Saturday, April 11, 2009

Who's On First?

I told you about my first novel. So, let me tell you about my first short story ...

The first piece of prose fiction I wrote was an assignment for Mrs. Brown's English III class at Central High School. (I don't count the cartoons Steve Scates and I used to exchange in junior high about the adventures of two scuba divers.) That story concerned a scouting party of aliens who landed on the Earth, bent on conquest. Unfortunately for them, the first house they came to belonged to Dracula, who was giving a birthday party for the Wolfman and their friends. The tale didn't have a title, but I could have reasonably justified calling it "Monsters Versus Aliens," predating the animated movie now showing in theaters as I write this by a mere ... forty-five years.

I believe I might have mentioned if before, but here it is again in case I didn't: There's not much new under the sun when it comes to plots.

I was sixteen when I wrote that one. I don't know where I got the idea, but I suspect that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein might have sparked it.

The first story I seriously intended for publication I wrote in 1976, when I was a year short of thirty. I realized that someday-when-I-have-time-I'm-gonna-write wasn't ever going to happen because I'd never have more time, only less. That one, called "Perfect Balance," was an allegorical -- and admittedly somewhat pretentious -- offering about the natures of male and female, yin and yang. I sent it off -- and it promptly began collecting rejections.

For those of you feeling discouraged by rejection, I got three hundred such the first year I was writing. You can't let it grind you down. I believe it was Dean Koontz who said he thought the average writer got about seventy rejections before s/he made a sale, and he was basing that on his own experience. Look at him now.

Having determined at last to have a real go at writing, I began cranking 'em out, one story a week, following Ray Bradbury's advice that such was the way to become a good writer. A shory story a week for twenty years or so, I believe he said, and I was determined to try it. Didn't last that long; I made it through most of one year before I crashed and burned. Bradbury didn't do it, either.

Several months, and sixteen or eighteen stories later, I sold my first one, to Asimov's Magazine. Called "Heal the Sick, Raise the Dead," the title a line from a Johnny Rivers's song, it was about a society in which the dead could be -- temporarily -- brought back to life. What they had to say changed the way the world operated. That sale was on the 22nd of June, 1977. I know, because I had the acceptance letter framed and on my wall for years.

But Asimov's was a quarterly, and it would be almost a year after the sale before the piece would be published -- at which point the magazine had gone bi-monthly, so it was the March-April 1978 issue.

Meanwhile, I sold a story to Galaxy Magazine, "With Clean Hands," about how condemned killers were executed for prime time TV entertainment, and since Galaxy was a monthly 'zine, that story was the first to see publication, in December, 1977.

(My first science fiction convention, the Worldcon in Miami, in September, 1977, I was past fanboy and a pro -- even though neither of the two stories I had sold had been published yet, and both would come out under a pseudonym. Nobody was lined up to get my autograph.)

Eventually that first submission, "Perfect Balance" sold to a Roy Torgeson anthology, Other Worlds I but only after three rewrites, fifteen rejections, and a couple of years.

So, four different short stories, all of which have a claim on "first:" Written, submitted, sold, and published.

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