What I’ve Learned (2015 Edition)

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27

The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27

Five years ago today, I sent my first story to a professional science fiction market.

No, that’s a lie. As Dean Wesley Smith says, never trust a writer. We lie for a living. Some of us get good at it.

My first submission was 38 years ago, give or take. I don’t recall the precise date. It was a bad pun story, embarrassingly bad, and George Scithers from Asimov’s Science Fiction sent me a nice personal rejection.

I gave up. I figured I didn’t have what it takes. (And that’s how new I was: I didn’t realize that a personal rejection was supposed to be encouraging.)

My second submission was a few years later, a maudlin little story about an astronaut who wakes up in a world so obsessed with safety that they never do anything. That one got a form rejection.

I gave up.

My third submission was a couple years after that. TSR (the D&D company) had bought Amazing Stories, and I had a humorous adventure story steeped in D&D lore, so I figured it was a good fit. The editor (coincidentally, George Scithers again) sent me a very nice note that said it was a fun story, but he just couldn’t use it.

I gave up. For over two decades. I still wrote – I even sold a software design book – but I just couldn’t bring myself to submit any fiction.

In 2010, my brother-in-law read what I thought was the first chapter of a novel. He said, “That’s not a chapter, that’s a story. Send it in.” So I did. And it got a form rejection.

I sent it to another market. I wrote more stories. I sent those out. I got more rejections.

I gave up. I sent out one last story, and then I gave up.

Then in March of 2011, that last submission became a Finalist in Writers of the Future. It didn’t win, but it did something more important: it got me to stop giving up. Rejection wasn’t stopping me, I was stopping me.

In April 2011 – not even a year from what I’ll call my first modern submission – I sold “The Night We Flushed the Old Town” to Digital Science Fiction, my first pro-rates sale. In July, I sold them “Father-Daughter Outing”. After that, sadly, Digital suspended publication of their anthology (though they’re still selling other books); but I’ll always be grateful to them for believing in me.

In March of 2012, I had an acceptance – but not a sale, this was for charity – in The Gruff Variations: Writing for Charity, Vol. 1. It might not have been a sale, but my story “Gruff Riders” appeared alongside stories from Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees plus dozens of other great writers. I was proud to have a story there, and I would be proud to do it again.

Then in September 2012, Analog bought my novelette “Not Close Enough”. In February 2013, they bought “Murder on the Aldrin Express”. In 2014, they bought “Brigas Nunca Mais” and “Racing to Mars”. This year they bought “Early Warning”. Meanwhile, in 2013, Galaxy’s Edge bought “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”.

And… Gardner Dozois selected “Murder on the Aldrin Express” for Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, which was reprinted in the UK as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 27. Allan Kaster also selected it for Year’s Top Short SF Novels 4, an audiobook/ebook anthology. And coming full circle, in 2014 “Unrefined” was awarded third place in Writers of the Future Volume 31.

So an anniversary is a time to reflect. What have I learned?

The most important thing is simple, and at the same time the hardest lesson of all: Stop giving up. Or as Galaxy Quest taught us, “Never give up, never surrender!” My number one advice to new writers, especially young writers, is “Don’t be like me. Don’t give up.”

Does not giving up guarantee sales? Of course not! That’s why this advice is so hard to follow: not giving up means facing rejection after rejection, never knowing if you’ll ever see a sale. Or a second after your first. Or…

So the other thing I learned is to keep learning, keep getting better. And this advice scares me. See, I don’t do a lot of conscious learning. Oh, I read writer blogs and books, I attend workshops, and I talk with other writers. Those are all good things to do, and I recommend them. But I’m not good at thinking about the lessons I learn. I read, I listen, and I try to absorb, but I don’t consciously apply the lessons. I just write, and I hope. I worry that if I don’t work harder at this, I may hit a plateau and not know how to climb off it.

So I’m working on this; but at the same time I worry about the story of the centipede. He walked all around, just fine, until somebody asked him how he kept all those feet coordinated. He started thinking about it, he couldn’t figure out, and he could never walk again without tripping over his own feet. I worry that if I try to consciously change, I may lose whatever it is that I’m doing right. And I don’t know what that is.

