Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paean to a pen - The Bic Orange Fine Point

Last night, I bent down to grab a catalog that had fallen on the floor in front of the couch; my wife had been reading it before she dozed off in front of the TV. As I hunched over, I felt a sharp pain in my thigh. A Bic Orange Fine Point pen in my pants pocket had gotten jammed between my gut and my upper thigh.

No damage done, though, except this morning when I emptied my pocket before putting my pants in the dirty clothes basket I saw the barrel of the pen had shattered.

The ink hadn't leaked - which is fortunate - but I was dismayed. I had ordered the pen in a box of 20 from a technical supply company in the U.K. and had it shipped from overseas.

You see, these are special pens.

When I was a little kid, growing up in Massachusetts, as I learned how to read and write, these were my favorite pens. You probably remember them, too; narrow hexagonal solid orange barrels with the typical conical Bic cap (the color the same as the ink). A few years ago, when I researched the subject, I learned the reason the pen was a trendsetter was because it was the first model when Bic started using tungsten for its ball points, as opposed to steel.

It was originally called the medium fine point and was introduced in 1961. The pen wrote well and had a good feel. I've always thought the traditional medium fine point pen had too thick a line, more likely to smudge. It's a great disposable pen, though, the biggest seller in history.

But I liked my orange and black pen.

I suppose the reason it was called the medium fine point was because as Bic introduced tungsten tips it went a bit too far and came out with what was called the Accountant Extra Fine Point - an extremely fine point. It had a white barrel and the conical plastic cap had no little clip sticking out. Instead it had a wire clip.

I tried those too, but they weren't worth the extra money, and they were so fine, the ink tended to jam.

Reading between the lines, after those Accountant Extra Fine Point pens were dropped I guess they called the orange pens the fine points and the "Cristals" - one thing that had always distinguished those pens is that they have clear barrels - became the medium fine points.

I used the fine points all the years I was in school and college; because I could write so small I always found them very handy for taking notes.

I don't know about you, but I never noticed that sales of the fine points were discontinued years ago. Back in 2003 I started as editor at a weekly paper in Winnsboro, and while looking through my desk I found one of the pens. That's when it hit me that I hadn't seen one in years. I got on the internet and learned they haven't been sold in the U.S., Mexico or South America since 1995.

I suppose after being sold in such large quantities for over 30 years Bic decided it was old hat, or something like that.

Finding the pen prodded the thoughts that led to my short story "Pen Pal", which Jayme Blaschke published at Revolution SF in 2004. I essentially recount my thoughts and recollections upon finding the pen in the story, which is still available online here. The art I've included with this blog entry illustrates the story; I always thought it was very good. It was done by Robert E. Mansperger, Jr. of New Hampshire.

I later found another pen at the office, and then a couple of years later I went to work at a semi-weekly in New Boston. Like many small town papers in the past, it had also had an office supply business, which they were in the process of phasing out. It was probably an indication of how slow things has been in office supplies, but I found seven of the pens there, and I bought them all.

Over the past few years I've been concerned about the pens because they seem so fragile, and last year I decided that - international commerce being the way it is - I should be able to buy the pen from some overseas supplier and have some shipped here. Here is the page from Bic's own web site about the product:

But as you notice, it is still not available here in the U.S. and when I contacted foreign office supply companies, they said they didn't ship to the U.S. I finally was able to buy a box of 20 of the pens when I found them in the catalog of a technical supply company in the U.K.

Ok, getting back to the broken pen, I had a thought as I readied to throw it in the trash: Transplant its ink supply into one of the old pens that had run dry. It only took a few minutes, with the help of pliers, but I was able to make the switch.

I took stock of my supply now. I have 22 of the pens - six of the old ones (including the one with the transplant) and 15 new ones. I have given a few away (one went a few months ago to my collaborator Ed Morris). I gave Jayme Blaschke one of the original old ones in 2004 at ArmadilloCon.

There is a slight difference between the pens, the older ones are faded a bit; the biggest difference is that the old ones have an airhole halfway up the barrel. I would think it had something to do with equalizing air pressure. The new ones also have the Bic logo on them and the word "Fine". The old ones are blank.

I carry one of these pens all the time, and people have noticed. I was at a con earlier this year and when a fellow panelist asked for a pen to make note, and I offered mine, she was surprised: "I haven't seen one of these in years!"

