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Editors Like Stories

A bit back, we were having a discussion on SFFWorld.com about submitting short fiction to SFFH magazines. That SFFH as an area of fiction still has a viable magazine market in this day and age is a truly wondrous thing. It’s due to the deep interest of fans in checking out a variety of voices, a lot of interesting on-line magazines trying new models and older print ones trying new approaches, and a lot of authors willing to give short fiction a shot, even though it no longer pays a living wage.

When submitting short fiction to magazines, writers do have to be aware that individual magazines (and anthologies,) have specific audiences and select stories in line with those needs. Consequently, when the magazine puts down guidelines about what sort of stories they do and do not want to see (as well as the usual admonishment to read their magazine to get familiarity with it,) writers do have to pay attention. There’s no sense in beating your head against a brick wall.

The problem is, writers often don’t know how thick the brick wall is or even if it’s there. You usually can’t know, in fact, unless you submit a story and see if it flies with the particular publication. Because the reality is that the terms we use for various sub-forma of short SFFH fiction are often vague and open to a wide variance of interpretation. Outside of things like sending a science fiction story to a magazine that never publishes science fiction, or vice versa, a writer may not really know what the boundaries are. The requirements of many of the magazines are in fact fairly wide; a magazine might publish science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery all in one go.

And editors of magazines like stories, so much so that they may publish stories that aren’t quite what they would usually go for in the magazine but they think the stories are too good not to share with their readership. And sometimes, they think a writer’s story does fit within their parameters. A story that a writer doesn’t really think is steampunk, for instance, but does have a Victorian setting and one or two details that might be considered kind of steampunky, may totally work for a magazine editor as steampunk. So the range of magazines a writer can submit to is usually a good deal broader than what stated guidelines may imply. Writers simply can’t completely know what might make it through, and the penalties for trying a submission out within reason are slim to none. (The postage cost used to be considerable, but electronic submissions are fairly common now.)

A clear example of this issue was displayed in an April article at io9.com by Charlie Jane Anders, given the provocative headline: “10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories That Editors Are Tired of Seeing.” How useful — stories that editors didn’t like, didn’t want to see anymore, so you know what to avoid and never try. Except if you read into the article, the reality is that editors aren’t necessarily tired of certain stories and are often just noting some recent trends in what they’ve been sent. As Anders herself says:

Also, no editor ever wants to say “I’m tired of unicorns,” because right now someone is probably writing a unicorn story so good it’ll make you weep to read it — and chances are, the editor who just swore off unicorn stories would buy that story in a heartbeat. So this mostly isn’t a list of stories you shouldn’t write — more a list of areas where you’re going to have to work harder to stand out.

In actuality, it’s not even a matter of “standing out” more on a subject that has commonly appeared. Nearly every subject in SFFH has already commonly appeared, and stories about such subjects might not be filled with dazzling prose and certainly not with new plot twists, but may still connect with editors who feel it is right for their magazines. And the situation is often self-selecting — editors may see more of one kind of story because writers have gotten the impression that it’s the kind of story their magazine likes.

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Happy New Year!

Wherever you are, whenever the artificial time demarcation hits, have a very happy and more peaceful New Year!

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It’s October!

And I’ve had massive computer problems all this time! So while I battle with electricity, what is everyone planning to be for Halloween?

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Unreality Junction: Some Books For Fall

Well, that all took longer than I thought it would. 🙂 Sick child, Internet arguments, phone companies that are run by the devil — you know, life stuff.

I’ve been bopping around the Bookverse too, though, and here are some book/series that may be worth your time to check out:

First, the classic writers:

David Brin has been one of the most interesting writers in science fiction for some time, in my book. An astrophysicist, he is also excellent at characterization and creating action-packed suspense. One of his novels, The Postman, was made into a not very effective adaptation film for Kevin Costner. Better to read the book. His Uplift series is pretty much required reading if you want to have a basic understanding of SF canon. However, the man’s been kind of busy the last few years, and so we’ve had to go without new stuff until now. Brin’s new very large novel, Existence, is about a medium future Earth that has covered itself in trash. An orbital garbage collector stumbles upon an alien artifact that speaks of both attempts at communication and invasion. It’s one of the oldest ideas we have in SF, and in Brin’s hands, it’s going to be  incredibly complex, diverse and personal.  Definitely one to check out.

What Brin is to SF, British author Tom Holt is to satiric fantasy, and Holt is offering yet another bizarre and endearing novel, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages. This one is about magical multiple dimensions/realities, in which a real estate solicitor is confused by strange going-ons that involve a magical dimensional travel ring, pigs, and insanity.  Holt is very prolific, but I like the sound of this one especially and may check it out. My favorite of his that I’ve read so far is the famous Expecting Someone Taller, which involves Norse gods and yet more magical objects.  But really, any Holt title is likely to be fun.

Onto the newer authors who have caught my eye:

Kate Locke is debuting with the first book in her Immortal Empire series, an alternate timeline contemporary fantasy called God Save the Queen. In Locke’s version of the world, a gene altering plague virus of magic created a mutated, non-human species that live underground called goblins and the half-mutated vampires and werewolves, who make up the nobility, and then there are humans.  Queen Victoria has consequently ruled for a very long time over a still chugging if struggling British Empire. The main character is a noble’s illegitimate daughter infected by a goblin attack who is an enforcer for the Empire trying to find her sister. I sampled the first chapter and I liked the writing on this very much. The use of legends into a weird re-invention I thought created an interesting, crumbling world, mixing steampunk with modernity, and social commentary Dickens style.  Looks to have a fair amount of action, too.

