Author Archive

Market Forces

January 10th, 2009 2 comments

Which of your friends do you want to save?

As people stop spending their money freely, sales decline.  When sales decline, stores take fewer purchasing risks.  For the small press, that can be deadly.

In the age of the internet, mail-order sales can make up a significant percentage of a small press publisher’s sales.  But most of them are still buoyed by retailers: small businesses run by people who want to support local authors or friends from conventions and chat boards, larger storefronts who specialize in a particular field and need the reputation that stems from having rarities available, online retailers who survive by skimming five to ten percent off of the bulk discount from each book and getting the copies out to connoisseurs of the field.

As booksellers lower their purchases, small presses are caught in the crunch.  With rare and well-publicized exceptions, small press publishers tend to love their fields.  Many are authors and editors themselves.  They rely on their ability to recognize good storytelling when making their choices for publication, and they rely on their friends in the publishing business, study of former and existing presses, and their inherent wit to come up with working business models.

Even after all of the time and effort which goes into making a small press work, however, the pitfalls are omnipresent.  The popular author whose book sales were being counted on to offset the risk from two new authors may infuriate her fan base, or he may get caught on a deadline for a major industry publishing house and keep pushing back the manuscript delivery.  One of the handful of people working at the publisher may fall ill (often, these publishing houses are a one or two person operation.)  Or… people could stop buying for a little while.
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December 10th, 2008 5 comments

Fred Saberhagen passed away on June 29, 2007.  He had developed prostate cancer, and while the treatments delayed his death, they did not stay it.  He was 77, and had created the Berserker series, written a popular set of novels featuring Dracula as a protagonist, written the Swords series of fantasy novels, and produced hundreds of other short stories and novels.

Andre Norton died on March 17, 2005.  She had pneumonia and the flu, and at age 93 was having a very difficult time trying to fight the pair off.  She passed away of heart failure.  Her health had deteriorated sharply in the prior days, and was expected to go on the night of the 15th.  She rallied just long enough to write back to some of the fans who had e-mailed her and written letters, thanking them for their concern.  She wrote dozens of books and hundreds of short stories, and her Witch World series introduced thousands of young adults to reading.

Poul Anderson died on July 31, 2001, after a battle with prostate cancer.  He was in the hospital, and then released to his home to be with his family before he died.  While he was facing his final days, he was still returning letters to fans.  He was the author of books such as Three Hearts and Three Lions, Tau Zero and Brain Wave.  He’d been almost the same age as Saberhagen, but had started publishing more than a decade before, and had been a mainstay of the sf and fantasy fields since the 1950s.

Charles L. Grant died of a heart attack in his home on September 15, 2006.  In a way it wasn’t fair; he had only been home for a very short time following more than two years of being stuck in a hospital for treatment of severe COPD.  In another way, it was good that he was able to return home to be with his family in his home.  He was a winner of multiple awards for writing both in science fiction and horror, and had many fans for his humorous fantasy works written under the Lionel Fenn pseudonym.  On top of all of that, he was one of the horror field’s premier editors.

Harry Stubbs, a.k.a. Hal Clement, would have balked at the use of “one of the” prior to “premier”.  He was a wordsmith, producing comparatively few novels and short stories when weighed against his contemporaries, but over his 81 years he earned a reputation for his hard science fiction.  He died in his sleep in a hospital, from complications associated with diabetes, on October 29, 2003.  He left behind works such as Needle, Mission of Gravity, and Still River.

Octavia Butler died early, from an accident in her home.  She fell, struck her head, and died.  Just like that, science fiction lost one of its strongest voices.  She was a groundbreaker, a black woman who didn’t merely write science fiction but wrote as well as the best in the field.  She was best known for dealing with topics of race and gender, particularly in her novels, but she did not limit or pigeonhole herself, merely told the stories which were closest to her heart.  She was 58 when she died on February 25, 2006.

Ed Hoch was an amiable gentleman by all accounts.  It would be hard to imagine that the smiling man who liked to listen as much as speak had spent his life immersed in fictional deaths ranging from the mundane to the horrific.  He was primarily a short-storyist, producing nearly a thousand published short pieces throughout his life, but he also produced a handful of novels.  A heart attack claimed him, on January 17 of this year.  Sam Hawthorne, Nick Velvet, Captain Leopold, and many other characters are missed by those wishing for new stories, and loved by those discovering those stories in old magazines, collections and anthologies.

These are all names I see when I’m checking through my loose bookplates, trying to find one for a rare book I’ve recently purchased.  In each of these examples I am immediately shocked into memory: talking with Ed Hoch at Bouchercon, having my grammar corrected by Harry Stubbs (“It can’t be one of the only.  Only is singular.  You should have said one of the few.”), getting harassed by Charlie Grant because nobody else showed up to an obscure signing… and I’d flown in from Texas.  There are also other names now gone: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Jack Haldeman, L. Sprague de Camp… and those are just the bookplates.

If I want ghost stories, I can just look across my shelves.  My meetings with Jack L. Chalker, ranging from offensive to marvelous.  Meals with Bob Sheckley.  Talking about writing with Charles Sheffield at Philcon.  Listening to Forry Ackerman tell stories of the early days of fandom.  Drinking… and getting stiffed with the bill (hopefully unintentionally)… with Bob Asprin.  Getting groused at by Jack Williamson for failing to bring more things for him to sign, because he wasn’t frail (this, when he was 93.)

Let me make this clear: I am nobody special.  I don’t have huge quantities of money, I’ve never run a convention, I’ve never published any authors and I’ve never been published.  What I am is a bookseller, a reader, and a fan.  I try not to be standoffish, and I try not to be a stalker, and I treat authors as if they’ve accomplished something impressive (they have) and are still human beings (they are.)  I’ve found that most of them like getting feedback instead of speaking into a void and desperately hoping for some response.  Even more, they like getting rational, knowledgable feedback; but they’ll settle for a simple “You’re great!” instead of “Ms. Yolen, do you worry that the impact of the horrors of the concentration camps will fade as generations pass?”  Anything is good.  And when you interact reasonably with your favorite authors, whether by message board, blog, e-mail, letter, signing or convention, you brighten both your day and theirs.  And you never know when the response to your letter will be an invitation to meet with Samuel Delany the next time you’re in Manhattan (I took the train to Manhattan the next weekend.)

