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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 02:22 pm:   

We (and by we I mean I) have noticed and have even been a small part of the recent drive to open genre publications to more "literary" work. Literary is in quotes because it is a meaningless phrase -- let's say more character-driven stuff, or stuff with an obvious mainstream sensibility.

Okay? Okay.

So we have people who come to Wiscon, Rat Bastards, Karen Joy Fowler, Small Beer Press, contemporary fantasy, stuff like that. Yay them.

I wonder, though, if the tactic isn't incomplete. Wouldn't it be just as fruitful to attempt publication in mainstream venues? Certainly, people can ID the folks doing genre stuff in non-genre fora (Stewart O'Nan, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates has published at whim for decades etc.) but the communication between the two camps is closer to a teenybopper reading about N'Sync in Tiger Beat than anything else. I did see an Aimee Bender interview in Strange Horizons a couple of months ago -- more stuff like that would be great. The reverse, an SF person beind interviewed in, say, Open City, would be better.

Who is submitting genre stuff to mainstream (either commercial or literary) publications and not just the "special issues" that allow for "imaginative fiction"? Are there folks doing this that I'm not aware of? Internalized inferiority complexes? Just lots of rejection notes? Is it just a bad idea and I don't get it? Let me know.

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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 03:40 pm:   

The Locus-online website has an interesting (though I am sure editorially slanted) section called Field Inspections (http://www.locusmag.com/FieldInspections.html) which provides links to mainstream reviews and coverage of genre material. I find it to be an extremely useful tool for gauging how the "other side" perceives "genre" writing.

One of my favorite quotes is one from the recent New York Times review (by Sven Birkerts) of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

" I am going to stick my neck out and just say it: science fiction will never be Literature with a capital ''L,'' and this is because it inevitably proceeds from premise rather than character." And it just gets better from there…

Fucking classic! I honestly thought this type of knee-jerk elitism was a thing of the past. Nice to see "The Paper of Record" mainting the tradition.

-jl
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 - 06:41 pm:   

Oh yes! I tear that graf apart, clause by clause, in my forthcoming article for The Believer.

But, I wonder if the editorial side of the mainstream wouldn't be more welcoming than the critical side. We've seen the Rosebuds, the Conunctions, the McSweeneys, the George Saunders stories in The New Yorker, etc., but it seems that few of the folks who are steeped in the genre are making any headway. To the extent that literary writers are adopting SFnal techniques in order to jumpstart their own stories, editors seem to be reacting positively.

Heck, The Believer, edited by Heidi Julavitz, is about as literary as it gets, but has run articles on Dune, my article is coming up, and a few other SFnal articles are coming up as well.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 08:49 am:   

Nick -- I doubt if you could get something SF published in a place like NEW YORKER or GLIMMER TRAIN unless you do the sneaky things George Saunders does -- none of the SF tropes that has made the genre a joke to the outside world like aliens, spaceships, rayguns; focus on the characters and keep it on Earth and you can do some crazy shit, as he does in the last 2 stories in NY I've read by him.

Fantasy is the same way, I think -- can't be on another world, but a slightly different Earth could pass, as long as you scrape off most of the tropes. Magic realism a la Marquez you could get away with, especially in GLIMMER TRAIN, if they're still around -- I don't keep up with them anymore.

Same thing for horror, but you've got to be even more clever -- if the slush reader even smells a HINT of a serial killer or vampire, you're toast (luckily I don't write that sort of horror anyhoo), but the HINT of ghosties and the like would prolly work, especially if it were set in the past.

See where I'm going here? From my experience w/ "literary" "non-genre" magazines, they want most of the distinguishing characteristics of genre removed. I guess it depends on the story whether it's worth sending it out -- of the 12 genre stories I have circulating, I'd only send ONE out to non-genre mags (it's a near-future thriller I co-wrote w/ a friend, perfect for PLAYBOY if they hadn't canned Alice Turner).

I do have 1-2 genre pieces that cold work in a non-genre zine, but they've been published already, thank god.

I guess I'd have to change what I wrote to attempt to make the leap into non-genre magazines. Could be worth a try. Break 'em down, one story at a time, if I like doing that sort of story.

Problem is, most of the "literary" places I've sent mainstream stuff to (outside of the big 5 to 10 like NY and ESQUIRE) don't pay for shit.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 08:50 am:   

Jeremy -- I was annoyed by that quote as well. I guess "literary" novels have NO premises. Maybe that's why so many of them coming out these days are so freakin' boring!!! ;)
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 11:49 am:   

Didn't Michael Chabon have a Cthulhu mythos story in the New Yorker last year? If you are subtle about your genre... or you are a big enough "name" I guess even the most conservative venues of "mainstream Lit" will publish genre stuff.

Honestly, I had gotten away from most of the mainstream literature magazines over the last few years... Working with Ministry of Whimsey, and marketing the M. John Harrison collection, among other things, has kind of brought my attention back to a class of venues that I had pretty much written off 4-5 years ago.

The Believer is a very exciting new publication that I've been picking up religously... Nick, I'll be looking for your upcoming article!
-jl
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2003 - 04:47 pm:   

I dunno Mike, so far I've sold:

1. a gory story about a future where art criticism is the world's most dangerous job to Razor for $1000

2. a triple-alternative-universe, second-person story about how Joey Ramone is a tiny strand of an omnipotent space god to Razor for $1000

3. A story about aliens stealing all the art in the world except for that of one guy to Wide Angle NY for $145

4. a time-traveling bloody ghost story novella to Soft Skull Press for $250 advance and 7% royalties

5. A story about an omniscient serial killer in a world where spiritual enlightenment is a sexually transmitted disease to Suicide Girls for $200

And all this even though I'm a total schmuck rather than a big name and all that dosh even though none of these markets are at the heights of literary prestige.

