Tag Archive for snail mail

The Snail Mail Slush Pile Rises Again

When editor Perry Terrell informed me via emailOld Snail Mail Box that my short story, “A Stockton Wedding Reception,” will appear in The Ultimate Writer (September 2013) next month, I didn’t know anything about it. Neither the short story nor the magazine sounded familiar to me. The first thing that came to mind that this was a very old snail mail submission that sat in a slush pile for years before the editor got around to reading.

A virtual search of the old manuscripts—I’ve shredded the paper files months ago—turned up the short story. The opening line for the first paragraph was a writing prompt from The First Line magazine.

Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. They arrived in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall in Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the heavy scent of cow manure hung in the air. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their best clothes. The loud buzz in air was from people talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over a cow pie. Paul and Miriam greeted each other when introduced by their dates, Jacob and Verde, who left them alone at their table to get some refreshments.

This particular short story was probably the last snail mail submission I made before switching over to email submissions two years ago. One short story, “The Unfaithful Camera,” was out of circulation when an editor accepted it for publication a year after submission. Several rejection slips arrived 18 months late since a putsch against the editor at a university magazine delayed sending out responses.

I’ve since rewritten and published “A Stockton Wedding Reception” as an original ebook, “Let Me Be Your Spook,” making the original version unavailable for first serial publication and the ebook version available as a reprint. I altered the writing prompt by replacing the period with a comma to extend the sentence and changing the names to make the story a prequel to my short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” about retiring old spies.

George and Gracie met the old-fashioned way in the mid-1950’s, arriving in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall outside of Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the smell of cow manure hung heavily in the sweltering heat. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their finest wedding clothes. The loud buzzing came from everyone talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over the cow pies in the surrounding fields. They shook hands when introduced by their respective dates, Verde and Jacob, who left them sitting together at a back table to get refreshments.

Although the opening paragraphs are quite similar, the differences between the two stories are in the slant. Both have two people meeting for the first time because their dates were more interested in seeing each other in defiance of church rules on dating. The original version has the couple discussing church gossip and the theological implications. The ebook version has the couple discussing church politics in terms of a Cold War conspiracy, as both will become a future husband-and-wife spy team.

After trading emails with the editor, and reading both versions of short story side-by-side, I decided to let the original version be published after some minor editing. The editor has previously published my earlier flash story, “The Forgotten Sinner,” in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). The original version of the short story has the same spirit as that early flash story. Since the editor gave me a break, I’m willing to extend the same professional courtesy.

Some Things Never Change At The Local Post Office

Post Office Mail BoxAt the height of my snail mail submission days, I would go to the post office every six weeks to drop off 18+ envelopes containing my short story manuscripts. (I often had 50+ manuscripts circulating in the slush piles.) With email submissions, I seldom go to the post office anymore. That changed recently when I decided to pursue the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification for my non-writing tech career.

Although it’s possible to pass the CCNA without any Cisco hardware by using a software network simulator, I chose to build out my testing rack by acquiring three routers and two switches from Cables & Kits. That’s $400 USD in hardware for a $400 USD certification that could double my yearly non-writing income from $50,000 USD to $100,000 USD. If you have limited hands on experience with Cisco equipment, building out your own testing rack is the way to go.

For smaller stuff like interface cards, memory modules, network cables and tools, I turned to eBay to find cheaper deals. I discovered that I could buy these items for a few dollars above wholesale prices without paying the 50% markup at Cables & Kits or Fry’s Electronics. Everything I bought from eBay got shipped through the post office.

I noticed two things about mail delivery at my apartment complex. If the package was small enough to shove into the mailbox or a package lockbox is available, I’ll find either my package or the lockbox key in my mailbox. If the package was too big, I’ll find a yellow pickup slip to pick up my package from the Willow Glen post office. The postal person never bothers to see if anyone is at home to take the package. As a friend who worked at the post office once told me, the postal person has two hours to deliver mail to 300+ mailboxes and delivering packages to the door wasn’t part of that.

This pickup arrangement with the post office works fine for me. I cringed whenever I see an Amazon box being left out in the hallway, knowing how easy someone can walk by to steal the box. A San Francisco woman got so frustrated with her Amazon boxes disappearing that she chased the thief with a wooden sword and bear spray.

This week I went down to the post office to pick up several packages before going into work. One person stood at the package counter, three people stood at the retail counter. A wall separated the two counters. I stepped in line at the package window. The voice of a woman having a very intimate cellphone call drifted through the wall of mailboxes to my left. I don’t think the postal employees realizes that people can hear them talk from the other side, or they just simply don’t care.

The elderly man in front of me said that no one was around to help him. With the cellphone conversation still going on, I took several steps back to look at the other line and went to the retail counter. The postal clerk berated me for being in the wrong line, but, since there were no other customers in line behind me, she would get my packages anyway. We got into a spirited argument about whether being in the right line was more important than my limited time before going into work.

When she brought my packages to the counter, she said that the woman in back was helping another customer. I noticed the elderly man leaving the building empty-handed, and pointed him out to her that he had waited 15 minutes without being helped. She muttered that he should have used the bell to summon someone. When I mentioned that there was no bell at the package counter, she muttered that I was still in the wrong line.

Some things never change at the local post office.

Shredding The History Of Old Manuscripts

Shredding Documents For RecyclingAs a teenager destined to write the next Great American Novel, I wrote for history and saved every single page (including pages I should have crumpled up and tossed into the waste basket). Generations of English majors would toil to trace my inspirations through the voluminous pages of my old manuscripts. And then the REAL WORLD™ intruded. Becoming a writer became a childish fantasy. All those old manuscripts from my teenage years were lost when I became an adult. The story ideas from that time continued to bang around in my head for years, which drove me crazy at times.

When I became serious about writing in my mid-thirties in 2006, I still wrote for history and saved every single page (except for those that I crumpled up and tossed into the wastebasket). I eventually wrote 80+ short stories, a 25,000-word novella, a 120,000-word unpublished first novel and several aborted novels. This filled out a four-drawer filing cabinet in my office and four storage boxes in the closet. I also have stacks of file folders with unfinished manuscripts on a back table in my office area.

Keeping paper manuscripts made sense back in the snail mail submission days when I had 50+ manuscripts circulating in the slush piles, spending $100 USD a month on office supplies and postage, and visiting the post office every six weeks. Drowning in paper came with the job. A successful writer would have numerous filing cabinets lining a long wall in his office.

When I stopped writing literary short stories and started writing speculative short stories in 2009, snail mail submissions gave way to email submissions. Soon I had 30+ short stories published in anthologies. Those published short stories later became ebooks. I slowly embraced the mythical paperless office as I used paper less often for editing my manuscripts.

After my father passed away from lung cancer this past May, I went through and tossed out 98.8% of his stuff. A sad reality when you consider that we go through life to accumulate stuff that our heirs will toss into the dumpster after we die. I brought a heavy-duty paper shredder to destroy his financial and medical paperwork.

I recently realized I was no longer writing for history but for business. As a small business owner, I have numerous problems with writing new content, publishing ebooks and maintaining websites that needed solutions now. Writing the next Great American Novel was no longer a practical business goal. History can sort itself out and generations of English majors can suffer without my help.

Besides, if my heirs will be tossing out 98.8% of what I owned at the end of my life, I might as well get a head start by shredding my old manuscripts. Before I shred a set of manuscripts, I made sure that I consolidated all the electronic files into my DropBox folder. I’m planning to move the file folders off the back table into the filing cabinet and destroy any working papers after a year. The mythical paperless office might become a reality in 2013.

 

Do You Have A Literary Doppelnamer?

Paper PeopeWhen I became serious about being a writer in 2006, I did an Internet search for variations of my legal name and found another “writer” using a short version of my name. (I added quotes since he haven’t published much of anything in the last six years.) The author name that I came up with was the initials of my first and middle names combined into a first name. All the search results for my author name pops right up without any competition.

The word for finding an identical or similar name as your own on the Internet, according to Carrie Kirby of the San Francisco Chronicle, is doppelnamer (a play off the German word, doppelganger).

At least [Norb] Vonnegut’s name is linked to someone [Kurt Vonnegut] with a good reputation. Not so for Michael McAfee, an Ocean Beach (San Diego County) podcast producer who had an escaped convict for a doppelnamer. Tara Murphy, a recent law school graduate and blogger in Minnesota, has been dogged by a whole pack of Tara Murphys with overdue library books, DUI arrests and sexy pictures.