I am thinking about getting a table at the next ArmadilloCon to peddle my collections; "Pen Pal" is in both "Fantastic Texas" and "Texas & Other Planets", so maybe I will thrown in a pen with any purchases.

I recommend the pen. It is light, thin, hard and durable and it just feels good in your hand. the The ballpoint is just the right width and it writes in smooth, easy strokes. If you want one, let me know.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

In the works

I recently pitched another reprint collection to a small press publisher, this one actually based in Texas. "Bend It Like Bradbury" would collect up mostly stories that haven't been reprinted before (the two exceptions being stories that are either prequels or sequels to others).
I heard from the publisher Friday and he said he wants to do a deal, pending some other business he needs to attend to.
This collection will also include the four stories I had published earlier this year,
* "Black Hats and Blackberrys" - Bewildering Stories, March 2011
* "Irredenta" - World SF Blog, March 15, 2011
* "Meet Me at the Grassy Knoll" - 4 Star Stories, March 2011
* "Hopscotch and Hottentots" - Shadow Gate April 2011
One of the stories, "SPPAM", was reprinted in a Bewildering Stories anthology.
I called an editor today to see if he is game for writing the introduction. I left a voice message.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good news

During the spring I applied for the Speculative Literature Foundation's Older Writers Grant. The grant is awarded annually to a writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level.
The SLF said it would notify applicants by June 1st, and it has. I got my email tonight. The bad news is I didn't get the grant. The good news is that they had good things to say about the writing sample I submitted, the unpublished short story "The Fontane Sisters are Dead".
"We are delighted to inform you that your story, "The Fontaine (sic) Sisters Are Dead," has been selected as one of five Honorable Mentions for the 2011 Older Writers Grant.
"We enjoyed your writing sample very much, especially its interesting and unique premise, smooth narrative, and adept weaving of Jewish religion and culture, Southern culture and race relations."
"The Fontane Sisters are Dead" has been in the slush pile of a pro-level magazine for two months. I emailed the editor to let her know about the honorable mention.
If you are interested in apply for the SLF Older Writers Grant next year, here are some details:
"The SLF is currently offering one $750 grant annually, to be used as the writer determines will best assist his or her work. This grant will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on the basis of merit. Factors considered will include:
* A short (less than 500 words) autobiographical statement, describing the writer and his/her work thus far; be sure to include date of birth
* A writing sample (up to 10 pages of drama, or 10,000 words of fiction or creative nonfiction -- if sending a segment of a novel, novella, or novellette, please include a one-page synopsis as well) * A bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply
"If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to provide a brief excerpt from their work, and an autobiographical statement describing themselves and their writing (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible public dissemination on our website."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Perfesser Lou

Among the various projects I have going on is a proposal for a continuing education class at the local community college on writing speculative fiction. I developed a course proposal and turned it in a few months ago.

Since I only began writing spec fic less than nine years ago (I wrote my first story during the Labor Day Weekend in 2002), I had to learn a lot in a short time, and since I've had a little success - and while it's still fresh in my brain - I thought I'd try my hand with the course.

I checked with the continuing education director at the college today and she was very positive about the proposal, but she said a decision will have to wait until some time next month. She's taking a new position in the college and a decision will have to wait until the new director comes on board.

Still, things sound promising.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another positive review

In the course of checking out the positive review SF Site gave to Issue No. 6 of GUD, I found out that SFRevu's Sam Tomaino gave the issue a positive review back in January. This has gotten by me - although it had been noted on the GUD Facebook page (I suppose after the first few bad reviews I had stopped looking).

Here is what Sam said specifically about "Dispatches":

"Lou Antonelli's "Dispatches From the Troubles" is a nicely spun alternate history in which parts of southern Texas and northern Mexico became an American Irish Republic (AIR). First settled by Irish Catholics, it then attracted a lot of Irish Protestants when they were forced to leave Northern Ireland, or live under Irish rule. Many familiar names are part of AIR, including John F. Kennedy. Many of the same problems that plague Northern Ireland, exist in AIR and we get a good story about them."

If you want to check out the entire review of the issue, it's thisaway.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Dispatches" reviewed at SF Site

Just last night I commented to Patricia that "Dispatches from the Troubles", my novellete published in Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) No. 6, looks to be my greatest literary flop. In three reviews of GUD that I've seen previously, one ignored it and the others didn't like it.