I'm not attempting to brag here, I'm just wondering, if I could do it repeatedly, why could other people not? Following that, I'm just wondering if people had already written off non-genre publications without giving them a whirl first.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:16 am:   

But Nick, except for the time travel and aliens you used, you're still within the guidelines I'd established, I think.

I think it's a sensibility issue, as well. NORTHERN GOTHIC is about the conflicts of your two main characters, functioning in their own timelines FIRST, with the ghost/supernatural elements coming in SECOND, if that makes sense. Most horror writers would've flip-flopped those, and made for a weaker book.

Aliens as metaphors work in non-genre places, I think; aliens considered as real make it firmly SF.

But I see your point, and I'm definitely looking into Razor and other places as a potential market. I think genre writers DO limit themselves -- I'm guilty of having the blinders on myself, and only subbing to the top SF markets. That and my shit is usually too LONG for a lot of places. 3k seems to be the cutoff.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:19 am:   

And I think you can get away with really outrageous writing if you couch it in humor, so it becomes satire, which I like. I sold a story to Gothic.Net that was that way, and it's one of my favorites still.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:10 am:   

Okay, now you got me thinking about this. Though it's incomplete, Mary Anne M has a good list of non-genre markets. Think I'll send something their way.

Thanks for the idea!

Later...
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:37 am:   

Ah, that is a good list!

Good luck, Mike. One down, three or four hundred writers to go. Storm the gates of heaven, baby.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:40 am:   

Btw, I'm unsure as to the difference between aliens at metaphor and aliens as real, since even hard SF "real" aliens are inescapably metaphors for some element of the human condition, at last as far as my reading has shown.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:52 am:   

With some of the more glaring tropes filed off and sold for scrap, I don't see why one shouldn't try. A lot of the so-called slipstream stuff (sorry, I'm crap at labels) could certainly get an appearance in some of the more mainstream venues, I'm sure. I'm thinking of the kind of thing that TTA publishes.

And Magical Realism is still the mighty hat that hides a lot of sins, IMO. Look at Angela Carter.
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 08:59 am:   

Nick -- as far as aliens go, I was thinking more of how they are presented and used by the author in the story or novel. Sometimes the aliens are just "spear-carriers" to advance the plot, other times they're dealt with realistically, in that their very presence cause tremendous upheaval (hate to be self-referential -- oh, screw it -- but in the SF novel I'm trying to fix up, I'm trying very hard for the latter, so I'm probably too fixated on it to make much sense).

Liz -- why do I get this guilty feeling for even thinking about filing off the tropes? I'm serious -- I feel like I'm betraying the genre somehow! Quite possibly I'm just crazy. Or just a lapsed Catholic...
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:23 am:   

About half of my pieces appear in lit mag type places, and all of them are speculative and fantastic in some way. My first published story appeared in Fence, was bona fide SF, and got an O. Henry shortlist. I had a dark fantasy story about a burial ritual appear in a slick put out by Minnesota Public Radio (with a circ. of 80,000) and I'm pretty sure pitchfork carrying Keillor-heads did NOT, repeat NOT, swarm down on the MPR headquarters and burn it to the ground. My story that's in One Story (who has published fantastical stuff before) is about a troll (of some sort).

In terms of pay...I think genre folks overplay this. Paradoxically I don't necessarily think worrying about this is good "business" sense. Some of these don't pay, but open doors in other ways (e.g., agents combing literary magazines). Some pay a great deal. Generally the magazines I send to are the ones I like reading, or have published "quirky" fiction in the past, and other considerations fall from that. Most of these stories before they get placed, I've tried at both genre and literary mags. Sometimes it's hard for me to predict on what side of the tracks they'll land (if they do land).

Speaking personally...it's weird in a way, because sometimes it feels like I have two writing lives (at least!) going on at the same time. That is, the people who read Fence and 3rd Bed aren't as likely to know about, say, Talebones. And vice versa. There is some crossover in audience, and some magazines that people on both sides of the tracks will read (like Lady Churchill's). It's a slower road to hoe, but I think there's going to be more and more cross-fertilization as time goes on.

I really want to start sending out my experimental space opera pieces to literary magazines now. And see what happens.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:32 am:   

why do I get this guilty feeling for even thinking about filing off the tropes? I'm serious -- I feel like I'm betraying the genre somehow!

Ah yes, this is one of the things I think is a major obstacle, actually. There is a fair amount of self-satisfied ghetto wall building round these parts.

Europeans for some reason don't care as much in my experience. Any ideas why? Liz? (Or maybe I just speak with self-confident Euros)
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Alan DeNiro
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:33 am:   

I'm also not sure if there's a magic tropes ratio. It seems really intangible and fluky, sometimes. My Fence story (which was a Clarion story) was overloaded with SF protocols and worldbuilding. People still seemed to respond to it. I think to an extent it's a matter of bannisters and handholds--what do you give to the reader in these magazines that allows them to jump off into wilder territory? For some it might be a strong narrative voice (first person and present tense, which seems to be popular in literary magazines), or winsome characters, or outrageous social commentary.

