Posts Tagged ‘my magazine’

A Writing Tip, from Building Model Tanks

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I built model tanks when I was a kid.  I had a How-To book of neat tips, including one that was actually about artistic intentions.

The German tanks in WWII had numbers on the turret.  The numbers were usually painted at the assembly plant using a stencil, but sometimes the crews painted them by hand in the field, which of course had a crude look.

My How-To book said, if you want your model tank to look like one that had the numbers hand-painted by the crew, don’t try to paint the numbers by hand yourself.  Because it won’t look intentional.  It won’t look like you deliberately wanted to have crude-looking numbers; it’ll look like you lost the sheet of stickers that came with your model and tried to fake it by painting the numbers on.

Instead, my book said, use the stickers and paint some tiny drips of paint on top of them. It won’t look exactly like the real thing, but it will show what your intentions are–numbers that weren’t done with a stencil. And in that context, it’ll look right.

Tank Numbers

The audience for your art–whether model Jagdpanther or short fiction–gets some of their context for interpreting the art from their perceptions of your intentions. They will assume standard intentions for normal things, like that a knight embarking on a quest must be seeking some goal.  But for non-standard things, they may not see your intentions. So they may not feel that context, and they may not be able to tell whether an oddity is intentional or a mistake.

I see this in stories I read for BCS.  Sometimes there are incidents of odd punctuation or strange verb tenses, or passages of odd voice.  If there’s no context for why the writer is doing that, it can seem like they had no reason, or that they’re not doing it intentionally at all; that it’s sloppy writing or a typo.

But if they do have a reason, the prose needs to indicate that. Not necessarily what the reason is; just that there is one. To “telegraph” to the reader that yes, there is method to my madness; this odd thing is intentional, not a typo.

So the reader doesn’t get jarred by the oddity, or bumped out of the story as they wonder whether it is intentional or just sloppy.  So they immediately know that it is deliberate, and they can get back to normal readerly things, like pondering what the oddity means within the rest of the story. Back to reading.

What Escapes Me

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

A writer buddy of mine recently noted how his escapist pleasures as far as books were diametrically opposite from the person he was chatting with about it.

I’ve thought a lot about what for me makes good escapism, in pondering what types of stories work for me as an editor and what types don’t.  I get most all my escapism from the world.  Stuff in the setting that’s cool or neat or odd; quirky, awe-inspiring, or amazing to think about.

But when I’m reading or watching TV/movies even just for escapism, I still need some complexity to the character for it to hold my interest.  I need a character in an acute situation facing some struggle in a way that will move me, or a puzzle or mystery to that situation that will intrigue me.  Without that, I’m not entertained.

So is that truly “escapist”?  I don’t know.  If say “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,” novella and movie, moves me by saying something profound about the human condition, is that “escapist”?  I think most people would say no. :)  For me it’s not whether the story is dark or the ending to that struggle is happy or not (in “Shawshank Redeption,” the ending is ambiguous, and I love hard-fought happy endings as much as I love ambiguous ones).  It’s a level of engagement that such complexity or mystery provides for me, without which I’m not entertained enough to escape.

Which may explain why Hollywood movies rarely ever work for me. :)

Don’t Make a Mess of the Whole Semipro Zine Category?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Word comes from that there is yet another idiotic proposal to redefine the Semiprozine Hugo category (and the Fanzine one), this time to exclude audio podcasts or any other non-text format.

I don’t quite understand the print purists’ furor over new media, such as audio.  But I’m shocked at the ancillary effect that their revision, which was rejected by the Semiprozine revision committee, would have.  They want to cross out the stipulation of “non-professional”, which would effectively put all magazines into the Semiprozine category.

Yes, Asmiov’s, Analog, and F&SF would all become semipro zines.

I am boggled that anyone could think that for example F&SF, which currently has an exclusive business arrangement with one of the largest corporations in the world (Amazon), is on equivalent footing with magazines like Strange Horizons, which is a charity that has to beg for donations every year.

But this incessant Hugo politics seems to get more mind-boggling with each iteration.  The idiotic minority proposal I blogged about a few days ago would exclude every zine that had been nominated in the past four years; this one would include nearly all magazines in the field.

I hope cooler heads will prevail.  For the good of the entire field.

Don’t Penalize Non-Pro Zines for Pro-Level Respect

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

The committee to revise the Semiprozine category in the Hugo Awards has made their proposal, along with several minority recommendations by single members of the committee.  (Followers of this issue may remember that the Semiprozine Hugo was slated to be abolished two years ago, but a grassroots campaign led by editor and publisher Neil Clarke prevented that.)

At the core of this issue is how to define the difference between a “pro” zine and a “semipro” zine, since the former are not eligible in this category.

The committee’s recommended criteria offer a good distinction.  If a magazine provides a quarter of the income of any staff member, or is owned by a company that provides a quarter of the income of any person, it would be a pro zine. That makes perfect sense.  Lightspeed and Weird Tales,  for example, are both owned by publishing companies with full-time employees, and those magazines clearly have a different footing than Clarkesworld or Space and Time or my magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

But the minority proposal by Ben Yalow, a thirty-year fan, that any magazine that pays a pro rate for its fiction must be a pro zine, is ludicrous.  Other editors and publishers have pointed out the absurdity that such a criterion would make every zine that has been nominated in the Semiprozine category in the last four years no longer fit in that category.

The main flaw with his idea is its fundamental misunderstanding of why some non-pro zines, like my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, pay a pro rate for fiction.

We do it out of respect.  Respect for authors, in an era when it’s all but impossible to make a living writing short fiction.  Respect for fans; the readers who still crave great short stories.  Respect for established writers doing great work in that form and upcoming writers using it to develop their voice. Respect for a form of fiction that has a proud tradition in our genre; that we know is in financial decline but we love it so much we do it regardless.

We pro-paying, non-pro zines feel this respect so deeply that we prioritize paying a pro rate above all other financial considerations. Look at any number of non-pro zines who have volunteer staffs–paying their authors a pro rate and their staff members nothing, for working sometimes over twenty hours a week. Look at the ones who have spartan websites or plain cover art–again, prioritizing the fiction above all else. Look at the ones, like BCS, who are 501c3 non-profit organizations, approved by the IRS as charities, because paying a pro rate for their fiction is such a priority that those zines know they will never, ever make a dime in profit.

Mr. Yalow seems to think it’s an arbitrary decision for these non-pro zines to use their money to pay pro rate rather than to pay their staffs.  He could not be more wrong.  Imagine giving an avid reader $100 to spend in the dealer’s room at a con.  Sure, it’s theoretically possible they could spend it on steampunk goggles or chainmail t-shirts.  But, as any avid reader can attest, their love for fiction means that the only actual outcome would be them walking out of the dealer’s room with $100 of books.  If not more.

This committee proposal and discussion comes at a crucial time.  WorldCon is this weekend, and Hugo business is conducted at the con.

If you will be at WorldCon and this issue is important to you (it should be, if you have ever sold a story to a semipro zine), go to the Preliminary Business Meeting at 10AM on Thursday morning.  Go there, and make your voice heard.  (EDIT: Kevin Standlee, in this comment, provided detailed information on the business schedule.  Thank you!)

With pro-paying, non-pro zines forming the majority of the pro-rate fiction markets these days, and publishing more fiction and a wider variety of it than the pro zines, it would be a sad day if the most prestigious awards in our genre were changed to no longer recognize this vibrant and crucial area of our field.