"Troubles" was experimental on my part; the format (fake news stories) and the length (over 11,000 words) were an innovation. I accepted the poor reviews philosophically - if you stick your neck out, someone may start sawing away at it. I am grateful to the editors of GUD for the faith they put in the story, and anyway, the check cleared. Although GUD doesn't pay pro rates, because of the length of the story it was the scond largest sale I ever made, topping the check I got from Asimov's ("The Witch of Waxahachie" at Jim Baen's Universe remains my most lucrative story.)

After all these ruminations, I just saw that the SF Site's Mid-May edition has a review of Issue No. 6 of GUD by Seamus Sweeney, and it generally has positive things to say about Dispatches - and its criticisms are valid. You can follow the link above to the page for the full review, but I have cut and pasted the part about "Dispatches" below:


The longest story here is Lou Antonelli's "Dispatches From the Troubles," which takes the form of a series of newspaper stories from an alternate history universe in which an American Irish Republic was established in 1850, between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River. New York born Eamon de Valera did not return to Ireland as a child but remained in America (as Edward de Valera) and became the universally beloved President of the AIR in the early to mid-twentieth century. There was no partition of Ireland into Free State and Northern Ireland in 1921, but the victorious IRA gave the Loyalist and Unionist communities in Ireland the choice of "the suitcase or the coffin," leading to mass emigration to the AIR. The mock news stories discuss the descent of the AIR, which has a sizeable Loyalist (or "Orange") minority, into sectarian strife that in some ways mirrors what happened in Northern Ireland from the late 60s.
It is interesting, as an Irish reader, to encounter this alternate history universe. There are lots of entertainingly tweaked versions of real life figures, from William F. Buckley (a sectarian Catholic rabble rouser here, with his loquacious use of language intact) to "John" Paisley (an Americanised Ian Paisley) and a lot of clever references to real events. I must say however that something about the whole conceit did not ring true; an odd thing to say about an alternate history, but after all one of the tests of good alt history is whether it feels like "this could have happened." Certainly the ultimate outcome of the story (which I won't reveal) does not reflect anything that happened in Northern Ireland. There were also some odd references to the Orange community being enthusiasts of "Irish football," which if it is meant to be Gaelic Football seems unlikely. Perhaps it is some kind of AIR version of gridiron. Antonelli's correspondents (who include R.W. Apple, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson) make a few solecisms with the real historical record; for instance Apple describes the Battle of the Boyne as "a famous victory over Catholic forces." As William Of Orange's supporters included the Pope, and you can't get more Catholic than that, "Jacobite" would have been more accurate.

In any case, the story is diverting and, as with the previous GUD issue, this is a collection worth reading.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Latest project

I spent time Monday writing up a news release to use for touting "Texas & Other Planets", which I then posted. I also spent a little time sending out some copies via email. One Texas newspaper features it on their web page, The Colorado City Record. It looks good.

My real purpose is whipping up the press release is to have a story to send the local paper when I hold a signing. My next step is to set up signings. Local (meaning East Texas) chain book stores are few and far between; the only chain really is Hastings, and they are so downtrodden it's a waste of time to go there. I might revisit the one in Longview; I sold seven copies - I think - of "Fantastic Texas" when I visited them in 2010, but otherwise I've visited stores where I sold between 0 and 2 copies. The employees are hapless and stunned, and they don't help authors out at all. Joe Lansdale and I talked about this when I visited the Hastings in Nacogdoches last December.

Independent book stores are probably a much better bet; it was disheartening, though, when the bookstore in Marshall where I debuted "Texas & Other Planets" - and sold 13 copies - back in December closed up shop a month ago. Prospero's will be missed.

The only signing I have set for now is with the Friends of the Library in New Boston next October, but I plan to set up a series of signing between now and then and the end of the year. That's why I spent time working up the news release. Sometime later this year I expect Yard Dog Press will be publishing "Music for Four Hands", my chapbook of stories I wrote with Ed Morris. Then I will have even more books to tout.

