Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goals for 2014 redux

Another year, come and gone. It's judgment day on my goals for 2014.

1. Beat my submission total from 2013
Nope. I didn't make it. For the first year since I started keeping track of my submissions (that would be 2010), I did not increase my submission total over the previous year. My submission total for 2013 was 45. I had hoped to hit 50 submissions this year, but I fell short with 39 (which is the same total I had in 2012).

I put this down to two factors. First, I spent a lot of the second half of this year working on a novel and not on new short fiction. Secondly, I sold more stories this year than in any year since I started this gig, which took stories out of circulation (in the best way possible). I had six sales, five of them to SFWA-qualifying markets:
  • Kitty Is Alive, Kitty is Dead, Daily Science Fiction (published)
  • The Good Girl, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review (published)
  • The Temptation of Father Francis, co-written with Nick T. Chan, Intergalactic Medicine Show (published)
  • Street Rat, Abyss & Apex (pending publication)
  • Shore Leave, Galaxy's Edge (pending publication)
  • Star Box, Flash Fiction Online (pending publication)

I also had two more stories published that were accepted in 2013:
  • To See Sarah, Abyss & Apex
  • Djinn Coin, Every Day Fiction

Holy moly, that's a list I would have only dreamed about a year ago. I didn't beat my submission total, but I had a damn good year.

2. Apply to a writers workshop
I did this! And I got in! I spent a wonderful, fun and educational two weeks this past summer at the University of Kansas at a novel-writing workshop with instructors Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb and seven brilliant classmates. Without that workshop, I would still be floundering on where to start on the urban fantasy novel project. Instead, I am at about 30K and counting on the first draft.

3. Lose some weight
I haven't weighed myself for a couple of weeks, and I can't think the holiday season did anything toward helping me reach my goal of losing 10 pounds. I came very close last spring. Then I went to the workshop, where we ate out every night, and I put all the pounds back on. After that, I never really recovered. But last time I checked, I had lost and kept off about 5 pounds this year. That's halfway to my goal. I'll keep working on it next year.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

In defense of journalists

OK folks, I have to get something off my chest. I'm saying this as my personal opinion and not as a representative of any business or organization. So bear with me.

I'm a journalist. I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was 15 and I took my first reporting class in high school. I majored in journalism at one of the best schools for such things, the University of Missouri-Columbia. I've worked at newspapers both large and small since 1998. I want to continue working in journalism until I retire or I succeed in supporting myself with my fiction writing.

It's probably no surprise that I get touchy when people who have little or no experience with the news industry say insulting things about the well-intentioned people who work their butts off every day to ensure that the public is an informed public instead of an ignorant and oblivious public.

I often find myself defending my profession and getting scoffed at. Or being told that I'm wrong because this one person on this one occasion happened to get burned by an asshole who happened to be a journalist.

That's not to minimize the experience of people who have had bad personal encounters with the media. I feel for you. I really do. It's a public forum in which you are getting burned. Yes, there are assholes out there. Yes, some of them are journalists. I wish that wasn't the case. But making assumptions that we are all assholes because we are journalists is plain wrong. There is no direct correlation between those two categories.

That's true of all professions. But I'm a journalist, so that's what I'm going to talk about. I should also point out that I'm talking about newspaper journalists, not those you see on television or listen to on the radio. Print journalists are not broadcast journalists. I have issues with 24-7 cable news, and I'm not going to defend those folks. They can defend themselves.

Here are some things I want you to know about journalists. Some of you will think I'm naive. Go ahead and think that if it makes you feel better. I've worked in newsrooms for 15 years, and this is based on my experiences.

1. Most journalists are nice, well-intentioned people.
Not all journalists are nice people. As I said above, some are assholes. But most of us are journalists because we believe in the ideals of the profession. We believe that in order to succeed, a democracy must have a free press. We believe that the media plays the important role of watchdog for the government. We believe that people have a right (if not a duty) to know what is going on in their city, state, nation and world.

Are there journalists who got into it because they are ego maniacs who want to see their name in print? Sure. How about those who are secretly (or not so secretly) pressing a certain agenda? Yep. (See below.) There are even those who simply fell into the profession because it looked like something they could do and then found they were in over their head. There are exceptions. I know journalists who fell into the profession, and they are fantastic. I married one of the fantastic ones. Others are not so fantastic.

Those awful Machiavellian reporters you see on television shows and in movies, the ones who will do anything to get the story, the ones who have no soul ... I have yet to meet one of those. Maybe they exist. But not anywhere I've ever worked.

The point is, journalists are not the enemy. We are doing what we do so you can be an informed member of society. The paycheck is also nice, but really, we don't get rich doing this. If we wanted money, we would be doing pretty much anything else. Sometimes we make mistakes. We are human, which means we are fallible. But mistakes are just that: mistakes. Not conspiracies. Speaking of ...

2. Most journalists are not secretly (or not so secretly) pushing an agenda.
In my career, this is the accusation that has been leveled against me more than any other. I don't write articles. I'm a copy editor. I edit articles from the reporters in my newsroom and from the wire services (Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, etc.), and write the display type (headlines, photo captions, etc.)