I don’t know what that is! And that, my friends, is scary! I’m flying blind.

And that, again, brings us full circle. I can tell you a hundred little things that I’ve learned along the way; but I still know nothing, not really. I can tell you what worked for me in particular cases, but I can’t tell you what will work for you. I can’t tell me what will work for me next time.

And anyone who says they can tell you: they’re a writer, they lie for a living. Don’t trust them. Even when they believe their lies, they’re really just telling you what worked for them in some cases. As long-time Writers of the Future judge Algis Budrys said, there is seldom only one right way of doing anything. If someone tries to tell you The Way, remember that it’s only A Way. One among countless. Learn what they’re teaching, but think of it as a tool in your toolbox, not a rule you must follow. Try it out, see how it works for you. It’s not The Way, but it might be useful.

But this is no lie: there is a way, a way that significantly improves your chances. I’ve already laid it out above, but let me put it together here. Don’t stop learning, and don’t stop trying.

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!

(Speaking of which, there’s a novel calling to me… Get back to work!)

Ranks in Blue Collar Space

In the earliest stories of Blue Collar Space, I had only a vague and often inconsistent rank structure. Eventually I wrote down one consistent structure so that I could refer to it; and since readers have asked how to compare the ranks, I’m documenting it here.

The Services

But before I can discuss ranks, I should first explain the different multinational space services. These have different jurisdictions and responsibilities in space, but currently they all use the same rank structure.

  • Security Service (a.k.a. “The Admiralty”). This service is staffed by military personnel from the different member nations of the System Initiative. They are not technically a military in that they cannot (in theory) be used in war. There are too many national interests involved, and the decision-making process is too carefully balanced, for military operations. Instead, they are intended to enforce security and international regulations. They are technically within Space Corps (see below), but they see themselves as a separate elite service.
  • Space Corps. This service is the home of multinational exploration missions, as well as space stations and other common facilities.
  • Transport Corps. This is an umbrella service for passenger and cargo transport operations, and is largely made up of private vessels and crews. The Transport Corps certifies and evaluates these efforts so as to ensure the highest standards of operation; and most nations and corporations prefer to contractTransport Corps personnel as the easiest way to staff their missions. It is not illegal to operate a vessel without Transport Corps certification, but it’s difficult to get insurance or passengers if you do.

Trainee Rank

This category has only a single rank, the lowest possible. It’s technically not a service rank, because Trainees have not yet been enlisted (or commissioned) into a service. The purpose of Trainee rank is to determine whether personnel are qualified for the space services,

  • T-1         T            Trainee

Recruit Ranks

This category also has only a single rank: Recruit, the lowest possible enlisted rank. Recruits are not yet certified for space duty, and hence can only be assigned to ground stations (except in extraordinary circumstances).

  • E-0         R            Recruit

Spacer Ranks

Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty, but only in stations and other facilities that do not travel (i.e., nothing with a drive).

  • E-1         SR          Spacer Recruit
  • E-2         SA          Spacer Apprentice
  • E-3         SP          Spacer

Astronaut Ranks

Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty in both stations and vessels.

  • E-4         AS3        Astronaut 3rd Class – Certified for Earth orbit operations
  • E-5         AS2        Astronaut 2nd Class – Certified for Earth-Luna operations
  • E-6         AS1        Astronaut 1st Class – Certified for all Solar System travel
  • E-7         CAS       Chief Astronaut – A specialist in some vital area such as engineering, environment, etc.
  • E-8         SCAS     Senior Chief Astronaut – An advanced specialist
  • E-9         MCAS    Master Chief Astronaut – The highest enlisted rank, with multiple specialty certifications

Non-Commissioned Officer Ranks

As in modern militaries, non-comms run day-to-day operations under the command of officers.

  • B-1        BN1       Bosun 1
  • B-2        CBN2     Chief Bosun 2
  • B-3        CBN3     Chief Bosun 3
  • B-4        CBN4     Chief Bosun 4
  • B-5        CBN5     Chief Bosun 5

Commissioned Officer Ranks

The personnel who plan and direct vessels and missions.

