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Mid-April Already

on Sun, 04/19/2015 - 09:03

The days are indeed, as Bukowski would have it, running away like wild horses over the hills. Thanks to rain and some warm weather West Michigan is slowly turning green, and it is beautiful to see.

My free time remains captive to Caffeinated Press and The 3288 Review; enough that I probably should stop considering it "free time". Or even "mine". But it is all for a good cause, and fun besides. This past week saw a two hour "get it in gear" meeting for The 3288 Review, which segued into a sort of unofficial planning-for-the-future meeting for Caffeinated Press. To wit: we have a couple of ideas for fun projects which will help tie us in to the Grand Rapids creative communities, and allow us to give something back. We needn't only look for literary talent to publish. West Michigan hosts a large pool of talent in all forms of creative expression.

Following closely on this is the realization that we need to have physical office space. Meetings in living rooms and on porches are all well and good, but they quickly begin to feel less like career builders and more like hobbies. I am reminded of a friend, many years ago, who in a fit of pique referred to the UICA as the "Suburban Institute for Contemporary Arts". I don't see that happening to us, though I admit I might be naively optimistic. We have a diverse-enough cast of characters, both in people and people-who-know-people, that we can avoid the subtle trap of provincialism.

Then again, provincialism sells.

Office space will allow us to host community-level gatherings, be they round-table meetings of our (over a dozen) editors, or open space for people to camp out and write, or to provide workshops for the local literary community. And at the most practical level, sometimes you just need to get out of the house.

This may be the last beautiful day of the month. Time to work on the yard.

ConFusion 2015, Panel 6: Current State of Short Fiction

on Sun, 04/05/2015 - 17:05

[This post is part of a series which collects and expands upon notes taken during panel discussions at the January 2015 ConFusion science fiction convention in Dearborn, Michigan. The index page, which links to the other posts in the series, is here.]

Panelists included Scott H. Andrews, Ron Collins, Elizabeth Shack and moderator Catherine Shaffer.

As I complete this post, on Easter Sunday 2015, more than two months after the fact, I find myself thinking back on the panel itself. So much laughter and goodwill, and people - editors, writers, and publishers - who have worked their fingers to the bone, but still have such extraordinary optimism and generosity for people in the community of genre fiction. Scott Andrews, in particular was a treasure trove of information. It helps that he is the publisher (and editor-in-chief) of Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Here are my notes. Less narrative form, more of a raw info-dump. 

* Who is publishing, reading, and writing?
** Galaxy's Edge
** Uncanny Magazine
** Bastion Science Fiction Magazine
** Fireside Fiction
** Lackington's
** The Dark

* Early issues are where you find your audience and pool of writers. This means that for publishers, the first few issues of a journal are where you determine what will be submitted going forward.

** Terraform
** Urban Fantasy
** SubmissionGrinder

* Professional rate for genre fiction authors is $0.06/word

* Clarkes WorldNeal Clarke is a GENIUS at marketing. He has made his enterprise so successful that it can no longer be considered a semiprozine.

* Flash Fiction (1000 words or less) is becoming more viable,thanks to on-line/digital publishing

* Podcasts/audiobooks of short stories are very popular. This in itself makes the shorter forms more commercially viable, particularly for venues which are comfortable releasing works online.

* Who's writing short fiction?
** Seth Dickinson
** Gregory Norman Bossert
** Cat Rambo
** Helen Marshall
** K J Parker
** Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
** Alex Dally MacFarlane
** Tamara Vardomskaya
** Laura Pearlman

* Trends for 2014 - 2015
** fewer zombie stories
** More humor in Flash Fiction

* For any question "Is anyone publishing X?", the answer is YES. BUT: Can you find the publisher willing to publish X?

* Novellas are becoming a viable length again, thanks to digital publishing.

* "Making a living" in short fiction? Difficult. Very difficult.

* Readers of old media sometimes resist converting to new media. People want their analog. This is why many of the classic magazines are still viable.

* Rejectomancy - divining the underlying message in a rejection letter (explanation here).

And that's about it for this panel. More to come in the weeks ahead.

Hello, April!

on Sat, 04/04/2015 - 18:33

Well, it's been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon Grand Rapids, near the shores of Lake Michigan. Spring has sprung with the crocuses running rampant in neighborhood lawns and our first, albeit brief, thunderstorm Thursday morning. Work has been quiet thanks to the one hand being out of synch with the other, though that will likely change very soon. Bench time is a precious commodity and not to be wasted on frivolous pursuits. We will shortly move into our new office space on the fourth floor of 99 Monroe Ave, overlooking, um, Z's Bar and Restaurant.

Energy level in Master Lee's classes is still high. The students are practicing hard, and we are giving them a lot to practice. We have two upcoming events - our annual demonstration at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts on Saturday, June 6; and our Sifu Day celebration on August 8. We seem to have passed a tipping point of some kind and have a lot of students suddenly learning more advanced forms.