And some of these magazines really are sick of the genre of domestic realism.
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 09:48 am:   

I haven't read all the posts here, Nick, just your opening post. I'll say that I send *most* of my stuff now to literary reviews, with some success. Granted, my work is more on the surreal/experimental side, but I've had work now in THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL FICTION, NEOTROPE, 3RD BED (the most recent issue - check your newstands, it's there), and have work forthcoming in EXQUISITE CORPSE. I have submissions out to QUARTERLY WEST, DENVER QUARTERLY, SALT HILL, RAIN CROW, DEL SOL REVIEW and ABSINTHE LITERARY REVIEW, among others. It's kind of a crusade of mine, I guess, to be simply "a writer" - not a "genre" or "non-genre" writer, but just "a writer". Though the work I've had published in the mainstream has fantastical elements, I am loathe to be pinned into a corner. I'm also regularly submitting to the speculative fiction magazines, but I just can't limit myself on this.

Sorry if I threw everything off-topic, but had to spill my guts when I read the first post here.

Forrest Aguirre
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 10:24 am:   

"And Magical Realism is still the mighty hat that hides a lot of sins, IMO. Look at Angela Carter."

Liz, this is brilliant! And I could name a dozen other authors that fit the bill off the top of my head, though people would inevitably fall into a debate over what "Magical Realism" means - it's already happened in other threads on these boards.

Forrest
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 10:27 am:   

Forrest,

Sounds good to me. Have you had any interactions with editors of the lit journals that were odd or encouraging? Do you "admit" to writing genre material to them?

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Mike Jasper
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 02:10 pm:   

Okay, so when you send stuff out to non-genre venues, do you mention in your cover letter that you've published in genre mags? Or do you leave it blanks?

I just sent a near-future collab I did to PLAYBOY today, but didn't mention any of my pubs in the cover letter. The last time I sent those bastards something, I listed 3-4 of my genre AND non-genre publications, and they didn't even read the damn story, which was pretty clearly realistic. "We don't read genre fiction."

Walls, walls, walls...
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Jon Hansen
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 04:05 pm:   

When I send stuff to non-genre markets (admitedly, it's been a while), I'd not mention any pubs, nor would I refer to SFWA, HWA, or the like. Makes for a short cover letter, of course.

And I think some folks on the literary side of the fence are hoping to broaden things out. I'm thinking of the newly resurrected ARGOSY, which has been talked about on the rumormill at some length. Apparentally describes itself as a "literary magazine with a fantastical/surrealistic bent. We publish fiction and nonfiction, genre and non-genre. We are looking for science fiction, fantasy, mystery, crime, suspense, magical realism, slipstream, and interesting/edgy mainstream fiction." Oh, and it pays ten cents a word.

Their slush pile ought to be exciting.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 04:09 pm:   

Who is funding Argosy?
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Scott Reilly
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 05:49 pm:   

Lou Anders is editing, but other than their guidelines (which were informally announced, and then later elaborated on by Lou at the RumorMill), there doesn't seem to be much on them. The fact that their guidelines were even released just yet as widely as they have been seemed to be unintentional. I don't even think they have a website yet.
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Forrest
Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2003 - 07:11 pm:   

No, I don't mention the genre credits *except* for my chapbook (and yes, I do note that it is published by Flesh & Blood press - but F&B is such an innocuous name that it doesn't raise any suspicious eyebrows) and the fact that I edit for Ministry of Whimsy press . . . and they all think I'm editing Orwellian dystopian pieces. Well, OK, sometimes I am.

I have noticed that many non-genre editors tend to take you more seriously, though, after you've had a couple of non-genre publications under your belt. It seems that way, anyway. Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but I sense a change in the overall tone of rejection letters and the amount of feedback I get now that I've had a story in 3RD BED and have one coming up in EXQUISITE CORPSE - those titles tend to get their attention, I think. Then again, 3RD BED took my some-teenth submission to them and EXQUISITE CORPSE took my second. And there's no way that the people over at CORPSE could have heard of me before. So maybe I'm just imagining it all.

Evidence: Inconclusive.

Forrest

PS: For those who are interested, I have an old thread on my nightshade board (just around the corner) regarding non-genre mags that tend to take work that breaks boundaries between genre/non-genre. Would love to have more input!
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Mike Jasper
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 05:36 am:   

Forrest, I haven't heard of 3rd Bed, but EXQUISITE CORPSE has a great rep. Very cool, and congrats! I just sent something to ARGOSY this week, and now I'm bopping over to your discussion about non-genre mags.

Other mags that to me appear to be open to genre stuff (I'm working up a list, and some of these I haven't read in a looong time) -- ZOETROPE, MISSOURI REVIEW, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW, GLIMMER TRAIN, INDY MEN'S MAG (a new one), ADBUSTERS (short, political), NEW YORKER, PEDESTAL. This is off the top of my head, mostly, and ignores the lesser-known places...
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Haddayr Copley-Woods
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

" I am going to stick my neck out and just say it: science fiction will never be Literature with a capital ''L,'' and this is because it inevitably proceeds from premise rather than character."

I read this quote, too, and had a nice laugh.

I admit to being interested in but a bit baffled by this discussion. If someone wants to publish my fiction, I'll be thrilled. I don't care if I'm pigeonholed or nitwit reviewers don't think I'm writing Literature with a capital L.