We’ve lost some great writers over the past few years, and we’re going to lose more: that’s the way of the world.  They are going to leave echoes behind, in the form of stories they’ve told.  For everyone’s sake, give those echoes some personality.  Write to Brian Knight or J.F. Gonzalez because they’ve impressed you.  Send a letter to Donald E. Westlake or Philip Jose Farmer to let them know how much they influenced you.  Write to Jack Vance to tell him how deeply you appreciate his decades of brilliance.

Everyone wins.  And isn’t that the underlying hope of the holiday season?

Money on Your Shelf

November 10th, 2008 12 comments
Special mini-essay: TALK BACK

The people reading this blog may notice that there’s been turnover.  People are leaving, new people are coming in.  If you want to make a difference in this circumstance, if you want to support Storytellers Unplugged, there’s one hugely important thing you can do:


It’s done by going down to the bottom of the essay, putting in your name and an e-mail address, putting a number in for a basic math equation (done to avoid spammers) and then write something.  Even if it’s a single-word response like “Like” or “Yuck”, a little feedback is immensely preferable to none.  Don’t worry about the e-mail address, you won’t get spam from your friendly SU.

There’s an older book of interviews with authors from the horror field, Faces of Fear edited by Douglas Winter.  In it, Charles L. Grant talks about how at that point in his career… after more than 15 years as a horror/fantasy/sf writer, during seven of which he was one of the biggest names in the horror field both as author and editor, and a few dozen books… he’d received little to no correspondence from fans, but that his handful of gothic romances had resulted in stacks of letters to his Felicia Andrews pseudonym.

If there’s anything more disheartening than knowing that you’ve spent a few hours of your life typing out an essay only to have a single person… almost always another contributor to SU… provide a comment, then it’s not occurring to me.  Hell, as a person who isn’t a writer by profession or instinct, I spent two days working on the October story.  I got two comments.  I was deeply appreciative of them, but if anyone else so much as bothered to read it, I don’t know.

This blog is free.  There is no demanded nor expected recompense for time or effort provided.  But there is the hope of some, and it comes in the form of simple recognition: postive, negative, or neutral.  Please, please contribute that if you are willing.  There are too many great writers contributing here, and I’d like to see them get the encouragement I feel they deserve.

Now, to the main essay: MONEY ON YOUR SHELF

Many people talk about a strong economy or a weak economy; for a writer, there’s often little difference.  The percentage of writers who can support themselves on their prose is tiny.  The vast majority find themselves working other jobs in order to cover their bills, relying on legacies from former professions or wealthy relatives, or being the “stay at home” half of a married couple.  Money is a constant concern for many of these people.

In a pinch, some cash can sometimes be earned by selling off some of the books on your personal shelves.  There are a few factors worth noting.  I’m going to cover some of them, with examples.

1) Don’t forget the paperbacks.

Everyone in the publishing industry knows hardcover books are collector’s items, particularly signed/limited editions and first editions.  Where a lot of people fall down is their consideration of paperbacks.  Small, comparatively flimsy, and often damaged, they are the red-headed stepchild of the collecting world.  But that’s not the same as saying they’re not collected.

EXAMPLE: Do you have a copy of The Crimson Witch by Dean R. Koontz sitting on your shelf?  It won’t make you rich, but it will pull anywhere from $25 and up on ebay, even in beaten-up condition.  As a matter of fact, all of the examples in this essay will be paperbacks, just to drive home the point.

2) Don’t ignore the newer titles.

Just because a book isn’t older than most college students doesn’t mean it’s not hunted.  Actually, because of the way buzz works, often it’s the newer books which have the greatest number of people looking for them.

EXAMPLE: A few months back, I found a copy of Masques by Patricia Briggs on the shelf of a local second-hand bookstore.  A week later, I was being paid roughly $125 after a week on ebay.  The first book by the author who has gained a following in “supernatural romance” as well as contemporary fantasy is a traditional fantasy tale and was published in 1993.  The book had a small print run, and she has an enormous fan base.  Due to the crossover nature of her success, however, her books are sometimes shelved in sf/fantasy, sometimes in romance, and sometimes in horror.

3) Learn the pseudonyms.

There are a variety of reasons why an author may write under a pseudonym, but the one prevailing result is that at least some of the author’s fans don’t know about the “other” books, and as each of them discovers the other books’ existence, they start hunting for them.  Often it’s simply a matter of having a full collection.

EXAMPLE: Edward Lee is the first to denounce the quality of his Philip Straker books, but Ed Lee collectors WANT those books, and perpetually demonstrate a willingness to purchase even banged-up copies of his early novels.  If you happen to have a copy of Night Lust or Night Bait on your shelf, consider yourself lucky if you find yourself in need of quick cash.

4) Don’t make assumptions about quality.

You may have picked up the book because it had a peculiar or garish cover, or because the story description sounded worse than a rejected Troma movie script.  Perhaps you read the book and found it completely predictable, poorly written and poorly edited.  Do not assume that means nobody wants it.

EXAMPLE: Guy N. Smith had fun with a truly silly series of giant crab books in the 1980s.  As the series progressed, he attempted to top himself with the foolishness, culminating in books like Crabs: The Human Sacrifice, wherein a radical environmentalist starts worshipping the oblivious, carnivorous crabs.  While Guy N. Smith has shown an ability to write sharp, interesting fiction, this is not one of his better pieces.  But it has developed such a reputation for being a hokey book concept that horror fans and even other authors keep an eye out for the title.  Any time you have more people wanting a book than exist copies, the price goes up.  The price has risen above $25 on this title.

EXAMPLE: William W. Johnstone wrote some very, very predictable horror novels.  The writing was competent, but unimpressive.  However, he had two things creating his collector base: 1) his success in other fields; his workman efforts in men’s adventure and westerns grew a devoted following which branched off to his horror books; and 2) his tendency to be very Christian in his books (Satan or his servants are typically the enemy; a true believer is always the hero/heroine, sinners are tempted and either fall or are punished) made him into an acceptable horror author for the great number of fundamentalist fiction readers even before the days of Lehaye and Jenkins.  While some of his books went into more than two printings and are not particularly expensive, most of his horror books command anywhere from $10 to $40 on the secondary market.

5) Just because the author isn’t famous is no reason to ignore them.