  • O-0        MID       Midshipman (Officer trainee)
  • O-1        ENS       Ensign
  • O-2        LTJG      Lieutenant Junior Grade
  • O-3        LT          Lieutenant
  • O-4        LCDR     Lieutenant Commander
  • O-5        CDR       Commander
  • O-6        CHF       Chief
  • O-7        CAPT     Captain (Commandant for ground posts)
  • O-8        RDML    Rear Admiral
  • O-9        VADM   Vice Admiral
  • O-10      ADM     Admiral
  • O-11      FADM   Fleet Admiral

The story behind “Unrefined”

“Unrefined” is my Third Place story for Quarter 1 in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31. Here’s an audio sampler:

Thank you to Tung Chi “Jessica” Lee for the amazing illustration for my story, and to Scott R. Parkin for his powerful narration in this sampler.

————————————————————————————————

Where did this story come from? That’s a complicated question for most stories, but I remember the sources of this story pretty clearly.

It started as a story about an asteroid mining team that must deliver a payload under stressful circumstances. I had a vision of a miner having to ride the payload to its destination (that never made it into the story, but I’ll use it some day). I also had a vision of the mining team, a family (more or less) headed by a matriarch trying to hold her team together after her husband died in pursuit of this load.

But characters don’t exist in an economic and social background. Who is this payload for? Where are they shipping it? Where did they travel from, and where will they return to? I had an idea of a mining society based somewhere in the asteroid belt; but immediately I said, “I can’t write that. Jerry Pournelle would never forgive me.” Back in the 1970s, Dr. Pournelle wrote an essay “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships” (collected in A Step Farther Out). The essay explained that fundamentals of rocketry tell us that the SF classic “Belter” civilization (miners that live in some asteroid capitol and then travel through the belt, mining loads to ship to Earth) makes no economic sense. Even a large asteroid has almost no gravity, so it can’t help you to catch it. You have to burn fuel all the way there, and then burn more fuel to get back to your capitol. It turns out to take less fuel to set your base on Earth or Mars. A society that can live in the asteroid belt can live anywhere in the Solar System. So my belt society just wouldn’t work.

But! Dr. Pournelle’s essay ended with a workable alternative. Jupiter has gravity. Lots and lots of gravity. Enough to make it easy to catch with garden-variety rockets. And enough to catch millions, maybe billions of asteroids as little moonlets. Jupiter did the hard work of collecting them, all you have to do is harvest them.

So my asteroid mining ship became a small collection of mining ships and stations in Jupiter orbit (named the Pournelle Settlements in Dr. Pournelle’s honor). But if the rock is traveling all the way from Jupiter to Earth, the idea of riding the load in is untenable. The trip would take too long, and the miner would run out of food and air. I needed another method, and I settled on an old SF trope: the mass driver, a large linear accelerator that uses magnets to grab a load and launch it on a desired trajectory. But a big mass driver implied a big station, not a small family operation. Thus was born entrepreneur Wilson Gray and his Refinery Station.

Except for one problem: the original premise of the story was a problem with the delivery. After all that time designing my Refinery Station, I needed to disable it, maybe even destroy it.

And so begins “Unrefined”. Like many of my stories, it begins with a character hanging in an airlock, preparing to leap into space…

EDIT: Auston Habershaw shares the story behind “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration”.

Red Tide by Larry Niven, Brad R. Torgersen, and Matthew J. Harrington

Red Tide

Available as the August 2014 Phoenix Pick Book of the Month (until the end of the month) for $4.99 for the eBook.

Preorder the paper version here. Ships on October 15.

Full disclosure: one of the authors of this book, Brad R. Torgersen, is one of my very best writing friends, and also one of my writing inspirations and mentors. I am not exactly neutral when it comes to his work. He’s a rising star, and I’m eagerly following his examples as I try to keep up with his success.

