Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav's guests

Hurricane Gustav is bearing down the coast, and being a good distance inland, and right on I-30 (the interstate that connects Dallas with Little Rock), Mount Pleasant is getting evacuees. The local motels are all full, and the family life centers at the local churches are beginning to fill up. I'm off this Monday, so I have a full weekend off - the first since Armadillcon - and I'm using the time to get caught up with my record keeping.

I took a minute to compile all the lists of story ideas I had sitting around. One list was almost three years old, from Sept. 2005. The first story on that list was "The Witch of Waxahachie". The new list has 70 story ideas.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Summation of Armadillocon

This year’s event was the first time I attended since 2004, and the first time I was a panelist. Conflicts with job-related events kept me from attending the past few years. I must say I was very impressed with the quality of both the panels and the guests. I was happy to buttonhole con chair Kurt Baty on Sunday and tell him that.
Considering that I’m not from Austin, and that I really work on the fringes of the genre, I am very satisfied with what I learned and what I took away from the event. Unfortunately, I probably walked on eggshells the whole time because of my bad experience last year when I attended the NASFIC in St. Louis and ended up in the ER Sunday afternoon. I have perennial problems now with allergies during the summer, and this is right at the time of the year when I get the sickest. Last year a combination of exhaustion and the unintentionally-bad idea of riding the train to St. Louis made my ear explode into a full-blown infection that took a month to beat down (I probably need to mention that when I have allergies, my ears get congested worse than my sinuses – probably a lingering side-effect of being a forceps baby).
This year I was afraid of getting sick again while out of town, but everything worked out for the best and I made it home safe and sound. Now onward to Fencon in October!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nothing much to report

I have to say that, after finishing and sending off "Dance with me, Henry" and then going to Armadillocon last weekend, I'm taking a bit of a breather. My main project this week was listing a piece of property we own near Cedar Creek Lake. It's almost an acre of land with an undeveloped cabin on it. We bought it for a song at a tax sale five years ago. Unfortunately, I changed jobs and subsequently we haven't lived very close to it. Also, I've used my free time to develop my fiction writing skills. We decided it was time to sell it, since it doesn't look like we'll ever do anythimg with it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Saturday night report

Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Armadillocn featured the panel on "How to Sell a Story to Asimovs". It was a packed house, and the only panel I was on at the whole con where all the panelists were in attendance.

Don Webb, Maureen McHugh and Sheila Williams recounted anecdotes and gave advice. I was the moderator, so I probably contributed the least, but I tried to keep things flowing. I think everyone in the audience enjoyed it. That's Maureen, me, Sheila and Don, in that order, in the photo.

Later in the evening I visited a few suites. The Fencon suite was lively and friendly; ConDFW was a little more subdued, but Dan Robb was there as usual. The Con Suite itself again the best stocked and maintained I have ever seen.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More on Armadillocon

I know some people reel out these long blog entries, but I really have other things to do in my life, and so I try to blog only so much per day.

My first panel was Saturday at 11 a.m. I left Mount Pleasant at 5:15 a.m. and made it in exactly five hours. I immediately ran into Maureen McHugh - who I had seen at the Nebulas in April - and Andrew Swann, who I had never met. He's from the Cleveland area and knows Maureen from when she lived up there. He's a real nice guy and a very accomplished author. I had them in stitches describing the crackpot plot of my high alternate history book, "Dance With Me, Henry."

Andrew joined me and Rhonda Eudaly at 11 a.m. for the "Stump the Panel" session which was lots of fun. It didn't have a big turnout, but those who came had a good time.

Soon afterwards I ran into Lawrence Person, who was chatting with Steve Utley. Steve had to introduce himself - although we have corresponded and talked a number of times, I had never met him and had no idea what he looked like. Bill Ledbetter came by, as well as Jayme Blaschke (Jayme and I had Steve sign our copies of 'Lone Star Universe') and we all visited for some time. Steve had some fascinating insights in what the Austin s-f community was like in the 1970s and 1980s.

By early afternoon checked into my hotel room and I took a break to recover from the long drive and the start of the con.

2b cont

Monday, August 18, 2008

Report from Armadillocon

I'll probably be posting for the next few days about Armadillocon, but I did want to get this in right away:

Howard Waldrop was going to be a guest at the con, and continue his tradition of doing the closing reading. Of course, he is still recuperating at a VA hospital in Central Texas, and couldn't be there in person, but they figgered out a way he could participate.

