Sunday, September 30, 2012

Over and Over and Over Again

Every time I go to a science fiction convention, I try to attend some panels on writing. It might concern a new idea on how to write a rough draft, or tips on writing a query letter … There are lots of subjects dealing with writing that can be explored.
I have noticed, over the years, that some things get repeated and repeated, like submission guidelines. The speaker(s) start with the basics; the manuscript should be on normal white paper, double-spaced, normal paragraph indentations, the font should be 12 point, probably in a serif-type font like Times New Roman, and your manuscript should be absolutely error-free. Well, as close to error-free as you can possibly get it.
That was pretty much the gist of it 40 years ago, when I first started looking at the possibility of submitting something. Things were done on typewriters back then, so an occasional typo neatly corrected by pen was acceptable.
These days, the editors assume you are working on a computer, and they expect that between your rewrites, spell-checker and self-editing, there won’t be any typos. Many editors also expect you will send your manuscript via email.
For that reason, today’s speakers on how to make submissions go on to say that you should always consult that market’s submissions guidelines, and look for their particular desires in a submission’s formatting. Maybe this editor prefers Helvatica rather than Times New Roman, or wants the entire manuscript submitted in the body of your email, rather than as an attachment.
For many years, I wondered why they kept repeating the same stuff all the time. I had heard it all before, I followed their suggestions, and I always followed the instructions of the market’s guidelines. Why were they pounding on me like this?
Now that I’ve been helping Tommee work through her slush pile, I understand that those speakers were not necessarily speaking to me. The MoonPhaze Publishing submission guidelines ( state that manuscripts should be sent as a .doc file (NOT .docx) attached to their email. One day, she got 2 submissions, and neither one was sent as a .doc file! One came as a pdf, the other as a .docx. So much for following the guidelines!
I’ve seen one ‘submission’ that didn’t even follow the basic guidelines for formatting. Instead, it was sent as if it were already a book; single-spaced lines, no contact info, title page and dedication.
So, I’ll still go to these ‘basic submission’ panels, in case changes are introduced. But I will no longer feel they are nagging at me. They harp on these things for the benefit of newer writers, or those writers who think they don’t need to follow a few simple guidelines.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Conjoined Fraternal Twins

Conjoined twins used to be called ‘Siamese’ twins. They were connected somewhere; the chest, the hip, the top of the head. Sometimes they can be separated, but other times they share some vital organ that can’t be separated. Fraternal twins come from 2 different eggs, so the resulting babies are not identical.
But what I really want to talk about is this cool binary star system I heard about a few weeks ago. When you want to write science fiction, you have to try to keep up with science, so I dip into that huge pool of information every chance I get.
I already knew about binary stars. Two stars orbit some spot between them. But this particular binary star system had stars that were far closer than any that had been found before. Really close!
The stars were not identical; one was larger, the other smaller. That’s pretty common with binary stars, so let’s call them fraternal twins.
But when the astrophysicists studied the ‘output’ of this particular pair of stars, expecting them to have different brightness because of the difference in size, they found that the smaller star had the same corona signature as its big brother. These two stars are actually sharing corona matter! To me, that says ‘conjoined’.
Who would have ever believed that a pair of stars could exist so close to each other than they could share ‘skin’, and yet remain separate entities? Why doesn’t their mutual gravity make them merge into one star? They have to be racing around each other at a super speed in order for that outward force to counter-balance the gravity.
Now I’m wondering, ‘Are these stars still spheroid?’ Or are they mis-shapened by the horrendous forces they must contend with every second? And if they are mis-shapened, what shape are they? Teardrops with the points aimed at each other? Or are they oblate spheroids, spheres that have been squashed?
The neat thing about science is that it doesn’t just answer questions, it raises even more questions for you to ponder. I’m going to speculate about this particular pair of conjoined fraternal twins for some time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Balls Drop

With four of my stories available electronically through Smashwords, I decided it was definitely time to spend more of my time marketing. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to market, plus anything that put me out in front of people, blowing my own horn, was going to be outside my comfort zone. That was why I had joined Toastmasters for 2 years, to get more comfortable speaking in front of others.
If I had to do it, I had to do it. There was no getting around that. I began looking at the conventions I planned to attend this year, and inquired if I might do a reading and possibly be included on a panel or two. I did get to do a reading at a small convention about an hour down the road in the spring, and that turned out well.
This year, we were attending several conventions that were either quite a distance from our home, or new to us, or both. They already seemed to have a full array of panelists and readers, so I attended purely as a fan, handing out flyers to anyone who seemed interested.
Then an organization I belong to that provides mutual support among its author members, wrangled a spot at the World Science Fiction Convention for its members to do a ‘multi-reading’. Instead of one author doing one reading, this organization takes one time slot – in this case, 75 minutes – and schedules several of its members to do short readings.
What an opportunity! I was on staff for the world convention, so I was definitely going to be there! I was one of the first to contact the organizer to state my interest in participating. After a couple days, she emailed back to say I needed to fill out the questionnaire. I was new at this, I didn’t know if the questionnaire was needed for the author’s organization or the convention, so I asked her where I would find the questionnaire I needed to complete.
Here’s where this particular ball got dropped. I forgot I was waiting for an answer. She forgot also. By the time one of us remembered, she had the entire time slot filled. I missed out on this wonderful opportunity.
Oh, well. These things happen. I suspect the trick is, when you drop a ball of opportunity, that you look for more of them, and start picking them up. So, here I am, looking for places to speak, to read, to … market.