Publishing isn’t kind.  Great authors spiral into the unknown because a few bad covers scare away potential buyers, or a line goes under, or a book is poorly promoted, or advertised in the wrong format, or by the time the book gets to the shelves it’s lost amidst ten titles similar in appearance.  Just as often, good authors have a spark of greatness, elevating a particular title to cult status.  Or an author only has one book in them, after which they quit the business.  There are plenty of reasons, but in the end only the result matters: there are books out there which are worth far more than would be suspected.

EXAMPLE: Where the Chill Waits by T. Chris Martindale has great buzz among people who follow the Windigo myth.  As the go-to book for the use of that creature, it is sought at a disproportionate level compared to his other titles and can easily pull from $15-$40 depending on condition.  This, despite the fact that that author only wrote four horror novels over fifteen years ago.

6) Waiting too long can be a bad thing.

Fame is fleeting.  Many authors’ works will maintain a stable level of interest even after they die or stop publishing, but far more see interest in their older work dry up over time.  It doesn’t go away, but it diminishes to the point where there are enough copies to fill the demand of the readership… or, if there still aren’t, the prospective readership is still smaller, causing the price to drop.  A good rule of thumb is that if an author goes two years without publishing a novel or collection (mass market, trade, or major small press), and you’re looking to sell their “hot” titles eventually, it may be the time.

EXAMPLE: C. Dean Andersson is an exemplary writer; he was short-listed for a Stoker award in 2007, and is a good bet to make that list again this year.  But he hasn’t been producing novels, and that has caused his readership to shrink.  People cycle out of any field’s fan base all the time, and new people cycle in.  The easiest and strongest way to garner attention is through novels.  His fan base remains high enough to cause there to be a reasonable demand for hard to find early titles like Raw Pain Max and Torture Tomb, or even very early pseudonym work such as Crimson Kisses as by Asa Drake.  But while these titles may have easily netted $20 to $50 a decade ago, with RPM sometimes fetching three figures, they now sell for half of those prices.

7) Notice the trends.

Publishers are like anyone else: they want to make money.  One of the most certain ways to make money is to put out books that work along the same lines of recent successes.  This can go a long way toward everything from a boom in slasher films or remakes of Japanese ghost stories to zombie novels or paranormal romances.  When trends start to blossom, it’s worth looking at the books that are sitting on your shelves.  Often there will be books that predate the trend, and they will enjoy a resurgence of popularity.

EXAMPLE: Lee Killough has been writing mystery novels featuring supernatural or sf elements for the duration of her career.  Two of her most successful novels have been Blood Hunt and Blood Links, originally produced as paperback originals in the late 1980s and featuring a police detective who runs afoul of a lady vampire.  After the Vampire/PI (usually a team, sometimes a single character) started booming in the 90s with the Tanya Huff blood novels, the P.N. Elrod novels, and the Laurell K. Hamilton books, fans started trying to track down the Killough books referenced by some of these authors when they talked of their influences.  For a while, the books were both highly sought and hard to find, and they rose in price accordingly.

EXAMPLE: C.J. Henderson wrote a series of supernatural detective novels under a pseudonym, the Teddy London books by Robert Morgan.  When the supernatural detective trend developed a sudden large following about eight years ago, there was a spike of interest in the Morgan novels, where they were each demanding $20 and up on the secondary market.  Interest has since passed along to authors like Jim Butcher and Kelley Armstrong; the Morgan novels still maintain a baseline of interest for fans of Henderson’s Kolchak comics, horror short fiction and collectors of Cthulhu mythos fiction, but the price surge has gone away, leaving the six books findable for $5-$10 each in good condition.

8) Watch for reprints.

Nothing tanks a collectible paperback’s value faster than a reprint.  The vast majority of purchasers of rare paperbacks are simply looking for a copy of the story to read, and when a new copy is made available, the old copies are relegated to the collector’s shelves.  There aren’t as many paperback collectors as there are hardcover collectors, though, and so reissues are famous for dropping a price on a rare paperback through the floor.  If you have access to information about what novels are expected to be released in upcoming days, it pays to go through and see what “reading copies” of those reissues you may have, and check to see if they’re currently worth anything.  Getting them out for sale before the new version comes out may be the only way you can get money for them.

EXAMPLE: Fans are rightfully pleased that Jack Ketchum’s works have been reprinted by Leisure.  But before The Girl Next Door, She Wakes and Off Season were reissued, copies of the first two novels would fetch $35 to $75, and Off Season ranged as low as $10 and as high as $100 depending on condition.  The price of the books has fallen by more than two thirds for anything less than high-end, collector’s grade books.

Hopefully, these guidelines will be helpful to some readers.  Curious people trying to estimate the turn-around value of their books can find out how much other people are selling any given title by visiting ABEbooks, Ebay Shops,, and the completed auction listings on Ebay.  This is a bad time for selling books; in a distressed economy, people are leery about spending money on what are to most luxury items.  But bad does not mean untenable, and while you can expect to get less than you would have between 2002 and 2007, you can still get something.  If you’re in a pinch, something is far better than nothing.


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Six Minutes Under Lake Donnegan

October 10th, 2008 2 comments

It’s a tradition to post stories in the month of October.  Call me a sucker for tradition.

I have no rare stories to post… bookseller, remember?  Instead, for the second year running, I’ve written something for the site.  So, this is the second story I’ve written over the past two decades.   I’m aiming for the productivity level of T.E.D. Klein.


The screaming had come and gone quickly, replaced by fear and then by panic, and now the panic had given way to numbed acceptance.  Water was leaking in around the worn seals of the car door, and the air was getting hot and thick.  Moisture plastered what remained of Joseph’s hair to his scalp, and Dinah could see that his hands were bleeding where he’d pounded at the windows.  His head was down; he looked like he was praying.

“We’re going to die,” she said.

“That’s obvious,” Joseph said.  “Do you have to waste time saying the obvious?”  She felt a little twinge of appreciation as he turned her own phrase against her, playing the game until the end.  Tears welled in her eyes, and she closed them to prevent herself from breaking down again.  With only a few minutes left on Earth, she didn’t want to spend her time bawling.

She tried to focus on her faith, but instead she flashed back to moments before: driving along the highway, the rabbit darting out onto the road, the sharp left to avoid it, the reservoir….  She shook her head and rolled her shoulders, thankful that they’d been able to get free of the seat belts after the crash, at least.  Nothing in the car had been capable of breaking the glass, not even the Cross pen in her purse.  They could see the surface through the windshield but they weren’t going to be able to reach it.  The doors were jammed shut by the water pressure, even just a few yards deep.  Eight feet away from life.

