PODCAST SPOTLIGHT: Welcome to Night Vale

written by David Steffen

Welcome to Night Vale (produced by Commonplace Books) is a fiction podcast, but quite different from any of the other fiction podcasts I listen. Most of the others publish short stories by different authors, where each new story has nothing to do with the others and is written by a different author.  The easiest way I can describe the podcast is that it is a community radio show ala Prairie Home Companion, but one which takes place in a mysterious sleepy little town ala Stephen King or HP Lovecraft.  If that sounds like something you’d like, you probably will!  If you’re not sure what to think about it, download a few episodes for free and give it a try.

The format of the show is a wonderful idea, one of those wonderful things where a clever person takes two familiar but disparate elements and melds them together and somehow the whole thing is shiny and new.  The idea is nonsense.  Wonderful, hilarious, weird nonsense of the best possible kind.  The show is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  After three years they’ve still managed to keep the show fresh and interesting, introduce new weird elements that keep everything interesting.

The show starts out strong from the very first episode, and is a good example of the kind of humor that the show excels at.  For example, the episode starts off with an announcement about the city’s new dog park.  “Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park.  Do not approach them.  Do not approach the dog park.”  (and more)  After that, a guide for parents of children playing in the sand wastes and gauging the safety of the area by carefully watching the color of the unmarked helicopters circling the area.

The main voice actor of the show is Cecil Baldwin, who plays the host of the radio show (whose name is Cecil Palmer).  Most episodes are mostly his voice, announcing the strange news of the town, traffic (which is often very unrelated to traffic), community calendar, sponsors (which are usually real companies but just made up parodies rather than actual ads), and the weather (which is actually a track from an indie musician, a different one every episode).

There are numerous guest stars scattered throughout the three years of the show, including Dylan Marron, who you might know from the Every Single Word tumblr page where he posts edited versions of feature movies cut down to only the parts spoken by people of color (a very clever and illustrative project for what an issue that is).  Wil Wheaton and Retta both have recurring roles on the show, and a number of other actors that I have only come to know through the show itself.

The show has grown hugely in popularity.  They have toured across the United States and Europe, and are now planning their first tour to Australia and New Zealand.  A book written by Fink and Cranor, also titled “Welcome to Night Vale” is scheduled to be published on October 20.  (I have read the book and will be reviewing it right here on October 19, so check back).  The live shows have a somewhat different feel to them–I would recommend listening to the podcast before attending because the show that I went to felt like it was aiming mostly at people who were already familiar with the world of Night Vale.  Also consider checking out their merchandise store which has a lot of excellent stuff that is meant to appeal to fans of the show–I have been meaning to order a Boy Scout badge for “Subversive Radio Host” among other things.

I love this show.  I think it can appeal to a lot of people, SF fans or otherwise with its strange brand of humor and weirdness.  I hope it lasts a long time and expands into new and exciting things as it goes.

Why do I Value the Hugos?

written by David Steffen

I’ve been following the Hugos closely for several years, trying to read and review as many of the nominated works as I can digest between the announcement of the ballot and the final deadline.  I also follow the Nebulas, and I glance at the results from other SF genre awards, but for me the Hugos take up most of my attention come award season.  With this eventful Hugo year, it crossed my mind to wonder why the Hugos specifically, and whether I might perhaps be better off devoting more of my attention to awards that don’t collect controversy the way the Hugo Awards always seem to do, and in escalating fashion these last few years.

1.  The Hugos are Fan-Based.

Specifically, they are based on the supporters/attendees of WorldCon, which is certainly not an exact representation of fandom as a whole.  But what I mean by this is that the fan-based nature differentiates it from juried awards or the Nebulas which are voted by SFWA members, which gives that award a very different feel.

I do like the concept of the Locus Awards, since those are available for anyone to vote online, so have a broader voting audience–maybe I’ll try to pick them up next year.

2.  The Hugos Have a Long Reading Period

The Nebulas and the Locus awards have very short reading periods (the period of time between the announcement of the ballot and the voting deadline) of only about a month.  If I want to read as much of the fiction as possible, that’s not nearly enough time–I can’t finish all the short fiction, let alone start the novels.  The Hugo ballot is announced around Easter weekend (usually early April or so) and the voting deadline is at the end of July, so there are nearly four months to try to do all the reading.  The Hugo Packet isn’t released right at the beginning of the reading period, but usually enough of the short fiction was published in online venues so that I can fill my reading time with Hugo material.

