November 29, 2015

WRITING ADVICE: What Went RIGHT With “Whey Station” (ANALOG April 2015) Guy Stewart #27

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. Since then, I figured I’ve got enough publications now that I can share some of the things I did “right” and I’m busy sharing that with you.

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 above will now remain unchanged as I work to increase my writing output and sales! As always, your comments are welcome!

When ANALOG published my first “real” short story fifteen years ago (, then-editor, Stanley Schmidt commented that it had a “Clifford D. Simak feel” to it.

Really? Really?! He couldn’t have planned a more powerful compliment!

I’d read everything Simak wrote by the time I’d finally started submitting to ANALOG, eventually discovering that Mr. Simak lived only a few miles from me! Of course, being a little kid and all, it wasn’t like I could just drive over there and say, “Hey! I’m a big fan of yours!” I didn’t even know there WERE conventions until I was in my thirties. He appeared at the local Minicon in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1982 (I was 11, 12, 13, and 25 (but had no IDEA what “cons” were)) and passed away in 1988, so I missed my chance to meet him in real life.

But I loved his writing. I still re-read CEMETERY WORLD every few years as well as WAY STATION and THE VISITOR – and I now know that Simak’s style is pastoral. I like the style and I’m working at writing in that way as well – though I’m too much of a city boy to extoll the wonders of country life too much! On the other hand, with friends who run a certified organic dairy farm, we are aware of both the challenges and the joys of “country life” and having spent time with them, I can get my facts straight. That first ANALOG story took place on a farm we stayed at during the summer of 1993 and the “neighbors” in the story are all based on real people.

“Whey Station” popped into my head after re-reading WAY STATION a year or so ago, and I wrote it in an hour. It was an unabashed paean to the book and the only way you could understand it is if you knew the novel well. Trevor Quachri got it and noted that even though it was obscure, the people who knew and loved Simak’s style would get it.

Even so, I had several people actually track me down and ask what it meant, so I prepared this statement:

“"Whey Station" is a play on words. Clifford D. Simak (who is a fellow Minnesotan gone these last 27 years) was awarded 3 Hugos, a Nebula, and a SFWA Grandmaster as well as a Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.)

“I wondered what would have happened to such a farm if the caretaker died suddenly and his family quickly sold it -- without having any idea what it was? Ni and Rey bought this farm and in the process of renovating activate the TRANSFER POINT again.

I upgraded the ambient technology (chest freezers, flat screen displays, and plastic tables) and then had the screen activate with an incoming transfer.

“At the beginning of Chapter 5 of Simak's book, WAY STATION, you'll find the message:


“It's letting the caretaker of the station, Enoch Wallace, know exactly what to expect of the alien transferring through and what kind of preparations he should have.

“My message in “Whey Station” was: wstat120254 2 whey-stat 18328 NatOnyxyfmII. N2checkon. 2LIQ-Tank. SOLN 27. DEP4 wstat31591 @615.5.05.00084.0000141. Rog?

I wrote it so that it was an updated version of Simak’s older, non-computer-age message. Translation:

wstat120254 2 = the station Rey and Ni purchased (secondary to the one presumed to have been in Wisconsin)

whey-stat 18328 = the end station (note: one number different from Simak's destination station)

NatOnyxyfmII = Native of Onyxyfm II (an alien people from another story I wrote)

N2checkon = two pieces of check on luggage

2LIQ-Tank = second-type of liquid tank (liquid nitrogen, if you wanted to know) necessary for the traveler

SOLN 27 = lifted it from Simak

DEP4 wstat31591 = Departing for whey (way) station 31591

@615.5.05.00084.0000141 = a time expressed in some sort of universal, intergalactic time; I thought it should be more complex than Simak did...

Rog? = 21st century US is a bit less formal than 1960s US, so "roger" instead of CONFIRM...”

What did I learn from this exercise?

1) Imitation is the sincerest form of appreciation. I won’t ever go beyond this, though I sort of wonder what happened to Rey and Ni and if they took over the way station, but it’s Simak’s world and his masterpiece and he never saw any reason to go farther than that book – so who am I to do so?

2) Have fun when you write!

3) While it’s good to be mindful of what has come before, we can’t “go back”. Simak lived in the latter part of the 20th Century; I live in the early part of the 21st. They are not the same world. (Mindfulness of this is what’s driving me to write my YA novels in a Heinlein style with a 21st Century mindset…)

What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Guy!
My sister and I just read "Whey Station." We were completely baffled by it. Thanks for this explanation.