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.
5. We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers.
Before I go on here, I should say that I have a deep and abiding respect for Bruce as a writer, an editor, as a teacher and especially as a friend.
I hesitate to presume anything so rash as that I “know him”. Our lives have intersected a number of times, in several ways, and at more than a few venues. We’ve lunched together, worked together and argued. But I cannot presume to know him because much of our relationship is through the internet.
On the other hand, I do know that he has a razor sharp sense of humor, a critical and perceptive eye and I take anything he says seriously.
However, I do NOT take everything he says at face value!
When WORKING together, I interpret his comments to mean exactly what he says. In personal commentary, I ALWAYS take his comments to be carefully and clearly expressed. When we discuss the state of the world however, I take what he says as I would take a grain of sand (some would say “salt”, but I’ve learned his crystals aren’t that small, so I’ll say sand here and imply that it is a granite crystal): a possible irritant designed to elicit honest discussion or to simply make me think.
A bit of background before I go on: I am the oldest child in my family, first born male child and a son of privilege. I married into a family in which I was the last adult before the children were counted and figured sometimes I BELONGED at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.
As the usual oldest, I was always cast as the part of a parent or the shoemaker or the princesses father in high school. I had one friend who was older than me and mobs of friends who were younger. I was consistently cast in the role of “mentor” and have been my entire life. I had no older brother; I had no one to kick my metaphorical ass when I made stupid choices or decisions.
From the beginning, Bruce became my mentor. He’s not a lot older than me (I got to be a grandfather first!); but as far as writing and life experience, he is indeed my mentor. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer before mine was and as a result, he was able to pull me up beside him and be a shoulder on which I could lean. He was an “award-winning author” first; published first; created a genre-defining word first; and was an editor first.
All of this I say to point out that I don’t take EVERYTHING he says as serious and sometimes have to search a bit to find the meaning.
The meaning here, if I may be so bold as to speak it, is that we should refuse to burn our bridges no matter how awful our experience. By this I do NOT mean that we be doormats to whims of agents and editors, I mean that gossip, slander (even if it’s true), and bad-mouthing someone is NEVER appropriate; not because “today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner” (in case you were wondering, it’s a line from WORKING GIRL) but because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything is fodder for character building.
Bruce is a smart man; he has learned from experience. He takes what he has learned and passes it on. Sometimes he passes it on without embellishment and sometimes he makes me dig for meaning. This is a “dig for meaning” kind of wisdom.
And if it wasn’t meant that way? Meh. That’s how I’m going to take it!
By the way, Bruce is writing a series of articles about writing, publishing and the history of STUPEFYING STORIES. If you want to skitch over there, here’s the link: http://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/