The water was up to her lap, and rising rapidly.  Dinah opened looked over at her husband of thirty years, seeing the handsome youth he’d once been and the distinguished man he’d grown into.  His head was still bowed, still praying.

Dinah thought of their years together.  They’d met at a post office, waiting in what seemed like an interminable line.  Joseph had been using a cane because of a broken foot, but he’d still offered to let her in front of him because of the number of her packages.  They’d gotten to talking, and when they ran into each other at the bowling alley the next day the conversations continued.

It had been magical to find someone who could keep up with her train of thought, who understood when she was being serious and when she was attempting to be witty.  On rare occasions, before she learned how to anticipate his debating methods, he’d even been able to win arguments with her.  The first time that happened, she knew she’d found a potential husband.

The wedding had been beautiful, the honeymoon a dream, and although they’d had their share of fights and troubles, for the most part they’d had a nearly ideal life together.  They both had a competitive nature, manifesting in everything from games to friendly debates, and when they paired up against other couples they were nearly always the ones to come out on top.

Two children had followed, a boy and a girl.  They’d been raised in a loving home, and although both Kyle and Judy had complained about the rules as they were growing, both had developed into successful adults.  Judy had two boys now… two rambunctious toddlers, their grandchildren, the grandchildren they were never going to see again.  It was hard to believe that life was coming to an end.

Jospeh looked so handsome, despite the changes time had worn into him.  He wasn’t particularly tall, but when he stood it was straight like Eastwood in his prime, and his grey eyes radiated a pleasant warmth that matched his impish, deceptively youthful smile.  She wished she could see his eyes right then.

“At least we’ll be together in Heaven,” she told him.

“I hope not.”

Dinah blinked, confused.  “What?”

“Look,” Joseph said, raising his head.  He hadn’t been praying, he had simply been hanging his head as if tired.  “I don’t know if there’s any sort of afterlife.  I just know that if there is, I don’t want to be anywhere near you.”

Even in the moist air she felt her breath catch.  “I don’t understand.  Did… did you hit your head?”

“No, I did not hit my head, Dinah.  And I don’t want to hurt you, so I didn’t want to say anything.  But damn it, if there is a heaven, if we do see each other on the other side, stay away from me.”

Dinah started to cry again.  The water was up to her chest.  “You don’t mean that.”

“The hell I don’t.  You’ve been nagging me for thirty years, ever since before we got married.  At first I thought it was cute.  A little back and forth, a little pleasant debate, never a real argument.  But you can’t let it go.  Ever.  Yes, you’re smarter than me, I admit it.  But I’m not a damned idiot, and that’s how you’ve made me feel every minute of every day for the last three decades.”

“If-”  She stopped, unable to force out the words, stunned by the vehemence from the man she loved, the man who shared her bed, the man who’d shared her life.  “If it was so bad, why didn’t you say anything?”

“I did! I said it all the time, and you laughed it off, or you’d stop for a day and then start up again.  Or you’d really get pissy and start crying, and… damn it, Dinah, I said I don’t want to hurt you.”

“If you love me, this is a terrible way of showing it.”  Tears were streaming down her cheeks, blending with the water at her chin.

“I didn’t say I loved you.  I just don’t like hurting anyone.  You’ve lived with me thirty years, and you don’t know that?”

The water was at her lips.  She stood up a little, aided by the buoyancy of the water but with only a small space left between her and the roof.  Each of his words was like a little knife, stabbing her and paralyzing her muscles.  She needed time to deal with what she’d heard, but she had no time.  Pleading, she said, “Please, Joseph… I’m sorry.  Please.  Can’t you forgive me, now?”

There was a momentary pause, and then his response.  “I’m not going to let you win just because you want to.  You can’t….”  The rest was lost to her, not because he had stopped speaking, but because her ears had slipped under the waterline and all she could hear were lapping sounds as water displaced air.  The water drained out as her head lifted up.  “…all this time.”  She could tell he was crying as well.

She heard him cough once, then cough again.  He didn’t want to be together.  Or did he?  Maybe he had accepted her apology when she couldn’t hear it.  Her hand trembled as she started to reach out to him through the water.  Then she hesitated.  If he rebuffed her now, there would be no denying it, no chance, no hope.  Hope was all she had.

Dinah remembered that she’d been a good swimmer once, although she hadn’t been near a pool in years.  Joseph might not want to be together in their death… but she did, even with his hurtful words.  She’d been with him for decades and she knew how he thought.

While Joseph fought for his last breaths, sputtering and coughing, she slowly inhaled, taking in what remained of the moist, stale air.  She kept quiet as her husband inhaled, then slipped under the water.  She watched and waited, and her lungs burned with the pain of holding in her last breath of air.  It seemed like minutes, but seconds after he slipped beneath the surface she saw his final spasm as air bubbles burst from his mouth.

Dinah reached over and clasped the hand of her husband, gripping tightly enough to claim him in death.  When the bodies were found, they’d be together.  And maybe in whatever came beyond.  Steeling herself against the pain of inhaling water, she let loose her final breath.

The pain was as bad as she thought it would be.  Her throat spasmed and it felt like needles were jabbing into her esophagus.  Worse was the unexpected, the pain that radiated from the front of her face as water compressed the air deep in her sinuses, bursting the mucous membranes.  She shuddered, and the pain started to ebb away, along with her awareness.

With her sight fading into black, Dinah heard her husband release the rest of the breath he’d been holding.  She realized that Joseph knew how she thought, too, as her hand was pushed away.

Categories: Fiction Tags:


September 10th, 2008 1 comment

I’ve just had my first encounter with having something written for the wrong market.  And it’s annoying.

I’ve explained before that I typically produce two essays for SU.  Well, this month, I only did one.  I produced an essay that I really liked…. and then decided I couldn’t post.

It wasn’t appropriate.  It was close to being appropriate, but I don’t think that’s enough.  This is a blog about writers and books, after all.  It’s a refreshing mix of cautionary posts and instructional ones, all with an eye toward educating other writers.  My post was partly a historical lesson, partly a request for advice.  And that seemed to fly directly counter to the usual purpose of the blog.

So, lacking the usual fallback essay (although it was pointed out to me that I could use one of the unused essays from prior months) I attempted to revise the post until it was more appropriate.  I have done so, although the resultant essay felt lifeless and obvious.

