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400 magazines in 2014

31 January 2014

I know what you’re thinking. “She’s prepping for the zombie apocalypse!” Gracious, child… don’t you know ray guns are far more effective against Nazi zombies?


Go ahead, count for yerself

Thanks to a friend’s brief eBay obsession, there are over 400 digest-size magazines on my bookshelves. Most are old Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) purchased in bulk. The balance is comprised of a few dozen Analogs, Asimov’s, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (EQMM) and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (AHMM). Dates range from the early 80s to two years ago (now I get my magazines digitally, so I’m no longer feeding the pile).

As a kid I read AHMM and EQMM by the bagful. Literally… my parents got bags of them from… somewhere. There’s a lot to be said for retreating into a hidden corner and devouring story after story, jumping into new worlds every few pages. Bookworm heaven. And now I’ve got a chance to relive that.



My goal? To read all the magazines on my shelves in 2014.

It’s the end of January and I haven’t made much progress due to deadlines and a vacation, but I still have hope, and here’s why:

1. I already read two dozen-ish of the magazines over the last couple of years
2. If I don’t like a story, I am sooooo going to skim or skip it
3. There are really only 386 of them

Rule #2 isn’t cheating because I rarely read every story in an issue of anything. Lit journals, poetry journals, newspapers etc etc. So I’m not going to force myself to read any poorly aging stories if the writing and characters aren’t compelling. Poorly aging means, for example, stories with flying cars but people still use land lines. Or stories where the minority groups are portrayed in obnoxious ways. Express your disproval in the comments, but know that when you disagree with me, you look like a zombie.

Haven’t yet figured out the mechanism for blogging my process. (By the shelf? Month? Month of publication? Year?) But I’m really excited.


Aluminum Linings

4 January 2014

Other people’s New Year’s resolutions fascinate me. What someone chooses speaks volumes about her self-perception, her world view, her hopes and dreams. But when I ask people about theirs, most skewer me with a look usually reserved for cultists. “I don’t make resolutions,” they say. “If I want to change, I’ll just do it.” And if the tone of voice isn’t quite condescending, it’s because they’re in shock. I’m jaded and cynical, and no one expects me to publicly engage in a behavior apparently reserved for the feeble-minded and highly suggestible.

I could talk about how few of these people ever change anything. To make a resolution (at any time of the year) requires looking at your life, seeing something that you dislike, and taking steps to improve it. Seeing a problem and setting a goal. Why are goals at the beginning of the year somehow less worthy than goals in mid-June? Because everyone is doing it in January. Except for one thing… most people who claim they’ll “just do it” don’t set goals in mid-June. Or on any other day. I think they forget. (Or maybe they’re happy with their lives, in which case they should write a book about how to do it.)

So I choose to stand with the masses.

The second reason I hear is “I’ll probably just fail anyway.” It’s true–though I don’t think failure is a good reason not to try something. To quote Sammy Beckett: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Fully 92% of resolutions fizzle every year, most of them rather quickly.  That amazes me, but not because 92% is so high. What I see is that 8% of people who decide to make a change in their lives actually succeed. How amazing is that??? And what of the people who fall short of their goals but at least leave the starting line and are therefore better off? For every person who resolves to lose twenty pounds, how many of them “only” lose five? How many heavy smokers or drinkers manage to cut back? Maybe not many, but some…

By January 2nd I’d already broken many of my resolutions, which are mostly about working fewer hours in an attempt to have a balanced life again.

Yes, like the masses, I failed…

So I failed. But even when I “found” myself in front of Scrivener’s warm glow at 11pm the other day, I wasn’t upset. Because working late was, for the first time, something I’d chosen to do. It’s 2014, and I’m now supposed to stop at 7:30. Hm. Maybe I’m… allowed… to stop then… if I work later, it’s a choice, not a directive from the workaholic who marches back and forth in my brain. So that’s a change for the better. I’ll take it. And with a bit of luck and a lot of ingenuity, I might even get on track by March.

