Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Look Back at 2005 - and the obligatory New Year's resolution

The year 2005 hasn't been a bad one. Lots of hard work, but it was fairly rewarded.
On a purely personal note: Patricia completed two more academic semesters at the Texas A&M-Commerce. She earned a Presidential Scholarship both terms. That means she had at least a 3.5 GPA and a full course load.
This past semester (Fall 2005) was her last full academic semester. Next month she starts interning at the Mt. Pleasant school district. She will be teaching third grade. She still will be doing some classroom-based study, but for this and the next semester, it's mainly "field-based learning" as they say.
Next fall, she will be an intern. A year from now she will have her degree in Early Childhood Education. I'm so proud of her.
As for me, back in March I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and starting taking a pill daily - a regimen I probably will continue the rest of my life.
In November I had an eye exam, and had my specs upgraded to trifocals. Too much staring at the computer screen, I guess. Otherwise, my health has been pretty good, and I felt better this year than I have in a while. The Type II Diabetes seems to be in check, although my blood sugar has shown a tendency to creep up. I'm making plans to start some oral medication, probably in February.
I started a new job June 1st. I went from the third person in a three-person news department at a weekly paper to the first in a three-person department in a semi-weekly (2x a week). Nice change and certainly feel a move up. Of course, it required a move, but we found a nice house in Hooks in August. The house was also a big step up. We went from a three bedroom with one bath (and no shower) to a four bedroom with two full bathrooms. Plus it has a nice fenced yard, which was a boon for the pups.
In November, a stray cat adopted us. She has to live outside because Patricia is allergic to cats, but otherwise she seems quite happy. I named her Dreamer. She lives in the backyard now with Solace, the big dog. Ashley, the 12-year old cocker spaniel, also enjoys the yard, although she sleeps indoors at night.
On to science fiction: 2005 was obviously a good year. I had my first pro sale hit the newsstands with the Sept. 2005 Asimov's. I still have my subscriber's copy - which is very weather-beaten at this point. I gave away 12 copies so far - my two authors' copies plus another ten I ordered from Dell magazines. I sent them to family members, old friends, an old scoutmaster - you know the drill. I probably need to order another dozen, which will dribble out a lot slower.
It was a genuine piece of luck that "Cast Iron Dybbuk" hit at the same time as "Rocket". Nice one-two punch for a debut - and totally fortuitous, since the publication schedules of the two mags are totally different.
The stories were also different enough that they complemented each other. For example, Tangent on-line panned "Rocket", but liked "Dybbuk". I also got some feedback from individuals the same way - they liked Dybbuk more than Rocket.
I asked to be paid by ASIM in copies, which I also handed out liberally, although the distribution there was much more limited. The only non-family member I recall I gave a copy to was Howard Waldrop - although I "sold" a copy to one of Patricia's professors who is a s-f reader. He had known of Andromeda but had never seen a copy. Patricia offered to give him one, but for ethical reasons (since Patricia was in a class he taught at the time) he paid for the copy. Of course, I never say the money...
The Rocket-Dybbuk combo was part of that run of six stories I had during three months this summer, the others being "Big Girl" at Ultraverse, "The Honor of the Blue Devil Patrol" at Beyond Centauri, "Dialogue" at RevolutionSF and "Hideaway" at Alienskin.
Three of these stories three were print - Rocket, Dybbuk, and the Blue Devil Patrol - and four were paid; those three plus Hideaway.
Bewildering Stories published "Won't You Come Home, Bill Buckley?" in February and "The Queen of Guilty Pleasures" in September. Surprising Stories published "After Image" in September.
Convention-wise, I was very happy to get to ConDFW in February. It was the second time I had made it. The first time, in 2003, was also the first con ever attended. I had just begun to write a few months earlier. The con's publicity person (I still remember her name, Stephanie Folse) sent out a news release that crossed my desk at the paper in Malakoff where I worked at the time.
She apparently had sent it to all the papers in the DFW area; Malakoff is on Cedar Creek Lake and the very fringe of the area (zip code prefix 751). I ran the release, and then wheedled my way in on a press pass.
