Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gone--But Not Forgotten--Realms

I just found out through one of my writing groups that Realms of Fantasy is closing down after April's issue. Here's the full story:

Realms of Fantasy closing

By Ian Randal Strock

January 27, 2009

Breaking news: Realms of Fantasy is closing down following publication of its April 2009 issue. Managing Editor Laura Cleveland told SFScope the news came very suddenly, indeed, even Editor Shawna McCarthy (currently on vacation in Italy) hadn't been informed yet. The only reason we got the story is that rumors broke through the blogosphere today.

Cleveland said the April issue is currently at the printer, and will be published. The reasons she was given for the closure were plummeting newsstand sales. "Subscriptions are good, and advertising, until very recently, was fine." She blamed the economic downturn and newsstand distribution for the closure.

Publisher Sovereign Media first got into sf magazine publishing with Science Fiction Age, which Scott Edelman edited through its eight-year life. SFAge was closed while still profitable to make room for an even more profitable wrestling magazine. Realms of Fantasy has been with us for fifteen years and "was coming up on its 100th issue," Cleveland said. "We were excited about the special Halloween issue we'd been planning, which would have been our first."

The staff is obviously harried by the news, and that it's become public so quickly. Cleveland had been hoping to tell the authors and artists the news before it broke publicly. The magazine wasn't carrying a large inventory, she said, although she did note that they'd recently purchased a number of stories which now won't be published.

More news as we learn it.

I'm saddened to hear this news. I'm a subscriber because I enjoy their stories, even though they can have sad endings sometimes. (A recent issue had one story about a woman who lost her son and husband and another story about a child stolen by a trickster; that's too much for a mother to take. "Sonnets Made of Wood," by Leah Bobet, one of my fellow OWWers, was also quite agonizing to read.) I submitted a couple of my short stories to them, but they were all rejected. What a shame to lose another professional market for genre short stories. I hope that after the economy recovers--we must keep faith the economy will improve--this magazine will be reborn. Or is that another fantasy?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Writing Funk

As promised, I'm back once again for another Blog Chain Pooooost! Michelle posted right before me, and Abi will finish off this round. Elana picked the topic for this round; it consists of two parts:

1. When you're in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out?
2. I want your favorite funny and/or thing that makes you happy.

Elana is very specific about what makes up the pool of funk: Not sure what the Pool of Writing Funk is? Maybe you've heard of the Lake of Self-Doubt. No? The Ocean of What-the-heck-am-I-doing? Or maybe each rain drop in your life seems to whisper, "You're not good enough." These all contribute to the pool.

After re-reading these words last night, it struck me that this topic was similar in some ways to the one we did in October on confidence. In the last few years, I've encountered other people, mostly women, who lack confidence in themselves. I wonder if this is a gender thing. After all, not only are we women juggling more roles than ever before, we're constantly assaulted by ads saying we're worthless if we don't have long enough eyelashes or don't wear a size zero or fail in any way to live up to impossible standards. (I'm so glad I don't see those kinds of ads in Scientific American.) It's in the beauty industry's interest to make us feel insecure so we buy their products. But perhaps this would be a better topic for a WisCon panel than for our current blog chain.

Anyway, like Mary, I try to avoid swimming in the pool of writing funk/lack of self-confidence. I mentioned in my post in October that I regard myself as a student of writing, always improving my skills. So yesterday, when I was editing a long paragraph from Across Two Universes, I was happy when I saw how I could cut out some unnecessary information and speed up the pace. I didn't cuss myself out for writing a slow scene in the first place, because I've learned more about pacing and what's really necessary to include in a scene since then.

But what do you do if you are swimming in the funky pool? You need to rebuild your gumption. Gumption, as Robert M. Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, "is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going." (If you haven't read this book, I recommend it whole-heartily. On one level, it's the story of a man and his son on a cross-country motorcycle trip, but at the same time, the man is trying to reconnect with his past as a failed-scientist-turned-English-composition-teacher-turned-philosopher-turned-madman. Along the way, he discusses philosophy, especially as it applies to science and Quality. It's not a simple read, but the concepts are explained clearly.) Pirsig discusses gumption in the context of fixing a motorcycle, but it can be applied to anything you do. Like confidence, gumption is not fixed but can fluctuate during the process. Things that drain gumption are called gumption traps. One trap that might pertain to writers is value rigidity, or being so committed to what you think you know that you disregard what's actually in front of you. When this happens, it's time to sit back and re-evaluate what's in front of you. Both too much ego or too much anxiety can become gumption traps:

I was going to say that the machine doesn't respond to your personality, but it does respond to your personality. It's just that the personality that it responds to is your real personality, the one that genuinely feels and reasons and acts, rather than any false, blown-up personality images your ego may conjure up. These false images are deflated so rapidly and completely you're bound to be very discouraged very soon if you've derived your gumption from ego rather than Quality.