Here’s to finding an aluminum lining no matter what your goals… it looks like silver to me, down here in the muck.

Whoa! Did you hear that noise? That’s me scratching “write one semi-inspirational blog post” off my resolution list.

Happy new year!

Happy Things

10 September 2013

This is to make up for all the morbid stuff in August. Yay! Yea! Yeigh!

First, one of my favorite short stories was published by Daily Science Fiction last month. If you’re as smart as I think then you already get DSF. Every weekday they email a short piece of speculative fiction. A subscription is FREE, as in $0.00, yet DSF pays above pro rates to their writers. The stories themselves are short–perfect for a little pick-me-up or to read when you’re trying to avoid awkward moments on the subway. (Why is it that whenever you get a seat, you’re eye-level with something horrible?) Click here to read my story.

Now, a shameless plug for my dear, dear friend Jackie Highway. I’ve already gotten her to agree to do music for one of my short films (oral agreements are binding, no matter how drunk I was or how tied-up-and-threatened she was). She’s immensely talented… an orchestra violinist, a pianist, a painter, a perky yet haunting songwriter, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m so happy to announce that her first CD was just released. Lucky me, I got to hear the songs before the release, and I’m obsessed with “Forever Now” and “Ride the High Tide.” They are seriously catchy.

Somewhere in the Atlantic, a dolphin is shooting up

10 August 2013

Don’t you hate it when you’re waiting for the bathroom and two scuzzy looking (if perfectly polite) guys come out? And when you go in, first you smell morphine (sweetish with black edges), and then you see a needle floating in the toilet?

The most horrific part was that some morbid part of me wanted to fish it out… and I have no idea why.


This reminded me of a recent conversation where I insisted that the Catacombs of Paris might be the most memorable way imaginable to spend an afternoon. My friends, who all live within a few hours of Paris, had never been… and, incredibly, didn’t seem inclined to work a visit into their schedules.

The only bad part of the catacombs is that the employees search your bags for bony contraband. With over six million skeletons down there, you’d think they’d be happy to free up some space. That’s 12 million femurs, 60 million metacarpals, 198 million vertebrae… you get the idea.

They’re probably worried about visitors messing up the neat little bone piles. The guy who stacked them… did it occur to him that he might be shuffling enemies into each other like a morbid deck of cards? On his deathbed, did he entreat his son to sneak his bones into the catacombs? “Make sure you stick my skull far back enough that tourists won’t be able to reach it for at last a hundred years.”

Oh… in case it’s not obvious from the blog title, I flushed that needle.

Push to Publish, 2011

14 April 2012

Oh, it’s been a while.  Sigh.  My excuse this year is the lack of winter.  As the weather never cooled down, I’ve been walking around thinking that it’s still October, 2011.

And since it’s still October, I’ll tell you about the 2011 Push to Publish conference at Rosemont College.  It’s a full day mix of panels and agent pitches, and the price is just right.  I could get my YA zombie book into shape by then, right?  I imagined showing it to agents.  I imagined prying their desperate hands from my ankles.

Registration was an hour long, and even though I arrived 20 minutes in, the speed date slots for the ‘hottest’ agents and publishers were full.  Not a huge deal as the agents who handled YA weren’t so into the whole zombie thing.

That freed me to choose the excellent Tamara Oakman from Apiary Magazine.  Since I didn’t have a printed copy of my excerpt, I handed her my kindle.  (One day I’ll have to do a blog post about how e-readers have changed the way I work.)  She was supportive and laughed at the appropriate places and told me to get an agent.  Then we talked about reading slush for a literary magazine (something I’ve always wanted to do).  I love that she didn’t make me feel like I was wasting her time because I definitely was.

Next came mingling and lunches and panels.  It seemed that everyone everywhere wanted to talk about traditional publishing versus e-publishing.  I thought that was all worked out several years ago?  Apparently, it’s like breaking up with someone who still thinks you’re getting married.  During Steve Almond’s (very excellent) keynote speech, an agent (who shall remain nameless) got a little combative.