Perhaps when (if) I get more published, I'll feel differently about it.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 03:33 pm:   

Well, as far as I can see, the only problems with the SF ghetto are that books are less likely to be in hardcover, grants are nearly impossible to get, advances are lower, teaching positions are all but impossible to get, sales are lower, reviews are much less frequent, bookstore shelf space is severely limited, reprints are less likely even when demand for a book remains strong, paperback publishing demands more significant output (book every 18 months) than fiction/lit, nobody takes you seriously, you get no money, and then you drop dead and don't even get an obituary in most big newspapers.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 08:40 pm:   

Where do I sign?
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Liz Williams
Posted on Saturday, June 28, 2003 - 01:50 am:   

Nick, there's been this huge debate on this side of the Pond about ghetto-isation and whether genre is starting to cross boundaries (M John Harrison gets quoted a lot). If you check out my board, you'll see a couple of accounts of the debates over this, which were held as part of the Clarke Awards week back in May.

I have to say that I don't find it a particularly interesting or fruitful debate, alas! There are big issues about actually marketing the stuff - I have problems marketing fantasy novels, for instance, because my publishers perceive me as a SF writer. And if I have problems, you can imagine what it's like for the Priests and the Joyces of this world.

Like the US, I think, British media is still very sniffy about genre and will still prefer to make a huge fuss over mainstream. Clearly, as you say, that affects all manner of crucial things - like shelf space. This is reality whether or not one chooses to belong to a ghetto or not.

And some folk get taken into the bosom of the mainstream family, rather like a slightly embarrassing and eccentric aunt who is nevertheless allowed to come to Christmas dinner because she makes the rest of the family look so wonderfully charming. Yes, back to Angela Carter. And if you asked me - why most of Carter's work and why not at least some of Tanith Lee's, why, I would have no satisfactory answer...!

But in terms of what one actually writes - as folk may have noticed, I don't care much about labels. If I am perforce in the ghetto, then that's how it is. And I actually like the genre community (well, most of the time) better than what I've seen of the mainstream community, so it's not a huge issue for me, really.

Haddayr (I love your name, BTW): it's weird how one's attitudes change on publication, though. At first, yes, you are delighted that anyone's actually chosen to publish your work. Then, you realise that you've now got to the foothills, have no sherpa, and the peaks are still before you - sometimes peaks you didn't expect. There are not a few folk who suddenly start wanting to become part of the mainstream - this isn't some kind of neurotic "I wanna be lerved!" reaction, but if you suddenly get passionate about a different kind of book you happen to have produced, and it gets ignored or hidden, then that can be very hard.

Nick: there was an interesting article in Thursday's Guardian newspaper about the rise of the big book in mainstream. Zadie Smith, eg. Someone (forget who) who has spent the last 4 years of his life painstakingly crafting a slight but important novel of 240 pp is apparently being asked by his peers "What took you so long?" I hope his response was a swift poke in the eye...

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Haddayr Copley-Woods
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

Nick: is that all that's wrong? Geez. What are you griping for? Sigh. I see what you mean, now that it's presented that way. Liz: my parents thank you for the compliment on my name, and I look forward to my attitude change. I'm still in the "I've stopped dancing around the office and started writing again but I'm still grinning" phase.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 10:57 am:   

Well, it's great while it lasts! :-)

Make the most of it!
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Jed Hartman
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:19 pm:   

Offhand, I'd say that (though of course there are plenty of of other factors) labels have a lot to do with it, as Atwood is so ably demonstrating. If you can convince a lit-fic publisher that your story isn't that sci-fi crap (perhaps simply by not mentioning that anyone might think of it that way), I bet you have better chances. Similarly, if you can convince a speculative fiction venue that your story is sf despite the lack of spaceships, they're more likely to take it.
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Ellen
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 07:49 pm:   

Nick, Most non-genre writers make a lot less than genre writers. Very few writers of fiction make the big bucks. Plenty of sf writers teach regularly: John Kessel, Bruce McAllister, Chip Delany, Tom Maddox, Karen Joy Fowler, Andy Duncan--just off the top of my head.
Sales are not lower than most mainstream writers. Most mainstream fiction doesn't get reviewed any more than sf does.

Several of the negatives you cite just aren't so.
Ellen

<<<Well, as far as I can see, the only problems with the SF ghetto are that books are less likely to be in hardcover, grants are nearly impossible to get, advances are lower, teaching positions are all but impossible to get, sales are lower, reviews are much less frequent, bookstore shelf space is severely limited, reprints are less likely even when demand for a book remains strong, paperback publishing demands more significant output (book every 18 months) than fiction/lit, nobody takes you seriously, you get no money, and then you drop dead and don't even get an obituary in most big newspapers.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 08:51 pm:   

That some SF writers teach regularly does not mean that teaching jobs are as available to them as they are to mainstream writers, especially in the teaching of writing. Just flip through any issue of Poets And Writers or attend an AWP conference -- the vast majority of slots are for writers of realism, and realist fiction is the vast majority of what is taught in colleges.

As far as reviews, I can't even conceive of what you may mean. What, of any major review venues not already dedicated to SF, review SF with any depth or regularity? Yes, most books don't get reviewed, but all things being equal, your major review organ is going to review a mainstream book over an SF book, and the mainstream book is more likely to get more column inches than an SF book. Any issue of the NYRB, NYTRB, or the book pages of any weekly paper or magazine will make that clear. Of the review organs dedicated to SF, what are their circulation numbers as compared to the organs of the maintream? It just doesn't compare at all.

Also, I never said that mainstream writers make more from their writing: but getting the majority of teaching positions and the overwhelming majority of grants are absolute economic advantages.


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Ellen
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 09:58 pm:   

Nick, You're changing every point that you originally made. You said "advances are lower" and I say they're not on the whole for most sf writers vs most mainstream writers.