Currently, I am wire editor at my newspaper, which means I am also in charge of our national and international coverage. I read everything that is available to me to print through our wire services and choose what to use and where to use it. Sometimes I get angry calls from readers. About half the time, I'm accused of pushing a Republican agenda. The other half of the time, I'm accused of pushing a Democratic agenda. I've also been accused of being both anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian, and other things. It's interesting what strangers think they know about me by analyzing what I put in the paper.

Here's what I tell those callers: I am limited in what I can put in the newspaper by what I get from the wire services we subscribe to. Within those limitations, I do my best to provide a comprehensive, fair, balanced and accurate wire report. I have never and will never push an agenda. No, I won't tell you my personal opinions on anything. My personal opinions don't matter because I separate them from my work. I'm a professional.

Most journalists I have worked with over the years are the same. They are professionals. A few aren't. Most of the time, the assholes end up getting fired because their non-professional behavior bites them in the butt. Any journalist who survives in the business for decades is one who is doing his or her best to live up to the ideals of the profession.

3. But, wait. Newspapers are a business, aren't they?
Yes they are. Newspapers are in the business of making money. The entire industry has struggled with that in recent years thanks to the Internet. People nowadays expect to get their news online for free and their classifieds online, again for free. Here's the problem: The people who produce the news expect to get paid. The newspaper industry hasn't figured out how to replace the lost revenue from subscriptions, classifieds and advertising with online pennies.

There's a lot of noise out there, not only from professional news organizations but also from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. There are also agenda-pushers who present themselves as professional journalists, but they're not. With all this noise, it's difficult for any newspaper to make itself heard, to sell subscriptions and to get those precious online clicks.

That means we're all looking for a big story that we can own, that no one else has. It could be politics, crime, culture or sports. We are trying to sell newspapers, so we can keep making more newspapers.

What will happen if the noise wins out over the professional news groups? If all anyone reads is Twitter and Facebook and the blog postings of agenda-pushers who claim to be journalists, and if people cancel their newspaper subscriptions and rely on Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart for their news, then real journalism will fade away. No more fair and balanced. No more professionalism.

Then people really will have something to complain about.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sale! To Flash Fiction Online

It took nine submissions over three years, but I finally wrote one that hit the bull's-eye. My fantasy story "Star Box" has been accepted at Flash Fiction Online. Persistence pays off! For me, FFO is the most discerning genre flash magazine (shhh, don't tell Daily Science Fiction that I said that ...), so having a story of mine published there is an achievement unlocked. Happy dance!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Talk about some bad timing

I've had a lot on my writerly plate lately: working on the novel, hashing out plans for a series of novellas for self-publishing with a co-writer, and writing a story to submit this quarter to Writers of the Future. In all of that, I've been putting off the Writers of the Future story, saying to myself I have time, I can write that in December. Ah, the best-laid plans ...

As of Dec. 1, I didn't know what I was going to write, but that was all right. I had plenty of time. I spent a couple of days brainstorming and came up with an idea, which I fleshed out to an outline. After another couple days, I had done the world building and character profiles.

Around Dec. 4 or 5, I started writing the story longhand in my notebook. Although the process takes longer that way, I find that I produce better prose. My theory is that my brain has more time to catch up to a pen than it does to a keyboard. Both of my best-performing WotF stories, a finalist and semi-finalist, were written longhand. Whatever the reason, it works.

By the end of last week, I had written a few thousand words. Everything was going swimmingly. And then I got sick.

I had planned to finish the first draft by this past Tuesday, which was the last day this year in which I was going to be off work and my kids were going to be in school. Next week, my kids will start their winter break, which means they won't give me much (if any) quiet time to write. Then there's the craziness of Christmas. Then it's the end of the month and ... deadline.

The flu put a big crimp in my grand plan. I had intended to plow through the end of the draft. Instead, I hardly had the energy to get out of bed. I managed to write several hundred words, but two days after my self-imposed deadline, the story is not yet done.

So here I am on the verge of the kids' winter break and the holidays, and I have a story to finish. This is what I get for procrastination.

Oh, I'll still finish the story. I might even have time to run it by a couple of critique partners before submitting it. Only now the final stretch will be more stressful than it could have been.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writers of the Future, Quarter 4

Another honorable mention this quarter, which is what I was expecting all along. It's a good story, but not really the sort of thing that DW goes for. At least this quarter I was accurate in my prediction, unlike last time. I'm about 3K into my Quarter 1 entry, which at least for the moment I think is a better story. That doesn't mean much. I always think that whatever I'm writing now is the Best Thing Ever. Two weeks after I submit the story, I'll change my mind.

In 24 quarters (damn) of entering this contest:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semi-finalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 13
  • Rejection: 8

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For your consideration

I've seen a few colleagues doing this, and 2014 is the first year in which I have stories that I think are worthy of attention. If you're voting for the Hugo or Nebula and you enjoyed any of my stories this year, please remember them in your nominations: