's truly amazing, Patrick. I would love to be able put words together like that guy did. He's impressive. I learned recently that he had two unpublished novels when he died in 1978. I sure hope they're published someday.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 10:17 pm:   

Hey, gang. If you want to read an editor say what many people have suspected of editors (being almost human, after all), check out Gardner Dozois's comments at the Asimov's discussion board at http://www.asimovs.com/discus/. When you get there, click on the "Last day" choice, then scroll down to the "The Best SF Magazine" subheading under the "Short Stories" topic. His comments are dated 2/04.

I'd cut and paste the posting, but I'm not sure exactly what the copyright propriety is with bulletin board comments.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Sunday, February 05, 2006 - 10:59 am:   

Gardner said "To answer Jim and later Robert's question, yes, it has happened that I've rejected something from ASIMOV'S only to later pick the same story up for my Best of the Year anthology."

Yeah, that's probably what happened with Paul Melko's "Ten Sigmas," reprinted in Dozois's Years Best. I'm pretty sure Paul sent it to Gardner first, before he sent it to us. Paul's lurking out there, I'm sure he'd confirm... :-)
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 - 09:14 am:   

Here is a list of metaphors and analogies that supposedly came from real high school students' papers. English teachers see these periodically, but I thought some of you might not.

I've certainly seen some howlers in student papers.

Actual Analogies and Metaphors Found in High School Essays.

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fence that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slenderleg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 - 01:21 pm:   

Heh heh. Yeah, I've seen a smaller list of these.

Good timing on this too...I'm doing a lesson with my Creative Writing students on metaphors and extended metaphors. :-)
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Chris East
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 06:54 pm:   

Hey Jim, what was that magic "words-per-day" number you aim for again? That may be the sanest, simplest writing advice I've ever heard. Which is, of course, why *I* can't remember it completely... :-) (Just trying to develop a little discipline, here.)



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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Friday, February 17, 2006 - 08:29 am:   

My goal is 200 words a day. That's less than a full typed page, double-spaced.

Here's a log, though, of a story I just finished. At the end of each writing session, I do a total word count and then put it at the top of the page. For this story, called "Rock House," the count may not be completely accurate because sometimes I'd get to work on it twice in one day, post one session but not the other, and a couple days I forgot to post the number altogether, but you'll get a rough idea. Somedays I'd pull out as many words as I wrote. I only show 16 entries here, and I know I wrote over 20 days on it.

732 1,014 1,161 1,384 1,764 2,557 2,994 3,277 3,859 4,380 4,648 4,865 5,135 5,512 5,577 6,997

You'll notice that my last session was about 1,400 words. That's typical of me. When I see the end (finally), I rush to it, filled with confidence.
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Chris East
Posted on Monday, February 20, 2006 - 04:49 pm:   

Thanks, Jim. I've got to start keeping a writing journal again. I kept one for a while a few years ago and I was much more productive then. (I was looking at it this weekend, though, and I saw some pretty insane entries: "Wrote 3,500 words on [story X]". 3,500???)
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - 09:16 pm:   

Here's a little-discussed area of a writer's life: why we don't make any money. Today I sold a story to Asimov's, which is really exciting all on its own (any sale is a stunning example of lightning striking on target), but it is doubly exciting because this is the first story I've sold to them since Gardner quit.

However, that is beside the point. This post is about the pathetic state of money in fiction. You see, the way I figure it, a sale provokes three celebrations. My wife and I went out to dinner tonight because I sold a story (of course, you celebrate that!), then, when I get the check, we'll celebrate by going out to dinner again (naturally), and then when it appears in the magazine, we go out a third time. Sheesh, by the time the celebrating is done, there's no money left. See, this short story racket is a bum deal! *g*
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - 10:11 pm:   

See, that's how it works for us in the small press, Jim. You sell us a story, at our small press rates, and knowing the 3 dinners are coming for you, and you won't have enough to do more than one dinner, we just have you pay US to print your story. Yeah. That's the ticket. :-)
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Steve Parker
Posted on Wednesday, March 01, 2006 - 07:01 pm:   

You think that's bad, Jim?
By the time I have all the money deducted for extra copies to be sent to close friends and family (in Japan and Scotland) there's barely a paycheck left to speak of.
I can forget about celebratory dinners.

I guess if I just wanted to be rich, I should have followed some other road.

Then again, it's unbelievable that someone with a hit-rate like yours, Jim, can't make a living writing short stories full-time. I read somewhere that things used to be very different in SF.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, March 01, 2006 - 08:53 pm:   

I don't think anyone in SF ever made a living on short stories alone. Harlan Ellison is probably the closest. Robert Silverberg wrote a million words a year for several years, most of it short fiction, I think, and he lived off that, but he moved into novels. Howard Waldrop, who is a short story genius, is always totally broke, I hear. Out of the genre, James Thurbur, F.Scott Fitzgerald, and a handful of others made a handsome piece of change for writing short fiction.

Now that SciFiction has gone down, I think Realms of Fantasy is the highest paying regular market at 10 cents a word. You'd have to sell them, what, 4 X 5,000 word-long stories a month to make a starting teacher's salary? And that's without any health benefits or retirement plan.

The best a short story writer could hope for is that Hollywood discovered you BEFORE you died, which they didn't manage to do for P.K.Dick.
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kenscholes
Posted on Thursday, March 02, 2006 - 05:59 am:   

This is why I absolutely LOVE my dayjob. When I was younger, my father said "Kenneth, you don't need a career...you need a job. Life is your career. Your job is how you pay for your life." I'm paraphrasing, but it seems to be true.

That and Harry Chapin's song "Mr. Tanner" are two of the anchors that keep me happy with my lot. Particularly that line "Music was his life, not his livelihood...."

Of course, if I do strike it big on novels or screenplays, I may re-think my position on dayjobs.... ;)

I'm with Jim on the celebrating. And Steve, I do the same thing -- copies copies everywhere. And a huge part of the paycheck in writing short stories is when someone is touched by the work we do. And the rush when you type "END" and you know the story sings.

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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Monday, March 13, 2006 - 05:10 pm:   

Hey, gang. Have any of you ever had a story idea you really, really liked, but you weren't smart enough to write it?

That's where I am now. I'm doing this story, and I just don't know enough. I'm really feeling my way through blindly.

It's spring break for me, though, so I can sit at my laptop all day, staring into the distance as if I'm a full-time writer.
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kenscholes
Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - 12:48 pm:   

Hey Jim -- yes! I've gotten story ideas where I either didn't know enough or just didn't have the writing muscles to lift the story properly. My last Talebones story was the latter and it languished for many years. Typically, if it's a gap in knowledge, I'll immerse myself in research including interviewing people who DO know...teachers and college professors are great for this. :-) With my WOTF story, it was lots of Houdini and Hodgson stuff, with "The Man With Great Despair Behind His Eyes" it was Lewis and Clark's journals, the various books out there on the "mysterious stranger" that Lewis bumps into in my zany imaginings etc.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 08:28 am:   

This weekend is our town's jazz and arts festival downtown, so I talked to our local, independent bookseller, who is right in the middle of it. I set up a table on the sidewalk in front of the store, put up a sign, and in two hours sold 5 copies of THE LAST OF THE O-FORMS, 2 of STRANGERS AND BEGGARS, and 3 of a little book of non-genre poetry I self published 12 years ago.

Not bad for a minimal investment in time and effort.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 06:07 pm:   

Not bad at all! Did you have to rent space for the table, or did the bookseller just let you go for it?
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, May 14, 2006 - 08:26 pm:   

No rent. I signed the books, and then the customer went into the store to buy it. He took his 60%, and I took the rest. Then he took (and paid) for a few more copies. He's stocked STRANGERS AND BEGGARS since it was released (and he was sold out), and he wanted copies of THE LAST OF THE O-FORMS and the poetry book too.

Patrick, did I send you a copy of the poetry book sometime? It's called WRIT IN STONE, and its about the Colorado National Monument, which is very close to where I live.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Monday, May 15, 2006 - 07:53 am:   

No, I haven't seen the poetry book. I didn't realize you had one!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 01:06 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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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 03:20 pm:   

What a great writing code, Jim. I'm in much the same boat as you, and I think I've matched you 10 of the 12 steps. (I don't write every day or send stuff out religiously...but I should).
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Ken Scholes
Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - 03:46 pm:   

Yep...very similar to my writing code, too. Thanks for posting it.
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Honna Swenson
Posted on Saturday, June 03, 2006 - 10:38 pm:   

Thanks for the great list, Jim. Something to aspire to! How many hours of sleep do you get each night, by the way.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, June 03, 2006 - 10:52 pm:   

Hi, Honna. Great to hear from you. How is Orion doing? Is he going to go to start school in the fall?