You say "reviews are much less frequent" and I maintain they are not. Most mainstream novels are NOT reviewed. First novels probably get more attention than second and third novels of mainstream writers but the vast number of as you call them "realistic" novels do not get reviewed. Most of the same mainstream writers get reviewed over and over but those not in the loop/or not "hot" do not get reviewed.


You said "teaching positions are all but impossible to get" and my response is no they're not as I've proven by throwing out the first names that came to the top of my head.

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Ellen
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 10:28 pm:   

I was compelled to actually check out some of the other sf/f writers who teach or have taught literature at the college level and came up with:

Philip Klass (Wm Tenn)
Nancy Kress
Michael Bishop
Kate Wilhelm
Kit Reed
Dale Bailey
Susan Palwick
Peter Beagle
James Blaylock
Ian MacLeod

There are also the professors or former professors of science like Paul McAuley and Greg Benford.

That's just going through some of the bios of authors I've published recently.

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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 10:31 pm:   

I'm not changing anything, Ellen.

I do say that advances are lower, however, that doesn't necessarily have an impact on income when you factor in something else that I pointed out -- that SF writers generally end up producing more work as well.

As far as the advances being lower -- I'm using SF in broad strokes: we have a number of small presses and even mmpb houses whose mode advances range from $0 to $2000. We certainly have fewer hardcover originals, which also has an impact on the average advance.

As far as reviews, you're changing the point, not me. My point is this: much more review space in leading review organs -- the ones that matter -- goes to mainstream novels than SF novels. This is transparently obvious. That most mainstream novels also don't get reviewed is a red herring; it doesn't change the fact that every major review organ in this country reserves most of its fiction review space to contemporary realism.

Take the last four weeks of the New York Times Review Of Books and count the pages filled with reviews of mainstream fiction and the pages filled with reviews of SF. It doesn't matter what doesn't get reviewed on the mainstream side of the ghetto wall; what is important is that most review pages are dedicated to contemporary American realism.

On teaching: AWP supports 21,000 writers and 330 writing programs (many of the writers teach English electives), the majority of fiction writer members write and teach realism. You named six SF writers; there are 7 fiction writers teaching in the MFA program of Brooklyn College alone.

There are 99 MFA writing programs in the US, plus MA, Ph.D., and BA/BFA programs as well (of course in many places the faculty teach at every level), but the fact remains that the vast majority of teaching jobs for fictionwriters in the university system are reserved for realists.

Naming a few SF teacher exceptions doesn't make them not exceptions, any more than naming the number of SF writers who support themselves on nothing but their writing (the exceptions) refutes the fact that the majority of SF writers need other sources of inome.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 10:51 pm:   

Well Ellen, so far you've named 16 SF writers.

Brooklyn College has 7 mainstream fiction writers in its writing program.

The New School has 12 (not including visiting writers)

Columbia has 13.

NYU and CUNY Hunter have a handful of full-time fiction faculty (3 or 4 each) and augment that with visiting writers -- usually another three or four per year, different writers every year.

We haven't even left the five boroughs yet.

And of course, science fiction writers who are also science professors are hardly what we mean when we talk about teaching positions and genre fiction. It is the research and ability to teach their science subjects that got Benford et al their jobs.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Monday, June 30, 2003 - 11:26 pm:   

And one more note: the above numbers are only for NYC colleges with graduate-level programs in writing. Virtually every college in NYC, two-year, four-year, and beyond, has at least a creative writing class as an elective, nearly all taught by a writer of contemporary American realism. Even if we assume only one fiction CW teacher in each NYC college without a grad program, we're looking to add another 20 or so realist fiction writer teachers to NYC's score at a minimum.
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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

Nick, Since I have no idea where you get your figures on writers who teach from I can't refute them--those writers I mentioned by name were not all of them by any means. There are a LOT more mainstream writers than there are sf writers so sure the proportion of those writers who teach college will be higher proportionally. The numbers you mention--how do you know they're writers? Are they all familiar names? I'm trying to be specific, you're just throwing out generalities here.

I'm simply refuting your orignal comments:
"teaching positions are all but impossible to get"


"advances are lower" --prove it, I say and you haven't at all. You bring up small presses. I'm talking about normal publishing. If you want to discuss small press advances then compare them to small literary press advances and I'll bet they're the same if not less. If you want to talk total income fine. But that is not what you originally argued.


That's what I mean when I say you are altering the nature of your claim. I respond to one of your points, you change the point. Fine. Your topic, your prerogative.
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Jon Hansen
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 01:56 pm:   

At the risk of inserting myself into another heated discussion (hi, Nick!), one could make the argument that it's simply a matter of percentages. Yes, there are many more mainstream writers teaching in colleges, more mainstream novels being reviewed, and more mainstream novels being published when compared to speculative fiction.

On the other hand, there are also many, many, many more mainstream writers, period. If we take Ellen's list of 16 teaching writers and compare that to the ranks of SFWA, the percentages look pretty good. Hell, if you even assume there's twice as many publishing SF writers out there, that's still an excellent ratio.

Nick: I don't always mean to take sides against you.
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Jon Hansen
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 02:05 pm:   

And I now see Ellen's offered the same argument is me. Never mind; I'll be over here.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 03:18 pm:   

My figures as to the number of MFA and other programs, and the number of writers and programs supported by the AWP come from the AWP's website (http://www.apwriter.org). The AWP info comes from the very first page, the info about the number of programs comes from this page:
http://www.awpwriter.org/aboutawp/index.htm

As far as my numbers from Brooklyn College, Columbia, the New School et al, I went to their websites, went to their MFA pages, and counted the number of faculty who list novels and short stories in their bios (not all of them do, naturally -- there are poets and playwrights and narrative journalists as well).