More full disclosure: someday, when he least expects it, I shall kick Brad in the shins for being the luckiest author on the planet.

When Mike Resnick (yet more full disclosure: also a friend, mentor, and all-around great guy — with an occasionally biting sense of humor) and the good folks at Arc Manor (and one final bit of full disclosure: they also publish Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which has published two of my stories) announced the Stellar Guild series, I loved the idea. They approach an established pro SF/fantasy author about writing half of a book, and then having an aspiring new pro (chosen by the established pro) write the other half of the book. The veteran and the new writer might write two stories in the same universe, or they might write two halves of a single story. It’s a great way to get some new fiction from the veteran and to discover a new writer. Win-win! And I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Brad had been selected for the program. He’s that good. (Don’t believe me? Check out Lights in the Deep, his first short story collection. If these stories don’t move you, you are stone.) And I even wasn’t surprised when I learned Brad would be paired with Larry Niven, one of his idols.

But when I figured out that they would be working in the Jerryberry Jansen universe, I assumed my best angry Kirk face, and I shouted “BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!” (Later I added “MATTHEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!” when I learned that Niven is so awesome, they had to pair him with two new authors just to maintain the balance.)

The Jansen series — maybe better referred to as the teleportation series, since Jansen is only one of many protagonists — is to my mind the quintessential Larry Niven series. Niven’s signature technique is to take one speculative idea and then ruthlessly, logically follow wherever that idea leads, finding stories as he follows. This to me is science fiction perfection, an ideal that I aspire to in my own stories; and Larry Niven is a perfect master, and this series is where I first saw him in action. Where some stories just assume teleportation exists, Niven asks, “What would it do to society if teleportation existed? What would change? What social stresses might disappear? What new stresses might appear? What new crimes might arise?”

Niven started answering those questions in “Flash Crowd”, wherein a young “newstaper” (journalist), Barry Jerome “Jerryberry” Jansen, unintentionally incites a riot — simply by reporting a riot. (The rest is simply a logical consequence of teleportation.) He followed up with a number of other short stories in the same universe. It’s not as well-known as his Known Space universe, but I think it’s more accessible because it’s smaller and more focused.

This book begins with “Red Tide”, a longer, updated version of “Flash Crowd”. It is still very much the same story (I’ve read the original enough times to tell), but it’s… fresher. The technology and world have been updated in subtle ways to reflect how the world has changed in the 41 years since the story first appeared. Cell phones are now familiar to the modern reader, so of course the characters all have them. The internet and blogs are all old hat, so the story reflects these as part of its background. (I thought the discussion of what distinguished a newstaper from any random blogger with a cell phone camera was brilliant.) In so many subtle ways, this is now a story for the 2010′s, not the 1970′s.

But even more than that: the story is now better as an introduction to Jerryberry. There is now more depth to his background. Some casual references to teleportation’s impact on his father have been expanded into a complex relationship between Barry and his father. That helps explain what drives Barry as a newstaper, and it also explains Barry’s relationship with Robin Whyte, the inventor of teleportation and the other chief protagonist in the book. Over the course of these stories, Whyte becomes something of a surrogate father to Barry, and it makes sense given Barry’s background. (Still, if I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I wanted to see a resolution to Barry’s relation with his dad. Larry Niven, if you’re listening, maybe another story…)

Following “Red Tide” is another Niven short story: “Dial at Random”. This story steps back in time, where Robin Whyte and his team prepare to test their new, experimental long-distance teleport systems. Something goes wrong, and a teenage girl goes on a very unexpected tour. There’s humor and danger and a lot of logical extrapolation on how a teleport system works, and what that means. The only problem is it’s short, so I wanted more!

And Brad provided more! The third story in the book is Brad’s “Sparky the Dog”. (Forgive me, Brad, I keep wanting to say “Sparky the Wonder Dog”.) The story starts with a frame where Jansen visits near the end of Whyte’s life, and we get a nice picture of their surrogate father-son relationship. Then Whyte tells a story from the very earliest teleportation experiments, where Whyte and the aforementioned Sparky go on the ride of their life, facing dangerous gunmen and the perils of the desert. The story answers several questions on how the technology works, and it also shows us a younger, more vital and yet less confident Whyte. And it gives us Sparky the Wonder Dog! (OK, OK, I’ll stop now, but I’m a sucker for dog stories.) But most of all, it lets Jansen (and us) say goodbye to Robin Whyte.