3.  The Hugos Have Instant Runoff Voting and No Award

The Nebula ballot for each category is a set of radio buttons–you can only choose one winner.  On the Hugo ballot you can give a numeric vote from 1 to N, where N is the total number of nominees (usually 5).  All of the voters first choices are tallied, and the story with the lowest votes is eliminated–all of the ballots which had the eliminated story as the top vote slip down to their second choices, and so on, until there is a winner.   I like this because it’s a very common situation where I like more than one of the nominees a great deal, and this lets me give support for more than one instead of having to choose.  This is also beneficial if the same author has more than one story in a category because they don’t self-compete.

There is also a No Award vote that lets you differentiate between items you don’t care about and items you strongly feel should not win.  If there is a large enough portion of No Award votes, no awards will be given for the category, which gives a recourse in the case that you think a category has nothing worthy.

4.  The Hugos have a Graphic Story Category

I love graphic stories, but I have not been very good at keeping up with them.  The graphic story category gives me a sampler of what the graphic stories that people loved the most so that I can catch up a bit, maybe even consider picking up a subscription.  This year’s category was especially stellar, with three comics that I’d consider picking up–which I reviewed here a few weeks ago.

5.  The Hugos Have WorldCon

I made it to WorldCon 2012 in Chicago, and had a really great experience there.  That was before the launch of the Submission Grinder, so less people knew who I was, but I still knew a lot of people from Writers of the Future and Codex.  There were a lot of my favorite writers and editors there, probably partly due to the Hugos drawing them to the award ceremony.  I also thought it was fun to go to the award ceremony itself.

6.  The Hugos Have the Hugo Packet

A lot of the short fiction is available for free without actually becoming a Hugo voter–a lot of it was published for free online to begin with, other publishers (like Analog) post it there for the readers to see.  But most of the ones that aren’t available for free are in the packet, and most years most of the novels have been included as well.

This is based on kind of an odd dynamic.  The Hugo packet is only a few years old, so it’s a nice convenience.  If the Hugos were less notable, the publishers probably wouldn’t participate.  If the Hugo voting audience was huge, the publishers might be reluctant to give away that many free copies.  So it works in kind of an odd middle space where most science fiction and fantasy readers are aware of the award, enough that pasting the name on a book cover can encourage sales, but not so many actually participate (even though they all can) to deter publishers.

7.  The Hugo Rules/Categories are Chosen By Fans

OK, this one is alternately a benefit or a detriment.  A benefit because as new formats of science fiction and new publishing technologies become popular, the award can expand to include those things, and theoretically phase out those things that are outdated.  A detriment because it can sometimes end up with some long-lasting categories that don’t make a lot of sense, or new categories thrashing out of momentary conflicts.  But I like the idea in theory anyway.

Slush Retrospective

written by David Steffen

For anyone who hasn’t been following along, Diabolical Plots was open for fiction submissions for the first time in December 2014 to pick 12 stories to publish one per month for a year as our first fiction offerings. This is my first time editing fiction or handling a slushpile of my own (as opposed to being a slushreader for a magazine run by someone else).

Also, this is a long post–I tried to give useful headings so you could skip to the parts you’re interested in.


Anthony Sullivan (my co-conspirator here at Diabolical Plots) and I decided together that we wanted to give this a try. We’d been talking about it off and on for years. So why did we actually move forward with it now? The answer to that is simple–money. We knew that if we wanted to do this, we wanted to do it big–professional rates as defined by SFWA (currently 6 cents per word). We don’t have anything against markets that pay less, but we figured the best way in our control to increase the upper quality of the slushpile is to pay professional rates. And we wanted to make a market that we would be excited to submit to.  We would love to become a SFWA-qualified professional market.

The reason we can go forward with this fiction venture now is because of generous donations both one-time and recurring from users of the Submission Grinder. Those donations go first to site maintenance costs like hosting as well as secondary costs that help us keep up with market news as well as we can. But we’ve been saving what we can to put towards projects that require money like this fiction venture. We could have run a Kickstarter campaign but we both liked the idea of providing something of value and then seeing if people would like to support it, rather than the other way around. We plan to launch a Patreon campaign in the near future–if that and the recurring PayPal donations combined reach a threshold, then we will keep publishing fiction past the first year, if we reach the next threshold above that we’ll buy 2 stories/month for the following year, and so on. I’m not opposed to something like Kickstarter, but I like the Patreon model better for what I hope will be an ongoing venture because its focus is maintenance funding, ongoing income instead of the one-off burst that Kickstarter will provide–at some point a magazine has to hit Kickstarter again and one success does not guarantee another.


Our guidelines are somewhat unusual for several reasons. One is that we were only open for a month to buy a year’s worth of fiction. Part of the reason for this is that we intended from the beginning to read all of the slush ourselves, and we knew this would be time-consuming, so we would rather do it on a short-term sprint than to be reading slush around the calendar.