Howard is in a VA Hospital in Temple, which is 60 miles north of Austin. I left the Con at 2:30 p.m. because I had a three hour drive to Dallas. My wife grew up in Dallas and I stayed overnight Sunday with my mother-in-law. I finished the drive to East Texas this afternoon.

One reason I wanted to leave the con early was to stop by and see Howard. When I got there Barb Denton, Alan Graham and Howard were set up in a lounge on the floor where he is staying. Apparently Brad Denton laid the plans for the "remote broadcast"

The reading back in Austin started at 4 p.m. and while Howard's pals back in Austin were reading "The Ugly Chickens" we all visited and had a nice time.

When they got close to the end, Brad called and Barb and Howard began to follow along, so Howard was able to jump in and finish up. Howard's spirits and wit remain strong, but he's still a little frail physically (or else he wouldn't be in the hospital). Since I'm a journalist I always carry a camera, and so I took digital pics for posterity of the event.

What impressed me was how, when he began reading,Howard sounded his old self. It was like he was back at the first Armadillocon. I guess that came through to the folks back in Austin, from all reports. After he finished, Howard just sat there for a while listening on the cell phone. Finally he said with a big smile, "they're still applauding".

Afterwards. Barb and Alan left and headed back to Austin. I had to use the facilities and then I said good-bye to Howard. I told him I would mail him a copy a photo taken when he was reading, and I asked him to write down his mailing address at the hospital.

The shudder I got when he started reading his story reminded me of the way I felt when I was a young man and saw the video of Buddy Holly playing "Peggy Sue" on the Ed Sullivan Show. Howard Waldrop is a true genius and a Texas original. It was a coincidence, but I feel very blessed to have been there when he did his reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Off to 'Dillocon

Well, I'm ready to drive down to Austin for Armadillocon 30. It will take me 5-6 hours. Thank goodness the price of gas has been dropping lately.

Here is my schedule, by way of a last minute reminder:

Sa1100DZ Stump the Panel
Sat 11:00 AM-Noon deZavala
Antonelli, Eudaly, B. Foster, Graham*, Swann
Watch our panelists make up sf/f uses for common objects supplied by the audience.

Sa2000DW How to Sell a Story to Asimov's
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM deWitt
Antonelli*, McHugh, Webb, S. Williams
What is the editor really looking for? What do others -- from a variety of viewpoints -- see in her choices, and how is the magazine evolving?

Su1000R Reading
Sun 10:00 AM-10:30 AM Robertson
Lou Antonelli

Su1100DZ No More Excuses: Making Writing a Part of Your Life
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon deZavala
Antonelli, Kenner, Richerson, Sarath*, M. Wells
Having trouble fitting writing into your life? We'll have tips, tactics, and boot camp-style exhortations to get you to stop making excuses and spend more time writing.

Asterisks indicate the moderator of the panels.

For my reading Sunday, I will be reading from the first chapter of the alternate history I just just completed, "Dance with me Henry". It's currently with an editor at Tor.

I know readings for minor authors such as myself are usually poorly attended, especially opposite strong panels. so I plan a reward for whatever audience I draw:
I will give away an unopened 10-CD boxed set of the audio version of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union". It is a $39.95 value. I got it because it was sent to a newspaper as a revieiw copy. The newspaper didn't even open it, and I picked it up for essentially nothing at a newspaper conference. Whoever sits through my reading can have it. If we have more than one other person, we'll draw lots or something.

Friday, August 08, 2008

"Avatar" earns honorable mention

I just got my copy of Gardner Dozois' annual anthology, "The Year's Best Science Fiction, 25th annual collection". I had to ask my local Hastings Bookstore to order it for me. I see that my story "Avatar", which was published by the e-zine Darker Matter in April 2007, made the honors list.

This is the ninth honorable mention I've had in five years. Other stories previously recognized are:

"Silence is Golden" - Revolution SF (2004)
"Circe in Vitro" - Astounding Tales (2005).
"The Rocket-Powered Cat" - RevolutionSF (2005).
"I Got You" - Bewildering Stories (2005).
"Pen Pal" - RevolutionSF (2005)
"A Rocket for the Republic" - Asimovs (2006)
"The Cast Iron Dybbuk" - Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine (2006)
"Dialogue" - RevolutionSF (2006)

I was shut out last year.