I have just learned a lesson that every professional writer needs.  Know your market.  You can have something you think is wonderful, but if it is not appropriate for the venue it shouldn’t be submitted.

Sure, it’s an evident recommendation.  But even though it seems about as basic as basic can be, it remains a trap that young writers will walk into.  I’ve talked with too many who’ve complained about how long a particular story has been held, or that they’ve gotten a story rejected from one venue or another due to content.  These are failures, but not necessarily of the story itself.  These are failures of preparation.

Check the guidelines.  Don’t submit your romantic vampire story to the next Borderlands anthology just because it’s written well.  Don’t submit your splatterpunk epic to Weird Tales and expect it to sell.

And don’t become so wrapped up in the idea behind a particular post that you lack an appropriate alternative if, upon a last-minute reread, you decide that it doesn’t really fit after all.

Here’s the adjusted post, by the way:

Before the days of internet message boards, there were electronic “bulletin board” systems which relayed messages back and forth across the country. A computer with a modem would call a few others in its local area and upload/download messages in certain assigned forums. Those others would dial out as well. By hopping from local area to local area, messages would traverse the country over the course of a few days without racking up long-distance bills. It was an online forum with a delay of days, and all of the forums together were called “FidoNet”.

Before then there were only fanzines.

A fanzine is a brilliant innovation from the early days of science fiction fandom. An interested fan would write a summary of what was going on in their area of the country as regards science fiction and solicit other fans for letters or material submissions such as essays or cartoons. People who provided printable material got a copy or two of the fanzine for free and the other subscribers would pay postage. The fans were able to network all year even if they weren’t able to attend a convention (especially as, back in the earlier days of the genre, there were initially none – and then few – conventions to attend.)

Because the fans bought magazines and books and wrote letters to publishers and editors, professional authors often worked to develop good relationships with fans. That included encouraging the fans to produce work of their own, forming a “farm team” style of talent development.

Now, stepping back from the history for a moment:

I love the modern age. The internet has enabled instantaneous communication with others who share our interests (as well as fueling commerce and propagating porn. Actually, sometimes it’s done all three simultaneously.) While it used to take three days for a back-and-forth response with someone across the country via FidoNet, or two months via fanzine letter column, it now takes no more than the time needed to type. If you have a question about something you can find an appropriate venue and ask experts for their opinions.

What it lacks is permanence. Few message boards have archives going back more than fifty pages. That can sometimes catalog a span of multiple months, sometimes only a week or so, depending on the popularity of the board.

Blogs tend to be more permanent, especially if they’re run by conscientious people who back them up periodically. But even then, they suffer from the inherent transience of everything in the electronic medium. Remember How about Compuserve Forums?

I have stacks of older fanzines. The letter columns read like edited versions of today’s message boards. The reviews could come straight out of personal web sites, the life updates out of blogs. And because of their permanence, they offer an important lesson to today’s authors.

The people who participated extensively in the letter columns are a who’s who of authors of the time. Piers Anthony, Jack Chalker, Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, Bob Silverberg, Poul Anderson… the names really do go on and on. But they also share one thing in common: they didn’t overload the listings. Sure, they’d contribute a column here, stay engaged in a mail discussion or ten, do reviews for this or that ‘zine. But with rare exceptions, they weren’t producing fanzines themselves (although many started out that way) and they weren’t contributing to every fanzine out there.

The internet age has been around for what seems like forever… but, really, it hasn’t been all that long. With all of the distractions available to a writer, it seems like writing would be the most innocuous, especially writing which can be explained as furthering your exposure within the field, expanding your fan base. But there’s a methodology with a proven track record of success: spending enough time getting exposure to develop a perceived link with the fan base, which drives book sales; while at the same time keeping yourself from becoming too involved and bogging yourself down in fun but financially unrewarding writing.

People hammer home that writers write; that’s undeniably true, but it’s also important to consider exactly what, when, and how much you’re writing. There are decades of history which demonstrate that attention to that concept can maximize both your productivity and your visibility.

Categories: submissions Tags:

The Big Con

August 10th, 2008 1 comment

I’m just back from Worldcon in Denver.  The weekdays before that I was back in Jersey, visiting the family; the two weeks before that, I was prepping for Worldcon and putting a slew of rare books up for auction on ebay.

Simply put: I’ve been busy.  This is not any great concern, because I’d had the topic of this essay picked out some time ago: the con.  Worldcon, after all, is a different beast from other conventions, partly due to size and partly due to content.  Many of the readers may have never attended one.

There are people who attend these conventions every year.  For my part, I try to attend at least one major every year… Worldcon (SF/Fantasy), World Horror (Horror), World Fantasy (Fantasy/Horror), Bouchercon (Mystery/Thriller), San Diego ComiCon (Comics/Media) and Dragoncon (Media/Writing) have taken up happy weekends over the past decade, sometimes seeing me behind a table as a dealer and sometimes in front of it as a regular attendee.  Each con has a different feel.

DragonCon and SDCC are huge experiments in the herding of people.  As one of dozens of thousands of people, it’s hard not to feel like you’re not a participant, but merely another cog in a great machine.  Arrangements are made to meet with people at very specific times at very specific places, because the throngs of people make normal instructions impossible; it’s very easy to have decisions like “We’ll all meet at the Corner Bakery at 7 PM” go wrong because the quantity of people inside and outside make it impossible to find each other.  The costumes are wonderful, the dealers’ rooms and artist alleys are extensive with impressive talent on hand, the writing guests of honor are impressive.  But the constant press of bodies can cause uncomfortable warmth if not claustrophobia and the sheer size of the events can make it hard to get from one location to another in any reasonable length of time.

World Fantasy and Bouchercon are filled with field professionals and their associates, as well as avid readers who are looking to fill holes in their collections.  The dealer’s rooms are typically awash with books valued from hundreds to thousands of dollars each.  Pitches are made over drinks and dinners, conversations tend to focus on the recent changes in the field and ones projected in the near future.  Panels are typically addressed to topics which would be either unappealling or incomprehensible to someone not familiar with the field.

World Horror is, on its surface, very accessible to fans of horror literature.  It brings in a strong contingent of the people who are currently placing stories at pro rates.  It has a dealer’s room which consistently has available the new books by the convention attendees, some highly sought and desirable collectible books, and some harder-to-find but not particularly expensive older horror books for the reader.  Despite all of that, I have never been to a World Horror which has been fan-heavy; the amateur writer far outnumbers the simple fan at those conventions.

