Monday, May 27, 2013

I was saddened to learn this weekend of the death of Jerry Wright, who was the founder and one of the editors of the long-running ezine Bewildering Stories.

Jerry was the second editor to ever publish a story of mine, SPPAM, in Dec. 2003 (Jayme Blaschke published the first two). SPPAM was a crucial story in my development as a fiction writer, because when Gardner Dozois at Asimov's rejected it, he sent me a hand-written note, saying "this is better than 99 of what is in the slush pile. So keep trying, because you have the ability to succeed."

I gave it to Jerry, who later (2006) included it in The First Bewildering Stories Anthology - which is where this art is from.

I later included it in "Texas & Other Planets".

I've had 16 stories published in Bewildering over the years; one - "I Got You" - was a honorable mention in the "Year's Best Science Fiction" in 2005.

I'm sorry that Jerry passed away, but there's a of of people who miss him, and that is a great legacy for any man.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Time travel

Wow, this past week went by quickly. I completely forgot to post anything. It's not like there isn't anything to note, but it was a very busy week at the job. Although the local high schools are graduating their seniors on June 1st and June 7, the local paper can't wait until the last minute to publish the graduation information. I was up past midnight on Thursday getting special weekend sections of the paper to bed.

I need to go through my email and update my submissions, as well as dispatch a few that have been parked.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The art of the short story

My main genre-related project for this weekend was to write up my notes from the seminar on short stories that I gave at the DFW Writers Conference on May 5. That seminar was relatively late in the conference (3-4 p.m. Sunday) and a number of people expressed regret that they missed it.

I have reposted it here from the web site for SASS, the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling, where I uploaded it Saturday.

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The Short and the Short of It
By Lou Antonelli

Author’s Note: This is based on my notes for the seminar about short stories I gave at the DFW Writers Conference at the Hurst Convention Center May 5, 2013.

Most people think if you write fiction, you have to write a book.  The fact is, you can do as much with storytelling in a short story as you can with a book. For example, just like a book, a short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It helps if you write them in that order.

There are traditional lengths to short stories.  One thousand words or less is called a short short, or a flash.  Up to 7,500 words is a traditional short story.  Between 7,500 words and 17,500 words is called a Novelette.  Up to 40,000 words is a Novella, and then it becomes a novel – although novels between 40,000 and 80,000 words are pretty uncommon.

I once heard someone at a convention explain that in a short story you can tell a story, in a novelette or novella you can develop characters, and in a novel you can build a world.

Many people have trouble writing short stories – there are people who take 10,000 words to clear their throats.  Fact is, it’s easy to do if you are used to it, and I’m surprised more people don’t.

It can be an easy way to write a novel, anyway.  Look at the publishing credits of some of the most famous classic science fiction novels, and you may see multiple publication credits.  Many novels begin as a series of related short stories that are put together or edited together into a longer work. What started as a short story in a magazine becomes a chapter in a novel.

Writing a short story can also be a way to try out a novel.  If you write a short story and it does well and gets a good response, that tells you people may be interested in the story you are telling and they want to read more.

Yesterday I pitched a novel based on the short story “The Witch of Waxahachie” I wrote in 2008 that was published in Jim Baen’s Universe.   That story had a very good reception, and I’ve taken the time to expand it to book length.

My writing situation is unusual, I’m a journalist, so I write stories every day, and the average may be 300 words.  A story over 1,000 words is considered very long. That’s one reason I’m comfortable writing short stories.

You can still say a lot in a short story.  Ernest Hemingway supposed wrote a short story in six words:  “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never used.”

There’s an old saying you have to write a million words before you are any good.  I think that’s true.  One advantage I had was that my million words were in newspapers.  No one ever read my amateurish fiction, because my amateur stuff was published in newspapers.  I was first published in a local newspaper when I was 12.  I first started writing fiction when I was 46.  That’s why, after my first acceptance, the editor said, “You seemed to have skipped the novice stage.”

But I do think it is true, you have to write a million words, and you need to write every day.  Again, I’m, unusual, because as a journalist I write for publication every day – for a newspaper.  Because of that, when I sit down to write fiction, I’m never rusty.  I can go weeks or months not writing fiction, and sit down and come up with something perfectly acceptable.

I’ve never had a story rejected because the editor said it was poorly written.  hey have complained about little things like the plot, characters or believability – but never poor writing.

As far as the submitting, remember that short stories are like resumes.   Anyone who is taking them is getting tons of them, and like resumes, they will get kicked out of the pile for mistakes.  t’s sad, but editors, like people reading resumes, are looking for reason to kick your story out.  You need to get your grammar and English down cold.  One mistake may not kill your chances – if it is a good story - but a lot of editors, on principle, will stop reading when they hit a second error.

Because of the volume, your story must first off convince the editor or slush pile reader to turn the first page.  You have to hook them between your byline and the bottom of page one.  At a convention, Stanley Schmidt – who was editor of Analog magazine – once said:  “I read very fast. Your job is to get me to slow down.”

If you are an author trying to get established and don’t already have a reputation, you don’t have the luxury of slowly easing into the narrative, and quite frankly, I know a lot of editors who reject established authors if the story doesn’t grab them very quickly.

Back in 2007 I was asked to submit a story for publication in the souvenir book of another Dallas area publication.  t had a nice layout, with art in the two-page spread where the story began.  The way it was published, the beginning of the story was part of that starting layout.

I noticed that the beginning included with the art was exactly the start of the story as it was written on the first page of the original manuscript.  I had written the story to hook the editor and the reader, and whoever did the book agreed and used the exact same start in the layout.

Speaking of editors, one of the great things about writing short stories, if you are trying to break into writing, is that you don’t need an agent.  The vast majority of magazines don’t care about agents. N ow, there are some that don’t accept unsolicited stories, but I don’t know anyone who needs an agent to submit a short story.  On the other hand, there are very few book publishers who will take unagented novels.

It’s a matter of time.  It takes an editor or slush pile reader minutes if not seconds to tell whether you short story is worth reading.  There’s a lot more time invested in reading a book.

Also, a magazine will turn a story around in a few days or weeks, while a book publisher may take one or two years, if you ever hear from them at all.

In addition to writing grammatically and well, follow standard manuscript guidelines – which are easy to research online – unless the magazine wants it differently.

Take all editor comments to heart, even on rejections.  Especially on rejections.  If they ask you to try them again, they are not being superficially polite, they mean it.  That usually lets you know you’re making progress.   They get so many stories, they will not encourage someone they don’t expect to ever buy a story from.

Rejections come in different lengths.  The longer ones are the worse ones, because they say “Your story didn’t work because it didn’t do one or more of the many things listed below.”  The shorter ones are better, because they say your story didn’t make the cut, or there wasn’t any place for it.

When I first submitted to Asimov’s Science Fiction, I got the long rejections, then I started getting the short ones.  One day I got a short one, and noticed there was scribbling on the bottom.  When I looked, I saw the editor, Gardner Dozois, had written a personal note to encourage me. T hat’s gold, and maybe a half year later he bought a story from me.

Just because it is a short story doesn’t mean it has to be incomplete or unfinished. If you went to Lou Anders’ seminar on Scriptwriting for Novels this morning, you know of the types of roles of characters.  A short story still needs a protagonist, an antagonist, and probably a relationship character.

Where do you find short story markets?  There is a good web site called Ralan, run by Ralan Conley who keeps up on all the markets and market updates.  It’s at www.ralan.com.  You have to admire someone who is so dedicated to do all that work.  There is also a website called Duotrope; it used to be free, though, and they went to being paid at the start of the year.

What I’ve done myself is often to research other authors and see where they have been published, and try the same markets.

At the very least, if you write short stories you can find your voice or style without investing years writing a book – which may or may not bomb.  I’ve been writing short stories for ten years, and I’m just getting to the point where I’ve pitched a novel.  But like I said, to me – working at a newspaper – a short story is long.

There are very few authors who write short stories exclusively.  Ray Bradbury was one, but he was special.  Eventually most short story writers turn their hands to novels.

If your short story doesn’t work out or sell, at least you haven’t wasted so much time.  And if it works out, you know you’re on the right track.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nebulous thinking

The SFWA annual Nebula weekend is going on in San Jose. Yawn. Last year I attended, but that was because my mother and sister live in Northern Virginia, and the awards were held in D.C., so I double dipped. I didn't stay at the hotel, I stayed with my family.

The Science Fiction Writers of America is chock-full of snobs and elitists, and the PC in the organization is bone-crunching and barbaric. There's really no active role for someone like me. I sounded them out last year with a run for office. After the briefest of exchanges I ran away from my campaign and started the process of organizing a writers group that won't piss on you if you believe in God or America.

Last year the SFWA announced the results of the annual election at the Nebula Weekend. This year, they announced them weeks in advance. I suspect this was the result of the dissident candidacy of Ted Beale. The in-group candidate Steve Gould trounced Beale, 444 to 46, but totalitarian political systems cannot tolerate dissent and I'm sure they wanted to all be happy going into the magic weekend. I'm surprised they even counted Beale's votes, and I'm sure they will expel him in the near future.