Caffeinated Press is going strong! We have at least three novels in the editing pipeline and many stories submitted for Brewed Awakenings II. The 3288 Review is approaching the edge of the precipice where it goes from being an idea to being A Thing. I have a stack of lit journals on my coffee table which is approaching two feet tall. We are homing in on the format we want, and from there on to the amount of content we can have for each issue. Then we need to figure out advertising, distribution, compensation, all that fun stuff.

All this is lead-up to our community introduction event at Schuler Books and Music this upcoming Monday, April 6, at 7:00pm. We hope to see a room-full of writers to whom we can offer our services as editors and publishers. Word on the street is that we will have something close to a full house. I am allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic. Regardless, We can expect a significant surge in submissions.

All of which is to say, Spring will be busy, and summer likely moreso. But all in a good way.

Knowing the Words

on Tue, 03/24/2015 - 08:18

As a coda to my recent pilgrimage to Vietnam I now have a pen-pal of sorts, a friend-of-a-friend named Yen who lives in Saigon. We send emails back and forth a couple of times a week, discussing the differences between west Michigan and south Vietnam. Often there are photos, too.

Finding the right words for the conversation can be challenging. She knows some English, but is not fluent. I don't know any Chinese or Vietnamese at all. We began corresponding back in early November, just before the first major snowstorm of the year. When she saw the photos Yen had a lot of questions. She had never seen snow before, or even been outside of the tropics. Of course she knew what snow was, and winter, and all of those concepts, but there are a hundred small details which go along with winter which I found myself explaining. Like, for instance, why all of the photos were so dark. And where all the people were.

The quick answer was "Because it's winter." But that doesn't explain things to someone who has never seen winter. So then I explained how little daylight we have in the winter, and that the photo with the sun low on the horizon was actually taken in the middle of the day, not 8:00 in the morning. And the trees aren't all dead; they're dormant. And that everyone is inside because today the air temperature is -20C. And that the wind chill made things feel even colder. And then I need to explain wind chill.

Yen isn't unschooled about these things. She has family here in the US, out west and down south. Sometimes it seemed that every other person we encountered in District 5 had been to the United States or Canada at one point. And of course there is the internet. The concepts were not unfamiliar, but the explanations - finding the right words in the right context - are not easy.

Another example. There are more people in Ho Chi Minh City than in all of Michigan. Even the most crowded downtown event will not have as many people as a similarly-sized neighborhood in HCMC on any random day. So no matter where or when I take photos an appropriate response would be "where are all the people"?

Yen thinks the photos of snow are beautiful and hopes to travel here one day to experience winter.  I would like to tell her that some days Michigan is colder than anything in southern Vietnam outside of a cryogenics facility.

And right now the challenge is to find the right words to explain the emotional impact, after five months of gray and brown and white, of seeing the green spears of newly-sprouted crocuses peeking up through the grass.

Late March Update - Corporate Training and Hula Hoops

on Sun, 03/22/2015 - 09:21

I feel a little off-balance this weekend. Most of this previous week was taken up with corporate training in Chicago. The training itself was, to my surprise, interesting, though I will likely have little opportunity to make use of any of it. I'm programmer. They don't let me talk to clients, which is probably for the best.

I only had a couple of hours free to explore the neighborhood. Monday afternoon I walked around Millennium Park for an hour, and at the end sat and watched a group of beautiful young women dancing with hula hoops. A group of break dancers set up nearby and began popping and locking and experimenting with other styles for which I have no vocabulary. Then the two groups started to interact, which was hypnotic and in the smoother moments looked a lot like tai chi.

Thursday, between the end of the training and my cab ride back to the airport I hit the Chicago Art Institute and wandered around the Impressionists - Monet and Cezanne and Gaugin and Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir and so many others. Again, I don't have the vocabulary to describe most of what I saw, other than a sustained sense of wonder. Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte, made the strongest impression (heh). The way he created reflections of a cloudy sky in the puddles between cobblestones. The slight haze in the air suggesting warm weather. The glow in the sky that felt like spring.

I missed several classes and with the intense schedule had little time to practice on my own, though I did try to wake up early enough to get in some breathing exercises, and watch the rising sun hit the top of the downtown skyscrapers.

My driver for the cab ride back to the airport was a 70-ish Polish immigrant conspiracy theorist. He had many thoughts about Freemasons and the use of mass media, particularly TV, to manipulate the ignorant masses. I think he was surprised when he found out I knew the lingo and could hold a respectful conversation with him. I didn't tell him it was because Foucault's Pendulum was one of my favorite books.

I think he was not used to having actual conversations with his fares because he opened up about his life - what it was like to live in and leave Poland, post- WWII, and that his father was an Auschwitz survivor. He had a big axe to grind about Germany and Russia, and the destruction caused by the struggle over the ownership of Poland. Moving borders can act like bulldozers, and when several parties claim the same piece of land there may be nothing left when the dust settles.

So here I am, working on Editing, Operations, and Marketing for Caffeinated Press. Our big Schuler Books and Music event takes place on April 6. Already word is getting out, and we have a steady but increasing flow of queries to manage. Talent and genre run the gamut, and I am happy to report that everything we have seen is better than average. There is a lot of talent out there.

Now off to enjoy this beautiful Spring morning.