The only problem that I have with my author name is that certain ebook websites don’t handle abbreviated names properly in their search results and return all the ebook listings by last name only. (My family name, Reimer, is supposedly the German equivalent to Smith in the United States.) Back in the snail mail submission days of six years ago, ebooks publishing wasn’t on my radar. If I were starting over as a writer today, I would pick a different author name without the abbreviations.

As for my legal name, I embraced all my dopplernamers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the search results. The dopplernamers helps preserve my secret identity as a writer from my non-writing job in Silicon Valley. But my legal name has the opposite problem when hiring companies conduct a social media search as my anonymous alter ego ceased to exist in the late 1990’s. Most computer technicians leave behind an Internet trail as wide as the debris field of a crashed airplane. By the time that a lack of Internet presence becomes a problem, I’ll be making a living as a full-time writer.

The Emotional Baggage That A Male Reader Brings To The Novel

Several months ago I started downloading free fiction ebooks from Amazon for the Kindle App on my iPod Touch. I normally don’t read fiction ebooks since I’m a dead tree traditionalist who prefers flipping the pages of paperbacks. Two years of unemployment and three months of being underemployed doesn’t leave much money for buying stacks of paperbacks, even if the local Borders stores are going out of business. Naturally, each of the free ebooks was the first book in a series. If you’re hooked on the series after the first book, you just have to read all the other books.

I read “Bright of The Sky (The Entire & The Rose, Book 1)” by Kay Kenyon, about spaceships fueled by black holes that creates an inter-dimensional rip to a strange world larger than our universe and how one man came back tell to everyone but no one believed him. I read the other books, “A World Too Near” and “City Without End,” the following weekends. I still haven’t the fourth book, “Prince of Storms,” since I’m taking a break from the series. The last two books were each read in a single eight-hour sitting from beginning to end. I like books that don’t demand being read all at once.

Some of the best science fiction in recent years has come from women authors. Having grown up reading science fiction written mostly by men during the 1970s and 1980s, I appreciate the different concerns, ideas and viewpoints that women authors can bring to the genre. But sometimes a woman author can provoke a strong visceral response in a male reader like myself.

The other free ebook that I downloaded was “Hunted By The Others” by Jess Haines, about a human woman private detective hired by the mages to retrieve an artifact being kept by the vampires that can take control of the werewolves. The Others, of course, hate each other, and a pro-human group wants to kill them all off. An interesting premise for a new urban fantasy series.

Unlike the heroines in all the other urban fantasy series, Shiarra Waynest doesn’t start kicking ass once the story gets started. She is a fearful woman who is easily intimidated and disrespected by anyone more powerful than she is; especially the men who like to shove her around. Like fingernails across a chalk board, I cringed throughout the first half of the book. I absolutely hated it. But, being a glutton for punishment, I read the second half and absolutely loved it. Why? The heroine acquired several magical items that boosted her physical abilities and confidence in herself to start pushing back against the guys. Everyone suddenly starts respecting her to avoid getting their asses kicked, and she gets the job done to her satisfaction.

I haven’t had such a strong visceral reaction to a book since I read “Cell” by Stephen King, where my favorite minor character got killed off in a senseless act of violence in a “you know something really bad is coming around the corner” scene. I threw the paperback across the room and let it sit on the floor for a week before I could pick it up again.

But my reaction to “Hunted By The Others” was much different. As a male reader, I brought a lot of baggage when reading this ebook that colored my perception of the characters.

Strong Resistance Threshold

Unlike reading other genres, reading urban fantasy requires a significant amount of emotional investment. The world building is often much more extensive than some epic fantasy or science fiction books. You got to learn a whole new set of rules about how the characters interact with each other and  the urban environment around them. Whatever you think you might know about magical creatures is often tossed out of the window (i.e., vampires may walk in sunlight because they’re not that dead yet or a separate species not related to homo sapiens). Sometimes I have control issues about letting going of the familiar world around me to embrace someone else’s fantasy world.

For the longest times, I was reading only Jim Butcher and Kim Harrison, then Ann Agguire came along, and I recently read Jeannie Holmes. I started branching out into reading more urban fantasy since my first novel is about a video game company haunted by a troll-like ghost, which could be either horror and/or urban fantasy. Horror has its own internal logic—cue “Twilight Zone” music—but urban fantasy is a much different animal. I haven’t read enough urban fantasy to decide if I want to revise the rough draft in that direction.