The final story in the book is Matthew Harrington’s “Displacement Activity”. This story has a brief connection to Jansen at the start; but then the chief protagonist, Sam Watt, gets unexpectedly teleported into the distant future and far across the galaxy. There he must learn to survive in a strange society where humans are not quite slaves, but they’re not their own masters. Harrington’s style is notably different from Niven’s, and his humor is different as well. Not bad (of all the pieces, I laughed at his the most), just different. But despite those differences, Sam Watt is a perfect Niven protagonist, right up there with Jerryberry Jansen, Beowulf Schaffer, Gil Hamilton, and the rest. I knew I was reading a different author, but I also immediately felt at home in the universe he described.

If you’re a Niven fan, I can’t recommend this book highly enough: a fresh new spin on “Flash Crowd”, a brand new Niven short story, and two new authors invited to play with Larry’s toys. If you’ve never read Niven, I still recommend this to anyone who likes ruthlessly consistent science fiction.

5 stars (out of 5 — I would give 6 if I could read a story of Jerryberry and his dad)

Make them struggle!

It’s common writing advice: make your characters struggle. When things are going well for them, throw a disaster at them.

I don’t disagree with this advice. First, it’s part and parcel of the rising-tension structure that’s at the core of traditional western storytelling. And second, it’s a psychological one-two punch: readers empathize and identify with a character who struggles (because we all do); and then readers feel a cathartic rush when the character succeeds in a struggle. Some say this is one of the main draws of fiction: to let the reader vicariously struggle and experience triumph. And by escalating the struggles, you escalate the vicarious triumphs.

But though I understand the advice, I’ve never consciously followed it. In my stories, I just see what should logically happen next, and I write that. Easier, harder, I don’t think about those, I just write the logical next thing. If there’s escalating struggle and rising tension in my stories, it’s entirely subconscious.

But THIS story… Every time I think, “What should happen next?” the answer is “More bad news. It just got worse.” Every time I think, “OK, they have a plan that will succeed, now I just have to write what’s left,” I start writing, and I discover, “Wait a minute. They never thought of this.” There is hazard here everywhere they look. There’s no “triumph,” there’s just survival to reach the next struggle.

Oh, there will be an eventual triumph. I know what it is (I’ve known from the start). And there’s maybe only six to eight challenges left before they get there.

Of course, two weeks ago, I thought there were only five or six challenges remaining, and I’ve hit them with half a dozen challengers since then. So there may still be surprises hiding out there for them. And for me!

Martin Takes a Hike for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life

From my Relay for Life page:

Sweating in the Summer Heat for My Sister

As some of you might know, my sister Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. For some people, this is a very private matter they keep to themselves. But Anita was really helped by stories from other survivors, so she’s telling the world her experience at http://anita.buckowing.me. She’s not sugar-coating anything, but she also refuses to get down. “It is what it is,” she says, and the family is doing whatever they have to do to fight this disease. Four years later, she is cancer free at every doctor visit, and she’s fighting strong!

Anita has also become very active in American Cancer Society fund raising. If you know Anita, you’re not surprised by this. Community participation and event organization is something she always excels at. And as part of that, she and daughter Kira and “sister” Amy have put together the BAAAD KROWS Relay for Life team. Don’t ask me to explain the name, and don’t ask me to explain how they roped me in, because neither one makes sense to me.

Well, OK, they didn’t have to rope me in. I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t help Anita with her disease, other than driving her to appointments now and then. But I can help her with this fund raiser, which is important to her. I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life because I want to make a meaningful difference in the fight against cancer.

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, either through their own personal battle or through someone they love. Anita’s not my first relative to face this, and I’ve had friends go through it as well.