I find I need more and more sleep the older I get, darn it. I heard that it was supposed to be the other way around. During the school year, I'm in bed by 10:30 or so for a 5:00 wakeup. During the summer, I sleep as long as I can!
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Sunday, June 04, 2006 - 02:01 pm:   

That sounds similar to me, Jim, except that my bedtimes vary depending on how much work I've still got to get done for the day. During school I'm in bed between midnight and 1 am, up at 6:30. Weekends and summers I sleep longer, of course!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Sunday, June 04, 2006 - 04:18 pm:   

I find writing, though, despite all the time, to be harder to do in the summer. I think it's because of all the chores that I've put off during the school year, and the guilt factor of wanting to make the summer a good one for the kids.
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Honna Swenson
Posted on Sunday, June 04, 2006 - 10:25 pm:   

Jim: Orion is fine, thanks. I've yet to really hunker down and look for a pre-school for him. My sleep schedule has changed a lot to accomodate writing. I go to bed at about 10:30 for a wake-up at 5:30, I hit the button to start the coffee brewing, then go write. But I really really need more time (I usually have to quit about 7:30-ish when Orion wakes up). I'm just getting warmed up when I have to quit, so I feel like I've yet to hit my stride with this new project I'm working on. Patrick and I have decided to choose actual days for writing time. He's to leave the house, take Orion, so I can really dig in and write. Then, I'll do the same for him. During summer, he tends to stay up until 3 or so, working, but not always writing. We'll see if having a designated writing day will get him going. He's got a novel to finish!
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Monday, June 05, 2006 - 07:56 am:   

Even though I write often in the chinks of my day, having an open-ended time is still the best. It's really hard to work in a 30-minute slot, just get a rhythm going, and then have to stop to do something else. I feel your pain *g*.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Wednesday, July 05, 2006 - 11:23 pm:   

It's especially hard if your new laptop keeps missing every 10th letter, huh, Jim? :-)
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Mary Robinette Kowal
Posted on Thursday, July 06, 2006 - 07:04 am:   

That really is a great code, and similar to the way I want to function. I find that if I let the "write every day" slide at all, then it becomes really hard to start again. The writing muscle atrophes and it takes a bit to remind myself how to do it.

My goal is "at least a page a day, and before I do anything else on the computer." Otherwise, I spend all day checking email and message boards. It's amazing how quickly those single pages can add up.
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Thursday, July 06, 2006 - 09:03 am:   

I'm hoping that I just need to adjust to the new laptop. I't's been a pain so far, though. Sometimes the spacebar doesn't work. Sheesh.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Friday, July 07, 2006 - 12:31 am:   

Mary, you are right! Interesting timing, because I just read an entry on my friend (and SF writer) Eric Nylund's blog where he talks about intertia: "Once youre writing regularly and stopits a hundred times harder to overcome that inertia and start again. I get up at 5 AM everyday and write before I go into work. Its not that Im super dedicated; Im just deathly afraid from starting from a cold stop. Its an ugly pace to be as a writer, trust me."
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Jim Van Pelt
Posted on Saturday, July 15, 2006 - 04:27 pm:   

I had an interesting moment of guerilla marketing today. I was on the Asimov's discussion board (http://www.asimovs.com/discus/), on the "SF Celebrity Lurkers" topic, when someone mentioned having read "Do Good" in THE LAST OF THE O-FORMS AND OTHER STORIES. I offered the first one to come up with who Richard Vernon, Ed Rooney and Marshal Strickland are a free copy of the book (I dedicated the story to those three names). The person who ended up getting it right already had a copy of the book, but she wanted a signed one from me, so she started another contest based on the book, and whoever won that she would buy a copy of the book to send them. So, I gave away a book, sold one, and had a small group of folks all discussing it for a while. Pretty cool.
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Patrick Swenson
Posted on Sunday, July 16, 2006 - 01:39 am:   

Cool, Jim! I got Rooney and Strickland right away. I couldn't recall Vernon, and had to peek. Breakfast Club!

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