Worldcon, then.  It bears the earmarks of World Horror: many of the current professionals in the field, and a large and varied dealer’s room.  Where it differs is in size, and that size is guided by the huge mass of attending fans.

And it’s shrinking.

The dominant theory as to why goes like this: as science fiction has become more technical, it has lost many of the pre-teen readership to fantasy literature.  Moreover, as other avenues of entertainment have become available, that same early readership has been diminishing.  The result has been what was repeatedly termed at Worldcon as the Greying of the fandom.

Okay, there’s undoubtedly some merit to this.  But I think that overall, it’s the biggest con of them all, and it’s something we’re perpetrating upon ourselves.

Worldcon and World Horror are experiencing the same thing; the difference is that Worldcon has so many older, established fans that the lack of new faces, while noticed, hasn’t seemed imperative until recently.

But a visit to a bookstore shows the problem with the demographic argument.  While it’s undeniable that sales are down, it’s also easy to see that the majority of people buying fantasy, science fiction, and horror are the same people who have always bought it, either as children or adults.

What’s gone away is the incentive to attend the conventions.

The traditional reasons to attend have, in large part, fallen by the wayside, and it seems like people haven’t fully realized it.  Want to have some contact with your favorite author?  Go to their message board and post; chances are fair you’ll wind up with at least incidental contact, and possibly an extended discussion.  Want to know their opinions on a given topic?  Forget the panel, just read their blog. Looking for a signature, or an inscription?  Check their links to their favored booksellers, or buy the author’s backstock directly from them.  Looking for that funny or wild incident at the convention?  Wait two days until the con’s over, then check YouTube.

There were many authors who exhorted the audience to encourage reading among the youth, as if that would somehow generate fan attendance.  I certainly want more kids reading, but I think what’s needed is a serious effort by authors to encourage their younger fans to attend a convention or two, especially things like WHC or Worldcon.

Sure, all of those other things brought those early fans together, and lured new fans to the conventions.  But what keeps people returning year after year, especially in these days of message boards and forums, is the cameraderie and shared history of the attendees.  That can be continued and grown for the science fiction community, and it can be generated in the first place for the horror field.  But it’s going to take some effort, and that effort is going to have to come from all over, not merely a handful of people struggling to keep a convention alive without diluting its soul.

Categories: conferences Tags:

Out Of Sight…

July 10th, 2008 5 comments

A few days ago, I was doing what one does when pet ferrets are bouncing around in the house: I was cleaning up a mess.  In this case, it was a leaky bottle of mentholated rub designed to eliminate mustelid breathing disorders.  The amber liquid had pooled on the dining room table, then extended pseudopds in a few directions.  One of those trails led to a number of business cards which had been nearby, rendering them unsalvagable due to oil absorption.  I wasn’t bothered to have to throw out a card to a book dealer who had since closed shop, but I was a little disappointed to have to toss my Dr. Demento business card…

And then I stopped.  While the bottom cards in the pile had been destroyed, the ones above it were still fine.  The bottommost one to have survived read:


James Sneddon

Horror / Dark Fantasy Author

Current Projects: -Sarah Sweete- supernatural suspense -Sparrow Lake- traditional horror/suspense

The Tolltaker : “Buy it New, Now!”  Horror-Web     “Highly Recommended” David Niall Wilson


I looked at the card for a few moments, and felt depressed.  Maybe a little guilty.  You see, I hadn’t even thought of the man for… it must be at least a year.  And he didn’t die all that long ago.

For those who don’t know, Sneddon was a friendly, frenetic young horror author who attended many of the conventions at the same time as most of the current crop of post-90s authors.  He had great responses to his first novel, which was placed with Five Star.  He died suddenly, and Brian Keene stepped in to try to get some help for Sneddon’s family.  Sneddon, who along with Keene at that time was a frequent poster at the Shocklines web site, was very well liked, and there was a lot of discussion and tongue clucking and sad, regretful comments about his passing.  I donated what I could afford, and sent an ARC of The Tolltaker to Brian… either for him to keep as another memorial of a fallen friend, or to auction off to make a little more cash for the family, if needed.

Flash forward three years.  I’ve watched as a number of other authors have died, some of whom I knew fairly well and some with whom I never had any contact.  Bob Asprin died recently.  James “Robert Jordan” Rigney, who was so excited to get some foreign edition Conans.  Tom Disch, who falls into the “never met” category, but whose “Mankind Under the Leash” I enjoyed all the way back in high school.  Algis Budrys, who Disch was pleased to have outlived.  Wilson Tucker.  Arthur C. Clarke.  James Kisner.  The list goes on and on….

The difference there is that I think of those people all the time.  I spend an inordinate amount of time in bookstores… either my own library/stock area, or in the stores of others.  And when I look over the titles, or breeze through the listings in an anthology, I can’t help but recall them.  Maybe memories of interactions good or bad, or of comments and stories others have told about them, or just of the work they left behind.  Sneddon?  A guy I’d actually met and had a chance to share a drink with?  A guy I posted back and forth with for months on end?  Nothing, for more than a year.

At most of the wakes and funerals I’ve attended, I’ve heard people talking about how the departed will live in the hearts and minds of those they left behind.  I’m a big believer in that, but it only works if people occasionally spend the time to remember the past instead of staring into the future.  I’ve taken Sneddon’s business card off the dining room table and put it up near the computer.  Not to remind me of a dear friend, or of a giant now passed, but rather to remind me to spend some time on occasion to try to remember the other people, the ones on the periphery of my life who earned a little recognition.

As far as writers and artists go, however…

James has a legacy.  He left behind a published novel.  Decades from now, someone will discover one of the surviving copies of that novel and read it, possibly to enjoy it and possibly not, and they’ll hear his voice talking to them through the years, telling them a story.  That’s a pretty good legacy… better than any I expect to leave.

Categories: Writers Tags:

Warning: Smoking May Be Hazardous

June 11th, 2008 10 comments

That warning has shifted from ubiquitous to superfluous over the past twenty-five years.  If you don’t know that smoking can damage your lungs, endanger your child’s birth weight, increase blood pressure, cause cancer and do just about everything but empty your bank account and taunt you with calls from Barbados, you haven’t been paying attention.Sometimes we get personal reminders of the danger.  Anyone who saw Charlie Grant in the last couple of years of his life couldn’t help but have the hazards of smoking impressed upon them.  But, those are the physical risks.  As I’ve written, nearly everyone knows about the health issues.

