August 24, 2014

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Absolute Limits” (ANALOG May 2000)? Guy Stewart #5

In September of 2007, I started this blog with a bit of writing advice. A little over a year later, I discovered how little I knew about writing after hearing children’s writer, Lin Oliver speak at a convention hosted by the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Since then, I have shared (with their permission) and applied the writing wisdom of Lin Oliver, Jack McDevitt, Nathan Bransford, Mike Duran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, SL Veihl, Bruce Bethke, and Julie Czerneda. Together they write in genres broad and deep, and have acted as agents, editors, publishers, columnists, and teachers.

While I don’t write full-time, nor do I make enough money with my writing to live off of it...neither do all of the professional writers above...someone pays for and publishes ten percent of what I write. When I started this blog, that was NOT true, so I may have reached a point where my own advice is reasonably good. We shall see! Hemingway’s quote to the left will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

I started writing when I was thirteen – I turned thirteen in 1970. While I wasn’t thinking about writing my own stories, I’d started reading ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION AND FACT with this issue:,204,203,200_.jpg

I’d read the science fiction in the school library and when I finished this book: wrote my first story – in pencil on lined paper. It was called THE WHITE VINES and took place in a corn field I saw every day while riding home on the bus.

I was hooked on the writing habit. Twenty-seven years later, I reached my first goal: publication in ANALOG with a Probability Zero story called “Absolute Limits”.

I’d been submitting to Stan Schmidt, who’s been editor of ANALOG since 1978 and only retired in 2013, giving his spot to Trevor Qachri. I had over a hundred rejections from ANALOG since my first submission in the middle 1970s.

What did I do right? What changed the unbroken string of rejections by my favorite magazine? For years, I thought I did everything right, yet my stories were bounced back to me without comment and the standard “Dear Contributor,” sheet of paper.

In a word – passion. Not the sexy kind of passion -- the EXCITED kind of passion. The INVOLVED kind of passion

“Absolute Limits” was a short story about something that bugged the living daylights out of me. People who drive faster than the speed limit – not matter what the speed limit is. The Germans solved the problem by removing those limits on the autobahn to allow anyone to go any speed.
In that impassioned piece of fiction, I sort of flew “sideways” to the German solution. I imagined a world where the development of a Faster Than Light drive had come up against a brick wall. People in that world, despite the average speed limit being 100 mph (161 km/hr), STILL speed. The FTL researcher, as frustrated with speeders in his future as I am in this world, sees a car with a jet engine roar past him. This sets off a rant and he rails, “It doesn’t matter what the speed limit is, people are going to break it!” – and the rant sparks an idea.

A few months and several legislative sessions later, the highway departments of several states put up brand new speed limit signs: SPEED LIMIT 186,000 Miles Per Second…
I believe that no matter what kinds of limits are put on people, they'll do their level best to break the limits. Break the law.

Presented with a sign that said that they could NOT go faster than the speed of light, what's the first thing people will try and do?

Absurd? Yes. I didn’t set out to write a PZ story and initially the 600 words that were published were a story that was about 2000 words long.

Humorous? I tried to make it funny.

I sent it and for the first time in my career, Stan sent a note back asking me to shorten it. Stunned, I did exactly what he asked and sent it out again.

My next contact with ANALOG was a contract. The day my wife called me at work to tell me the contract had arrived, I wept.
After I got the check, I waited. The proofs arrived, though I had no more contact with Stan Schmidt. The next thing I knew, my name was on the Table of Contents of the August 1996 issue of ANALOG.

So what did I do RIGHT?

  1. I was passionate about the “subject”. In other words, people who speed irritate the living daylights out of me. But I couldn’t write a short story about me destroying them…well, I suppose I could, but George Miller’s Mad Max was written and filmed in the late 1970’s already...I had to do something different. How about absurd exaggeration instead?
  2. I had a market I dearly wanted to break into.
  3. Everything I wrote was aimed at that market.
  4. I kept writing – trying a new story, new ideas, and new manuscripts regularly.
  5. I had a clear idea of what I wanted the story to say.
  6. When the editor wanted a re-write, I offered no argument. I re-wrote it.
  7. I was fast with the rewrites.

Since that manuscript, Stan – and now Trevor Qachri – usually rejected my work with a personal note. But sometimes there were acceptances. I’ve had three stories in ANALOG and I’ve tried to write my stories for them (and for every editor) with passion. I'm working on my first sale to Trevor, and I'm hoping it will be soon.

[It was! See my post here:]

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