Is that specific enough?

On the advances being lower, I was talking (me being the one who started the conversation) about all of a publishing sector, both Big 5, indie, and even smaller publishers. If you want to talk only about "normal publishing" that's fine, but that isn't me changing my claim, Ellen, that is you doing it for me.

Now, comparing small literary presses with small SF presses is something I can do, having been published by both and having worked with PGW, the leading distributor for smaller indie presses. Soft Skull and Akashic, two small companies (fewer than 10 novels a year) are offering advances of between $1000 and $3000. Other small presses I'm familiar with (friends are published by them) include Serpents Tail (1500 pounds), Autonomedia ($1000), Seal Press ($2000) etc. MacAdam/Cage, which does hardcovers, can cough up about $5000. Grove, which also does hardcovers, does about $5000 for beginning writers.

Compare this with the horror lines of the much larger Dorchester and Kensington: about $2000. Compare this with Cosmos/Prime/Wildside: just over $0 (some of Wild's non-fiction gets advances). Aardwolf? $0. Five Star? $1000. Medium Rare? Under $1000. Night Shade? $3000 for hardcover (which I was happy to accept), a bit below MacAdam/Cage -- a press with roughly the same book-per-year and marketplace penetration (this last according to my agent, who handles subrights for MacAdam/Cage).

Then we need to look at the top -- every year there is at least one, often two, six figure advances for realist fiction from new writers. Yes, these advances are atypical, but they nonetheless drive *up* the average. How many new writers get six figure advances for SF for a single title (not a trilogy or series -- we'd need to divide the advance among all purchased titles then)? Few enough annually to make it even more interesting news when it does happen, and to drive down the average.

As far as the percentages go, you're both confusing cause and effect. The very high percentage of realist writers who teach in colleges has to do with the fact that the programs are designed to teach realism, the review appartus is designed to propogate realism, the publishers are interested primarily in realism, and most of the money and publicity goes towards realism.
Colleges do not create blank slate writing programs and then blindly happen to hire realist writers by coincidence, or based on percentages. SF makes up how much of the adult trade fiction marketplace? PNH suggested back in 2000 that the number is about 11%.

Are 11% of college writing teachers SF writers? No. Thus it isn't just percentages.

You also miss a cultural element: MFA students often get theese degrees with the notion that they can then go on to teach in MFA programs. I mentioned this on another thread, Jonathan Ames published his first novel and then took an MFA because he needed it as a teaching credential. No such identical notion -- I'll teach and write -- exists as a cultural norm within SF. And it doesn't for a reason: such teaching jobs are very very hard to come by.



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Ellen
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 03:42 pm:   

Thanks Jon, right. The percentages might very well be the same.
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ben peek
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 05:10 pm:   

>As far as the percentages go, you're both confusing cause and effect. The very high >percentage of realist writers who teach in colleges has to do with the fact that the programs are designed to teach realism, the review appartus is designed to propogate realism, the publishers are interested primarily in realism, and most of the money and publicity goes towards realism.<

while i don't dispute this, i think there might be another aspect of it you might be missing. what i've noticed is that a lot of the literary magazines are actually run out of universities, by academics who have a love for a certain kind of writing. one of the reasons they get a bit more money towards their publications is that they're in the grants/funding system, and, in my experience, often get funding from one or two areas.

the sci-fi/fantasy genre stuff, however, is usually not run out of universities. i might even go as far as to say that one of the reasons for this is a certain disregard towards such things, a form of anti intellectualism that's found footing in the myth of science fiction being the gutter genre no one has respect for. but i'm willing to be wrong about that. i'm just saying that they're not in the system. how easy or hard it might be for them to get funding out of the system is another thing.

which is why there are more 'literary' writers teaching than sci-fi ones, because they're already in the system by the time they become the so called writers.

i dunno. i just figured it was something worth mentioning, is all.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 05:23 pm:   

I would say that the university-managed lit journals are generally part of the Ponzi scheme of the MFA system, an epiphenomenon of it rather than a cause.

I would suggest that the idea that SF/F/H are debased comes from its pulp roots, while realism was explicitly a fiction for the emergent middle class and thus generally appeared in the best magazines.
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Alex Irvine
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 08:45 pm:   

I would suggest that the amount of energy spent on this discussion might be more productively directed toward putting fiction in the mail.

When I was in grad school (not as a creative-writing student), you know what all of the creative-writing students said to me? "SF guys make all the money." Over and over again. Ghetto self-consciousness aside, the grass is always greener. Who cares where you get reviewed? Reviews don't do nearly as much to sell books as word of mouth.

And that quote from the NYTBR on Atwood is perfectly self-consistent. If you take as a given that SF is generated from premise rather than character and that literary fiction is the other way around (a premise largely if not universally justified by the history of the genre), then of course SF is by definition not capital-L literature.

(Also, if I'm remembering correctly, the reviewer did note that there were exceptions to the rule.)

(Also also, who cares? If you're writing to get reviewed in the Times, your priorities are all screwed up anyway.)

Ben Peek's comments are very sensible. If you immerse yourself in an environment of campus and literary journal, you're going to know people, and those people are going to get you jobs. This is natural. You think there aren't a ton of people writing literary fiction who would love to cash a check for teaching at Clarion/Viable Paradise/Whatever?
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 - 09:30 pm:   

I would suggest that the amount of energy spent on this discussion might be more productively directed toward putting fiction in the mail.

