Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Analog without Stan

Locus just announced that Stan Schmidt will be retiring as editor of Analog.  The news saddens me, of course, and I will miss his guidance.  In a very real sense, Stan started my career.  He was the first editor to send me a personal rejection letter.  For the non-writers out there, most editors receive so many story submissions each month that they cannot possibly write a reply to each one.  Instead, they must send form letter rejections, things like, "Thank you for letting me read your story, but it is not right for this magazine."  Believe me, I have a stack of those in a drawer; most writers do.  Stan was the first editor to move one of my stories out of the "slush" pile and give it more detailed consideration.  He rejected the story, but sent me a two page rejection letter where he spelled out what he liked and what needed improvement.  He advised me to put the story aside for a year or so and write more stories to hone my skills.  I followed his advice, of course.  I sent him several stories in the year or two following; all of them came back with personal rejections which spelled out what I needed to work on and offered encouragement to continue writing.  When I finally looked back at that first story that he had commented on, I saw very clearly how flawed it was.  I was glad he had rejected it; I would have been embarrassed to have it in print!  With a couple years of experience and guidance under my belt, I rewrote the story and sent it back to Stan.  That story was Thanksgiving Day, and Stan made it my first professional sale.

In addition to publishing my stories, Stan pulled me into the SF community.  In his response to one of my stories, he asked if I was planning to attend the SFWA reception in NYC and, if I was, would I be interested in lunch with him and a few other writers.  Noob that I was, I didn't even know there was a SFWA reception in NYC.  I had bee writing in a partial vacuum, talking to a handful of people in my writer's group and on the Analog forum.  Suddenly I had an invitation to meet the top editor in the field!  I didn't hesitate to take the day off work and grab a bus into the city.  I still consider that lunch with Stan, Carl Frederick, and Jamie Rubin a highlight of my career.  The conversation was all over the place, as you would expect, from SFWA politics to physics to Swahili (both Stan and Carl are fluent).  At the SFWA reception that night, Stan dragged me over to the "Analog table," where I met Ian Randal Strock, Dan Hatch, and countless others who until then were just names in the table of contents.

I will miss Stan.  I'll miss the thrill of reading an acceptance letter from him, and I'll even miss his clear and cogent rejection letters.  I'll miss seeing him at SFWA events and cons.  But when I feel sad, I have two happy thoughts to hang onto. First, Stan says he will now have time to focus on his own writing, so we'll all have some good stories to read soon.  Second, Trevor Quachri will be taking over the helm at Analog.  I haven't yet met Trevor, but I have exchanged a few emails with him in dealing with galleys and the mechanics of publication.  He has always been professional, helpful, and pleasant, and I look forward to meeting him in person one day--hopefully at Worldcon.  Better, he has worked with Stan for years and knows the vision for Analog.  I'm sure he'll bring his own style to that vision and things will change a bit, but I'm also sure that the overall guiding principals will remain in place.

Good luck, Stan.  I cannot possibly thank you enough for all you have done for me.  You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sweet Sixteen

We celebrated my daughter's sixteenth birthday this weekend.  Her birthday is actually at the beginning of September, but she wanted to have the party now, at the end of summer break, while we had time to plan and execute, and her friends had plenty of free time.  Sixteen is kind of a big deal for kids...and for parents too, come to think of it.  My little girl is growing up!

Her party provides a good indicator of who she is growing into.  She writes, you see, and researches heavily to get the details right.  Her research for one particular story left her with a love of 1920s culture.  She is also a huge fan of cyberpunk--the literature, the music, the style.  She combined the two into the theme for her party, a 2020s-era speakeasy.  After banning smoking, fatty foods, and sugary drinks, the government turns its eye on alcohol and prohibition returns with a vengeance in the early 2020s.  Underground bars spring up, and pop culture begins emulating the 1920s, complete with electroswing music and bootlegger gangs.  So we spent two days turning my back yard into a 21st-century speakeasy.  Every one of her friends showed up in period costume, which says a lot about the quality of my daughter and her friends.

It was fun watching a bunch of modern sixteen year olds dressed as flappers and gangsters, dancing to electroswing.  And it was fun playing the "bartender," challenging new arrivals for the password (Kevin sent me) and serving drinks like White Mule (Sprite) and Coffin Varnish (Diet Coke).  It's even more fun to look back and realize that the party was uniquely my daughter's, a window into her world.  Who would build their birthday party around a theme that requires a paragraph of back story?  An intelligent, creative young woman, that's who, and one with the character to select intelligent and creative friends.

Who has my daughter become?  A science geek, a writer, an honor student, a fangirl, and so much more.  She makes it easy to be a proud parent.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Sad Anniversary

A year ago at this time, one of my former students suffered a brain aneurysm and died.  His name was Jay Brownell and he was in his mid-twenties--far too young.  I have dealt with the loss of students before, but this one was especially difficult for me because Jay was one of *my* students.  He was one of those students who spent more time in my classroom than all the rest of the rooms combined.  He took every class I teach, even if he wasn't interested in the subject, just for the sake of being in my class.  He stayed after school to play chess with me.  We played D&D together.  He was a big, gentle, bear of a man.  He had a rather warped sense of humor; after he went through my C++ programming class, I could never again use the term "dangling pointer" without thinking of him and laughing.

Everyone who knew Jay has a thousand stories; this is my favorite.  When he was a student in my class, I think only a freshman, he joked about taking me out drinking.  I told him he'd have to wait until he was 21, laughed, and forgot about it.  Throughout his time in high school, he would periodically remind me that I had to drink a beer with him when he reached 21.  Years later, he called me and insisted on taking my entire family out to dinner to thank me for being his teacher.  And of course he ordered a couple of beers and we finally got to drink beer together.  That's the kind of guy he was--sweet, funny, and generous.

I can't even imagine how difficult this past year has been for his family.  Even though I maintained only sporadic contact with him after he graduated, I feel his loss every day.  He was young and full of life, the kind of guy who made the world a better place.  He was my student, and he may well have been the best teacher I ever had.