Asimov’s, August 2015

In between reading the books stacked on my to-read pile, I like to catch up with magazines, especially short fiction to study and absorb as a writer myself. One of my favorites is Asimov’s Science Fiction, and I just finished the August 2015 issue.Asimovs-Science-Fiction-August-2015

One of the things in this issue that caught my attention was James Patrick Kelly‘s regular “On the Net” column in which he writes about the joys of getting your first acceptance, noting how he had run across a post by new writer Kelly Robson, “who announced that she had sold her first story to this magazine.” His piece is one of those that gives hope, as well as insight, to all of new writers waiting to do happy dances for first or second or fifth acceptances from Asimov’s or any other magazine willing to take your fiction.

That piece talks about the importance of market analysis, reading the stories and persistence, the faith writers have through hard work their stories will get accepted. I would say it’s a must-read piece for new writers.

As for newbie Kelly Robson’s story “Two-Year Man,” it’s definitely worthy of placement with such established writers as Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose time travel story “The First Step” is a heart-wrencher about an absent father coming to terms with missing out on his son’s life.

Robson’s story is set in a near-future, Eastern-Europeanish-bleak Vienna and concerns itself with a couple picking out the best of thrown away children and hoping to keep their relationship together.

How Many Words Must a Writer Write Down To Know He or She Has Written a Novel?

Word Count

Word Count

I once read somewhere Mark Twain kept a running word count in the margins of his manuscripts. Word counts are probably a weird obsession held largely by writers. We survive by them. Sometimes we’re paid by the number of words we write. Sometimes we use the count to measure a good day’s work, whether those words add up to a few sentences or several pages.

Word counts also tell us—somewhat arbitrarily—what sort of work we have written. Is it a Tweet (which actually is even more micro, down to the character)? Is it an essay? A short story? A novella? A novel?

A few months ago, a writer friend of mine Gerald Warfield and I shoptalked about just such things. We couldn’t come up with a solid answer. But a blog post from Writer’s Digest gives some novel advice at least, breaking down some average word counts for novels of different lengths.

The link is here. Of course, it’s not the end-all declaration of authority, but it must count for something.

—Todd

Franzen in Time

I’m not a big fan of Jonathan Franzen, but it’s nice to see a good writer make the cover of the Aug. 23 issue of Time in our post-literate age. His latest novel Freedom is out this month, nine years after The Corrections.

The Time piece is a nice profile of the writer and a preview of the book. Here’s a passage I liked on the significance of the novel, on reading in general in a multi-media saturated culture driven to constant distraction:

There are any number of reasons to want novels to survive. The way Franzen thinks about it is that books can do things, socially useful things, that other media can’t. He cites . . . the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his idea of busyness: that state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and maintain self-deceptions. With the help of cell phones, e-mail and handheld games, it’s easier to stay busy, in the Kierkegaardian sense, than it’s ever been.

Reading, in its quietness and sustained concentration, is the opposite of busyness. ‘We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful,’ Franzen says. ‘The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world.’

Booking Through Thursday: My Own Question

Today’s Booking Through Thursday asks readers to ask their own question. My question is about online media in general more than it is about books:

Do you prefer online publications (newspapers, magazines, etc.) or reading devices like the Kindle to actual print?

I think this question in one way or another has been asked before, but it was recently brought to my mind again as I tried to navigate the online edition of the Austin American-Statesman, and found it, well, really unwieldy. There was little pleasure in it.  The experience made me crave a hand-held paper newspaper. (I just went to the page to make a link to it and found another annoyance — a drop-down ad that flowed over links to stories.  You have to close it to make it go away.)

At the same time, I like the additional features such as videos, Twitter pages, blogs, etc.

But, I really hope I never see the day that I use a Kindle, especially if it’s being monitored by marketers waiting to plunge deeper into our private life.

I like online previews, though. It’s nice to get a sense of a book by reading a few pages before buying it or checking it out of the library.

The Sunday Salon: Well Wishing to Garrison Keillor

Earlier this week humorist Garrison Keillor had a stroke. According to reports yesterday, he’s now at home recovering. Which is good news to hear. It’s also good to hear Keillor plans to carry on with  “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show.