"Darker Matter" has since folded, but my story is still archived, if you'd like to read it:

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Helix-Sanders Implosion

I thought this kind of stuff only happened in congregational churches - you know, schisms, splits and new congregations founded over hurt feelings and unimportant disputes (if you go to an SBC church like I do, you've probably heard the joke about the missionary who's stranded on a desert island, with the punchline "Oh, that's the church I used to go to.")

In July, a writer posted a rejection on a blog letter from William Sanders at Helix which - in the course of explaining why the story was not being accepted - made some un-PC comments and at least one reference that was considered racist. Putting aside the fact that, while a brilliant writer, Sanders is about as cuddly as a two-striped skunk with distemper, I feel the rejected author was wrong to disseminate what was a private communication between and editor and an author, and furthermore, while so many people find Sanders' opinions obnoxious, he's entitled to them and his free speech and freedom of thought is to be respected and protected as anyone else's.

I've decided, for the sake of clarity, to repost here this informatin gleaned from a web site called Transcriptase, which seems to be the "schism" from the Helix site following the big blow-up. If you've been getting this megilla in dribs and drabs, pull the chair closer and read the sordid tale.

And it goes like this:


We are Helix writers who believe in a speculative fiction community that welcomes all readers—inclusive of all races, genders, and marginalized people of all backgrounds.

In July 2008, Helix editor William Sanders stirred up controversy in the community with remarks that many found offensive. The blogosphere exploded with discussion.

As the controversy continued, several Helix writers asked to remove their work from the magazine and were met with unprofessional treatment. This upset all of us. We agreed that we would not stand by in silence.

Transcriptase hosts reprints of our stories and poems originally published at Helix. During the controversy, some of us removed our work from Helix; others left it up. There are valid reasons to make either choice, and we hope you’ll respect that we had difficult decisions to make. We offer our stories and poems at Transcriptase so that you can enjoy our work away from Helix, if you choose.

It’s difficult to summarize how we feel about the incident, since each of us feels differently. Our reactions range from disappointed to sad to angry.

Here is the summary of what happended:

The short summary: Helix editor William Sanders wrote a rejection letter using the term “sheet heads.” (The rejected story included Muslim characters and dealt with terrorism.) When confronted with this, he defended his word choice and criticized the writer for posting the rejection letter. Debate spread across many major internet forums. Several Helix writers asked to have their work removed from the Helix archives. Sanders did so, but put up a page saying the story was removed for “pantiwadulous” reasons. He told one writer that he only published her story because he wanted diversity and the story didn’t actually make sense. Then he said that any writer who doesn’t remove their story within the month will have to pay $40 to have it done later. Finally he declared that no more stories could be removed, period.

Transcriptase is a response to these actions. A longer summary follows.

The letter was originally posted in a journal, although the author later removed the letter. The full text of the letter is still available on a number of sites, but is reposted here for convenience:

No, I’m sorry but I can’t use this.

There’s much to like. I’m impressed by your knowledge of the Q’uran and Islamic traditions. (Having spent a couple of years in the Middle East, I know something about these things.) You did a good job of exploring the worm-brained mentality of those people - at the end we still don’t really understand it, but then no one from the civilized world ever can - and I was pleased to see that you didn’t engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities.

However, as I say, I can’t use it. Because Helix is a speculative fiction magazine, and this isn’t speculative fiction.

Oh, you’ve tacked on some near-future elements at the end, but the future stuff isn’t in any way necessary to the story; it isn’t even connected with it in any causal way. True, the narrator seems to be saying that it was this incident which caused him to take up the jihad, but he’s being mendacious (like all his kind, he’s incapable of honesty); he was headed in that direction from the start, and if it hadn’t been the encounter with the stripper it would have been something else.

Now if it could be shown that something in this incident showed him HOW the West could be overthrown, then perhaps the story would qualify as SF. That might have been interesting. As it is, though, no connection is shown and in fact we are never told just how this conquest - a highly improbable event, to say the least - came about.

There are some other problems with the story, but there’s no point in going into them, because they don’t really matter from my viewpoint. It’s not speculative fiction and I can’t use it in my magazine.

And I don’t think you’re going to sell it to any other genre magazine, for that reason - though you’d have a hard time anyway; most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads. I think you might have a better chance with some non-genre publication. But I could be wrong.


