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Month: January 2010

Lessons from the Slush Pile: the Numbers

Lessons from the Slush Pile: the Numbers

It’s only been 19 days since I started slushing for a Publication Which Shall Not Be Named. I have not seen the level of dreck that I had been led to believe slush piles are full of – what I see is a lot of mediocrity, and I certainly recognize my own work as being in good company at that level. There is much to be said about the content and technique I see, but today I want to talk about the math.

In those 19 days (I started January 3,) I have read 133 stories. Of those, I have recommended about 20 to the editor, though I deeply loved only three of them.

Of those 20, Editor has requested one rewrite – one of my three favorites, I was gratified to know – and accepted none.


Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Guess what: it’s worse.

That’s just the part of the slush that I see. Not the part that Editor reads while I’m busy with my day job, or the part that other slushers are reading. I dropped Editor a line early this morning to see if I could get some real numbers.

Editor has actually received 460+ stories in the past 21 days, and has accepted none of them.

That, my friends, is what we’re up against.

Those three that I loved kind of plague me. One of them came in last night, and I pushed it to Editor full of hope for that author, because I thought it was a beautifully written story that deserves readers. I was disappointed when it was rejected. I hope that someone else will see in it what I saw, and print it.

This information has been messing with me, I’ll admit. One second I’m overwhelmed, knowing how far I have to go before I could possibly attain the level of skill and originality that is required to get picked off the slush pile. The next second I’m ready to go wage war against mediocrity in my own writing.

The odds against us are just staggering. What lengths are we willing to go? How hard are we willing to work?

How bad, exactly, do we want it?

Weird and wonderful

Weird and wonderful

Neglecting the blog again, because life is changing swiftly, and if I say that something is one way today it may be completely different tomorrow, so it seems like I should mostly just shut up for a while. It is all weird and wonderful, though, which is exactly how I prefer life to be.

A couple of updates are in order, though.

Clarion application update: I finally finished a draft and am in Deep Editing mode on “And If They Have Not Died, They Are Living Still.” I have my crits back on “Habitat” and know how I’m going to change it, and I think it will not take long to fix. It’s TALS that is the time sink. This is because it is the most sophisticated story I’ve ever attempted, which may not be saying much, of course. I’m muddling along, trying to make it work the way I think it should. I have no idea whether I’ll succeed. Adam is waving his red pen at me from across the miles, which helps. At least I know I have backup.

Slushery: Wow. Learning a lot. Considering my own reasons for rejecting stories makes it easy to see why others are rejecting mine. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far to look for is tension, a reason to move on to the next paragraph or turn the page. I’d say at least half the stories I see simply lack tension.

Podcast: Have you been listening? The interview with Paolo Bacigalupi that aired on Monday was amazing. If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s what you’ve missed (still available, forever and always, at the site):

Episode 1: Zombie, Video Games, and the End of the World! Guest: Chet Faliszek
Episode 2: Bacigalupilooza! Guest: Paolo Bacigalupi

Upcoming episodes:

Monday January 18, 2010: Episode 3: Robots! War Machines! Robolobsters!
Guest: P.W. Singer
Monday January 25, 2010: Episode 4: Comics, Romance and Mermen
Guest: Marjorie M. Liu
Monday February 1, 2010: Episode 5: Untitled
Guest: Brian Dunning of Skeptoid

Episode 6 is Still a Secret, because the guest hasn’t been confirmed yet, but if they get who they plan to get, the Podtern will squee.

Life: This weekend brings the teenager’s birthday party, recompense to the wee one for putting her through a terribly boring weekend two weeks ago, and yard clean-up in anticipation of El Nino, which is supposed to kick California’s ass over the next three weeks. And I *hope* some recording, slushing, editing, general minioning, and who knows, maybe watch a movie or play a video game, but I’m not holding my breath. Family first, commitments second, creative outlet third, R&R last.

Life just turns on a dime sometimes. And really, it’s all very weird. And very wonderful indeed.

On a day like today

On a day like today

The dog woke me up at 6:00 this morning to the most amazing sunrise. It wasn’t a sunrise limited to the horizon – it was everywhere, like the very air I was breathing was diffused pink and gold light. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The whole day was like that – light suspended in air. I took this picture around 5:00 p.m. outside my house:

light suspended

(Click here for a larger version.)

On a day like that it’s easy to write about fairy tales and magic.

I learned earlier this evening that the man I learned about fairy tales and magic from is coming to Santa Barbara next month. I will finally get to see and hear Neil Gaiman speak, and if I’m lucky, meet him. Needless to say I had ordered my ticket within about 30 seconds of getting the news.

As one friend noted just now, the number of good things happening is really getting unreal. You know what, though? I’ll take it. And I’ll try to take good care of all of it, and not take any of it for granted.

This is not at all about writing.

This is not at all about writing.

It occurred to me today that I may be deeply dense when it comes to certain things.

I think of myself as utterly forgettable. Yes, even with pink hair and the nearly super-human ability to make an ass of myself at the worst possible moment.

