Tag Archives: michael a. burstein

Working through the writing slump: swinging at pitches

I’ve now written 2-days in a row, despite my slump and last night I managed a cool 1,000 words, and completed a scene in the story. I like the scene, but at 1,700 words, it is almost certainly way too long in proportion to the overall novelette. That’s okay though, it’s a first draft and cutting and tightening can happen later. Once again, chatting with writer-friends helped and this is proving to be invaluable to getting me through this slump.

I’m a baseball guy and I make a lot of baseball analogies–thus the slump. Even the best hitters in the world go through their slumps. The trick, I think, is to stay in the lineup, keep going out to the plate, and swinging at pitches. Try to make contact every time you can. For writing, this means facing that story every day, staying with it, and trying to get back that rhythm. For me it means not over thinking things. To that end, a fortuitous call last night from my friend Michael Burstein really helped out.

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A twist on interviews

I’ve heard rumors that from time-to-time, science fiction writers are interviewed on various venues. It has not yet happened to me (there is no reason that it should have, I suppose), but a few months ago, in my day-job, I had an interesting twist on the science fiction writer/interview phenomenon.

I was tasked with screening candidates for a database developer position we had open in our group. This is a fairly tedious process that involves scanning through resumes, separating the wheat from the chaff, and then doing short, 20-minute screening calls with the people who made the cut to see if they are worth bringing in for a full-scale interview. For a month or so it seemed like we simply weren’t getting any good candidates, and even the ones that I phone screened never made it beyond the phone call. Simply not the kind of technical experience we were looking for.

And then one day, I had arranged a phone interview with a candidate that looked good on paper. At the specified time, I called this gentleman and when he answered the phone, I said, “Can I speak to Mr. So-and-so?”

“Speaking,” he said.

“Hi, my name is Jamie Rubin and we have an interview scheduled. Is now a good time?” (I don’t know why I always ask that, since clearly, it is a scheduled interview. But I do.)

“Yes, of course,” he said, “but before we get started, Jamie, I just have to tell you that this is the first time I have ever been interviewed by a software developer-slash-science fiction writer.”

Well, that caught me off guard. I make no secret of the fact that I write science fiction and I do so under my own name and a quick Google search of my name will attest to my avocati0n. But this was the first time that an interview candidate ever mentioned it. And while I hate to admit it, it made me feel pretty good. It also immediately established a good rapport. The interview went well, we brought the candidate in for further interviews and ultimately, he was hired into the group and he’s a great guy to work with.

There is one more science fictional postscript to all of this. The candidate in question sounds exactly like my friend Michael A. Burstein, at least over the phone. Their voices are so similar that throughout the first screening interview, I kept wondering if Michael wasn’t putting me on. I mean, Michael would know what buttons to press, and mentioning the fact that I was a science fiction writer would be one of those. After I completed that interview with the candidate, I immediately called Michael and told him about it, just to see if he would admit to some elaborate practical joke. Of course, Michael had nothing to do with it, but found the story amusing.

And so while this science fiction writer has not yet been interviewed about science fiction, he has conducted interviews where he was recognized as a science fiction writer, put leading an interview on database development. That’s kind of an interesting twist on interviews, isn’t it?

Writers and writers

I think that there is some kind of transition period between being just a fan of science fiction to being a science fiction writer. At least, that’s the way it is working out for me. Despite having some street cred (3 professional sales), I still look at other writers as if they are, well, Writers. I am not a naturally shy person, but I do get nervous around these Writers, and I know exactly why that it: I still think of them as demi-gods.

Part of it is that while I have some street cred, I don’t have a whole lot and I suppose there is a feeling of inadequacy surrounding that. I think to myself, here is this Science Fiction Writer who has sold dozens of stories, received countless award nominations, published several novels. They are so calm and self-assured about it all. And then there’s me, barely out of fandom with my 3 story sales. How can they possibly take me seriously? And yet, they usually do. They treat me like one of their own and yet they are still demi-gods to me.