It’s the other stuff that can blindside people.

Smoking isn’t just dangerous to you; it’s dangerous to your possessions.  The most obvious example of this is the direct cause of smoking: fire.  Smoke doesn’t come without an ember, and those embers can cause fires.  This is, thankfully, uncommon (except in wastebaskets during slapstick comedies) but it does happen and even a tiny fire can quickly grow into a large and destructive one.  Fires start due to faulty wiring or a lightning strike, and they also start because of carelessness or simple accidents with cigarettes.

That’s a rarity, but I think it’s appropriate to bring it up, because if it weren’t for a fire that started in his garden most of Hugh B. Cave’s original pulp magazines and his huge library of pulp-era correspondence would still exist.  Just because something doesn’t commonly happen doesn’t mean it can’t.

Far, far more common is smoke damage.  That occurs over time, and often the smoker doesn’t even realize it’s happening.  This happens when a person smokes in a room containing books; the worse the air circulation and the more smoking is done in the room, the greater the damage will be.  Considering how many authors are smokers, and how many of them have rare books (even if it’s simply in the form of contributor’s copies of their own work) in their homes, this is something that should be considered, but rarely is.

Smoke contains a number of microscopic elements, ranging from tar to acidic chemicals, and those elements deposit upon any nearby material.  They are held aloft because of their small size and the currents of hot air, only to fall as the air cools to surrounding temperatures.  The acids cause discoloration and embrittlement of paper.  This is why the edges of books in a smoker’s home often show those signs.  Moreover, the texture of pages isn’t as smooth as they seem to the casual touch; at a magnified level pages are typically very rough, with dozens of peaks, crags, overhangs and valleys per square inch.  At a microscopic level it’s even worse; paper is shown to be constructed primarily of cellulose, which far more resembles a jumble of interlocking pick-up sticks than a cohesive, solid surface.  This provides locations for the small particulate to lodge, there to continue to damage the surrounding paper even if the book is carefully brushed clean.  Professional cleaning can remove some of the damage from a one-time, massive exposure to smoke.  Long-term exposure is often beyond the capability of even professionals to repair.

There’s a curve to the effect due to paper quality as well.  At the lowest end, with wood-pulp paper, smoke is extremely damaging; it’s less so for typical mass-produced paper, and then very damaging for the higher paper grades.  This is because of the nature of paper itself.  Mass-produced paper is typically ground into a very fine paste and treated with a variety of chemicals; the other styles either allow for far less grinding (in the case of pulp) or incorporate whole woven fibers to improve the paper’s functionality.  The problem associated with this is that plants are constructed of cells, and when the dead cells are allowed to retain their identity within the paper (rather than being flushed clean, leaving only the cellulose behind) they can further trap ultrafine particulate.

This isn’t too important… until you try to sell your books.  That’s when people learn about the lower prices they can expect for books that carry a scent of smoke.  A strong smoke scent typically drops the value of a book between 1/4 to 3/4.  That can mean getting $50 for what would normally be a $200 book.

So, what’s the answer to smoke damage?

The most obvious: don’t smoke.  If that advice is lost (and it will be on many people; if you’re willing to risk your organs you’re probably willing to risk book damage) then do the next best things.  Make sure the seals are good on the room(s) where your books are kept and don’t smoke within that room.  Failing that, keep the room with your books well-ventilated… and not with recirculated air unless you have an abnormally good HEPA filter.  A simple open window, while still not ideal, is still head and shoulders above an improperly ventilated room.

Categories: Science and Forensics Tags:

Magic For Beginners

May 11th, 2008 4 comments

It was Sunday at the L.A. Book Festival.  I’d just met Joe Hill for the first time (a quick greeting and a few words while on a signing line) and had hurried off to get Raymond E. Feist’s signature on some of his early work, thus to increase the books’ future salability.  Unfortunately, Feist wasn’t there; a personal emergency had come up.  I was left with one book left unsigned, by an author who was due to hold a signing in three hours.Rather than loiter at the festival, my companion and I left.  (And this is a lesson for all first-time convention or festival attendees: if you can avoid it, don’t have your panel, signing, or reading scheduled for late Sunday afternoon.  Even early Saturday morning, when many people will be too tired and/or hung over to attend, is a better time slot.)  While walking across the UCLA campus, she asked me an interesting question: After all the time I’ve been getting books signed, and with all of the autographed merchandise I have, had I gotten to a point where requesting one more signature wasn’t as exciting as it used to be?As with most good questions, the answer is both no and yes.  I thought it would be worthwhile to explain that here, as a means of insight into the minds of collectors, fans and dealers.

I still recall the first autographed book I purchased.  It was a copy of King Kobold Revived, written by Christopher Stasheff.  It was a series I enjoyed, and the book only cost $7 because it was a later printing.  Years later, with a host of books from series I enjoy which have been signed by the authors, that particular book is probably in a $3/5 box somewhere.  So… physically, is it less special than it was?  Certainly.  But after almost 20 years, I still smile when I think about how pleased I was to find that book, and that moment in time is no less special.

Nor is my first encounter with Charlie Grant, at a signing for the eighth of Datlow & Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror… my initial meeting with Jack Womack, Douglas Clegg, Kathy Ptacek and Charlie Grant.  Grant was grousing about driving all the way to central Jersey for the signing (although he and Kathy had travelled a shorter distance than any of the other attending authors) and muttering about not having enough books to sign to make it worth the trip (the signing was very poorly advertised, and only about 15 people were in the audience.)  I told him I’d brought a lot of books, he insisted he’d sign as many as I had… and he had to quit just before the hundredth book.  At the time I wasn’t even a dealer, just a fan, and I think he left happy.  Of those 90-odd books, at least half have since been sold or given away as presents, but it doesn’t diminish the memory.

