Fifty… five?

Remember back on 1 July, I promised to share the “50 Followers” badge when I got it?

Remember 5 July when I said I had 49 followers?

Guess what?

50-1

Yup. I just got the badge for accumulating 55 followers.

Wait, what?

See, it’s like this. In reality, I have 55 followers.

50-2

That’s a nice number I can advertise (I’m sure any prospective employers will be thrilled to see such a high number…)

But it’s not the number WordPress uses when awarding badges. Those are based on the number of WordPress.com followers: people who have accounts (and therefore blogs, even if they never use them) at WordPress.com.

50-3

That goes back to our discussion of why WordPress gives badges (for those of you who missed it, it’s all about the advertising).

So on 5 July, in WordPress’ opinion I had 44 real followers.

My apologies to the five of you who fall into the category of “second class citizens”. I just want you to know that I value you just as much as the other fifty folks keeping an eye on my ramblings here.

Thank you all for sticking with me. It took almost exactly four months to get to this point. Let’s see if we can get to the next official milestone (100 followers) in three months. Spread the word!

In conclusion, let me leave you with these immortal words from “UFO”:

Oops, sorry. Wrong movie. …these immortal words from “Blazing Saddles“:

Umm. …”Treasure of the Sierra Madre“:

Oh, bother. Never mind. Tune in later today for a new post. If Google cooperates, it’ll be on whatever it is they have up their collective sleeve.

Taking Stock

Today, 5 July 2013, is the 75th work day of this new life I’m living. Yes, yesterday was a federal holiday, but I put in some writing time*, same as I did back on Memorial Day. That makes them both work days, so I get to count them. 75 may not be a nice round number like 100, but as a multiple of five, it has resonance, and it’s large enough to make it a reasonable number at which to pause, take a look back and see what I’ve accomplished so far.

* OK, so it was only five minutes or so, and I only wrote one sentence, but it’s an important sentence, with ramifications for the entire rest of the work.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve got 96 blog posts written (counting this one, the cat posts, and a couple of meta-posts about the blog, but not counting the emergency posts in my backlog). Some of them are on the short side, but I’ve also written 67 comments, so I think it averages out. I’ve proven to myself that I can write coherently on a variety of subjects and that I can write to specific word count targets. The 49 followers and readers from 14 different countries suggest that I’m even managing to do it in a reasonably entertaining style.

On the downside, the evidence strongly suggests that I’m not going to be supporting myself with this blog (no, that’s not news, nor was it part of the plan). I’m not even earning enough to keep the cats in Kitty Krunchies. The Amazon Affiliate links have earned me a grand total of nothing. Worse yet, nobody has thrown their corporate selves at my feet, offering me zillions of dollars to pontificate on their site instead of (or better yet) in addition to this one.

Ahem. Moving on.

As far as fiction goes, I’ve written two short stories. Both can be at least loosely described as “fantasy”, and both are making the rounds of possible publishers. For the curious, I’ve added a “Scorecard” page (last link on the right near the top of the page, directly under the picture of the fish) to the blog. It’s a snapshot of the current status of my fiction, tracking the stories’ submissions and responses. There’s a third short story, this one firmly in the realm of “science fiction” on my mental back burner. It’s got a device and a motivator, but I don’t see a lot of point in proceeding until I figure out the resolution. (For anyone reading this blog in reverse chronological order, that sentence will make more sense after you read the 4 July post.)

One novel is chugging along. This is not the epic one I’ve told several of you about; that one is still in the “research and world building” stage, and is likely to remain there for some time to come: I’m not kidding about “epic”. There are a couple of ideas in my files that could turn into novels as well, if everything comes together just right. The one that’s chugging is loosely outlined (I know what’s going to happen, but I’m not entirely sure in what order) and at a guess I’ve got about a third of the first draft. I got stuck for a couple of weeks, and put it aside to rest, which is why there are two short stories making the rounds. I seem to have gotten past the blockage and the book is making progress once more.

Even assuming it doesn’t get stuck again, I have to figure this novel is at least a couple of months away from completion. Given typical lead times, that means that even if it sold instantly (highly unlikely), it’s a year or more away from publication. In turn, that means I’m a long way away from cracking the New York Times bestseller list, selling the movie rights, and achieving fame and fortune.

Am I disappointed? Of course. I’d love to be rich and respected after only a couple of months of effort. Wouldn’t you?

Am I surprised? Nope. I kind of figured this is about where I would be at this point. I had hoped to be further along with the first novel (whichever one I tackled first) by this point, but I’m not surprised.

So, I keep plugging away. I’ll continue with the blog. I’ve added a front page note that I’m available for freelance work (over there on the right–at least it should be; it didn’t show up for me at first; please let me know if you’re not seeing it). I’m looking for paying work juggling words. That’s got multiple purposes beyond the obvious impact on the Kitty Krunchie situation: it should give me more practice in writing things I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own, and it should get my name out there where that elusive corporate entity who will pay me zillions to pontificate can see it. And I’ll continue working on the stories and novels.

