Tuesday, May 29, 2012

REDISCOVERY: the search for a collaborator

Marion had a major stroke in late 1989, followed by a heart attack six months later, so it was obvious that she was going to need a collaborator for future Darkover® novels. The final choice was Deborah J. Ross, who is doing a wonderful job with them, but the first co-author Marion tried was Mercedes Lackey.

Today Misty is so busy it's almost impossible to get a short story from her, but twenty years ago she had more free time. (I helped a little bit too; REDISCOVERY was published the year before my first novel came out). Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly a seamless collaboration. Misty and I both have computer programming backgrounds, while Marion was the music fanatic, so even now I can tell who wrote which parts of this book.

REDISCOVERY was also the book where Marion's decades of seat-of-the-pants writing finally caught up with her. She had always intended for Lorill Hastur to be Camilla n'ha Kyria's father, but when the past and future timelines converged in this book, she realized that Lorill would have been two years old when Camilla was born, so her father became an unspecified Hastur uncle.

REDISCOVERY is available from:
Kindle
CreateSpace eStore
Amazon.com

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

(Mis-) Predicting the Future

It's the job that won't die. I worked for Marion Zimmer Bradley for twenty years, and now–more than twelve years after her death–I'm still working for her. Technically, I'm working for the Trust she set up to hold her copyrights, but the changes in my duties have been due to technology, not to Marion's absence. There are still days when it feels as though she's in Europe on another research trip.

The current major project is getting her backlist republished. We started with Fictionwise, then added KDP, which allows us to change things like cover art and doesn't have Fictionwise's set-up charges. Barnes & Noble now has Pubit, which is similar to Kindle's KDP, except that we put up our first two titles four days ago and they're still "processing"–whatever that means. Now we've gone from just eBooks to dead-tree editions (paperbacks), using CreateSpace and LSI.

What this means is that I get to proofread Marion's old science-fiction and see what's different from what she thought would happen when she wrote the books. Recently I've been working on SURVEY SHIP, which she originally wrote in 1980. (At least by then she knew that computers of the future wouldn't have vacuum tubes.) I usually don't change what she wrote, which is why the spaceship has Mylar sails (Mylar is a registered trademark of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company). Fortunately Marion was usually fairly vague about technology–both in her writing and in real life.

But while nobody really expects to predict technology accurately, in 1980 Marion apparently could not visualize an end to apartheid, despite the fact that the United Nations had established the Special Committee Against Apartheid in 1962 and people had been protesting it throughout the 1970s. Perhaps spending the 1950s in small towns in Texas and having a husband who belonged to the KKK gave her a pessimistic view of human nature in this particular area. So I did tweak the origins of one character, making him come from some small unspecified village in Africa, rather than from a reserve in South Africa. Having him come from a poverty-stricken background wasn't a problem. Over 2,000 years ago Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Unfortunately, that saying isn't anachronistic yet, but we can hope and work for the day when it is.

SURVEY SHIP is available from:
Kindle
CreateSpace eStore
Amazon.com

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rejection–from the Editor's Viewpoint

Last Saturday was the deadline for submissions to Sword & Sorceress 27. The good news is that by the end of Sunday I had a final line-up and had sent out the contracts. (I have Marion Zimmer Bradley's standards for prompt response to live up to.) The bad news is that I had to do the final rejections. Earlier rejections are easier. When I do them I'm rejecting stories that I know I'm not going to buy, stories that just aren't right for Sword & Sorceress. But the final rejections are difficult and painful.

When I'm reading for the anthology I try to give an initial response within two days. I either reject the story or notify the author that I'm holding it. (The reading period is only four weeks, so I'm not tying up somebody's story for long.) The stories I hold are ones that are right for Sword & Sorceress. They're stories I want to buy and include in the anthology. The problem is that by the deadline, I have enough stories for two or three good anthologies. Marion had the same problem; when she died, at the time of the Sword & Sorceress 18 deadline, she was holding enough stories for three anthologies. I split them up into Sword & Sorceress 18, Sword & Sorceress 19, and Sword & Sorceress 20.

So I spent a large part of the day on Sunday going through the hold pile. The long stories went back first; when the word-limit is 90,000 I can't fit too many 9,000-word stories. I start by taking a hard look at everything over 6,000 words. Usually I work down from there, but this year I got at least nine stories that fit in the "short and funny" category. I've been saying I can always use those–traditionally the anthology ends with one, but in previous years I've been lucky to get two of them. This year I got so many that I had to send some of them back, and it wasn't an easy choice. I also sent back ten stories by people who had sold to previous Sword & Sorceress anthologies. I hate rejecting stories by "MZB's writers," but there are approximately 400 of them, and a lot of them submit stories every year.