Another oddity is that we only allow one story per author per submission window. There were a few reasons for this. One is to encourage authors to pick their very best work they have available that fits the rest of the guidelines. Another is to make any progress in the slushpile a permanent step–rather than rejecting a story by an author and getting another story from the same author again.

Of course the biggest oddity in our guidelines is the requirement for anonymity–there are a few markets that require this–among pro SF markets I believe Flash Fiction Online and Writers of the Future are the only others. But we’re even more strange in this respect in that there were only two staff members doing all the reading and there wasn’t a separate person to do author correspondence. Our homebrew submission tracking software had to be quite a bit more complicated because of this–it had to hide the author’s identity from us until we’ve made our final decision of accept or reject, and had to allow some basic way for an author to query us to make sure their story was received but without breaking anonymity.

The reason we wanted to make the slush anonymous is that we wanted story to trump all. We wanted to completely remove the possibility that personal relationships with an author would sway our decision one way or the other. And we wanted to remove the consideration of marketing concerns–it’s not uncommon for a publication, especially when starting up, to publish stories from established authors with big fan followings to attract readers. The reasoning behind cherry-picking known authors is that the fan following will get more eyeballs on the magazine and help make the launch more successful.  But personally, we felt that these stories can feel phoned-in because the story didn’t make it into the publication on its own merits. We have nothing against established authors with big names, of course. They got to be big names because they knew what they were doing. But if an author you recognize is in our table of contents, it means that we thought that story was in our top twelve and the name has nothing to do with it.


In the 31 days we were open, we received 378 submissions–34 of those on the first day of submissions, 27 of those on the last day of submissions.

17 of the submissions had clear violations of the guidelines. A few of those were stories with names attached against our anonymity requirements. Most of those were stories that were clearly too long for our 2000-word maximum, sometimes by several times. And the one submission that was a synopsis of a non-speculative children’s book that was also triple our maximum word count allowed. I did have to wonder, as I was rejecting these stories unread and with a note pointing out the guidelines violation, what these authors were thinking. Did they not read the guidelines at all? Did they think their story was so good the word count limit was irrelevant to them? Either answer is not particularly endearing . Because of our one-submission-per-author-per-window policy that was the only opportunity those authors got this time round.  Once those were taken out of the running that left 361 valid submissions.

I’ve read slush for a few different venues–Flash Fiction Online, Drabblecast, and Stupefying Stories. Overall the quality of the Diabolical Plots slush was much higher than I expect from past experience, and there wasn’t the glut of serial killer stories and stories about protagonists killing their spouses. This could’ve been because I tried to warn off these things in the guidelines, or because the one-story-per-author rule made authors more selective, or could just because we didn’t specifically ask for the offensive like the Drabblecast guidelines do.

The stories that were rejected in the first round were rejected for a variety of reasons. A slow or uninteresting beginning to the story is an excuse to start skimming–a bad sign, especially when dealing with stories less than 2000 words. Stories where nothing happened, or stories with low stakes. Or ones without strong characters. First and foremost we wanted stories that made us feel something, whether that was humor, fear, fun, love, but it had to make us feel something.

By January 8th we’d finished the first round of reading and held 67 stories for the second and final round of consideration. I didn’t keep statistics on the proportion of personal rejections–but I’d guess them at maybe 10% in the first round. I only commented if I had feedback that I felt would be useful to the author.


Around this same time I started drafting up the contracts based on Lightspeed’s very author-friendly publicly posted contract. Up until this point we had been pretty focused on the editorial side of things and the technical side of things (tweaking the submission system), but at this point we started getting into the publishing side of things, particularly on the topic of risk and legality. We realized that Diabolical Plots should be registered under an LLC to minimize any risk to our personal finances. And as part of that discussion, Anthony realized that he needed to step down from the co-editor position. We didn’t have a falling out or anything like that. He just realized that his role as co-editor wasn’t going to work out with other aspects of his life. So from that point forward I am the editor of Diabolical Plots.

Anthony will still be a big part of Diabolical Plots and the Submission Grinder and will continue to fill the same invaluable role that he has filled since we first teamed up in 2009–handling all of the technical side of the website administration, and doing the lion’s share of the software development that has made the Grinder the useful tool it is today. In fact, he is hard at work on an overhaul of the Grinder site that will make it easier to maintain as well as providing a lot of shiny new features that will make it even better than it is now. We’re aiming to launch this site overhaul to the public around the same time that we launch our first fiction publication–that date is yet to be determined, but will probably be in a couple months.