And I think that if people I don’t know well are nice to me it’s because they are exceptionally kind and tolerant people. I think very highly of them for it. I consider them polite, poised, and confident, and judge them as having conducted themselves with inscrutable etiquette in the face of my opinions/jokes/small talk/questions. I assume that once we’ve parted they either dismiss me with an indulgent chuckle or forget about me entirely. I am not hurt by this idea. Usually I just hope that I haven’t come across as obnoxious and that they don’t actively dislike me.

Maybe I hope that I’m forgettable.

I remember them because they made an impact, but I assume they forget me. Clearly there is something wrong with my thinking.

I’m nice to people I meet, too – sometimes because I’m being polite, but I generally don’t talk to anyone for an hour without thinking they are interesting and/or awesome.

It just doesn’t occur to me that they may be talking to me for an hour because they think I’m interesting and/or awesome.

I seem to need to be beaten over the head before that occurs to me, sometimes for months, and when it finally does I am utterly astonished, both that it could be true and that I didn’t think of it before. It wasn’t just a nice thing to say, the thing that person said to me, they actually meant it.

I really try to avoid this kind of post on the blog these days, but this was such a revelation, and I thought someone else out there might relate to it.

I swear. Pixie dust. For real.

I swear. Pixie dust. For real.

It is January 5, a mere five days into 2010, and last night I had to put together a Book of Win to record all of the Awesome that is happening in my life right now.

In addition to the Podtern gig*, I also picked up a Slusher** gig yesterday. I think you could hear me squee as far away as Oregon.

I really wasn’t expecting to add anything to the Book of Win today – I mean, who’s that lucky? And then I got an email from Tony C. Smith, Sofa Commander, with a request for a narration. I cannot tell you good people how excited I am about reading this story. I mean, this is just… holy crow, it is going to be SO fun to read. I can’t wait for the weekend so I can dive into this.

Even the day job didn’t suck today.

As I asked on Twitter yesterday… what should I wish for next?***

* Just WAIT until you hear Episode 2. It’s even better than Ep. 1. The interview is AMAZING.

** For the uninitiated, this means that I read unsolicited submissions (the “slush”) for a periodical publication and pass on the things I think Most High Editor might like. It is wonderful experience for an aspiring writer, and another opportunity to support an awesome project.

*** Bearing in mind the Monkey’s Paw**** Rule: any immodest wish will backfire in the more horrifying possible manner. The trick is to keep ’em within reach.

**** This was the first horror story I ever read.

***** Just kidding. I just liked the twinkly effect of the asterisks. debuts the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast debuts the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast

Today the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast debuts over on, featuring John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. In the first episode they cover post-apocalyptic video games and fiction, and interview Chet Faliszek, lead writer on the Left 4 Dead games.

John emailed me yesterday to let me know that I would be credited as the “podtern,” which is a wonderful title and means I don’t have to feel weird about talking about it directly here. Yay!

The most immediate result of all of this for me personally, apart from the satisfaction I get out of helping out on something awesome, is that after listening to the podcast a few times I downloaded DOSBox so I could play Wasteland. :)

Congratulations to John, David, and everyone at on their launch!

Short-Term Goals

Short-Term Goals

In the continued spirit of Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer, I put together my Short-term Goals. I had already started this process back in November, when I hit the Reset button by going to WFC, and I’ve been grooming them ever since.

They will change as things come up. But here we are in the first week of the year, and this is what I’ve got. I’ve organized them in four-month trimesters, ending on October 31 (when I will be at WFC once again!) Here are my goals for November 1, 2009 – February 28, 2010:


Increase number of active submissions to 8 by the end of the year (ending October 31, 2010. Now an even neater trick, given that we’re starting from 0.)
Get a mentor
Subscribe to RoF and Weird Tales; renew Locus Subscription
Blog at least once a week on topics germane
Read everything I got at WFC2009 before WFC2010

November 1, 2009 – March 1, 2010

Register for WFC2010 – done 11/09
Apply to Clarion
Sub Habitat to critters – Adam, John, Matt x, Wendy x, and Robin x
Complete TALS – list of problems made, editing begun
Sub TALS to critters
Revise Habitat per suggestions
Revise TALS per suggestions
Write ‘what I hope to accomplish at Clarion’ essay – 0 draft complete, draft 1 begun, draft 2 complete, proof-read and finalize
Complete Scholarship application
Complete Clarion application
Complete and submit TALS
TALS – find market and submit
Complete and submit SAG
– Complete first draft
– Revise draft
– Critique
– Revise for final draft
– Find market and submit
Read Booklife – completed 12/13/09
Read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
Complete first draft of Sirens
– Research
– Plug existing scenes into Storybook
– Write the rest of the book
Make trunk stories available as MP3s
– Devotions
– Proxy
– Sweetwater Kill
Accept and complete all SFWA tasks
Accept and complete all SSS tasks
Accept and complete all show notes for Unnamed Podcast
– ep. 1
– ep. 2
– ep. 3
Accept and complete all critique requests
– John – complete 12/15/09
– Matt – complete 12/17/09
– Wendy – OWED

So, how about you? What are your goals?