If modesty doesn't come easily or naturally to you, one way out of this trap is to fake the attitude of modesty anyway. If you just deliberately assume you're not much good, the your gumption gets a boost when the facts prove this assumption is correct. This way you can keep going until the time comes when the facts prove this assumption is incorrect. (Pirsig, 1974, p. 283-284)

Pirsig goes on to say that if you're anxious, afraid you'll do everything wrong, the way out of that trap is to learn and realize everyone messes up once in a while. When it happens to you, you can learn from the experience. "You should remember that it's peace of mind you're after and not just a fixed machine" (or story, for us writers).

There are other gumption traps discussed in the book, but those seem to be the most relevant for this topic. So I'm going to move on to the second part of Elana's topic: something funny or something that makes me happy. Well, my family makes me happy. Even when my son wakes up from his nap crying (as he did about an hour ago), he never fails to entertain, especially when he puts his boots on all by himself:

But for Elana, I'm going to recommend that she listen to some blues. Specifically, the legendary black Scottish bluesman Wet Biscuit McGlee:

That's enough for one post. Head on over to Abi's blog to see how she deals with writing funk!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Week in Review

The owner of our company (it's part of a Japanese company that's been in the same family for over a century) came in today for our annual update. We get a free lunch when he comes in; today we had both sushi and pizza. The downside to the "free lunch" is that I don't get to use my lunchtime to write. I did manage to sneak away long enough to update my blog. Between trying to recover from a lingering cold/sore throat (it's been so bad at times I've gotten up in the middle of the night for a lozenge) and not sleeping well, I haven't blogged in a few days.

MLK Day: I was lucky enough to have a holiday from work while the daycare was still open. After dropping Alex off, I came home, intending to do some chores, when Eugene called me. He had left his keys for the clinic at home, and he had a client coming in in an hour. We wound up meeting at a bookstore halfway between the clinic and home so I could bring him the keys. After buying a few books, I returned home, did the dishes, vacuumed the house, went to the doctor's office for a blood draw, ran a couple of errands, tidied up my office, and even worked on Across Two Universes for a bit before getting Alex. I had planned to give myself a mini-facial or a manicure, but it didn't work out, as usual.

The Inauguration: I didn't get to watch it live. I tried watching the feed on CNN.com, but it froze partway through Aretha Franklin's song. How aggravating! At least we recorded it, so I was able to watch it Tuesday night. It's exciting to have a new president, even in these tough times. I wish Obama and his family lots of luck in the next four years.

Alex: Alex seems to be over his cold, but he's started waking up in the middle of the night again. I had to get up at midnight once, and Eugene had to get up last night around three; it took him over an hour to soothe Alex back to sleep. But he's starting to hug us now, so that makes it all worthwhile. Lately Alex insists on touring the basement several times a day, asking for "seesee."

Writing: I finished writing a speech for my father-in-law last night and sent to him. I'm currently revising/editing the second chapter of ATU. Ideally, I'd like to finish two chapters a month. Since I completely rewrote the first chapter, I really need to find a couple of reviewers to comment on it. I don't feel like posting it on the Online Writing Workshop. (I've put several versions of the book there already, and I've been inactive for a while, so I may need to establish some new crit relationships.) I'll post it on RallyStorm tonight.

The lunch hour is almost up, so I need to grab some leftover pizza before it disappears. I'll be back on Sunday with another Blog Chain post!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Finding What You Need

Last night, Eugene and I had a friend over for dinner. (She's a professional photographer; she took the family portrait I have on the blog.) Eugene had mentioned to her that I make homemade pizza, so she requested to have some. It's been a long time since I made pizza, but luckily I already had some dough that just needed to be thawed and rolled out. I bought the rest of the ingredients earlier in the week.

After Eugene came home and took charge of Alex, I preheated the oven and let the dough come to room temperature. Then I looked for the pizza pan. I checked where we normally keep the baking pans, but I couldn't find it. I checked the other cabinets, the dining room, and the basement, but I still couldn't find it. I asked Eugene if he knew where it was; he suggested I check the places I'd already checked. There wasn't enough time to go to the store, so I decided to use a regular baking pan instead.

As I was rolling out the dough, I heard a crash from one of the cabinets. It turned out to be the pizza pan falling out of the cabinet. (We found out this morning that one of our measuring cups broke; we assume the pan did it.) Talk about good timing! I don't know how I overlooked it before. Anyway, the pizza turned out well. For dessert, I made the brownie-in-a-coffee-cup recipe I posted last time. We had a good time seeing our friend and look forward to her next visit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This Could Be Deadly...

Deadly good, and deadly for any hope I have of losing weight, that is.

I saw this recipe posted in the Chicago Tribune today. It's for a brownie you can mix and microwave in a mug. The original source is actually here, though I see they omit the vanilla. Here's the Trib's version:

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
dash of salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the dry ingredients in a mug and mix. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. (I used a mini whisk for the first step, but a spoon works better when adding the oil, water, and vanilla. Make sure to dig into the bottom edge of the mug to mix in all of the flour.) Microwave for about a minute or so; the center should still be moist. Allow to cool and enjoy; I recommend adding a scoop of ice cream if available.

Now all I need to do is figure out how to make it at work. I could easily premix the dry ingredients in a sandwich baggie; figuring out how to bring in the oil and vanilla may be a little harder. I could always buy some to keep at work.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Four Questions

It's time once again for another Blog Chain Post. Since I picked the topic for our last normal chain, I'm at the end of this one. Abi picked the topic for this chain, so please start with her blog if you want to read through the topic in order. Michelle posted right before me.