I think I am doing better about trying to stand at eye-level with other professional science fiction and fantasy writers, but this whole notion of actually being a writer is sometimes still unsettling to me–in a good way. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I tried and tried and tried, and I was not a very good story-teller when I started out, but I kept at it until one day, I was just good enough. After that first sale, things started to get a little bit easier, and that is almost entirely due to the Writers who have treated me so kindly: Michael A. Burstein, Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer, Allen Steele, Jack McDevitt, to name just a few. These guys are my Babe Ruths and Mickey Mantles, and yet they’ve all taken me seriously as a writer. You would think that would make it easier to approach other writers at conventions, and introduce myself, but for some reason, that imagined wall is still there: they are Writers and I’m just a writer.

I’m hoping to finally surmount the imagined wall this year–or, as Pink Floyd urged, tear it down–but it is not an easy thing to do. I can’t quite seem to place myself at the same level of the Writers whose stories I’ve enjoyed for a couple of decades. But I’ll try.

I wonder if other writers at my stage feel the same way? There is a feeling that the first sale wasn’t a fluke because you had a second sale. And then there was that third sale to one of the Big Three that made you a Full Active SFWA member. To some extent you still can’t believe it. But you’re still tempted to hold up those three sales, dear as they are to you, against those Writers you love so much and think: gee whiz! this one here has sold forty stories; this one more than one hundred with a dozen nominations for various awards. Will I ever be that good? Meanwhile your still struggling to make that next sale. It is a fun struggle, I’ll grant that, but when you see these Writers operate, you can still glimpse the difference between a rookie and a Pro.

I have met other writers, in passing: Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. There are some writers I will never get to meet: Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, L. Sprague de Camp. Those lost opportunities, gone forever are what motivate me most to meet those writers that I can meet. I always try to tell them how much I’ve enjoyed the stories they’ve written, how theirs has been an example to me. It comes off sounding mawkish, I think, but sincere nevertheless. And I try never to forget my own motto: that I am a fan first, and a writer second.

Michael A. Burstein: A museum exhibit for Isaac Asimov

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Over on the Apex blog, my good friend and excellent science fiction writer, Michael A. Burstein is proposing a museum exhibit for Isaac Asimov on the Good Doctor’s centennial birthday. I wholeheartedly concur with him. Go now and check out what he has to say.

My 2010 Hugo and Nebula nominations

I’ve done my nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards for 2010. There were several good novels and one superbly outstanding one. I didn’t read a whole lot of short fiction from 2010 so some of those categories are blank.  Nominations within each grouping are listed alphabetically by author.

Nebula Nominations

Best Novel

Best Short Story

Hugo Nominations

Best Novel

  • Echo by Jack McDevitt
  • WWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Best Short Story

  • “Hope” by Michael A. Burstein (Destination:Future)
  • “What Will Come After” by Scott Edelman (What Will Come After)
  • “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You In Reno” by Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed, June 2010)

Best Related Work

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Best Editor, Short Form

  • John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed)
  • Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)
  • Stanley Schmidt (Analog)
  • Edmund Schubert (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show)
  • Sheila Williams (Asimov’s)

Best Dramatic Short Form

  • “Course Correction” (Episode 19 of ABC’s Flashforward) by Robert J. Sawyer

Best Semiprozine

Best Fanzine

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

A quick comment on Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. This is a single book that was split into two books by the publisher. This is not a series. There is no synopsis at the beginning of All Clear. All Clear starts exactly where Blackout left off and it is impossible to read that book and make any sense of it without having reading Blackout. I have therefore nominated the entire book, as written, for the Hugo and Nebula. I don’t know if this is allowed. I inquired on this but I haven’t yet gotten a response. It would seem remarkably silly to me to have to treat these books individually, but we’ll see how things turn out.

ETA: I have since learned that Blackout/All Clear is, in fact, being treated as one book.