Hi, nice to meet you too, stranger. Thanks for your concern about my energy, but I'm doing fine. I'm also addicted to things like eating and breathing, so I think I'll continue to work on this non-fiction assignment -- and rest the brain for a couple of minutes by writing a post -- rather than running to a mail box after midnight in the hope of five cents a word six months from now.

Who cares where you get reviewed?

Well, let's see. The publisher of my short novel Northern Gothic also published Eileen Myles' roman a clef Cool For You. CFY was the Soft Skull first novel to be reviewed in the NYTRB: it was a half-page review, and only half of that article dealt with Miles' book. After the review appeared on July 29, 2001 PGW reported 250 orders over the next two days (more than half of 7/2001's 433 orders) and 652 orders for Aug 2001. This was the largest set of orders in the book's since the book's announcement back in February of 2001 and hasn't been matched since.

When Northern Gothic was reviewed positively by Charles DeLint in the Oct/Nov 2002 issue of F&SF, over the two months of the review's presence on the newsstands, PGW reports 94 orders. Not too bad, actually, much higher than any other two months in 2002 (the book was released in November 2001 and most orders were taken in 2001, between announcement and publication), but clearly, the New York Times has significantly more direct and immediate effect in the marketplace.

Incidentally, these figures come directly from the publisher.pgw.com website -- I have access to the password protected section because I am currently fact-checking a Soft Skull book called Full Spectrum Disorder: The Military In The New American Century by Stann Goff. Do keep an eye out for it.

My other experience with a major review organ was my scholarly book Kwangju Diary being reviewed in the New York Review Of Books in February of 2001. In spite of the fact that the UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series doesn't even have an Ingram account (it just sells direct to college libraries and bookstores for classroom adoptions, and amazon.com), the review wiped out the entire inventory, triggering a third printing of the book for the Spring semester of that year. Ah, those were the days...

And of course, getting in the press helps spark word of mouth in the first place. I would much rather be reviewed in a major review organ than in, say, Locus, since my goal is to sell books. I guess that can be construed as a screwed-up priority -- after all, who really cares about a dumpy little novella about the Civil War Draft Riots or the Carter administration's culpability in the massacre of 2000 student dissidents in 1980.

Finally, Birkerts comment is not at all self-consistent, because he does not equate "literary fiction" with "capital L-literature." The former is a mode, the latter is obviously a value judgment about quality. One can't simply announce that one mode is superior to another without explaining why: in this case why character would be intrinsically superior to premise (and what this says about, oh, non-SFnal novels of ideas that are certainly capital L-Literature).

Birkerts explicitly says that the existence of capital-L literature is a matter of faith. Birkerts does say that there are exceptions to the rule, but that he didn't think enough of them to overturn. It's bad logic top to bottom, more errors than words.



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Jon Hansen
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 07:59 am:   

Nick, one small observation: in the matter of advances, it's probably much more accurate to use the median rather than the average. Otherwise it's not unlike gathering twenty people in a room, one of whom is Bill Gates, and then announcing that everyone in that room is worth, on average, roughly $50 million dollars. If the other people in the room are Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, etc., that's fine, but not if they're all college students with student loans. It doesn't mean that averaging is useless, only that it's just not as useful if you've got a datapoint in there that skews the results out of reality.

I'm also curious about where you got your numbers for advances offered. I find myself wondering about other small presses, i.e., Golden Gryphon, Four Walls Eight Windows, Mojo, Subterranean, etc. Is there a database or other source you could recommend, or do all your numbers come mostly from personal experience or writers you know?
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 09:29 am:   

Jon,

We can use median, we can use mode, however my offhand comment said "average" and thus we talk about the average, especially since other metrics I've tried to bring up (mode averages, total income) were said to be changing my point midstream.

Further, how are you defining "accurate" without creating an implicit metametric -- i.e., median "feels" right to you. We can look at the average, mode, and median, or all income, and get a more complete picture, but the idea that the median is necessarily more "accurate" (as regards WHAT?) is dubious. An average done accurately is an accurate average. Same with a median.

Also, your analogy, though illustrative, easily overstates the actual case by several orders of magnitude. We're not talking the Richest Man In The World vs. a handful of college students, we're talking a gap only about 1/4th as large as the gap between a CEO and tens of thousands of nonunionized shopfloor employees: JS Foer vs. a Madison Square Garden full of writers with $7000-$10,000 advance checks. My point is that at both the low end and the high end, lit advances are higher. Yes, if you cut out all the areas where lit is higher, the rest will end up being the same or lower. But that's not more accurate, is it?

As far as other advances, let's see:

Golden Gryphon: No info.

4W8W, I know well, Oakes being acquainted with Soft Skull's Richard Nash, Jim Munroe being a friend of mine (he helped get MUG in front of Oakes), and 4W8W being a PGW client. They start at about $3000 and of course it goes up from there. Now, 4W8W doesn't only do SF, and you can bet that Gordon Lish got a better deal than Steve Aylett did for trade paperbacks. (When pushing Scorch by AD Naumann to PGW, I said it was similar to Aylett and the acct exec rolled his eyes and told me Aylett's sales. )

Bill from Subterranean, in the HWA members-only chat I moderated a week ago, explained, "Low end is $3k. Highest multi-book is $40-$50k. Highest single is in the twenties." Sub mostly does hardcovers.

Mojo I thought was defunct. Their site is gone and the last year they appear in the Locus index was 1999.