The final decisions remind me of an eye doctor's exam, when he's flipping lenses back and forth and asking, "Which is better: 1 or 2?" Frequently they're so close, that I'm saying, "Uh, 2?" or even "could you show me those again?" That's what the final decisions are like: having to choose between pairs of stories that are both very good and that I really like. (Also, by then I've re-read the stories so many times that my eyes are really tired–another similarity to an eye exam.)

So I make the best choices I can, knowing that I'm returning a lot of really good stories. I hope that, when Sword & Sorceress 27 comes out this November, the readers will like the stories I finally chose as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Multitasking

When I first heard the term "multitasking" I thought it was a good thing. Later studies, however, demonstrated that when you try to do more than one thing at a time, you frequently don't do either of them well. Now there are laws against certain types of multitasking, such as using a cell phone while driving a car. That, of course, is one of those laws that should just be common sense.

This morning, when I should have been writing my blog entry for the week, I inadvertently attempted to multitask to the point of total overload. I had ten tabs open in the browser I was using, plus two other web browser programs, an e-mail program, MS Word and four spreadsheets running. It's a wonder that my computer didn't shut down before my brain did, victim to total confusion.

I finally noticed it was past lunchtime, so I got up from the computer (actually, I pried my stiffened body out of the chair and forced it to start moving again), ate lunch, and watched a movie I had recorded on TV last month–until I got bored and deleted it halfway through. Then I curled up on the sofa with a book (Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones), and the next thing I knew, it was time for Vespers. So I'm writing my blog entry now, which means I'm finally achieving the third of five things I was really, really supposed to do today.

As soon as I post this, I'd better get back to the slush pile. I have four more days of that, and then I'll be assembling Sword & Sorceress 27 and sending out contracts. I'm hoping that once that is done I'll be able to do more of my own writing. I do still plan to finish the novel I'm working on, no matter how long–and how many rewrites–it takes me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It Came from the Slush Pile

It is now about half-way through the reading period for the annual Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress anthology–the deadline is Saturday, May 12. This year it's number 27, or–as it will no doubt be on the book cover–XXVII. I'm getting very tired of Roman numerals. I'm also guessing the original use of Roman numerals means that Don Wollheim didn't expect the anthology to go on as long as it did. It has now outlived both him and Marion and is well into its third decade.

Marion loved reading slush. Raul, who picked up the mail on his way to work every morning, used to complain that she should at least say "good morning" before her demand "Is there any mail?" He finally managed to get "good-morning-Raul-is-there-any-mail?"

My job was to keep track of everything, and when it was all paper that was a big job. I can remember times when my bedroom had multiple stacks of manuscripts and different sized SASEs (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes). Yes, Marion had an office, but things were less likely to be knocked over and strewn across the floor in my bedroom. Electronic submissions are wonderful.

Actually the computer makes editing the anthology much easier. I have a spreadsheet, where I keep track of submission and their disposition, and a folder in the e-mail account where any submission that follows the guidelines will land automatically. So every day I open up the spreadsheet, go to the "Anthology-To Be Read" folder in the mailbox, and log in the submissions. Then I start reading them.

One of the most frequent reasons for rejecting a story is that I didn't care about the characters. This doesn't mean that it's a bad story or that another editor won't like it; it just means I'm not buying it for Sword & Sorceress. Marion had a rejection she called "convenient earthquake" for these, but I really don't think it's helpful to tell a writer that you don't care if an earthquake swallows up their characters on the last page. Given that a secondary goal of the Sword & Sorceress anthologies is to encourage new writers, I try to make my rejections less brutal than Marion's.


Another pretty much automatic rejection is for bad grammar. If I'm continually pulled out of the story by the fact that the writer has no clue how to use commas, I'm not going to buy it. If you want to be a writer, learn how to write! I'm an editor, not an English teacher. I strongly recommend The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon. I have that, as well as The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed with easy reach on the shelf above my computer.

A third major class of rejections are the stories that I read through to the end and then go "Ewwwww!" I know dystopian fiction is popular these days, but if I like your characters enough to follow them all the way through the story, I don't want something horrible to happen to them on the last page.

Every year, however, I find stories that I love in the slush pile: stories with new ideas and stories with a new twist on old ideas. I find new writers who will be among my favorites for years to come. These are the times when I love my job. And these are the stories that will, God willing, keep me editing Sword & Sorceress into its fourth decade.

Sword and Sorceress 26–as well as volumes 22 through 25–are available from Amazon.com, Kobo, and Kindle. We hope to make volumes 1 through 21 available again too, but that's a long-term project.