Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2417. The link is provided below…
Most authors agree that short stories don’t pay the bills. If it isn’t for the money, why do they spend their time and energy writing them?
James Patrick Kelly – who, according to Wikipedia, is “an American science fiction author who began publishing in the 1970s and remains to this day an important figure in the science fiction field.” He’s been an ASIMOV’S columnist for years now.
Mary Robinette Kowal – I know a bit about this author as we were part of an online writer’s community “before” she made it “big”.
David D. Levine – one novel, a bunch of short fiction, he’s from here. My home town (because I was born first!)
Mr. Bishop O’Connell – mostly novels, but some shorts.
Charlie Jane Anders – EVERYONE knows who he is! Writes for i09!
As you know by now, I write short stories. I write novels, too, but I haven’t gotten one paper-published yet.
After twenty-six short stories, I still have yet to get an award for any of them. I’ve done WELL – these reviews from my most recent:
“The Last Mayan Aristocrat by Guy Stewart is the only one I’d rate as OK….This is well enough told and has an interesting setting, but the story doesn’t quite convince: what was her motivation to do this exactly?” (http://sfmagazines.com/?p=2517)
“Interesting look at an old civilization.” (http://www.sfrevu.com/php/Review-id.php?id=17211)
“ A pretty good story about an apparent alien living with ancient Mayans. ***/4” (http://tpi-reads.blogspot.com/2017/01/analog-science-fiction-and-fact-january.html)
“The end of the Mayan civilization is told by “The Last Mayan Aristocrat” by Guy Stewart. After being all but destroyed by the alien conquistadors the Mayans meet up with a true alien entity and find a way to memorialize their culture into the future.” (http://www.tangentonline.com/print--bi-monthly-reviewsmenu-260/296-analog-sf/3401-analog-januaryfebruary-2017)
Those were the “results” of my attempt to write one of my stories. Mediocre at best. The people who win awards; who “rocket” to stardom (aboard hot air balloons that are, after-the-fact, reinterpreted as Apollo lift offs…), manage to “say something” with their stories.
So what WAS I trying to say? Nothing that I can recall, actually. I had reams of data on the Chicxulub crater I’d unearthed while writing the beginning segment of HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth. I wanted to use it because I found the Mayans fascinating and the fact that people still spoke an modern version of ancient Mayan – and no modern versions of Inca (Quechua was spoken BEFORE the Empire formed. Its use was imposed, as English was on the aviation world) or Aztec (“No modern Nahuan languages are identical to Classical Nahuatl…” Wikipedia). Mayan, however, is unique and…well, read the Wikipedia article on the history of the Mayan languages. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayan_languages) if you’re interested.
I just thought it interesting that the Mayan Empire was dying as the Spanish conquistadores crushed it beneath the weight of their culture. How DID it survive?
Aliens, of course.
But that isn’t enough. Heinlein said, “I must always bear in mind that my prospective reader could spend his recreation money on beer rather than on my stories; I have to be aware every minute that I am competing for beer money-and that the customer does not have to buy. If I produced, let us say, potatoes or beef, I could be sure that my product had some value in the market. But a story that the customers do not enjoy reading is worth nothing.” (GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, Chapter 1, January 10, 1972) Even so, he also said in the same section, that he writes, “…if possible, to cause my readers to think.” [http://www.e-reading.club/bookreader.php/73033/Heinlein_-_Grumbles_From_the_Grave.html#label4]
That wasn’t my goal with “The Last Mayan Aristocrat” – so maybe it SHOULD be. The question is still, “How do I make my readers think?”
I DO write to make readers think. “Teaching Women to Fly” was written for that reason, as were “A Pig Tale”, “Dear Hunter”, “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish”, “Prince of Blood & Spit”, “612 See, 612 Do”, “Invoking Fire”, and “Carpe Hnub”. They were all published, but none of them made any sort of lists. Others that are “in the hopper” and will be going out soon are “The Princess’ Brain”, “Keo Dandelionseed”, “A Memory for Dad” and (eventually) my novel MARTIAN HOLIDAY. VICTORY OF FISTS was written for that reason as well.
What does it take to make it into The Best SF anthologies? I refuse to believe that it’s any sort of conspiracy. It IS a matter of “taste” and there are absolutely individuals who have a certain taste and vote on the stories that get awards and editors who indulge their tastes in story choice. It’s Human and natural. If seems however that while my serious writing appeals to some editors, it’s not appealing to the “right” sort – at least as far as getting widespread notice goes.