Writing in 2009

I published one short story in 2009:

My story submission database isn’t really set up to answer the question of how many new stories I wrote this year, but I see three whose first submission to an editor was in 2009.  Hopefully some of those will appear in 2010.

Two articles of mine appeared as guest posts at personal financial blogs:

I wrote 71 posts for Wise Bread.  I’ve bolded a few where I thought I managed to say just what I was trying to say, and commend them to your attention:

One of my Wise Bread posts (Understand Capital Costs) was featured in in US Airways Magazine (October 2009, page 22).

Clarion journals findable again

Since the demise of Hilary Moon Murphy’s Clarion Ex Machina site, there hasn’t been a good collection of links to all the various Clarion journals.  Now Liz Argall has fixed that with her page of Clarion blogs, journals, articles and interviews.

There’s lots of good stuff there.  I don’t know of a better source of raw material for people who are interested in the Clarion experience.

Guest post at The Simple Dollar

A while back Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar invited me to do a guest post and I finally came up with an idea that I liked:  Living off Capital.

People who come from wealthy families learn how to live off capital. The rules are taught along with all the other things they learn from their parents–how to dress, how to eat, how deal with bankers and trust officers. But even though most people don’t learn the rules, living off capital is just a skill, and it’s one that everybody should learn, because everybody lives off capital sometimes.

It talks about investing for income, reinvesting to preserve capital, diversifying, and keeping your expenses flexible.

Happy Esperanto Day!

Esperantists are celebrating today. It’s 150 years since the birth of L.L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto. Celebrating along with them is Google, which is featuring the Esperanto flag in their logo.

Google logo featuring the Esperanto flag

Esperanto has been important to me for twenty years. I’ve traveled overseas with it. I’ve met bunches of cool people, read fascinating books and magazines, and listened to great music.  Most important, I’ve done it on equal terms with the writers, performers, guests, hosts, and other people that I’ve met.  Instead of one of us speaking our native language, we’re both speaking a second language–but one that’s easy to learn.  Easy enough to learn that you don’t need to have any special talent with languages to learn it.

Happy Esperanto Day!

Expecting the worst from my own government

The sf-writer universe today is full of links to the BoingBoing report on how Canadian sf writer Peter Watts was beaten by US border guards, arrested, his possessions impounded, and then dumped across the border in mid-December without even a coat.  You can read Watts’s own account on his blog.

Now, I don’t have any actual knowledge of what happened.  I hope there’ll turn out to be some impartial witnesses or some video of the occurrence. But in the absence of that, I find that I’m all too willing to assume that Watts’s account is true.  The fact is, I don’t really expect better from anonymous border guards. I ought to be able to expect better, but I don’t.

If you want to donate to support his (sure to be large) legal expenses, you can contribute via his paypal account at <donate@rifters.com>.

Gareth D Jones in Esperanto

Last August I got email from UK sf writer Gareth D Jones, who was looking for Esperanto magazines that might be interested in translating and publishing his work.

There have been Esperanto-language publications that focused on science fiction (in particular, the Sfero series published by Grupo Nifo), but none of those seem to be active at the moment. (This is not as sad as it might seem, though, because the Esperanto-language literary magazines are not averse to publishing science fiction or fantasy. In particular, a recent issue of Beletra Almanako focused on speculative fiction.)

I told Gareth what I knew about sf in Esperanto, but also reached out to the Esperanto community, asking if anyone knew translators or publishers who would be interested in doing something with Gareth’s work. Pretty promptly, I heard back from Brazilian publisher Luciana F Campos whose publishing house Lusíadas was interested in publishing Gareth’s work.

I’ve heard from Gareth that the publications are now out.  Esperanto translations of two of his stories can be found in I Antologio Luzidoj (link to pdf) as well as Portuguese translations in I Antologia Lusíadas (link to pdf).

Helping make another Esperanto connection in the world is really its own reward, but as a bonus I also got this cool link to Douglas Smith’s Foreign Market List, an annotated list of  publications that buy foreign-language reprint rights to English-language stories.


We were eating breakfast this morning when the smoke detector outside our apartment went off.  It was a less-obnoxious beeping than most smoke detectors, so it took a while to figure out what it was.  But, once we opened the door to check, we could smell the smoke.  That eliminated all doubt.

There wasn’t much smoke and no flames, so we decided to take the time to get dressed and bundled up against the weather, and then went outside.  A neighbor had already called the fire department, so we didn’t have to do anything except hang out and wait until they came.  Most of our neighbors waited in the doorway, rather than stand out in the cold and wind, but I figured I didn’t want to breath even that much smoke.

It was only about 15 minutes before they said we could go back in.  But that, together with a dentist appointment this morning, managed to put a big dent in the day.

The smoke alarm is still beeping every minute or so.  I called the apartment office which said that they had thought it had already been reset, but would check and make sure.  (Which I hope means that they’ll send someone over to take care of it, rather than just check and make sure someone said it had already been done.)

(By the way, my teeth are fine.)