And in the short term, I’m declaring Monday to be a holiday. It’s my birthday, which seems like a good excuse for goofing off–I’ve taken a vacation day on my birthday most of the last decade or more; why tamper with tradition? There will still be a blog post; it’s already written and uploaded to WordPress and will go live before I get out of bed. But I intend to stay away from the keyboard; unless the Bay Bridge Bolts give up the ghost, causing the bridge to crumble into San Francisco Bay, I’m not going to write a word.

See you all Tuesday.

Time Machine: 1977

Blame this post, aka “wallow in nostalgia,” on John Scalzi. As a time/space filler today, he asked his readers to document their favorite piece of media at age 12.

I had an instant answer to that: “Star Wars”. As I mentioned in the first post on this blog, I was part of the horde of obsessed Star Wars fanboys. And when I say “obsessed”, I mean seriously – to the point where I demanded visits to Burger King in order to get the series of Star Wars posters they had as giveaways. (Mine has never been a fast food oriented family, so going to Burger King was a significant deviation.) I’m pretty sure I’ve still got at least some of them, tucked away in one of the boxes of wall decorations that I don’t have wall space for.

But having answered the question, I started to think that there was probably more going on that year. Obsession or no, I couldn’t imagine I spent all of my free time on Star Wars. I started taking a walk around the Web looking at what else was going on in 1977, and there was a heck of a lot. Join me in a ramble through my memories please.

One of my ongoing media obsessions was the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. For several years, I listened to it most nights, and recorded a number of shows on a cheap cassette recorder sitting next to my radio. CBSRMT ran from 1974 until 1982 – just shy of 1400 episodes. Shows varied wildly in subject and quality, but had such wide appeal that there is still a core of fans devoted to locating and digitizing the episodes. I didn’t follow the full run, having come to it late, but since my favorite episode, “The Forgetful Ghost” aired in January of 1978, it’s virtually certain that I was listening to the show in 1977.

The first part of the year was marked by a couple of space-related items. The prototype Space Shuttle (named “Enterprise” in homage to Star Trek) was unveiled in late 1976 and I followed the progress of testing eagerly. In March, the rings of Uranus were discovered. Finding out that Saturn’s rings were unique only in their size and complexity was a huge shock to the world (or at least that part of it that paid any attention to astronomy). Lots of beautiful pictures.

1977 was the Seattle Mariners’ first season. I probably didn’t go to as many games as my memory suggests, but I know I went to several. I suspect that some of those Burger King visits were on the way to or from ball games. I do know the Mariners took a lot of my attention through April and May (Star Wars was released at the end of May).

August brought the so-called “Wow! Signal”. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project monitors radio signals from space looking for intelligent transmissions. The Wow! signal met many of the criteria SETI was watching for, and the initial reports, at least in the popular press, was that it was a signal from aliens. The fact that it was of short duration and has never been seen again casts significant doubt on that belief, but at the time it was a big deal to the space-obsessed, especially coming as it did against the background of the ongoing Enterprise Shuttle tests and just before the launch of Voyager 1 on its way to study the outer reaches of the Solar System. The Voyager probes, by the way, carry a message to any aliens who might stumble across them in the form of special gold-plated copper phonograph records with nature sounds, speeches, and music.

A rather more popular record was the soundtrack from “Saturday Night Fever”, which was released in November. Popular culture “Religious Wars” didn’t begin with Mac vs PC, Emacs vs vi, or even Star Wars vs Star Trek; the rock vs disco struggle was probably the most vicious during my teenage years. Disco fans were thrilled with the SNF. Rock fans were horrified. I was largely neutral, as I listened to more Swing-era music than anything else at the time; massive overexposure of SNF and the Bee Gees however, inclined me towards the rock side of the battle lines.

If memory serves, the first LPs I owned were Christmas gifts in 1978: Jeff Wayne’s musical version of “War of the Worlds” and – wait for it – the “Star Wars” soundtrack.

1977 clearly shaped a large part of my life with major baseball, space, and science fiction influences. Thanks for the reminder, John!

SFWA and Me

Last week I mentioned SFWA without any explanation. The omission was intentional, as it really had nothing to do with that discussion of copyright. However, this seems like a good time to fill in the details.

SFWA is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America; as they modestly describe themselves, “a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres.” The organization acts as a trade group for its members. As such, it provides information and resources, mentorship, promotion, and a collective voice on matters of concern to the membership. Examples include ongoing negotiations with publishers to improve industry standards and a grievance committee that helps individual authors with contractual disputes; private, member-only forums and similar communication channels; and an educational outreach arm (“AboutSF”) that promotes the reading and study of science fiction to librarians and teachers.

The annual Nebula awards, arguably the most prestigious award in science fiction is run by SFWA. (The perhaps better-known Hugo is awarded by fan vote, whereas the Nebula is awarded by vote of SFWA’s membership. For purposes of comparison, consider the People’s Choice Awards in contrast to the Oscars, Emmys, or Grammys.) Keep in mind that I did say “arguably”; I suspect if it were possible to quantify prestige, the Hugo would score higher than the People’s Choice Award. But I digress.

