Tag Archives: publishing

One year, 125 posts, and beyond

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of this blog, which I started as a way to improve my writing, to document things that interest me, and to put myself out there. As of this, my 125th (!) post, I have written 18 posts about specific science topics, 7 science fiction book reviews, 5 writing prompts, and a bevy of posts about artists, methods and photography. I wrote an 82,000 word novel draft in April and May (editing pending the completion of my PhD). I’ve written maybe a dozen short stories, and pushed myself to be a hard self editor. I’ve joined writing forums and critique groups like critters.org and youwriteon.com.

I think the results show, at least in the form of determination, which is needed as much as talent in writing. Since I started keeping track in  June, I’ve submitted stories 21 times to 18 venues, many of which I found through the submission grinder, which I describe here. I’ve been rejected 15 times (ouch!) but after months of very little traction, I now have 2 stories in the second rounds of consideration at paying venues. A third story, which has been rejected 5 times, has been called a “good story” by two rejections. Having seen enough rejections, I now know that’s a nice compliment!

Before this last year, I worked on improving my writing, but in aimless, unsystematic ways. Now, in spite of major distractions like finishing up a PhD, I am seeing more progress than ever.  I wonder what I’ll be up to this time next year; I know with the efforts I’ve put forth in the last year, and those I plan to put forth this year, the future will be exciting.

Science is Creative!

In the US, science is regarded as valuable, but dry and a bit stiff. As a student, it’s easy to get this impression, studying rigid facts first explored centuries ago. The math, chemistry, physics, and biology we learn in high school and college are about recreating long-known answers by well-established methods. But the process of making new science and math is inherently creative, and new ideas require letting the mind run wild a little. In this post, I’ll talk about how I develop my ideas.

I work with populations of oscillators. The idea of this research is that the complexity of the whole (the population) exceeds the complexity of each element (the oscillator). The human brain is a good example of such a system–each neuron is fairly simple and well-understood, but overall brain behavior arising from the interactions of many neurons is not understood. My research tends to work by observation–I notice something I find interesting and I explore that further. Other researchers work on what they suspect they will find, based upon other work. All research works within the context of its field. There are many interesting behaviors I have noted in my experiments, but I explore the ones I might explain. Really random observations are cool, but hard to frame in a way which is meaningful to the community.

The above may not sound particularly creative. But the key to experiments like I do is imagining what might happen when one explores slightly beyond what is known. It requires extrapolating from the areas we know, in the context of the rules we know, to the areas we don’t know. Some of the rules we know are pretty absolute, like thermodynamics, but others may be flexible. (As a note on this point, the stable chemical oscillations I study were once considered thermodynamically impossible. Someone had to bend the established understanding of thermodynamics to explain these oscillations. Einstein had to bend Newton’s Laws for relativity, and he arrived at that conclusion by logic rather than by observation.) In an experimental apparatus like mine, thousands of experiments are possible. It is up to the experimentalist to pick from the possibilities, in the context of what might work in his imagination, to demonstrate something hitherto unknown.

In some ways, the process is similar to writing. There are rules that must be obeyed, and the process of finding something new or interesting is very indirect. With science and writing, I develop some of my best ideas drinking a beer or taking a walk. Sitting at a desk focusing is required at times, but so too is active contemplation. The rules of science are broader and more rigid and take longer to learn, but there are similarities.

A lot of historical scientists were fascinating people, akin to historical artists. Van Gogh got his ear cut off in a fight. Astronomer Tycho Brahe lost his nose in a duel. Salvador Dali shellacked his hair. Electrical engineer Nikola Tesla fell in love with a pigeon. Mathematician Paul Erdos lived itinerantly for decades. In one visit to a colleague, he couldn’t figure out how to open a carton of juice, so he instead stabbed it open (among many, many other oddities). Physicist Richard Feynman used to work on his physics at strip clubs. Artists may share their eccentricities more in their works, but I would argue that scientists have every bit as much oddness.

I hope this post illustrates a little what it is like to be a research scientist, and how science at the cutting edge works. For more science posts, check out my fun science list.

Submit Something Somewhere

This weekend, my scifi writing group held a group event called “Submit something somewhere”. The premise of this event was for everyone in attendance to submit at least one piece to at least one publishing venue. We all know that the easiest way not to get published is to not submit for publication. I know I don’t try as often as I should, and almost every writer I’ve met doesn’t either. So we got together and did some research together about venues and submitted together. It was a good activity; since we pooled our findings, I think it could be good for any group of writers.

Mostly we looked at the SFWA (scifi writers of america) professional markets (aim high =) ). This is a great website for sff market info, if you ignore the 90s-ness of it. However I also found a list of all-genre short fiction markets by length that I thought was pretty awesome.

I submitted two pieces. Hopefully they will go better than my last submissions, but I know they won’t do worse. Each time I try I get better, and I’ll eventually get there.

So go submit something somewhere! It’s better to try and fail than not to try at all!

Learning about Graphic Novels and Publishing from Barbara Slate

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I attended a talk by comic book writer Barbara Slate (at the VA Book Fest). She was one of the first female comic book writers, and has since branched out to her own graphic novels. After her talk I picked up one of them, “Getting Married and Other Mistakes“. It looks like a lot of fun, and like Slate herself, seems to have a nice sense of humor. She also has a book about how to write graphic novels.

She also spoke about the process of getting “Getting Married” published. She said that she was rejected about 60 times. I didn’t pay attention to that detail much that day. I wrote Monday about my own excitement, that I perhaps had a publisher interested in Zish and Argo. After further research, it looks like one of those pay-to-self-publish rackets, dressed up. I felt so duped! I was so excited, and they misled me. Fortunately, I figured it out quickly and for free. I channeled my frustration to overcome my fear of sending the manuscript off; on Monday after my realization I sent the manuscript to 5 places. Afterwards it occurred to me–if a woman like Slate who is familiar with the industry, knows publishing and knows people takes 60 rejections to place her book– then people aren’t going to be jumping out of bushes to publish me. It will take sober, dull work for me to get published, just like her. As it likely will for all of us. Please, may some eager publisher fall from the sky and praise me, but it’s not something I can expect or even take at face value. So last night I thought up a new story for Zish and Argo, and I will continue the slow marathon towards my goals.