Clarion open for applications

Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers WorkshopClarion, the science fiction and fantasy writers workshop, is open for applications for 2010! As usual, it looks like they’ve got a great line-up of instructors.

I attended Clarion in 2001 and found it a positive experience in every way–I had a great time, I improved my writing, and I got to know a bunch of cool people that I’m still in touch with.

I’ve written some about my Clarion experience: I kept a Clarion journal and I wrote a few short essays about what I learned and how I learned it.

If you’ve got any questions about what Clarion was like for me, I’d be glad to answer them in comments here or by email. (I’m also willing to take a stab at answering questions about other stuff, but things like how applications are processed vary from year to year, and I really only know about how they did things back in 2001.)

The downside of reasonable rules

The apartment complex where we live was built over the course of a decade or so, back in the 1960s. I don’t know what the building code and zoning rules said about things like building spacing, but I imagine that they left quite a bit up to the builder.

Without rules that had to be followed, the builders built the complex with an eye toward maximizing their profit. If you put more units on a piece of property, you can bring in rent from more tenants. But at some point adding more units leads to diminishing returns—adding more buildings makes the space feel sufficiently cramped or crowded that potential tenants view the place as a downscale complex and they won’t pay as much. For a while that can still be profitable—you gain more from the extra units than you lose to lower rents. But squeezing yet another building in won’t just cut the rent on those units, it’ll cut the rent on all the other units as well. Eventually you reach the point where you lose more in rent than you gain from having extra units, so you stop and don’t build that building.

Zoning regulations can change the dynamic. Currently, there are rules in Champaign that limit apartment builders from jamming ever more buildings into a complex.

Apartment complex near where we live
Apartment complex near where we live

This picture is from a newer complex just a few blocks from where we live. The buildings are crammed so close together, it seems to me that you might just as well be living in the same building as your neighbors, as far as noise and privacy go. (This picture shows them face-to-face. Side-to-side they’re even closer.)

Again, I don’t know, but I assume that the buildings are built as close together as zoning regulations allow.  That’s the pernicious side-effect of having that sort of rule.

Because, see, there isn’t just one answer to the question of how closely packed buildings can be before they begin to feel downscale.  It depends on other stuff.  It depends on what people are used to. It depends on what alternatives are available.

When you create a rule, some fraction of the builders are going to aim for the bottom—just meet the rule. Those units aren’t going to be upscale, but there’ll be some people who will rent them.

If there were no rules, of course, some builders might build complexes where the buildings were even closer together than that, but those complexes would seem especially downscale. When you set a minimum, though, everybody who was thinking of someplace in that neighborhood will tend to aim for that same point.

Obviously the people who would have aimed more downscale would be prohibited from doing so. But the people who would have aimed for just slightly better will also be drawn downward. If there were a wide range of densities, builders would see advantages to being just slightly more upscale than the next guy. But with rules setting a lower limit, we don’t see the full range. Instead, we tend to see a binary division between the downscale units that are at the maximum density permitted, versus the upscale units that offer a sufficiently lower density to stand out. The legally mandated minimum becomes normalized (because so many complexes build to that standard) and ends up being a standard, rather than a minimum.

Courtyard outside our apartment
Courtyard outside our apartment

The courtyard outside our apartment is a common area that is actually used by us and our neighbors.  There are picnic tables and grills. The space is comfortable. It’s big enough that we don’t feel like we’re sitting right outside our neighbor’s apartments, but not so big that we feel lost in a vast space.

The space outside the nearby complex, though, feels wretched to me. With the buildings so close together, the space between becomes just a dark corridor. It’s not inviting, which is just as well because there’s no room to do anything there anyway.

In one sense, it doesn’t really matter to me. Our complex exists at its present density, and I can’t imagine that it would make any sense to try find find a way to pack in more buildings. But it makes me sad to see all the other, higher-density, complexes going up. It means that we aren’t getting new options.

The rules that set “reasonable minimums” instead are producing a binary distribution, where our only choices are downscale apartments crammed together or high-priced luxury apartments, where tenants get a reasonable density, but are stuck paying for other amenities that we don’t care about.  It’s the downside of reasonable rules.

Deciding what to skip

One weak point in my writing is that I sometimes forget to write in scenes. I’m prone to write continuous action, which leads to pages of people just going places and arranging things. Very dull. Very easy to avoid, though, as long as I remember to do so. Just add a scene break and begin a new scene with, “When they arrived at…”

The problem is, an excessive amount of that is just as bad. It’s not as often, but I sometimes find myself summarizing—writing the whole story as a series of brief descriptions of what happened.

I think that’s where I went awry most recently. As often happens when I’ve made a mistake, I found it very hard to write the next bit, leading to several zero word count days this week. So, today I backed up and replaced some of that summary with scenes.

I think that was the right choice. After all, this is a place where they’re going to be spending some time. So, some full-blown scenes of arriving and meeting people seem appropriate. Plus, I enjoyed writing them, which is usually a good sign.

So, that’s 800 words today. With three zeros, though, my moving average is just 216 words. Hopefully I’m over this rough patch and can start making headway again.