I also hope he plans to continue writing for Salon. His columns underscore his trademark understated humor and insight, as a recent piece on the New Media/Old Media divide demonstrates.

I think he’s spot on here about a chief illness making Old Media sick:

I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semi-literate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers.

As someone enamored of Old Media, it’s a shame seeing it crumbling; it’s a shame especially to see the demise of stylish — and substantive — magazine features. Of seeing once-great magazines like Rolling Stone shrink — it literally shrunk in size, but its features have been shrinking for years. Could you imagine a 6,000-word piece by a literary journalist like Tom Wolfe in Rolling Stone‘s pages now?

The style and compactness of some features now would make Hemingway feel constipated,  and his prose transmogrify into something Faulknerian.

And what will the next version of Gay Talese’s classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” be? “Paris Hilton Has a Brain Cell”?

Keillor’s also spot on about one of New Media’s chief cancers — tumors of information on superficialities:

What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists.

This, of course, as Keillor adds, may not be that bad. Maybe in a decade all our brains will be able to handle will be videos of dogs or reading updates on teenage girls’ plans. And we’ll be unable to laugh along with Jay Leno when some college graduate can’t identify the Gettysburg Address. We’ll scratch our heads along with the graduate, and go on to the next text message.

I wish Garrison Keillor good health.

Writing and Selling Magazine Articles

Thursday evening I headed to my local library to hear a talk by Ray Bronk, a freelance writer in these parts (Central Texas). Serving as host was the San Gabriel Writer’s League.

Bronk’s speciality is wildlife writing and he’s published in national magazines including Field & Stream, Camping & RV, and American Hunting.

He outlined some basics that included caveats as well as encouraging secrets to success as a freelancer:

  • You have chosen a difficult writing genre
  • In you write the manuscript first you will fail
  • Quality must remain high
  • Anybody can qualify, sex, age, abilities
  • Manuscript vs. query letters
  • Read the magazine
  • Put yourself in the editor’s chair
  • You are needed
  • You can predict needs
  • Don’t give up your day job

While some of the advice can be found in most articles or advice books on magazine writing, I liked getting a firsthand account from someone with a lot of experience.

One particular piece of advice — to query first before writing — has been on my mind lately, because I’ve been noodling around with several ideas, and I want to rush to get started, before I have any idea what to really write. Queries, Bronk said, were as important to your success as a freelance as your skill as a writer.

Other advice that he offered:

  • Write things that interest you
  • Write for free to get experience and clips
  • Nurture and protect your relationships with editors
  • Think ahead
  • Study the magazine, looking for length and type of articles
  • Go to writing classes

Booking Through Thursday: A Time to Read?

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read?

Not really, even though I actually have the time. But for almost two years now, I’ve often read less each day than I used to.

One thing that’s slowed my reading is no longer having a pile of subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and literary journals. I can’t afford the subscriptions, and I desperately miss my periodicals.

And unlike some of you, I like actual newspapers and magazines in my hand,  as I like books in my hand. I’m not a Luddite, but the decline of print media distresses me.

Besides being a print journalist at heart, I’m deeply troubled by the decline of the newspaper industry. I think it’s destructive and dangerous. (BookDaddy Jerome Weeks has a nice post on dwindling arts criticism in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.)

Also, the very idea of electronic book readers just makes me cringe.

Another thing that seems to have slowed my reading has been adjusting to marriage with an instant family installed, especially with TVs blaring in almost every room in the house, and kids whining they’re bored. I have to go to our bedroom, shut myself in, and read.

Of course, there’s a TV in our room and its lure is constantly compelling. I’m trying to cut back on the idle TV watching, and hope to do it as football season closes out. (Football is a true addiction.)

Since I’ve gotten married, and since I’ve moved about four times in about a year and a half, I’ve also visited the local library less. The library used to be a source of peace and quiet and access to periodicals.

2. If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

If I had time (read quiet and privacy) and money, I’d renew my newspaper and magazine subscriptions. I especially miss The New Yorker and Harper’s, and occasionally the New York Review of Books. I have these periodicals bookmarked online, but, again, I love being able to sit back and fold pages and read.