Monthly Archives: July, 2012

Magazine Spotlight – James Gunn’s Ad Astra


James Gunn wrote “The Listeners,” a novel which bears a lot of resemblance to Sagan’s “Contact.”  He is one of the OG sf writers, is professor at Kansas State University, Lawrence (Got Chalk Jayhawks!), and was named Grand Master of Science Fiction by SFWA a couple of years back.  He has a series of books outlining the history of science fiction, “The Road To Science Fiction,” which qualifies as required research for our field.  And he has a how-to-write book, “The Science of Science Fiction Writing,” which served me well in my more-formative years as a writer.


And now he is debuting this gorgeous magazine.


The premier issue is themed “Communications & Information.”   The idea: poetry, short fiction, and scholarly articles (but not dry reading, oh no) about communicating with aliens.  Even if those aliens are us (those mostly, the aliens addressed here are not.)


I’ve attended several Gunn workshops in Lawrence, plus the attendant Campbell Conferences (if you don’t know what those are, you should find out.)  So, I know Professor Gunn, I know Chris McKitterick, and I know the authors of some of the articles and short fiction and poetry.  I’m terrible at reviews, I am always too gushy and enthusiastic, and if I told you my opinion of the material presented here, you’d agree: too gushy by far.  But these are good solid stories (look for a fun ride with Adrian Simmons’ story, and W.C. Roberts’ poetry shows up in all the best places) and good, well-researched articles (Jean Asselin’s article about Human Evolution As A Framework for the Themes of Science Fiction is a gas, and Sheila Finch throws in an article about mythology.)


This is a good venue for those of us writing fiction, but also intriguing, engrossing reading.

Deadlines and the Writer Brain

I have a monthly writers’ group meeting on Sunday.  Once again, I don’t have a story ready.

I tried.  I have half a story (admittedly it was written in May.)  Clarion West taught me that I can write a story ending in the few hours I’ll have available before Sunday.  There’s just one problem: we send in the stories ahead of time via email so everyone has a chance to read and edit and form intelligent comments.  I like this method.  I just have trouble with deadlines.

I love Duotrope.  I love Duotrope’s calendar of upcoming anthology calls and themed submissions.  I sometimes write up a story to order.  But invariably I miss the deadline.  Or actually, sometimes I don’t miss.  I write up until the last minute and then paste on the last words: THE END, and in a month or so I receive a polite form rejection that doesn’t (but should) say, “Why did you waste our time with this potentially good but obviously rushed piece? Where’s the respect?”

I am glad they don’t pull out the stops on the rejections.  Deadlines deserve my polished best, not my “what can I finish in this last hour?”

Many of my writer friends put down a set amount of words per day.  I’ve never been able to do this.  I use blocks of time for different tasks: a few hours to outline, a few hours to write.  I can brainstorm and jot ideas, phrases, character bits, in short periods of time, but I haven’t successfully trained myself to write for, say, an  hour and an hour only a day.  Or to a set word limit.

But you say, “There’s always 30 days in an open submission call!  That’s plenty of large tracts of time to write a good story!”  And… yeeesssss, there would be.  Except for the brain change.

I need quite a bit of time to switch from workaday brain to writer brain.

Gotta wake up the guys in the basement.  Gotta make my cheeks tingle with potential.  Gotta close my eyes and open my mind and grab a story from the ether.

A long time ago I learned that my muse leaves me alone if I leave her alone, but if I bother her she bombards me.  I carry pen and paper at all times because (even though I seldom use the jots that spring out of the air) I want to reinforce the muse’s involvement.  And I love what she says.  My editors do too; I sell stories that come from who the heck knows where, but I do: my muse.

Then I sleep and then I wake and work and my muse is stunned into silence.

And I gotta wake her up all over again.

The words call me, though.  Perhaps the muse dreams!  I feel the stories in there, just out of reach, so I do, I reach, I put in the effort and the hours to wake up and dream.

Because I like story.