Unfortunately, there is no database that I know of. The entire industry is tight-lipped about everything: some of those mega print-runs are smoke, bestsellers' lists are determined by Freemason ritual, and writers are generally tightlipped as well -- genteel poverty is still a source of embarrassment for the middle classes.

My info comes from having worked the Soft Skull accounts at both Consortium and PGW, meeting many of the other Con and PGW clients at BEAs, personal communications with other writers (Jim Munroe, Caren Gussof, Tom Beller, Suki Kim, Jonathan Ames, Zoe Trope, Neal Pollack, etc etc), my own agent, who does subrights for a large number of indie presses (I met her when she became the Soft Skull subrights agent, in fact), and sometimes info directly from the publishers.
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Jon Hansen
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 09:59 am:   

Hmm. My point is that the median is not necessarily more accurate, but it might be more illuminating in some cases. Now, if the median advance in a batch of publishers is about the same as the average, then that's one thing. On the other hand, if the median is well below the average, that tells us something else.

Or to put it in hard terms: Publisher A signs checks for ten first time novelists. The amounts of the checks are five for $2500, three for $3000, one for $4000, and one for $5000. Average check is for $3050, with the median check at $3000. Swell.

Now we have Publisher B, also with ten first time novelists, one of whom happens to also be, oh, say Arnold Schwarzenegger, writing his very first novel. The amounts of the checks are four for $2500, three for $3000, one for $4000, one for $5000, and one for $250,000. Average check is for $27,800, with the median check at $3000. Does this mean that Joe Average first novelist is going to get a check for $27,000 from Publisher B? I don't think so. Does this mean that Publisher B pays better than Publisher A? Not necessarily.

And it's true most people talk about averages. I believe that was the math used by the Bush team when justifying the tax cut. The median told something completely different for most people (and no, I'm not starting an argument on politics. Dear God I'm not opening that up here!).
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 10:14 am:   

Hmm. My point is that the median is not necessarily more accurate

Well garsh, Jon, if that is so, you probably shouldn't say things like: "in the matter of advances, it's probably much more accurate to use the median rather than the average." Because when I read that, I get the KWAZY idea that you mean accurate.

Like I said above, I know how medians work; the only reason I'm still on the notion of the average is that someone questioned why I felt the average in one sector was higher than in another. I explained that I felt it was higher because both the low end and the high end offer higher advances. Another point I mentioned once is that hc originals are more common in realism, and that tends to up the advances a bit, even for midlist writers.

I agree that more complete info could be had by examining median, mode, and average all together. I'm more than happy to talk about all of the above and have no particular opinion on which side, if any, would have better numbers (I suspect the mode might be higher for litfic).

I'm also still interested in the teaching section of the thread: I don't see ANY genre represented very well in writing programs. The plurality of adult trade sales are category romance novels, but category romance novelists are certainly not holding down any noticeable number of jobs teaching creative writing. If SF is 11% of the market as PNH had it three years ago (I realize that number itself may be inaccurate), are we really seeing anything close to that proportion in the academy? I think not.
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Jon Hansen
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 11:11 am:   

Because when I read that, I get the KWAZY idea that you mean accurate.

Heh. Forgive my use of poetic license. However, I think my example showed that for a first time novelist signing with Publisher B, the median amount of an advance check would give him a much more accurate number as to what he could expect his advance to be (unless he be a famous person).

From that, we could expand this out further: SF Publisher pays out $10 million in advances every year, with median & average advances roughly the same all the way across the board (first timer, midlist, Big Names), vs. Mainstream Publisher who pays out $20 million in advances, with the average skewed like crazy because of certain Famous People authors, but the median hovering at, just above, or even below the SF Publisher. Since most writers aren't also famous people, it doesn't mean that we should expect mainstream publishing to pay better than spec fic publishing.

However, you're right: without hard numbers in how much advances are, this is just so much blueskying. Just like like every other discussion board on the 'net.

As for teaching, my oversimplified opinion is this: most creative writing programs are simply teaching their students to write creatively, which is not necessarily the same as writing for publication.
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Nick Mamatas
Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 - 11:23 am:   

As for teaching, my oversimplified opinion is this: most creative writing programs are simply teaching their students to write creatively, which is not necessarily the same as writing for publication.

I don't even know how much creativity goes into it. Realism doesn't valorize creativity so much as it privileges the notion of authenticity of experience. There is actually a very good thread on the MFA and how it works on the Ratbastards board (In fact, I started this thread because of that thread) that you may wish to read if you haven't already.

Just one quick note on the mainstream publishers' large advances: they generally, when we speak of fiction, aren't heading out to the Famous People, except for Already Famous Authors and various Prodigies. Zoe Trope got her $100,000 from Harpers after writing a chapbook for Future Tense that ended up selling a whole bunch o' copies. ZZ Packer, JS Foer etc., are just marketable personas and dexterous writers who went to the right writing programs. This is also discussed in the ratbastards thread: lots of MFA programs are little more than fantasy camps, but the top programs do have a fair chance of leading to well-paid publication.
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James A. Owen
Posted on Thursday, July 03, 2003 - 11:42 am:   

Regarding the new ARGOSY magazine:

If any of the members of this forum are planning on attending the San Diego Comicon, there will be a formal announcement (and celebratory pizza party) at the courtyard of the Horton Grand Hotel on the evening of the 17th, wherein all of the secrets and mysteries will be revealed.

And yes, Lou Anders' submissions' pile is becoming a wondrous thing to behold.

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