Kick Ass Women In Film

Starting with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the “Alien” movies, Milla Jovovich as Alice in the “Resident Evil” movies, Uma Thurman as The Bride in “Kill Bill” movies, Michelle Rodriguez in too many movies to name (although I thought she was too feminine in the recent “Battle: Los Angeles” movie), and even 13-year-old Chloe Moretz as the Hit Girl in “Kick Ass,” have all been kick ass women who weren’t afraid of picking up a weapon, shoving the men aside, and getting the job done. I rarely see movies about a weak and fearful woman being pushed around by men. I’m more likely to get ticked off at the husbands in some movies who are being jerks and want a divorce because their wives are trying to accomplish something meaningful (i.e., “Juno” and “Freedom Writers”).

If you read the summaries for most urban fantasy series, the heroine is almost always a kick ass woman. I think that is why I enjoy reading urban fantasy, being a reflection of the movies I have seen since the 1970s. Had I grown up in an earlier era, maybe I would enjoy reading more novels about big men, big guns and big boobs. Although the hero shagging the girl every other chapter would get on my nerves just as much as the obligatory five pages of romance porn found in most urban fantasy novels.

Mother Was A Fearful Woman

My mother had an overwhelmingly negative influence in my life. House and child were her exclusive domain that my father had no say in, and the garage was off-limits to her since that was my father’s exclusive domain. I was never allowed in the garage since I belonged to her. Throw in case of beer every Sunday afternoon after grocery shopping, hell hath no fury than a fearful woman on a drunken rampage. I ducked a lot of beer bottles, dishes and pots while growing up.

My father was a complete stranger to me until I turned 18-years-old, when he announced that I was his and we worked together in construction for two years in San Francisco (50 miles was how far he needed to escape from her). When I left home for college and joined the campus ministry, I still couldn’t escape from my fearful mother. For years I had to call her every night to reassure her that I was all right. I didn’t find freedom until she committed suicide by letting her breast cancer go untreated in 2004, and, through counseling several years later, I decided to become a writer.

An ideal woman for me is someone who has fiery temper and a very short fuse. Why? If she gets pissed off, she will get into my face and tell me why. Nothing makes me madder than a fearful woman telling me that she is afraid to talk to me because she thinks I might get mad at her. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to know about it so I can change. I can’t change myself for the better if no one tells me what is wrong. Maybe because I’m a big guy who comes across as being a natural for raping, pillaging and burning, people assume things that aren’t there. (One unpaid ministry leader strongly suggested that I rape a woman in the church to start my career as a future California serial rapist and make everyone happy by going to prison.) Or maybe because I’m conditioned by books and movies to live in a world filled with strong women that I have unrealistic expectations about real women in general.

A month after I reading that “Hunted By The Others,” I started dissecting why I hated and loved that book in #ufchat on Twitter. Then someone causally mentioned that Jess Haines was lurking in the background—Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!—and a moment later she started replying to my tweets. We had a nice conversations about merits of taking her urban fantasy series in a complete different direction. Last week she sent me signed copies of all her novels in the snail mail: “Hunted By The Others,” “Taken By The Others,” and “Deceived By The Others” (coming out on July 5, 2011). It’ll be interesting to see if I can leave my emotional baggage behind when reading the first book in paperback.

Amanda Hocking – Young, Ambitious and Whining About The Work?

The writing blogosphere is alit this with the news of Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old writer from Minnesota who had written nine ebooks and sold 900,000 copies, was looking for a traditional publisher and signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. That’s like winning the lottery. For those of us tolling away in relative obscurity from the bright lights of the publishing world, the message is loud and clear: sell enough copies of self-published books and/or ebooks, the traditional publishing world will soon slobber for the opportunity to throw down big money on the next big thing. However, Hocking’s reason for wanting a traditional publishing deal is somewhat curious.

But here’s what I can say – I’m writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before in my post – Some Things That Need to be Said – I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.

What makes her think that by signing a four-book contract with a traditional publisher she will actually have more time as a writer who actually writes?

Some of the more bothersome tasks of being a DIY writer will go away with a traditional publisher. But, by signing a four-book contract, Hocking is trading in the idiosyncratic demands of running her own writing business for the idiosyncratic whims of a traditional publisher concern about the bottom line.