For every author I meet, I’ll usually get one work inscribed to me… typically, the first thing I read from them, or my favorite of their works.  And every such meeting is special, just as it was in the beginning.  It’s not just the first meetings, either; I had a dumbstruck fan reaction the first time I met Mort Castle at a WHC, where he slapped a drink into my hand.  I had a similarly pleasant experience in San Fransisco, where we talked about older horror authors of the 80s, 70s, and even into the 60s while I was manning my dealer’s table.  And in Salt Lake City, where he invited me and my ladyfriend to a small drinking and discussion session with his wonderful wife and the impressive Adam Niswander, in the back of my mind there was still a little voice saying “This is Mort Castle, one of the authors from MASQUES!” (Go check out the ToC on those anthologies, especially the first.  You didn’t have to be famous to get in, but you had to be damned good.  Beaumont, Bloch, Bradbury, both Gahan and F. Paul Wilson, Ardath Mayhar, Lansdale, Silva, Grant, Ray Russell, Salmonson, Nolan, Wolfe, Matheson… just a bevy of great writers.)  But it’s the memories that are important; the inscriptions are nothing more than jogs to that memory, reminders of the past.

Those memories aren’t only meetings, either.  I always put out at least one Steve Spruill book when I do a show.  It’s not that he’s got a huge collector base.  He doesn’t, although he probably should.  It’s that when I was requesting a lot of mail signings, he was the first person who wasn’t only gracious about it, but enthusiastic.  He was thrilled that someone would be trying to keep his older books available for readers.  I’ve since encountered that attitude among other authors… Katherine Eliska Kimbriel is continually delighted when she sees I have her work, for example, and Lillian Steward Carl, as well (another two who should be more widely read than they are.)  I don’t think I’ve ever actually met Steve Spruill, but he’s got a special place in my memories because of his kindness.

One more signature?  Not that important.  I literally have a few hundred dollars’ worth of signed books on my BED right now, behind me as I type, because I don’t have room for them on my shelves, or empty space on the floor.  It’s one reason I’ve been doing a load of ebay auctions of late.  But one more memory?

That’s magic.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

There’s Gold In Them Thar Bookshelves

April 11th, 2008 7 comments

Three quick hits:During the arrangement of a mail signing a few years ago, I mentioned to an author that I’d just missed a chance to pick up a copy of an anthology he’d edited for Arbor House. It was at a chain used bookstore and I thought I’d be smart by heading home to get a coupon before purchasing it; by the time I returned, it had been sold. (I now keep all coupons in the car.) He was amused and told me it wasn’t a big deal; he’d had boxes of the things and had given one away to each student in his college courses for a few years until he ran out of them… leaving them on their desks on the first day of the class. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told him that the anthology typically sells for $100-$150 in hardback now, but I wanted him to realize what he had should he run across a forgotten box in a storage unit.

At a recent convention, an established pro was surprised to see how much some Gregg Press copies of Andre Norton and Poul Anderson novels were selling for at another dealer’s table  He asked me about them. I told him the truth: that the guy was overcharging for them, but that nice copies of the Gregg Press sf books generally are somewhat expensive and desirable because most of the books were sent to libraries and few nice copies exist. The pro commented that he had close to a full run at home and had never given them much thought. After all, they were just reprint books.

At the World Horror Con, a generous and intensely likeable author/collector was lamenting his ability to find one book to round out a set he was hunting at a reasonable price. Someone sitting in the room was surprised to hear the title. “I have a copy of that, as long as I didn’t lend it out.” She had no idea it was rare, much less valuable.

Now, a lot of authors, being self-employed, hit rough patches.   The first thing they do is sell off some of their books.

Most authors keep an ear to the ground for what’s the current hottest thing, andthey recognize which books are perennial classics. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows that the first edition of Psycho, or Carrie, or Baal, or The Rising, or the signed 1st of Heart-Shaped Box is worth a lot of money. If an author has those books, they have them set aside on a bookshelf. When hard times arrive these are the books that inevitably go onto the auction block.

What they might miss is the OTHER stuff. Book value is a weird combination of surviving print run and collector interest. Sometimes books that were immensely popular but were purchased early may be languishing on an author’s bookshelves. Other times, a book may have a very strong core following, larger than the print run but small enough to stay off the radar.

It’s almost impossible to tell without checking. Jonathan Lethem has become quite popular, and his first book went to multiple printings. But a first printing of Gun, With Occasional Music, even unread, will rarely pull more than $30 on ebay. Meanwhile, I sold a signed first printing of John Adams recently for almost $200 and an unsigned first printing of Christoper Moore’s Lamb for about $70. Certain paperbacks (like Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, or Magicians of Gor by John Norman) regularly go for $30 or more.

It behooves authors, who typically wind up with many books as they purchase titles from friends at conventions, or get chapbooks or preview copies during the traditional blurb hunt, to take a little time… just one full day will do it for most, or maybe a weekend for those with extensive libraries… to go through their books. Get the author’s name and the title, and do a search on, or, or Ebay shops. Most of the titles on your shelves will be plentiful… the reason that the paperback edition of Night Shift is only worth a dollar or less is because enough copies of that excellent collection have been printed for everyone in India to read “The Boogeyman” simultaneously. But you might be surprised to see that the goofy Beacon Books softcore sf novel from Philip Jose Farmer you inherited from your dad’s paperback book collection, or the Paperjacks copy of Beware! by Laymon which is in the back of your bookshelf, or the set of Doc Savage omnibuses you bought on a lark, are going for. Or what some of those early Deliriums you purchased because you knew the author are pulling now on the collector’s market, even without the nice mass market contract.

Amazon and abebooks will give you an idea of how much a dealer expects to sell a book for. The fact that they still have the book available to list, though, tells you that it’s not the price you could get for the book immediately. If you want to sell the book quickly, expect to set an asking price of about 60% in a direct sale to collectors, or throw it out on ebay and take your chances (with obscurities, it’s often good to go on the author’s message board and let the fans know you’ve got a copy up for sale… if the author’s cool with that.)

One day. Maybe one weekend, if you’re someone with an extensive library. (For professional editors or book reviewers… you’re on your own, because you probably have more books than furniture. Give it a week.) Learn what you have. Maybe it’ll be nothing… at which case, you’re stuck with a bunch of great things you wanted to read anyway, no great loss. But often, you’ll find something or another in there, possibly a few things. It’s better that you make a few bucks from books you’ve no particular attachment to than the cherished items in your library. Even if you’ve no intention of selling anything at the moment, it’s always good to know the value of your possessions.

And, a quick congratulatory note, first to Dave and Joe for their nomination for SU, and second to Dave for winning the award for best short fiction. I am both honored to be allowed to associate with the people here, and delighted to see Dave get a nod for one piece of a consistently excellent body of work.


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