Also on the contemporary fantasy front, Benedict Jacka has another entry in his Alex Verus suspense series about a mage with foresight powers. In Cursed, Alex is up against a dark magic being used to suck the life force out of humans, mages and magical creatures. I like the idea of having a main character who everybody bothers about seeing into the future. I find main characters who are pestered are often the most interesting.  In this one, Alex also has to deal with a potential betrayer in the halls of power.

N.K. Jemisin has greatly impressed me — and everybody else — with her novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and following series.  Her new series, Dreamblood, though, is even more interesting to me from the sound of it. Starting with The Killing Moon, Jemisin introduced us to the city state of Gujaareh, ruled in peace by the priests of a soothing yet ruthless dream goddess who harvest the magic of dreams. In the newest entry, The Shadowed Sun, Gujaareh’s era of peace is past and a plague of nightmares is striking a populace ripe for further change.

And because I enjoy vampires, some more in Jaye Wells‘ contemporary fantasy Blue Blooded Vamp, the last entry in her highly successful Sabina Kane series. In Wells’ world, the biblical Cain is  the first vampire and his brother Abel is a powerful mage. Vampire hunter Kane has a chance to finally stop Cain and get revenge for her family’s deaths, but it depends on finding Abel in Rome, and he may not want to be found.

And more aliens — SFF authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham teamed up under the pen name of James S.A. Corey to write a rip-roaring military SF series, The Expanse, starting with Leviathan Wakes. The sequel is Caliban’s War. Everything is going to pieces on several planets and the crew of the policing ship Rocinante is finding itself at the critical position in a long-time alien invasion. I like that the SF authors are coming up with very sneaky ways to have an alien invasion. This series has gotten a lot of positive buzz and the bit of Abraham’s writing I’ve seen so far I liked a lot, so I’m planning to check this out.

Finally, another new entry in a much buzzed about series — Mira Grant‘s Newsflesh post-apocalypse zombie story. Grant (known as Seanan McGuire in the fantasy field,) has created a world with mammal zombies that still struggles to go on as a society and focuses on a pair of blog reporters. In Blackout, the last volume of the trilogy, they try to find the final truth about the virus that started everything and the secret political organizations who are — well, you know, usually trying to kill snoopy reporters. The fist book in the trilogy, Feed, got a ton of good buzz and it’s a short set for those for whom that’s an issue. I’ve read McGuire’s contemporary fantasy novel of the faerie Rosemary and Rue and she is quite good at suspense. Plus, zombies!

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Return of the Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses!

Fashion is, in its shiny haute couture forms, about art.  Designers often go for the bizarre in order to startle and dazzle with thought provoking and often controversial  images rather than wearable clothes. So when designers and their photographers go in for having stick aliens as that image, it’s not the same thing as when advertisers and the magazines working with them use stick aliens images to sell products like purses, perfume, or even casual wear that would not seem to benefit from a stick alien image. It’s a game of strange expressionism that does actually keep people interested in fashion and what it might produce and thus, has a more clear rationale. However, sometimes the stick alien image of high fashion is so apropos about stick alien mentality in general that the bizarre image becomes a different sort of social art — an art that invites us to comment on the back-handed nastiness towards women that seems to run through the fashion and advertising industries. Such an image is the current cover picture for the Italian edition of Vogue Magazine, Vogue Italia. The cover, with the headline Avant- Garde, is apparently a tribute to a woman named Ethel Granger who loved to cinch herself up in corsets and have facial piercings and held the Guiness Book of Records record for tiniest waist. Why this would require a tribute is anybody’s guess.

The image isn’t actually photo-shopped, at least not much. Instead, famous photographer Steven Meisel cinched British model Stella Tennant into a special corset to make her waist 13 inches (and probably do permanent damage to her insides.) They turned her into a literal, real life stick alien. The image is meant to be daring, shocking and stir up lots of chatter and magazine sales,  and it’s done all that. It’s art. It’s art that shows the hatred and control fashion has towards the women they use as a tool of art, and does it by invoking both a time period in which women were restricted and lacking power and Edward Scissorhands. It’s a big middle finger from fashion and Vogue towards all the criticism of their stick alien photoshopping and anorexic model servitude of the last few years, criticism that has forced them to make changes they don’t like. It’s an image that says, “We can do whatever we want.”

And of course, they can. And we can blast that image all over for them while pointing out the hatred that they are showing for the women to whom they are supposedly selling clothes and fashion art. We can talk about it, we can talk about it to young women, even if they don’t want to hear it and don’t care right now. And that talking has had an effect, slow but steady. And in the end, the stick alien is not really any better at selling haute couture and fashion magazines than it is at selling perfume, purses and casual wear. (Well, unless you’re Lady Gaga playing around in a music video.) All of the sales rates and the ad rates for all of the fashion magazines are falling and digital sales are underwhelming and still highly disadvantaged for picture heavy mags like fashion. Fashion sales are falling as well, thanks to the economy. If they keep up with the misogyny as their favorite advertising technique, that’s unlikely to change.

So here it is, an actual stick alien, Sid Vicious/American Gothic style:

Edward Scissorhands would be sad.

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Yo!

This one’s for Kevin. You know why. 🙂

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Experiencing Technical Difficulties

It seems that for as yet unknown reasons, I cannot provide URL links in posts. This is hopefully a difficulty that will be remedied soon.

Update: remedied. Well, less remedied than that I am incompetent technologically speaking.

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