Thursday, August 27, 2009

Science Fiction: Exploring Possible vs. Permissible

"Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible."
--Charles Krauthammer

This is quote touches upon an important aspect of writing Science Fiction, opening the mind's eye to a question that inevitably starts as: "What if..."

Through "What if" questions, one can explore both scientific wonders and moral consequences. A truly endless array of possibilities limited only by a writer's imagination .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flank Hawk Update: Final Stages of Editing

It appears that my fantasy novel Flank Hawk, is moving right along toward publication with Gryphonwood Press.

The managing editor set a deadline of September 7th for the final manuscript to be returned for a final editorial review. I’m a little ahead of schedule as I finished a detailed pass of the manuscript over the last two weeks, catching a few typos, minor grammar errors, smoothing out plot consistency, and two notebook pages of things to check and/or fix (mostly capitalization concerns and consistency, and checking on hyphenated word). When the process began early in the summer, my editor had indicated the manuscript was already in very good shape, with only a few minor things to focus on to improve the novel.

Yesterday and today, I went through the two notebook pages of items, taking care of necessary changes.

In addition, my wife has been proof reading right after me. Both her past work experience and her detail oriented focus are assets in this process, and she has only found three items thus far: a spacing concern, a comma question and how something was named in the novel.

Everything else appears to be falling into place. I’ve been in contact with the cover artist and that project is moving along. In addition, four authors have returned blurbs, all of which are simply awesome. Hopefully the reviews that come in will be equally as positive.

My publisher intends to have Flank Hawk published and available by late October 2009. I guess it’s a bit of an odd feeling, but I’m thinking that it’s gonna happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Philosophy of Education

With the school year just about to begin, I figured I'd post my view of the educational process:

Every student has potential. It is a teacher's job to help every student tap into that potential. It is every student's responsibility to engage and participate.

Every student has the ability to squander that potential. It is a teacher's job to do all that they can to discourage that from happening. It is the student's responsibility to be sure that it does not happen.

No student has the right to interfere with another student's right to achieve their potential. It is the student's prerogative to assist fellow students in achieving their potential.

It is the teacher's responsibility to present the who? what? where? and when? Then it is the teacher's responsibility to guide the students into learning to determine and answer the hows? whys? and what ifs? It is the student's responsibility to strive to achieve, comprehend, and master the knowledge and skills.

Attending a four year college is not a requirement to become a successful, happy and productive member of society. There are other avenues. That is why I work at a joint vocational (career technical) high school.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Quote from George Will

“Being elected to Congress is regarded as being sent on a looting raid for one's friends.” –George Will

Sadly, there’s too much truth to this statement. And the United States National Debt continues to grow at an accelerated rate.

At least as I type this, Congress is on recess so at the moment they're not passing more bills into law, spending more money that the country doesn't have and can't afford.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Short Fiction Writer: What League are You in?

Many businesses and organizations are fixated on lists, charts and rankings. The writing community is no different. Am I a professional writer? If so, where do I stand—how do I compare?
In an online discussion several years ago, a writing friend, Mark Orr, compared writing to the different levels of professional baseball (as played in the United States). With his blessing, I’ve expanded upon his original analogy, forming a rough standard by which writers of short fiction can determine where their current skills, drive and talent have placed them.

Before that can be accomplished, quick review of the levels of professional baseball (from Top to Bottom):

Major League – Where the real pros reside. An elite crowd, mainly due to their skills in fielding, batting and/or pitching. Major League teams are based in large metropolitan areas, offering the greatest chance for exposure, both locally and nationally. There’s strong upper level management overseeing the team, from marketing to contract negotiations. The best coaching staffs are hired to manage, improve and refine player skills and technique. Salary compensation is high by most standards (minimum seasonal salary was near $400,000 in 2006, with the average salary around $2.7 million).

The levels then move down from Class AAA, to AA, A and the Rookie. In theory, Triple-A players are the best out there below the majors, the Double-A are a notch below that, Single-A, and then Rookie. The home fields of Triple-A teams are in major cities, with Double-A, Single-A and Rookie Leagues playing in progressively smaller venues, garnering less exposure. The pay scale also drops, down to $300 a month for some players in the Rookie Leagues.

Players move up or down based mainly on their skill development and performance. Rookie leaguers are usually first year draftees looking to develop skills without major spectator pressure and Single-As are hungry players early in their careers, eager to improve and move up. And it’s not uncommon for Double-As to bypass Triple-A and jump right to the Majors.

