Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Remembering Ralph Vicinanza

I learned today that literary agent Ralph Vicinanza died this past Sunday. Ralph represented some of the biggest names in sci-fi, fantasy and horror. He was also a truly great guy.

I worked for Ralph for a stint in 1999 and, although life carried me elsewhere pretty quickly, I was at the agency long enough to gain great respect for the man. He was incredibly busy – as you might expect – but when you sat down with him, his entire attention was on you. This was both intimidating and wonderful; and it was a kind of intensity I’ve rarely encountered again.

There were times I heard Ralph yell, sometimes at very powerful people, sometimes in language masterfully profane. And he ran a tight ship: there was no permissible tardiness for us assistants, no extended lunch breaks, no minor error that went without reprimand. Just reading him his messages over the phone could make me tremble in fear of doing something outside the bounds of his structures. He kept order. And that order kept that agency running smoother than anyplace else I’ve ever worked.

But here’s the thing: despite the demands Ralph placed on me and the three other assistants in the office at that time, I really liked him. I was twenty-four and clueless and one of hundreds (thousands?) of kids who’d come to New York to work in publishing. He could have very easily been one of those types who use assistants up and then move on to the next bushy-tailed kid. But he didn’t do that. He cared about me and my life; I felt that compassion every time we sat in his office and chatted. When I gave notice because I’d decided to move back to Texas, he worried that he’d somehow failed me, that my position with him hadn’t lived up to whatever expectations he thought I had.

I left New York for a lot of reasons. None of them had anything to do with Ralph.

We’ve lost a good one this week. Rest in peace, Ralph.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Boy of Threes

Thanks to Amber Sparks for letting me be a part of her Ancient City project over at Necessary Fiction.

My story, "The Boy of Threes," went live today. It's a post-apocalyptic piece. I seem to have an affinity for those.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lily Ponds

Ever feel like you're writing the same story over and over?

Even if it's not really the same story.

It still kinda is.

But that's o.k., right? I mean, if you've got a good subject, not even hundreds of renderings will ever capture all the possible subtleties.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Learning to Read

During my MFA coursework, we were often told that we need to learn how to read. Of course, they meant we need to learn how to take apart a plot, a scene, a sentence, a metaphor. But, for my son, learning to read literally means learning to read.

And, man, you don’t realize how messed-up the English language is until you start helping your kid learn to read.

They teach the concept of a “bossy e” which is a silent e at the end of the word that turns a vowel long. You know. Five. Drive. And, um, give. Explain that to a literal-minded six year-old.

But wait, there’s more. GH is an f in words like tough and rough but silent in though and bough (with the ou pronounced differently in each of those, of course). And, really, what the hell is that gh doing in light and fought and drought (and again, the ou isn’t pronounced the same for any reason other than it’s not pronounced the same).

There’s a bizarre b at the end of bomb and tomb and comb but it modifies that o in three different ways. And if tomb is “toom” why isn’t loom “lomb?” (And, for that matter, shouldn’t comb be come ... except, of course, come is already its own irregular).

And let’s not even get started on when c sounds like an s and a ph is an f and an x is a z. Anything more complicated than “See Spot Run” requires the explanation of rules that sometimes true and sometimes not. (oo makes the long u sound ... except when you look for a book in a nook).

My son will get it ... I suppose we all do. And what we don’t get is corrected by spell check. But I wonder what the sometimes lawless construction of our words does to our minds. Semiotics and all that. Does it promote neuroses? Creativity? Does it make our written word more inaccessible? Does it make our written word more beautiful in the way nature is beautiful in all its organic jumble?

In this world of binary code (and binary politics for that matter), there’s something wonderful about the fact that words like bough and cough exist. They’re messy; they speak to the archaic and the anarchic. They make learning to read a challenge. But I love the way those odd words taste.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Good Rant is a Wonderful Thing

Amber Sparks unleashes.

She's writing about the frustrations of the submission process. Namely the long response times that too often end in form rejections.

One thing Amber doesn't really get into: if you allow simultaneous submissions, how in the world are you finding the best stuff if it takes nine or more months to reply? Every story I've published has been accepted within four months of submission (with the exception of one unique circumstance). By taking so long to reply, aren't you asking for the best stories to be withdrawn before you get to them? I mean, if I've never withdrawn the story and you reject me after a year, you can be pretty sure the story has either been shoved into a drawer out of disgust with its quality or it's been seriously revised.

I totally understand the difficulty of reading huge numbers of submissions for no or nearly no pay. But Amber's post expresses the frustrations most of us feel at some point or another. Good stuff.