Beale was hateful and provocative, but hey, you don't gain anything by playing nice with such a bunch of inbred self-righteous snobs.

Beale's candidacy was a Parthian volley against outgoing President John Scalzi. Scalzi's PC henchman and enforcer, Jim Hines - who lives in Michigan - decided to run for South Central Regional Director against Lee Martindale of Texas, who beat back the challenge 71-64. I used to get along pretty well with Lee, but it seems when she found out I was a Christian she turned he back on me. She won't even speak to me. No big deal, Christians are used to being treated like shit in this heathen Godless country (she is a bona-fide pagan).

BUT she still does a good job, and is representative of the membership of the group, so I voted for her and urged others to do the same. Hines learned - like Beria did after Stalin died - that people don't trust the head of the secret police. They're always afraid they will be next.

I would like to think that as times goes by the SFWA will practice tolerance, if not acceptance, of people who believe in God and Country and those old-fashioned concepts. But I doubt it. Like an exclusive trade union taken over by organized crime, it really is just a PC enforcement racket.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Parked in the aerodrome

Well, "Great White Ship" didn't win in the Final Four. I'm actually somewhat relieved, the tension over the competition was a bit of a distraction.

When the Daily Science Fiction bracket madness started in March, I lobbied for support, but I actually lost track of it for a number of weeks and it advanced at least a couple of rounds without my paying any attention. I picked up the trail again when it made it to the Sweet 16, and since then I've lobbied for support. I spent time on Facebook posting messages, and that takes time.

I'm proud of the story, and I think it did very well for an old-fashioned "Sense of Wonder"-type story, which isn't really fashionable in speculative fiction any more.

Late yesterday, just before 5 p.m. I made a last-ditch effort and messaged everyone in the newspaper to please visit the web site and vote for me. One staff member visited the site and read it, and I was quite pleased that he said he really liked my description of an East Texas thunderstorm:

"It's like God dumps a big tin bucket of water on top of your head, then drops the bucket over your head, and then he pounds on the bucket."

I always like that piece of business, and I was glad he liked it, too.

The Great White Ship is back in port, and being refurbished for its next voyage, which will be the lead story in my forthcoming reprint collection from Fantastic Books, "The Clock Struck None".

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Great White Ship" sails again


The first official Daily Science Fiction Longer Short Story March and April (and Part of May) Madness - DSFLSSMAMM for short - single elimination 64 story brouhaha, commenced March 1st with daily face-offs. It features the 64 longest stories published in 2012 (only one story per author).

A poll, featuring two stories in head-to-head competition, in on the website each day. The winner advances. Ultimately a single story will win the coveted Favorite (Longer) Short Story of DSF Year 2012. The top two stories receive an illustration by artist Seth Alan Bareiss.

My story "Great White Ship", originally published almost exactly a year ago - May 15, 2012 - has made it to the Final Four.

"Great White Ship" is on the Tangent on-line Recommended Reading list for 2012. Obviously, I'm partial to it. Please vote!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"If it wasn't for bad luck..."

One of the strangest things about the series of events during the past two months which have conspired to keep me from writing (believe me, I've only touched the tip of the iceberg) is that, a few months ago I came up with an outline for a steampunk novel I was enthused about  - to be called "Empress Theodosia's Wake" - and I got off to a great start when that server crash happened.

That stopped that. It was the first time I had come up with an original story that I thought I could see all the way to completion - "The Witch of Waxahachie" rests firmly on the foundation of the Baen's Universe story that was published in 2008.

I hope to get back to "Theodosia" soon, but the reason I picked "The Witch of Waxahachie" back up is because at one point a character from the magical alternate reality comments that our luck in our world is mostly bad because of the crappy black magic our satanists practice; it's left a lot of negative energy hanging around, like air pollution. In the other world, they know how to work magic properly, and because they believe in magic - even the black kind - they police it much better. In their world, black magic is a crime and policed, while in our world, it's not supposed to exist - but it does, and it mucks up our supposedly random probabilities.

I was thinking of that because of the bad luck I had, and besides, "The Witch of Waxahachie" is already written and could be revised in time for the conference.

Life intrudes

My fiction writing for 2013 hit an enormous bump almost two months ago when the real world intruded, in the form of a server crash where I work. Unfortunately, you can't just borrow or copy another server when the business is a local newspaper. All the files are local.

We limped along for ten business days as the server was repaired and restored. We didn't have any internal connectivity and had to carry files between departments on thumb drives. I essentially spent all my waking hours at the office; not only was it a personal strain, it was a strain on my marriage, and it started to look like I would be faced with having to make an abrupt changes in jobs to preserve marital harmony.