I'm thinking about renting a half table for ArmadilloCon in August. With "Fantastic Texas" and "Texas & Other Planets" and "Music for Four Hands", I actually may have some stuff to peddle. Maybe I'll get some copies of GUD, too.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Just in time for summer reading

Grab a good book and visit “Texas & Other Planets”

MOUNT PLEASANT, Texas – Texas once was the Lone Star Republic, and to this day some people claim the state is a “whole ‘nother country” – but is Texas also a planet?
You might think that way after you read “Texas & Other Planets”, the second collection of short stories published by East Texas author Lou Antonelli.
Just published by the Merry Blacksmith Press of Rhode Island, “Texas & Other Planets” is a compilation of 20 of the best Antonelli science fiction and fantasy stories previously published in the U.S., England and Australia during the past decade.
From a Texarkana struggling to recover from the effects of World War III (“Avatar”), to a Waxahachie that runs on magic instead of science (“The Witch of Waxahachie”), to a Dallas turning to dust as global warming sets in (“Rome, If You Want To”) to a Laredo nuked by Irish terrorists (“Dispatches from The Troubles”), with a stop at the Battle of San Jacinto thrown in (“A Djinn for General Houston”), most of Antonelli’s imaginative stories are set in his adopted home state.
Antonelli, who is the managing editor of the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune in Titus County in East Texas, has had 54 short stories published since 2003. His first reprint collection, “Fantastic Texas”, was published in 2009.
“The Year’s Best Science Fiction” published by St. Martin’s Press in New York City has cited ten Antonelli stories in its annual “Honorable Mentions” list published in conjunction with its anthology. All are included in “Texas & Other Planets”.
Gardner Dozois, the former editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction who published “A Rocket for the Republic” – the leadoff story in the collection - and who is currently editor of “The Year’s Best Science Fiction”, writes on the cover of “Texas & Other Planets” that “Lou Antonelli is an ambitious young writer with lots of imagination and verve, who never forgets about the mysteries of the human heart.”
“Texas & Other Planets” is available from Amazon or directly from the publisher at

Friday, May 06, 2011

Some usefulness

When I first began to use Facebook, I did so just because everybody does. It's a time waster and those stupid games are pretty much in the process of destroying the American economy by keeping people from gainful employment (I think they're being developed by a sector of the Chinese government).

BUT, I have to admit that because everyone uses Facebook, it has a certain usefulness as a source of information. Right now, I have story in the slush pile for anthology, and also in the slush pile for a new start-up magazine, that were publicized by Facebook friends who are authors.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Writing progress

Haven't actually added to or started anything this week, I have been busy filling holes in plot outlines and writing out some new outlines. I've kept a tight watch on the slush pile shuffle because I anticipate a spurt here where a few stories may wrap up in a few weeks.

I also finished up the outline for a continuing ed proposal I floated at the local community college. Got some feedback and made some changes, waiting for them to get back to me.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Catching up

There were a number of projects I put off during the two weeks I didn't have my reading glasses, and I've made steady progress getting caught up since last Tuesday, especially this weekend.

I finished beta reading two stories I had committed to, and sent off an entry to a fiction contest being sponsored by the Texas Observer (curated by Larry McMurtry). Both of these projects deadlined on May 1st.

Today I whipped up a four-page outline for a continuing ed class I'm pitching to the local community college. It would be done in six class sessions.

Got a note from Howard on Friday, he said he finished his blurb for "Texas & Other Planets" and he liked the stories. I'm going to send the letter to Ed Morris, he will get a kick out of that.

Did the drawing for the free copy of "Texas & Other Planets", which also deadlined May 1st. Used a random number generator, and the winner is close to home, Paige Milton Alexander, who's a reporter for the Texarkana Gazette. We used to cover the same Bowie County beat when I worked at the Bowie County Citizens-Tribune.

Talk about small world!

A note from the New Yorker

I was startled yesterday to get see a letter from the New Yorker in the mail. Inside was a note, a response to a submission query.

A few weeks ago, I sent off the query, and a day or two later realized I had done something lame-brained - I forgot to include a SASE. That's kind of a breach of protocol.

Oh, well, we all suffer occasional bouts of cerebral flatulence. I hoped the editors at the New Yorker wouldn't hold it against me.

I got a nice little handwritten note, apologizing for not being able to find the story, and suggesting I send it again. That was nice, and I'm glad I didn't offend them. I'm sure the slush pile at the New Yorker rises to the ceiling, and I certainly don't need to create work for them.

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...