She will have to write, submit, revise and proofread on the publisher’s schedule. If she gets sent out on a nationwide book tour for several weeks or months, she may find it next to impossible to find time to write on the road. Or, if she does find the time to write, the quality of her writing may suffer. Although she may now be a successful ebook writer in the virtual world, her dead tree books may fail to find a broad enough audience in the real world to justify the large advance being paid out and the publisher could easily cancel the contract after the first book. If that happens, finding her next publisher will be problematic and going back to being a DIY writer even more so.

Stephen King, who spends every day writing, had to hire assistants to handle the administrative side of his publishing empire. Even living out in far-flung Maine doesn’t prevent the publisher, media and Hollywood from making excessive demands on his time that can take him away from writing. Every now and then, he reportedly drops out of sight to focus exclusively on his writing.

I mentioned on #writechat this past Sunday that I missed my early days of submitting short stories by snail mail. I would go to the post office with 20 to 30 envelopes, come home to write new short stories, and the responses to my submissions would start to tickle in six weeks later. The following weekend I would prepare all the rejected short stories for submission again, go back to the post office, and write new short stories for the next six weeks. Every seventh weekend I did nothing but admin tasks. I did that for three years straight.

Then two years ago I started submitting my short stories by email. This came about because literary magazines were starting to move away from snail mail submissions, and I started writing speculative fiction for anthologies that accepted submissions only by email. My office expenses for paper, envelopes and postage dropped by two-thirds.

Unfortunately, now that everything is done by email and I recently started publishing short story ebooks, it seems like I have less and less time to write because of all the admin tasks that need to get done. Even if I did finish revising the 700-page rough draft of my first novel and found a traditional publisher, the admin tasks will still demand more of my time. Being a writer these days is no longer about being a writer who writes.

The Non-Universal RTF File Format

Over the past year or so, I have switched from submitting my short stories via snail mail to email. That decision was driven by both economics and practicality. Being without a full-time non-writing job for 16 months had forced me to reduce expenses to live on my unemployment benefits. Fewer snail mail submissions means buying fewer reams of paper, envelopes and stamps. Since I’ve been on a speculative fiction writing bender for the last nine months, many of those markets accept submissions only by email. The manuscript is submitted either in the body of the email, or attached as a Word (.doc) or RTF (.rtf) file. Of the two file formats, RTF (Rich Text Format) is the universal format that should open in any word processor on any system.

Several editors had recently informed me that wasn’t true. They could view the contents of the RTF file on the screen without problem. When they try to format and/or print out the text, strange symbols appear on the end of each line. Two things became quite obvious: I’m using a Mac and the editors are using Microsoft Word 95 or another older word processor.

My primary word processor is Pages (Mac) for creating and maintaining my manuscript files. I also use Microsoft Word 2004 to double-check my manuscripts against the grammar checker (expect a rejection slip if you don’t do this) and ensure that the Word file exported from Pages work without problem. The only reason why I don’t use Word by default is that it runs slower than molasses on my MacBook, which uses Rosetta to emulate PPC CPU software on the Intel CPU. I might switch to Microsoft Word 2011 when it comes out later this year. I’m overdue to upgrade my writing tools.

Why are some editors still using Word 95 that came out for 15 years ago? Beats me.

I can’t imagine an editor being more cash-strapped than a writer when it comes to writing tools. Perhaps these editors are working for bootstrap publishers that haven’t let go of the bootstraps yet. The full version of Microsoft Office is always expensive, but the student version is quite affordable.

Some academic editors still use WordPerfect because their colleges upgrade software at a glacial pace. I very much doubt I’ll ever run into a hard-core WordStar fanatic who lives and die by the 1980’s word processor. An instructor warned me that I might encounter such a person when I took a technical writing course San Jose State University in 1994. These older word processors have problems reading the newer RTF files that have unsupported features such as character encoding and password protection, and don’t recognize that files created on the Mac have the end of line encoded differently than Windows.

What’s the solution for this problem?

Export the file from Pages as an RTF file, open the file in Word, and re-save the file as a Word 95-compatible RTF file (you will need to select this option from the pull-down menu). You could also use TextEdit to re-save the file, but that would be a Word 97-compatible RTF file and I’m not sure if that would be compatible with Word 95.

If I submit a manuscript to a market that requires an RTF file attachment, I’ll send it out as Word 95-compatible RTF file to avoid having problems. Some editors are willing to work with you on a file compatibility issue. Most editors will find it easier to reject a submission for having a “corrupt” file attachment.

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