Not every professional writer working in science fiction or related fields is a member of SFWA (as I write this, the membership directory shows approximately 1800 entries), but those who are, IMNSHO, the ones who have demonstrated a concern for the genre they work in. SFWA is very much devoted to the concept of “pay it back by paying it forward”; they note on the website that the farther along in your career path a writer becomes, the less SFWA has to offer, but writers still join and help raise the next generation.

And SFWA’s members are working professionals. To join, individuals must have sold a work to a publisher on a curated list of qualified professional markets – fan, self, or vanity publications are not sufficient. Full active membership requires either multiple short story publications or one novel publication. An associate membership requires at least one short story publication, and even an affiliate membership for non-writers requires demonstrated evidence of professional work in an allied field and references from active members.

So what’s the relevance here?

As those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning (was that really only two months ago? It seems much longer!) or who have taken the time to peruse the FAQ know, I’m out to become a writer. This blog is intended to give me an outlet for practicing my trade: as I said in an early post, I’m using it to force myself to produce something every weekday, to try a variety of things, and to find my voice. Given my long history as a reader of science fiction and fantasy, it was almost inevitable that I would want to write it. I respect and admire SFWA and its members for the work it has done in promoting science fiction and fantasy, and I lust after the resources they offer to the journeymen just getting started.

Today I’ve taken the next step in my own journey, and have submitted a short piece to a SFWA-qualified publisher. I’ll keep you all informed of any progress, but don’t expect to hear anything soon: quoted response times seem to run somewhere around 2-4 months. (One site specializing in tracking SF/F/H publishers notes that publisher’s stated response time is typically for rejections – acceptances take longer – and tend to be optimistic.) If it is accepted, I will be joining SFWA; if not, I’ll keep trying.

And, of course, the best way to improve my odds, and the only way to advance beyond “Associate” is to maintain a steady stream of new submissions. I’ll be working on that, starting tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed!

Welcome

Hello, and welcome.

As is traditional, I’m using this first post to introduce myself and to explain what I’m doing here. With a bit of luck, you’ll want what I’ve got and hang around to our mutual benefit.

According to family legend, I was obsessed with the book The Littlest Witch, to the point that my parents refused to read it to me any more. This, they say, annoyed me so much that I learned to read, just so I wouldn’t have to depend on them for my witch. Whether the story is true or not, it’s clear that I was mentally warped by reading science fiction and fantasy at a very early age. Large doses of hard SF a few years later warped me in other directions, and probably produced my fascination with techie toys. However, several early experiments with soldering irons and Heathkit electronics kits convinced me that I was not cut out for any field that required hardware expertise. These days I can handle installing a hard drive, swapping a video card, and similar highly technical tasks — but I keep a supply of bandages handy, as it almost always requires a blood sacrifice before the new gear works.

So I turned my attention to other fields. I was a band geek in high school, and have continued to make and listen to a wide variety of music right up to the present. And, like every good geek of my generation, I was heavily into Star Wars and Star Trek, which didn’t take much in the way of technical chops, but were what brought me into organized fandom and exposed me to fan fiction. My first published work was a SW/ST crossover story for the local Star Trek club’s fanzine. I suspect I’ve still got a copy of it around here somewhere. If it turns up, it will be unceremoniously burned.

Science fiction and fantasy fandom led to anime fandom. Music led to ethnomusicology (with some side trips through anthropology, sociology, and psychology). Somehow the combination led me to library science, a masters degree, and my first post-school job. It also led me to computers, via the Atari ST, which was designed to appeal to musicians. I did a little programming, but found I was better at breaking programs than writing them. The result of that discovery was that I found myself doing software QA, being paid to break other peoples’ programs.

Though that first story didn’t lead anywhere, it did represent one of my first attempts to scratch the writing itch. Writing, like malaria, is a recurring disease, and through college, grad school, and beyond, it’s flared up several times. I’ve started several writing projects, most of which have thankfully not escaped from my computer. In recent years, the bug has been mostly limited to hurling books away while grumbling that I could do better.

Which brings us to the present. I realized that I truly believed I could do better than the writers whose books I was hurling. The best way to learn to write is to write. Try things. See what works and what doesn’t work. And that takes time. So here I am. This blog is where I’m going to learn. Out of all of the millions of people on the ‘Net, I figure there must be a few willing to tell me what works (I’m not worried about finding ones to tell me what doesn’t work — but then, I’m cynical like that.)

What am I going to write? Anything that comes to mind. Some of the things I expect you to see here:

  • Commentary on the news
  • Reviews – books, anime, restaurants, blogs, techie toys, bands, etc.
  • Short fiction
  • Excerpts from longer fiction
  • Non-fiction on a variety of subjects

What I don’t expect you to see here:

  • Fan fiction (if I commit it again, I’ll put it somewhere else and link it to protect those with tender sensibilities)

That doesn’t leave much out of scope, does it? Good.

My commitment to myself is to make at least one substantial post here every weekday. If you find the idea of watching someone learn to juggle words at all attractive, I welcome you. I can’t promise it’ll be as entertaining as watching someone learning to juggle chainsaws, but it should be at least as bloody.