Abi asked us four questions:

1. What writing-related things have you done in the past? I could probably write an entire post just on this. Sure, there was the play I wrote in German when I was in middle school for the Foreign Language Fair (it was very short and was never performed) and all the poetry I wrote in high school and college; some of it is still posted on my website, actually. Then there was the first novel I wrote shortly after grad school. Thankfully, any copies I have of that are no longer readable. (They were on floppies--remember those?) My Master's degree is in Technical and Scientific Communication, and I've had jobs as a technical writer and a copy editor for local newspapers.

As far as science fiction/fantasy writing goes, I've completed first drafts of four novels, two in my Season Lord trilogy (fantasy) and two science fiction novels about Paul Harrison. (I'm still revising the first Paul Harrison novel, which is currently titled Across Two Universes.) I sent out queries for Day of All Seasons, the first novel in my Season Lord trilogy; I got a couple requests for partials from agents that didn't go any farther. An editor at Tor requested the full, but he never got back to me with his suggestions and is no longer with that house. Someday I'd like to rewrite that novel and try it again. I've also written a bunch of short stories; some are trunked, some have been published on the Beatles fan fiction site Rooftop Sessions, and one of them is in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons.

I've done a fair amount of reviewing. I've reviewed 776 chapters and/or short stories on the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Assuming 25 chapters per novel, that's over 30 complete novels! That doesn't count reviews I've given in workshops or through e-mail or snail mail, so it's probably no exaggeration to say I've done a thousand reviews. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to review much since my son was born.

I've been to several cons, including WindyCon, OddCon, ChiCon 2000 (the 58th World Science Fiction Convention), World Fantasy (twice), and WisCon (since 1998 or 1999--though I missed 2007 since it was too close to my due date). I've gone to lots of panels on writing (and been on a few) and participated in readings. I'm a founding member of BroadUniverse, an organization devoted to promoting women writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror.You can find links to some of the conventions and to BroadUniverse in the sidebar.

There's probably something else I'm forgetting, but I think I've posted more than enough on this topic. If I may make one final point, though, everything you do--working, talking to other people, even doing chores that let your mind wander--can be writing-related if you use it as an opportunity to observe.

2. What WIPs are you working on now? I'm currently revising/editing Across Two Universes -- again. Yes, I've been working on this novel for years, but it's still not ready. I think it's close, though. Then there's my NaMoWriMo novel from 2007, which needs a complete rewrite. That's more than enough to keep me busy for now.

3. Do you have anything brewing for the future? If there were interest, I could probably turn both my Season Lord and my Paul Harrison trilogies into multi-generational sagas. However, I also have ideas for an unrelated fantasy novel and a science fiction novel. I'd rather not talk too much about those ideas, as they still need a long simmer and may change before I put them down in pixels.

4. Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009? Ideally, I'd like to finish two chapters of ATU each month and get it out of the door by the end of the year. Paul Harrison is a great character, but he monopolizes my headspace and makes it difficult to work on anything else. Actors are such prima donnas! We'll see how this goes.

Please return to Abi's blog for a wrap-up of this chain. I'll be back soon, posting on a different topic!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

"My" Time

A mother's job is 24/7, so it's nice once in a while to have some time to take care of myself. I got a haircut today, my first one in about five months. I've had some trouble making appointments at my usual salon (and I didn't feel they really listened to what I wanted when they styled my hair), so I went to a new place closer to where I live. I think they did a good job, but I won't be able to tell until I do my hair myself tomorrow. (And sorry, I didn't take any pictures.)

After running a couple of errands, I came out of the store and realized one of my tires had gone flat. It seems like this happens to me a lot; I'm not sure why, though it might have something to do with all the potholes on the roads. I went to Sears to get it fixed. I had to wait about 90 minutes before they got to my car, and then it turned out two of my tires were bald, so I wound up buying two new ones and waiting another hour. At least I stopped at home on the way there and picked up my laptop, so I was able to get some writing done. I wrote over 500 words, which is really good for me. Meanwhile, Eugene stayed home with Alex for the afternoon. But we all got to have fun together tonight before bedtime, when we played "Throw the stuffed animals in and out of the crib" with Alex. He was also very talkative before he fell asleep. I wonder what he would blog about?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Day

Another video appropriate for the day, this one by U2. As before, there's no embedding allowed, so you can find the video here.

We start the new year with January because Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, looking backward and forward. Still, from a naturalistic perspective, it seems odd to start the new year at the beginning of winter. In my Season Lord trilogy, the country of Challen starts the new year with the first day of spring. Still, I did some extra cleaning around the house, worked out, and read a page from my 365 Tao book to get the new year started on the right note.

Many writers make a list of the projects they'd like to accomplish at the beginning of each year. Some of the projects on my list, such as getting Across Two Universes (formerly Lennon's Line) have been on there for far too long. It would be a big relief to get that one out the door to agents so I can move on to other projects.

On that note, I think I should finish this post and get back to doing something more productive. Have a happy 2009, everybody!

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