William Sanders
Senior Editor

The initial posting of the letter prompted considerable debate in the blogosphere as to the ethics of posting a rejection letter, some of which can be seen in this thread at Making Light. In this thread, Lawrence Watt-Evans, another Helix editor, explained Sanders’ comments as follows (#3 in the thread):

Several people do seem to have misinterpreted it; the references in the letter to “those people” are indeed specifically directed at terrorists, not Muslims in general, since the story in question is about terrorists. I’m fairly sure the story’s author understood that; I certainly hope he did.

The only possible ethnic slur is the term “sheet heads.” Once again, that was intended to refer to radical Islam, rather than Muslims in general, but I acknowledge it may be an unfortunate choice of words.

To which Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor with Tor Books (#10 in the thread), responded:

Lawrence, you know I like you, but no one with any sense buys the idea that when Sanders raved about “the worm-brained mentality of those people” and claimed that “most of the SF magazines are very leery of publishing anything that might offend the sheet heads”, he was making a careful distinction between “Muslims in general” and “terrorists.” Because, you know, nobody thinks that even William Sanders is crazy enough to assert that “most of the SF magazines” are afraid to publish anything that would offend terrorists. Obviously he meant Muslims in general. He knows it, everyone with any sense knows it, and you know it, and I don’t know why you’re retailing defenses of this obvious nonsense.

Say what you will about Nick Mamatas; try to brush him aside because he and Sanders dislike each other–I’m not close to either of them, and I don’t care about that. What I know is that Mamatas absolutely has the drop on Sanders’ claims that he was only referring to “terrorists.” As Mamatas points out, if this is true, what does it do to Sanders’ claim of familiarity with the people under discussion? Sanders can’t have it both ways; if his splenetic comments were meant to refer only to “terrorists,” then he was claiming to have spent his time in the Middle East hanging out with terrorists.

Tobias Buckell also provides a good analysis of why the letter is racist. He concludes:

If we don’t call this shit out, people will think it’s totally okay to do it, snickering on the down low in emails.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ email to Yoon Ha Lee, in response to her request to have her work removed, contained the following racist insult:

Certainly I would not want to continue to publish a story against the author’s wishes, especially a story like this one that never did make any sense and that I only accepted because I thought it might please those who admire your work, and also because (notorious bigot that I am) I was trying to get more work by non-Caucasian writers.

Ultimately several Helix authors asked to have their work removed. When the work was removed, it was replaced by a page stating “Story deleted at author’s pantiwadulous request.”

Subsequent to these requests, William Sanders said that writers would have to pay $40 to have their stories removed from the archive.

Why should you have to do all this extra work for nothing, just so some silly people can make a big grandstand play to impress their bloggy pals with the Correctness of their convictions?

I am hereby making a change to the aforestated offer. Effective as of now,
any Helix contributor who wants his/her work deleted from the archives will
have to pay for the privilege. Specifically, it’ll cost you forty bucks, payable
to Melanie.

Finally, William Sanders declares that no further Helix authors may remove their stories, period:

All right, that’s it. It’s been long enough; there’s been ample opportunity
for anyone else who felt soiled by the contact with Helix to step up and speak
up and pay up.

I don’t believe there are going to be any others (the imposition of cash charges
seems to have had a distinctly damping effect) but if there are, tough shit.
You had your chance and you didn’t take it.

Thus far, this is the end of the saga. More details can be found by Googling “Sanders letter Muslim” and similar strings.


To twist a phrase that comes out of Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Conundrum of the Workshops", "It's art, but it isn't pretty."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Republic of Texas boundary marker

I don't think I've ever posted this before, but thinking about the third anniversary of the publication of "A Rocket for the Republic" got me thinking.

There is, in East Texas, on the border with Louisiana, the only international boundary marker within the borders of the continental 48 states. It was erected by the Republic of Texas in 1847 to mark its border with the U.S. There were wooden boundary markers erected all along the border with Arkansas and Louisiana, but there were two granite markers erected in crucial places where the boundary zagged as it went from following the Sabine River in Louisiana to following a straight line up to Arkansas.

One of those granite markers was on the banks of the Sabine and fell into the river years ago, but the other remains. This a view of the shaft as it is today. This view shows the side with the R.T. for the Republic of Texas on it; the other side has USA. A third side has longitude information.

Whatever happened to that old Sunbelt?

By LOU ANTONELLI Managing Editor It’s rained almost daily for the past four months. The ground is saturated; walking across grass is lik...