Monday, September 05, 2005

Some thoughts and tales on the third anniversary...

of my starting to write science fiction in any kind of serious fashion. It's probably a good time to reflect.
Of course, I read tons of science fiction when I was a kid. Remember the old joke, "What was the Golden Age of science fiction?"
The answer: 12.
I took a class in science fiction when I was in high school; the enlightened English Department offered it as an elective. So the first science fiction I ever actually wrote was in that class.
I got good marks; I seemed to have a knack for it.
I didn't approach writing again until I was almost 30. I think I was prodded by the impending demise of Robert Heinlein; his health was obviously declining. This news made me think about the subject; and I actually thought to do some writing. I still have one complete story I did back then, about two men huddling in a cave talking abut how civilization imploded by the turn of the century because people simply went crazy from the fast pace and out of control technology of modern life. I certainly wasn't a cyberpunk. The story is clumsy, and my inadequacies of the power of prophecy are evident (I had the Berlin Wall falling ten years too late. and I had the Christian Right taking over the White House eight years too early). Some day I may post the story on-line, as a historic artifact.
Heinlein died in May 1988. I bought "To Sail Beyond the Sunset” and had the bizarre 'talking book' incident that summer (I need to post that story later).
I took two weeks of vacation in August 1988 and lugged a TRS-80 Model II to a cabin in Cuchara, Colorado, and started to work on an alternate history story. I came to the conclusion I didn't have the chops to make a real go at writing. I still have the computer though, and the eight-inch disks in storage. If I could get the power-source on the computer, I may be able to save what I wrote back then.
The cyberpunks turned me off to the genre, anyway, during the '80s. I bought three books during the decade - James Hogan's "Inherit the Stars", L. Neil Smith's "The Gallatin Divergence", and a reprint of Heinlein's "Time for the Stars".
Otherwise, the only science fiction I read during the decade was in Omni. I bought a subscription from a strange boy who appeared at my office one day when I was all alone during an ice storm, and who didn't leave any footprints when he left (another bizarre story I'll have to tell later).
I did like a lot of the stuff I read there; I was very impressed with "His Powder'd Wig, His Crown of Thorns" by Marc Laidlaw. I also really liked "Wild, Wild Horse". Little did I know that years later I'd get to know the author hisself, Howard Waldrop.
There was a lot of good stuff in the magazine; who could have know that in 2004 I would sit on a panel at a convention with Ellen Datlow.
My interest finally petered out completely. I don't think I read any science fiction in the '90s at all; nothing that I can recall.
So how did I get back into the groove? Well, from 1995 to 2001 I was completely preoccupied as the owner and operator of a small community newspaper; a project that ultimately failed. By the start of 2002 I was looking for a real job and starting to pay attention to the world again.
Ginnie Heinlein died in January 2002. That caught my attention. Then George Alec Effinger died in April. Hmmm, got my attention again.
One day, while killing time on the internet, I was puttering around and reading about the Green Lantern. I saw that Alfred Bester wrote the Green Lantern Oath. Boing! Bester was my favorite author when I was young. I also learned that Bester had been a magazine editor. Hey, a journalist who wrote science fiction!
That spring, "Minority Report" came out. My wife likes Tom Cruise, and so we saw it. I thought at first - from preliminary reports - the movie was based on "The Demolished Man" by Bester. Of course, it was based on the Phillip K. Dick story.
Well, the little dings kept adding up. I guess ideas were percolating in my mind. And then the AC broke down right before Labor Day.
We were living in a guesthouse adjacent to a lake in East Texas. My boss at the time let us live there as part of my employment package. The window unit died right before a very hot weekend, and there was no way to get it replaced until after the holiday.
My wife couldn't take the heat, so she fled back to her mother's place in Dallas.
I stayed behind, and found a temporary solution by "borrowing" a window unit from the office (which was a big hassle taking it out and putting it in and taking it out again and putting it back, but it worked for a few days.)
Meanwhile, I was alone. So late one night, I sat down at the computer and I thought: Hokay, you're 45. Howsabout a mid-life assessment? Have I done everything I wanted to do in my life?
Get married? Check, did that in 1999.
Run my own newspaper? Check, like I already noted (although in the end that proved to be a big mistake. You know, watch out for what you wish for....)
A few other things not worth mentioning.
Hey! I never got around to really writing science fiction? Hmm.. well I got some time to kill.
I did a search and found a web site,, which lets you self-post stories and get feedback. So I stayed up until 4 a.m. and banged out a 2,000 word story, and then posted it.
Checked back the next day to see how badly the other folks ripped me apart. Compliments all around. Not a bad job, they said.
Then it hit me. After All those years of writing for newspapers. my writing had improved. I wasn't up to speed in the '80s, but now maybe I could make a go at it.
I began a process of serious research on the web to ascertain the state of the genre. It involved a lot of self-education. By September, I submitted my first story.
So here we are three years later. I've had 20 stories published, including my pro debut in Asimov's.
Yesterday I sat down, collected up my notes, and wrote up on a crumbling old Big Chief tablet - which I had originally bought for this use in the 80's - all my story ideas just waiting to be written up. I came up with 53.
I better get to work.


  1. Thanks for posting this; it's fascinating seeing how other writers got their start. It also reminds me that I need to read your tale in Asimov's :) btw you were recently published in Andromeda Spaceways, right?

  2. Andrew -

    Well, I got started kinda late, but then I never set out to be a fiction writer. I thought I was cut out to be a journalist - and that's how I still make my living. But Clifford Simak was a life-long newspaper editor, and Alfred Bester was a magazine editor.

    Yes, Andromeda published "The Cast Iron Dybbuk". It was nice to have two stories hit in major magazines at the same time.


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