By the end of the day, I just kept thinking that if agents are this desperate, things must be even worse than I thought.  Luckily, other agents were completely lovely people who focused on what they can bring to the table (as opposed to why writers who go it alone are losers).

Ok, did anyone prostrate herself at my feet, begging to read my story?  Well, no.  I did get requests, though, as a result of that mingling.  That reminds me… must get the book to those who wanted it.  But what if they aren’t the right partners for me?  Better research every applicable agent first.  And then research them all again.  Good thing it’s still October.  If I waited seven months, that’d be really pathetic.

Not just getting high on the fumes of others’ oppression

4 August 2011

A friend visited a few weeks ago, so I took her to the library and let her pick out some books from the new releases section. (Any books she wanted! Who says I don’t know how to show a good time?) Among others, she chose Sefi Atta’s short story collection News from Home.

I read just the first bit of all the books, not because they weren’t good, but because I work 80 hours a week.

I didn’t intend to finish News From Home either, but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. After I finished, I staggered to the computer and sent off an email, profusely thanking my friend, then I passed out for an hour before my alarm went off.

Click for more info

Short story collections tend to annoy the crap outta me. Too many writers find a formula that works, more or less, and then do the same thing over and over. It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad writers, but it sure makes for a tedious reading experience.

I’m also leery of a certain type of literature that’s currently popular. I’ve seen enough poverty that I don’t find it charming or even interesting. Nor do I equate honest (aka shocking) writing with successful fiction. Atta’s work, mercifully, doesn’t rely on these shortcuts.

Her descriptions and style are masterful, but the true magic comes from her impeccably rendered characters. Few writers can so convincingly portray such a wide array of humanity. I kept trying to analyze how she pulled it off, but then I’d get sucked into the story again.

Recommended to lovers of artful literary short stories, fans of O’Connor and García Márquez, writers who have soured on short story collections.

I’m nobody! Who are you?

20 June 2011

Ever since I was a schoolgirl, poking behind gas stations is a favorite way to learn about the world e.g. used condoms and feral cats. Those who would make fun of me, take heed! Yesterday, whilst wandering around Amherst, MA, I ducked behind a Mobil station and stumbled onto Emily Dickinson’s grave.

What surprised me most is that I had seen the poetess all over downtown Amherst, shuffling mournfully in long skirts and shooting dirty looks at… actually, the dirty looks seemed to be reserved for me, or perhaps my loud flip-flops. But apparently Ms. Dickinson really is dead, which made me inexplicably sad because she’s the reason I’ve had to read so much poopy, rhyming poetry in workshops.

After paying my respects, I headed to the UMass campus where I was the first to show up for the James Tate and Charles D’Ambrosio reading.  Awkward. I was only 25 minutes early! Even after another 10 minutes looking at my sunspots in a bathroom, I was still was the first guest into the auditorium.

D’Ambrosio read from a WIP. I always wonder what motivates a writer to choose that. I saw David Sedaris do the some of the material that later appeared in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and he made little notes whenever the audience laughed really hard, or not at all, so I believe I was an indispensable part of his revision process. D’Ambrosio’s prose is lyrical, with long, architecturally complex sentences. He certainly didn’t take notes during his 21 minute and 17 second reading, but maybe he didn’t know that I was there. If there had been a q&a, I would have asked him what motivated the decision to read from something that we couldn’t buy afterwards and that he might scrap altogether.  Ok, no, I wouldn’t have.

James Tate is a national treasure. He read from his latest project, a collection of surreal stories. It sold out immediately and isn’t available to order. Curses!

Writerly lessons for the week: Stop expecting early crowds at public readings because the public doesn’t give a crap. Stop expecting authors to sell me the end of the story because they are above that and it only makes them feel cheap.