January 6, 2013


Somewhere around thirty years ago, I met Bruce Bethke for the first time – when I responded to an ad in a newspaper for a science fiction writers group seeking new members. I called, then sent in an “audition story” and was invited to join the group at the ORIGINAL, original Loft Literary Center (before grant money started flowing) in Minneapolis. One of THEM reviews books now, the other published a few books and short stories but no longer writes. Bruce doesn’t write much lately except for non-fiction; he is currently executive editor of STUPEFYING STORIES, an irregular anthology of new speculative fiction, he mostly works for a super computer company as well as presiding over Rampant Loon Press. These nuggets of wisdom can be found here: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/a-12-step-program-for-writers/. They are used with the author’s permission.

4. We have made a searching and fearless inventory of every old unsold scrap and fragment of manuscript in the bottoms of our filing cabinets, in hopes of finding something we can sell to somebody, somewhere.


Sitting beside me is a MS I will read then send to my agent – even after she told me she’d be happy to handle my NON-science fiction stuff, but just didn’t know what to do with my science fiction.

A bit of history, though. The reason it was never submitted...well, it WAS submitted. I worked with the editor of CRICKET BOOKS on it for nearly a year. She would send pages of suggestions, I’d rewrite and send the changes back. She’d make fewer changes, etc. All very cool and above-board.

Then something happened that I have never understood. I’ve pondered it for 11 years and I still don’t understand what happened.

Someone else published my book.

It’s true. Once day I was writing, happy as a clam, with a very possible publication contract approaching. A week later, the editor said I’d done good work, but we were done.

My book was an historical/fictionalized recounting of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1895. The event was not only full of excitement, but terrifyingly horrible and it was a local event, so few (if any) other people would have come across it. The same editor I was working with purchased and published a shortened version of the story in CRICKET MAGAZINE (where not only was it the lead story of the July 2001 issue, she also bought a “fact” sidebar, and wrote an editorial noting that one of the first women journalists had covered the GHFire! In my mind, I was practically THERE!)

Then the “other” book came out and not only did it recount the Great Hinckely Fire adventures of Maggie – but my (unpublished novel) recounted the same events and MY character was named MEG…

That was eleven years ago. The “other” book is out of print, the author hasn’t written anything new in years. My STORY, while similar, has a different emphasis and it just needs a bit of brushing and polishing and I think it might be ready. I told my agent I’d be sending it to her at the end of February.

I also sent off a short story that might or might not be dead. See, I “trunk” stories all the time. Most of the time it’s because they’re hideously bad. But sometimes I “trunk” them (I should probably change that. “Trunk” is an antiquated reference to taking a paper manuscript, tying it with twine and tossing it in an old-fashioned, round-topped sort of giant suitcase. I should say “archive”)…sometimes I archive them because even though I LIKE them a lot, no one else seems to.

As has been my experience in the past, for some of those storues, I just have to find the right someone. For example, “Mystery on Space Station Courage” was written specifically for HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN. They weren’t interested. When I sighed and sent it to the second market, CRICKET bought it and the relationship there has become a long-standing (and lucrative) one!

I had written “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish” specifically for ANALOG and while the editor thought it was nice, he didn’t buy it. I sent it around, then archived it. When I stumbled across a newer market whose audience was exactly the one I was aiming at, I sold it for a little bit of cash to CAST OF WONDERS in England. They made a podcast out of it that was fantastic!

Another was my first and only attempt at writing a literary SF story. That one bounced around forever because the people who read it were hideously "genre bound" and kept asking questions about why it didn't end like they expected it to, until the author of the 12 Step Program for Writers read it, liked it (a lot, apparently as it will be included in a "best of" anthology) and published it in STUPEFYING STORIES.

So – I just sent off a story I love, that I archived several months ago. We’ll see what happens.

While Bruce meant #4 tongue in cheek, I think I know him well enough to see that there’s a grain of real advice in there that has gotten me sales in the past – and just might get me sales in the future as long as I stir in a modicum of honesty when evaluating those old stories…

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