So if you would like to help for Anita, or for your friends and relatives who have faced cancer, please make a donation to help the American Cancer Society create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Together, we can help make sure that cancer never steals another year of anyone’s life!

Every day, the American Cancer Society is helping us stay well by preventing cancer or finding it at its earliest, most treatable stages. They assist families in finding the best resources to help their friend or loved one deal with a diagnosis and their journey to get well. The American Cancer Society is also rallying communities (like ours!) through events like Relay For Life, to fight back and find cures for this disease.

OK, a couple of those paragraphs are boilerplate. After all, the American Cancer Society can explain their mission better than I can. But I want to add my personal request.

The relay will be 7/25/2014, so there’s only a little time to raise funds between now and then. Any bit you can contribute would help toward that. $10, $5, even $1 would help.

Also, the Relay is more than just a fund raiser. It’s also a memorial for those we’ve lost, and a celebration for those who are fighting back against this disease. if you’d like to attend the Relay and help memorialize and celebrate, we’ll be in Wayland Friday July 25 to Saturday July 26, 3 p.m to 3 p.m. We’ll have somebody from BAAAD KROWS walking the track the whole time. We and other teams will have lots of games and other on-site fundraisers, including catering.

I’ll be there as soon as I get out of work on Friday. I don’t know which hours I’ll be walking, but I’ll be there.

Thank you for your time.

Even small donations help. If you would like to contribute, please visit my Relay page.

“Unrefined” wins Third Place in Writers of the Future!

From PRWeb:

The 1st Quarter winners of the 31st year of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest were announced today.

THE FIRST QUARTER WINNERS ARE

1st place – Tim Napper of Australia
2nd place – Auston Habershaw of Massachusetts
3rd place – Martin Shoemaker of Michigan

They were chosen from a group of 8 finalists and are now awarded cash prizes, a week long intensive workshop, an awards ceremony and are also published in the annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. Tim, Auston and Martin will receive a cash prize for their win this quarter.

Tim, as first place for the quarter, will compete with the 1st place winners of the remaining three quarters of the year for the Grand Prize of $5,000.00.

Contest judges include, Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, Dune, Robert J. Sawyer Flash Forward, Robert Silverberg, Sailing to Byzantium, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, A Mote in God’s Eye, Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, to name a few.

I am so proud, so pleased, and so relieved. Why relieved? Because this was the last quarter I was eligible for Writers of the Future. It’s a contest for non-pro writers trying to break in, and I am now officially a pro. So for me, this quarter was win-or-go-home. That added a degree of pressure I haven’t experienced in past quarters.

I am also grateful for a couple of rejections. Why is that? Because my Third Place story, “Unrefined”, was originally written for the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. I thought it was perfect for that contest: an inspiring story of humanity exploring space and finding ways to survive challenges. But the judges thought otherwise. If they hadn’t, they would’ve published it, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

After the Baen Memorial passed on “Unrefined”, I sent it to what I thought was surely its natural home, Analog. But Trevor thought otherwise, and he passed. If he had accepted it, it would’ve been published last year, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

So the lesson to me is: don’t give up on a story! There are other markets. Keep trying until you exhaust them all! If I had given up on this one, I wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles next year to hang out with Tim and Auston (plus Illustrator winners Michelle Lockamy, Tung Chi Lee, and Emily Siu) and the winners of the remaining quarters and the pro instructors and judges, learning how to improve my writing as a craft and as a business.

I would like to finish with the “theme song” for this story: “The Tide is High” by Blondie. No, I didn’t listen to it while I was writing the story; but after I finished the story, I was in my local Harding’s, and this song was on the PA system. Listening to it, I realized that the lyrics applied perfectly to my story (you’ll have to wait for the anthology next year to see why):

The tide is high, but I’m holding on.
I’m gonna be your number one.
Number one…
Nummmmmber onnnnnne…
Nuuuuuummmmber onnnnnnnnnnnne…

Then I went home, looked up the song, and found this amazing Apollo/space-themed video; and I knew I’d found my theme song. Enjoy!


Blondie – The tide is high

Professional status!