It was there that I realized writing s-f was what needed to be doing. I know it sounds corny, but that's how it happened. I also learned a lot; the best piece I advice I heard was Dave Marusek's comment that breaking into writing was probably "one-third talent, one-third talent and one-third luck". I also met Jayme Blashcke there, the fiction ed of RevSF. On one panel, he commented it was tough to get good s-f when you aren't a paying site. When I went back home. I wrote "Silvern" for him. It was my first publication. My next story for him, later that year, "Silence is Golden", earned me my first HM in the YBSF the next year.
BTW, I let the folks at ConDFW know how much the event meant to me while I was there. I plan to go back in February.
In July, I was a guest at Conestoga in Tulsa. It was a great con, and marked the first time I chaired a panel. It was on "How the Defeat Writer's Block". The room was packed; Jayme remarked later on his blog I looked like I knew that I was doing and had been going to these things for years. Boy, did I fool everybody!
Conestoga featured one of the most embarrassing accidents that I've ever had. Sunday morning Howard and I slouched across the street to a supermarket to grab some breakfast food. I wanted to eat there, but Howard wanted to get back to his room; he was still working on a story he was writing for a reading. The reason I wanted to eat right away was because I could tell I was getting the shakes (the Type II diabetes in the morning). But I went along. Howard went back to his room to work on his story while I went to the green room. Then, I took the lid off the very tall cup of coffee to put some sweetener in it. When I reached to put the lid back on, I guess my had was shaking so bad that I practically flung the cup of coffee across the table - and all over an artist guest. I think her name was Janie Dann. Young Asian girl. Christ, I felt horrible. She was covered in coffee from the waist down, like a donut! Poor thing. I apologized most profusely.
After that I didn't care or mind my reading was scheduled opposite the GOH, George R.R. Martin. Myself and the other sacrificial victim for the hour, Dorothy Leblanc, were along in the reading room. I read a couple of stories to LeBlanc for practice. She was very nice about it. (I remember she said she had a rough start to the con, when she went to the hospital Thursday after having an allergic reaction to some food). She left afterwards and headed home to Louisiana. Later, when I got my copies of Asimov's with "Rocket", I sent her one as a thank-you for listening to me.
BTW, Howard once told me, when he was a newbie, they did the same thing to him - put his reading as the minor one opposite a con's GOH. I guess that's what new authors are for.
The next weekend after Conestoga, I attended a Turkey City at Lawrence Person's house in Austin on July 23. It was really a strain for me to attend; I just started my new job in June and, as noted, had traveled to Tulsa the previous weekend. (I had also made a work-related trip to San Antonio on July 11).
The bit I brought to the workshop was very experimental and didn't go over well. Ted Chiang was the guest author. I know he's a great writer, but jeez, I couldn't warm up to him personally.
In September, I attended FenCon, again in Dallas. It was a bit of a disappointment; Joe Lansdale couldn't make it because a tree fell on his house in Nacogdoches during Hurricane Rita. Jayme couldn't make it for personal reasons. The panels were good, with lots of high-powered guests. I hope FenCon isn't sucking energy from ConDFW.
OK, as a finale to this long report, I actually have a resolution for the new year: I resolve that I will write better characters in my stories.
Pretty simple, huh?
When I first began submitting, one editor (Jayme again) commented my stories seemed fairly polished for a newcomer, and that I seemed to have skipped the novice writer's stage. The truth is, of course, my novice writing (my first million words) was published in journalism. S-F fans never read my novice s-f because there was none.
I also have gotten many comments about my stories having clever ideas and twists. OK, so the imagination seems to be working.
I got a rejection just a few weeks ago from Albedo One that made me slap my forehead. The editor said, in so many words, "good story, but it's idea-driven, and we like character-driven stories".
Here I am - the guy who's said more than once that science fiction is about people - and in my determination to come up with snappy ideas, I've been neglecting character development. At least, that's the way I see it.
So from now on. starting in 2006, I will try to not only have imaginative and entertaining stories, but fully formed characters. That's something to work for.
Well, that's enough for now. I'll just close by saying have a safe and happy New Year's Eve.
Time to go out and buy some black-eyed peas...

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