Translation of professional baseball’s ranking structure to short fiction writing:

Rookie League – ezines and magazines which don’t pay the writer but give a bio and link, and maybe a contributor copy. Minimal advertisement and limited exposure, other than by word of mouth. Most writers at this level are learning the basics, including the submission process.

Examples of markets at the Rookie League level:
The Oddville Press

Single A - magazines and ezines which pay a flat rate of $5.00 or $10.00 for a story, and usually a contributor copy. The competition for placement in these markets is a little stiffer, the editorial input a little more critical, and marketing and distribution efforts, while small, are made.

Examples of markets at the Single-A level:

A Fly in Amber
Fear and Trembling
Haruah: A Breath of Heaven

Double-A - magazines and ezines which pay a rate of ½ cent to 2 cents a word (or a flat rate equivalent) for fiction, and often a contributor copy. Competition for slots in the publication schedule is increasingly stiffer; the editors often receive well in excess of 100 submissions a month. The magazines/ezines often have some name recognition, especially if they specialize in a specific genre market (Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Romance, etc.).

Examples of markets at the Double-A level:
Sotto Voce
Necrotic Tissue

Triple-A - magazines and ezines which pay from 3 to 5 cents per word (but may have a cut off or maximum payout) and contributor copies. Name recognition, even outside their genre, is more commonplace and competition for publication on their pages is highly competitive. The number of regular readers or subscribers is consistent such that advertisements supplement publication and distribution costs, and the editors (beyond the owners of the magazine/ezine) sometimes draw a salary.

Examples of markets at the Triple-A level:

Aberrant Dreams
Cemetery Dance
Withersin Magazine

Major League - starts at 5 cents per word and goes up from there, or a flat fee that is equal to or above five cents per word. Some markets pay 25 cents or more per word, often based on a writer’s proven track record. The magazines promote, advertise, and are often found on magazine racks in retail locations nationwide. In addition, through sale of advertisements and sufficiently high readership and subscriptions, a magazine’s staff may also draw a salary.

Examples of markets at the Major League level:
Jim Baen’s Universe
Glimmer Train
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Even by breaking fiction markets into different levels, they (like professional baseball teams) vary greatly in how well they’re run, the quality of writers (players) they’re able to attract (recruit), and the interest/loyalty they garner among readers (fans) and respect of critics (sports writers).

Just as one could theorize that a strong Double-A baseball team would beat a mediocre Triple-A team on the field, one could argue some Double-A magazines publish better quality reading than some Triple-As. And, whether a pro-rate magazine, or a non-paying recent start-up, each strives to field the very best short stories they can.

Do all writers have the talent to make it to the “Major League” level? No, just as all aspiring professional athletes don’t.

Will all writers with talent make it? No, for a host of reasons, including questions of dedication and persistence.

Will those writers who put in the time and effort to learn the craft of writing (like a ball player learning to refine his skills and knowledge of the game) improve their chances to place and move up? Yes. And if a writer enjoys writing, that is a form of payment in itself.

The above analogy isn’t perfect. For example, Professional Baseball is structured as a farm system where Rookie League teams will never rise to become Major League teams. Whereas, fiction markets are generally independent and have the ability to “move up” based on readership and revenue they’re able to attract. One might even disagree with the criteria used (rate of pay) to categorize the fiction markets and the examples listed.

Even so, as listed, a writer can evaluate where his work is being published and gauge his current “professional” level. In the end, a writer can’t reach the majors if he doesn’t submit—take his turn at bat.

© Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights Reserved.
This post is an updated reprint of an article published in Fiction Factor 6/30/07

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Old Tech: Straight Razors

Many folks, men and women alike, complain having to shave. Today with safety and electric razors, the straight razor has fallen out of favor, certainly giving less reason to complain.

Nope, I’ve never used a straight razor. The one pictured was my father’s before he passed away a couple years back. He’d worked over 40 years of his life as a barber. Back when I started writing my first novel I asked him a little about straight razors: how to handle and shave with one, about sharpening and using the leather strap (strop) he had hanging from his barber chair when I was a kid—all background for a character.

My dad said when he was in barber school back in the 1960s, to practice and demonstrate your skill you had shave all of the shaving cream off of a balloon without making it pop. Not an easy skill to master, but certainly important before attempting to shave a human. As you might imagine, it doesn’t take much to inflict a bit of blood loss on oneself or a customer if you’re not careful or, even worse, don’t know what you’re doing. In years past (and even where it might still occur today) suspect it took some trust in your barber to lay back your head, exposing your neck to that ‘razor sharp’ implement.