Mission Statement. No, I’m not kidding.

Mission Statement. No, I’m not kidding.

So I picked up Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer at WFC. I have two full shelves of Stuff That Must Be Read, but my friend Adam convinced me that it needed to come first. I read it. A lot of it is information that will be useful in the future, but a couple of things were Immediately Applicable. One of them is the Mission Statement.

I’ve always thought of Mission Statements as a strange corporate by-product of the ’90s, and not to be taken seriously. I’ve seen mission statements that didn’t at all match the way companies actually behaved, and I’ve seen some very New-Agey feel-good personal mission statements that were very hard to not laugh aloud at. So writing one for myself was, to say the least, a [redacted*] stretch.

But something about the way Jeff put it made it make sense. It seems to be a basic guiding principle, and I can get behind that. So I wrote one.

Adam and I have talked a bit about Accountability (a subject he will be expanding on shortly, so go add his blog to your RSS feed.) It’s the beginning of a new year, and in the spirit of Accountability I thought I’d post it here.

Mission Statement
Christie Yant
December 2009

  • To become a respected and well-regarded member of the SFF community through my service, my blog, and my art.
  • To use what good-will I may receive to increase others’ happiness and satisfaction, and benefit the community and other writers.

So, there is it. It’s kind of embarrassing, hanging that out there, like I’m taking myself too seriously. I don’t like the ego reflected in the first part. Be that as it may, it could be worse, and it is a set of principles I hope will guide my decisions and commitments for the coming year.

* Sigh. I really need to clean up my language. Working on it.

In which our author waxes rhapsodic about volunteering for stuff.

In which our author waxes rhapsodic about volunteering for stuff.

As you good people know, I really like doing little volunteer things for the SFF community. Doing volunteer stuff makes me feel like I’m supporting something I love and believe in, and it has introduced me to some incredibly kind people. It adds to the To Do list, and takes time away from other things, but it is an investment I feel is absolutely worth it.

All three of my volunteer commitments seemed to evaporate over the past three months. I felt like I had finally started to get a handle on that narrating thing, and then didn’t hear any more from the Sofa. SFWA is in full Nebula-frenzy, but I haven’t seen a call for volunteers. I had picked up a slush reading gig for a Science Fiction podcast but the editor decided to move on to other things before I was inserted into the process. I have had a couple of moments – very brief ones – of wondering if I had done something wrong (especially with the narration, because I *know* my first two attempts weren’t great, but he only published the third, but maybe he got negative feedback? I’ll probably never know.) But I do put those fears aside pretty quickly and just move on. I’ll be available if they need me.

A couple of other slush reading opportunities have come up, and I haven’t applied for them, thinking that might be a little too much right this very moment. I figured there will be others in the future, and when I’m ready I will raise my hand.

And then today I saw a call for a fairly simple gig – writing show notes for a new podcast. The person asking for volunteers is someone I met at WFC, who was kind and tolerant of my opinions and n00b-level enthusiasm, and struck me as an all-around awesome person I would love to do work for. Fun assignment, great ‘boss,’ – I figured I’d throw my hat in and see what happened.

Result: I started off 2010 adding a bunch of new index cards to my Tasks boards and listening to a podcast none of you have heard yet (NEENER NEENER.) I am ridiculously happy about this opportunity.

Hint: the first episode is about zombies.

I’m always worried about talking about these things, naming names, etc. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m in it for name recognition or am doing it because I think I’m climbing some kind of ladder. That’s not it – it really doesn’t even work that way. Editors don’t print you because they like you or you did them a favor, they print you because they loved your story and it fit their market. Not everyone realizes that. So I don’t think that doing something like this really does anything to help my future career in any way.

I do it because I see the SFF community (perhaps naively) as something wonderful, humble, and whole. Very few get rich here. Very few get famous outside our own field. Ambitions are limited by that, in a lot of ways, to just making great art and telling great stories for five cents a word and the respect of our peers. It was hard to explain that to my family over Christmas – they all love me and want to see me in the New Yorker and pulling in $500k advances, and I had to gently explain to them that’s not going to happen. That’s not what I’m aspiring to. I’m aspiring to being a part of this community, in many different ways. Yes, I want to contribute my art to the pool, and I’ll get there, but in the mean time just being a part of it by writing some show notes, interacting on a business level with just one person who publishes stuff I have no interest in writing but has the respect of the community, and for good reason – that keeps me going. That makes me feel like I’m participating in sustaining this thing. Like I’m pulling my weight.

So we’ll hope that I don’t somehow manage to blow these show notes, and that this becomes something I can be a small, anonymous part of for a long time to come.

I doubt my new Boss will read this, but on the off chance that he does – thanks for getting my new year off to such a great start. Cheers.