Tag Archives: Writing


I’ve been working on a collection of non-genre short stories lately, so I’ve been submitting them to a different breed of magazine than I have in the past. Rejection is no longer a matter of “slips” nowadays. Has someone coined “e-slip” yet to cover these?

In any case, it’s all part of the Great Game, and I am philosophical rather than discouraged by rejection at this point in my life. I look back at my first science fiction sale for a perfect example of the random aspect of this enterprise. I had sent the story to Analog, one of the two biggies in the science fiction world. It was in due course rejected by them. Analog was considered the more hard-core science fictional of the two, and this story was more allegorical than high-tech. So I pulled out a new pair of 9×12 manila envelopes, because the second one was an SASE, of course, and sent it off to Asimov’s Science Fiction, which was known for having a broader range of stories. To my delight, it was accepted.

And then came the wonderful thing: The story won the magazine’s annual Readers’ Poll Award for Best Short Story. I was ecstatic, and not just because of the $250 cash prize, but because of the recognition this early in my career.

The ceremony was on a top floor of the Bertelsman Building, the company that owned the publisher of the magazine at the time. They also owned Analog, and the same reception honored the recipient of that magazine’s Readers’ Poll Award. While we were mingling, I was introduced to the writer of the Analog winning story. He pulled me aside.

“Just between you and me,” he said. “Did you by any chance submit your story to Analog?”

“As a matter of fact, I did,” I replied. “They rejected it.”

He gave me a huge grin.

Asimov rejected mine,” he said.

I Never Met A Meta That I Liked

I have become very fond of “iZombie,” a show with writing that did not settle for the obvious with the premise[s]. Mystery Writer Brain is quite satisfied with the less than obvious solutions and occasionally very devious means of murder. The cast settled into their roles and hit their strides in about five episodes [compare “Buffy,” where they found their comfort level in Season 2], and the lead, played inevitably by a New Zealander playing an American better than most American actresses, rings changes on the personality shifts brought on by ingesting murder victims’ brains [yes] with subtle touches rather than over the top caricatures.

Except, except, except … I am perfectly happy to accept any fantasy/sci-fi/non-reality world as long as it follows its own internal rules. [See previous rant about Steven Moffat’s writing for “Doctor Who” in my FB note.] There is a character on “iZombie” who is assuming an alias while leading her double lives. I just picked up that her name in one life is Gilda, while in the other, Rita. Rita Hayworth played “Gilda,” of course.

While it is perfectly possible for a  character named Gilda to adopt the Rita alias in tribute to her namesake, it also throws me out of the world. It’s the writer signalling the viewer that, “Hey, this is written! Here we are! Are we not clever? And how clever are you for noticing?”

This has popped up in a few other shows and/or movies that I’ve enjoyed. In “Angel,” the “Buffy” spin-off, John Rubinstein had a recurring role as the head of the demonic law firm [no redundancy joke here, please] Wolfram and Hart. In his last scene, immediately before his demise, he’s shouting, “I want my corner of the sky!” Being about two decades older than the target audience for the show, I spotted the reference to the song, “Corner of the Sky.” From the show, “Pippin.” Which I saw twice on Broadway. With John Rubinstein as … Pippin, singing that song.

It’s cute, it has nothing to do with the plot, and provides a self-congratulatory wink. Yes, there are people who like that kind of thing, but it takes you momentarily out of the world, and the gain, the smugness of feeling you’re on the inside with the writer, is outweighed by the annoyance of being distracted.

Last example: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” The Marvel movies are filled with Easter Eggs and shout-outs to the loyal fans, making them all part of the big, happy club. Nothing wrong with that. I am not geeky enough to know or spot all of them, but I have been going to and for the most part enjoying these interconnected movies. So, there’s a scene where Cap reconnects with Nick Fury, who has [spoiler alert, but you’ve seen this by now] faked his death. They meet by Fury’s grave. Carved on his tombstone, the Biblical quote beginning with “The path of the righteous man …” that was used by Jules in “Pulp Fiction.” Both Jules and Nick Fury were played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Again, cleverness rears its head. See? says the writers. We’re so cool that we can reference other movies while inside the movie! But it jolts you outside the zone they have [hopefully] put you in.

As always, I am guilty of that which I critique. In my book, “Jester Leaps In,” a character named Simon is later revealed to be a former member of the Knights Templar. “Simon’s a Templar?” exclaims another character. And those of us old enough to remember “The Saint” will no doubt see the halo appear over Roger Moore’s head.

Forgive me. I was young.

Dak’s Law

“Right now I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself.”

Recognize that quote? Of course, you do. Dak [or Dack, depending on the source] was Luke Skywalker’s gunner in the battle scene early in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The moment he uttered those fateful words, every thinking being in the theater knew that he was toast.

As a writer and as a viewer, I am irked when I am aware of the writing — which is to say, when I am aware of the open manipulation of my sympathies. When this happens, it creates the opposite effect. Instead of being sympathetic, and later saddened at the sudden and wholly unanticipated demise of said sympathetic and startlingly wrongly optimistic character, I sit there thinking, “Really? They’re doing that?” And the inevitable demise has no impact whatsoever.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing is manipulation. But good writing doesn’t let you know it’s happening. The use of this particular cliché undercuts the surprise, the shock, the pathos. Maybe I am oversensitive to it, but my resentment is at the clumsiness of the attempt, of the contempt of the writer for his/her audience. [I await the comments of any of my readers who wish to point out instances of my doing exactly this. Never said I was perfect.]

What brought this to mind was the mini-series “Fargo,” set in the same world as the great Coen brothers movie. Dominated by the brilliant performances of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman, the plotting and writing have been gleefully perverse, giving me a great deal of pleasure in the twists, never mind that the three hitmen and the one amateur murderer have been exceptionally careless in leaving behind video evidence, fingerprints, witnesses and so forth.

But along comes Episode 9, “A Fox, a Rabbit and a Cabbage.” Lester’s approach to Malvo is both dangerously stupid and extremely out of character, forcing the plot points, but that’s just bad plotting. The invocation of Dak comes from the monologue of Lester’s new wife, Linda — a sad story of her sad childhood, and how her hopes that her Prince Charming would come and here he is in the form of Lester and isn’t everything going to be wonderful. And we immediately know that she is doomed.

It happened in “Dexter,” on Rita’s last episode in Season 4. She expressed her hope in the future and delight that everything seemed to be working out well for them at last, and I felt sadness at the termination of Julie Benz’s contract. Robert, my son, said he saw her death coming from the first episode of that season. Somewhere, Dak was yelling, “Girl! Get out of town now!”

So, here endeth the lesson. If you want to surprise your viewer or reader, don’t tell them the character is going to die. We may still like the character — but we’re not going to respect its creator.