I just read the news: Galaxy’s Edge has been accepted by SFWA as a pro-qualifying market. Therefore my two sales there, “Il Gran Cavallo” and “Pallbearers”, are my third and fourth official pro sales. (They’re my fifth and sixth at pro rates, but Digital Science Fiction didn’t last long enough to qualify as a pro market.)

So the good news is: I am now officially eligible to join Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Thank you Mike Resnick, Laura Somerville, and Shahid Mahmud for producing such a great magazine and making this possible.

The bad news is: I am now officially ineligible to enter Writers of the Future. My current entry for Q1 is my final eligible entry. I have now “pro’ed out”, putting me in the great company of authors like Annie Bellet and Kevin J. Anderson. Thank you, Joni Labaqui, David Farland, and the crew at Author Services, Inc. for an amazing three years with the contest. And thank you to all my fellow members of the WotF forum for all your support and encouragement.

Jen Haeger asked me three simple little questions. Or so she thought…

Jen Haeger asked me three simple little questions. Or so she thought…

Jen is the author of Moonlight Medicine: Onset, an urban fantasy/paranormal romance (I’m never sure where the line is there) about a veterinary researcher caught up in a war between werewolves who want to destroy her because she offers the most dangerous thing possible: a cure.

Don’t bore me with all that medical stuff!

“I like a good doctor story as much as the next reader, but don’t bore me with all that medical stuff! Don’t tell me the patient’s blood pressure, don’t tell me what course of treatment they tried that accidentally made things worse, and don’t tell me how they found the real illness hidden behind all of those mysterious symptoms. Just tell me that the patient went to the hospital, and the doctor did some doctor stuff, and the patient got worse until they did even more daring doctor stuff, saving the patient in the nick of time!”

“I like a good sports story as much as the next reader, but don’t bore me with all of those plays and strategies! Don’t tell me the plays they tried and how their opponents blocked them, don’t tell me the ingenious strategy that turned disastrous, and don’t tell me how the replacement quarterback tried something no one had ever seen before and surprised everyone with the winning touchdown. Just tell me there was a game, and the teams clashed, and the home team was on the verge of losing until the underdog turned it around and won the game!”

“I like a good police procedural as much as the next reader, but don’t bore me with all of that forensic stuff! Don’t tell me how they combed the scene for clues, don’t tell me the strange evidence they found but couldn’t explain, and don’t tell me how the forensic team managed to tie together disparate clues to paint a picture of the real crime. Just tell me there was a crime, and the police were stymied, and then the lab fingered the real killer. Don’t waste time on procedure, just get to the exciting chase scene at the end!”

“I like a good science fiction tale as much as the next reader, but don’t bore me with all of that science stuff! Don’t tell me how the laws of physics blocked the protagonists’ plans, don’t tell me how they pushed their ship to the limits to try to skirt the edge of possibility, don’t tell me how they pushed too far and their ship broke down, and don’t tell me their ingenious plan for turning disaster into triumph. Don’t waste time on believable science, and especially don’t waste time convincing me that it’s believable. Just make something up, and get to the exciting chase scene at the end!”

I don’t think anyone would watch House M.D. and say the writers should cut out all the medicine. I don’t think anyone would watch The Replacements and say the writers should cut out all the football plays, the huddles, and the practices. I don’t think anyone would watch CSI and say that the writers should cut out the, ya know, Crime Scene Investigations and the laboratory scenes.

Yet some people show no hesitation in dismissing science fiction with actual science and engineering at its core. Not just “I’m not interested in that,” but rather, “You’re doing it wrong!” And often they’ll add (with a sneer), “It’s science fiction! Duh!” I can only shake my head and pity them. Such limited imaginations…

There’s room for medical soap operas, and room for medical mysteries. There’s room for stories about the lives and passions of pro athletes, and room for stories of a team of underdogs fighting against all odds to get to the championship. There’s room for buddy cop films, and room for forensic investigations.

And there’s room for fantastical, metaphorical science fiction verging on fantasy, and room for real nuts-n-bolts, hard science fiction.