The problem eventually was solved, but the time lost in my personal life was enormous and has created a wave that is just subsiding after two months. It took me weeks to get caught up on the most basic of chores and tasks at home, for example.

There were also some other strange things along the way. Despite the crisis, we let an employee take a previously scheduled week-long vacation. This was a case where she joined her spouse on his vacation. I felt it would be unfair to keep her on the job when her husband was off someplace.

But she came back, worked one day, and quit without giving notice.

I've also been pinned down the past two weekends. I had family members as guests the last weekend in April, and I kept my commitment to give a pair of classes at the DFW writers conference last weekend. Today is the first Saturday I had to myself since April 20, and honestly, that day I was just getting caught up with the chores an errands that had accumulated because of the server crash crisis. I had to haul an old sofa to the dump because it was bulky trash day, and I spent the rest of the day burning an enormous brush pile in the back yard, much of which was the result of the Christmas Day snowstorm.

During the past month I did the edits for my next collection, "The Clock Struck None", which Ian Strock at Fantastic Books is publishing, and I spent most of last week editing "The Witch of Waxahachie" because I had a chance to make a formal pitch to Lou Anders at the conference.

In case it was ready to be submitted, I wanted it to be ready, but after visiting with Lou I know it isn't. But it was a very useful meeting, and he specifically suggested I attend his class called ScripTips, using character-based screen writing techniques to enhance the characaters, plot and themes in novels.

I know now what has be edited and rearranged. One thing that struck me - once Lou's class cleared away the cobwebs - is that "The Witch of Waxahachie" is unusual in that the antagonist and the relationship character are the alternate versions of the SAME character - Penny Pennoyer.

I've been struggling with allergies all spring, and a touch of the con crud didn't seem to help. By Friday I was coughing and choking so bad at work bystanders were telling me to go home.

All of this whining is to explain why I haven't written much lately, but things are on the upswing.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Great White Ship

The Elite Eight in the Daily Science Fiction Spring Bracket Madness has started, and in the first round my story "Great White Ship" advanced, so I'm in the Final Four. Hooray.

I haven't posted here in a week. With the DFW Writers Conference coming up, I spent last week editing my book-length version of "The Witch of Waxahachie" because I had a chance to pitch it to an editor.

Saturday morning I got ten minutes to pitch it to Lou Anders, who made a lot of helpful observations and basically set me on the right path. Although I have been writing short stories for ten years now, this was my first time to ever formally pitch a book to an editor.

Anders suggested I needed to attend his Sunday morning class on "Screen Writing for Authors" and he was right; I see I have most of the pieces already for a good book, but it needs a better structure and some reorganization. I know what I have to do now.

Latest reviews

"It’s possible that you haven’t run into the stories of Lou Antonelli. Since 2003, he’s been publishing delightful short tales of alternate history all over the nooks and crannies of the SF world. Thanks to Fantastic Books, we now have 28 of these little gems in one place. "Many of Antonelli’s stories have an unexpected twist ending. And many of them are what he calls “secret history” stories, which aren’t exactly alternate history—they’re set in our familiar history, but there’s always some element that contemporary observers missed. " -

- Don Sakers, The Reference Library, Analog July-Aug. 2014

A better path develops for a distraught man in “Double Exposure” by Lou Antonelli (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Jake is about to end it all. He has been trying to keep his high maintenance wife happy for decades and has needed to embezzle to satisfy her spending habits. Now, on the verge of indictment and abandoned by his spouse, he buys a gun. Before he pulls the trigger, he spies a Kodak one-day photo hut. Curious, he pulls up to the window. They are holding pictures of him and his last girlfriend from 30 years before. The package is a lot thicker than it should be. Double Exposure” is listed as an Alternative History story but I would classify it as a Magical Realism tale. It is set as a second chance tale, a look into a life that should have been. The author is inspired by his memories of the old photo huts (I remember them) and of their disappearance. A cool idea (photos of another life), one that I could imagine would make for a great anthology.

- Frank Dutkiewicz, Diabolical Plots

“Great White Ship”: A traveler stuck waiting for a flight strikes up a conversation with an old airline employee. The Old Timer tells him a story of a Great White Airship that arrives from a most unusual destination. The story of a craft from an alternate reality and how it got there is only the precursor to the final act. This is one of my favorite stories from this site. I have a great passion for lighter-than-air craft and their potential as a future means of transport, which opens the story. The author uses this speculation to launch into an engaging tale. As fascinating as the main story line is, the alternate history premise that accompanies it is just as worthwhile. This story was well written and very well thought out. It is well worth the read. Recommended.

- James Hanzelka, Diabolical Plots

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