By January 8th we had finished reading and resolving all the first round submissions and we only had the 67 stories in the hold pile left to resolve. By the time Anthony reached the decision that he needed to step down, I had re-read the hold-pile stories and ranked them numerically with plans to compare lists with Anthony. So when I became the sole editor, I was already ready to go and could resolve the whole pile in one fell swoop. I made sure to give personal rejections to all the stories that made it to the hold pile because I hate it when my stories are held for further consideration but then rejected without a word.

I had enough good stories in the pile, and planned to buy so few, that I didn’t venture into any major rewrite requests. If the story wasn’t good enough as-is, then I didn’t accept it–I have made a few small suggestions for small changes and will probably do a few more as I progress from acceptance to publication. There were a lot more stories in the pile that I would’ve loved to accept if the budget had allowed, so there were some very hard decisions in this pile.

In the final twelve stories I was interested to see that there were several author names that I knew from seeing their published stories in pro markets. For at least one of the authors, this was the first pro sale. Judging by names, of the final twelve, seven of the authors are women.  I’m glad to see both sexes so well represented–I know that some publications have a real problem with getting enough women-authored stories in their slushpiles (to the point where they have to make campaigns specifically to bring in more women authors) so I was glad to see that.


Before I do anything else, I need to sort out some business details, defining what Diabolical Plots actually is. Once that’s in place I can finalize the draft of our contract and send it to the twelve authors–in the meantime I’ve requested and gotten preliminary notes from all twelve to let me know the stories are still available.  The twelve authors are free to share their news as widely or as narrowly as they wish so you may have already heard a few of them.

Once the contracts are signed, then I can publicly announce the table of contents–I’m really looking forward to that. And then I can seriously consider what kind of launch date we can manage for the fiction offerings, but I’m still planning to coincide that with the launch of the Submission Grinder overhaul, so it will depend somewhat on that as well.


You may notice that all of our planning so far has been focused on providing a single year of fiction, talking about the budget for a year, the schedule for a year. That’s because, at this point, we don’t have the capital in place for another year of fiction. We’re hoping to change that. Ideally by gathering recurring donations of whatever size through Patreon and PayPal to give a steady stream of funds to kick off the second year and beyond. If the end of year one approaches and we don’t have this in place yet, then I’ll consider doing a Kickstarter campaign to get year two funded and continue to focus on getting recurring donations so that big one-off campaigns don’t need to be run every year. If we get enough to be able to afford to publish two stories a month, then we’ll expand to that. And beyond that we’ll consider expanding in other ways. The sky’s the limit if there is enough interest and support. I’ll be posting sometime in the not-too-distant future about our Patreon campaign to this end. In the meantime, recurring PayPal donations either on the DP page or the Grinder page are the best way to help support both our necessary costs and our harebrained schemes like this.

Award Eligibility Post 2014

written by David Steffen

And now the gratuitous award eligibility post–feel free to skip over it if you’re not interested, but figured there might be someone out there who might want to see it. This post covers works by Diabolical Plots and by me personally.

From time to time people ask me if they can nominate the Submission Grinder. In the past, I thought the answer was “no” because most of the awards seemed to be very publisher focused–so the best way I thought to try to recognize the Submission Grinder would be to nominate Diabolical Plots. But there ARE a couple categories the Submission Grinder qualifies for in some awards, so I’ve listed those two first.

And just to be clear, no I don’t really think we have a shot at anything, but I see no reason why I can’t mention what we’re eligible for.

Writer’s Resource/Information/News Source

1. The Submissions Grinder

I wasn’t aware of this award until this year, part of the Preditors and Editors Reader Poll. Someone has seen fit to nominate the Grinder, so thought it would be worth mentioning.


World Fantasy Special Award – Non Professional

1. The Submissions Grinder

Likewise, I wasn’t aware of this award, but it’s another way to recognize the Submission Grinder directly if you want to see it recognized.


Best Short Story

1. “Catastrophic Failure” by David Steffen at Perihelion

2. “Always There” by David Steffen at Lakeside Circus

3. “Unraveling” by David Steffen at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

4. “A Switch in Time” by David Steffen at Perihelion

5. “The Thing About Analyn” by David Steffen at Stupefying Stories


Best Related Work

All of the articles that I’ve written here and in SF Signal are eligible for this category, but I’m not going to list all dozens of them. I’ll just mention the one that I thought was most notable:

1. The Best Podcast Fiction of All Time (at SF Signal)


Best Editor (Short Form)

1. David Steffen (for nonfiction)

Note that although we’ve been reading slush for fiction publication in 2014, we haven’t published any fiction yet, so only my nonfiction editing can be taken into account. And Anthony isn’t eligible this year for the same reason.


Best Fanzine

1. Diabolical Plots

Next year, instead of Best Fanzine, we’ll be eligible for Best Semiprozine because we’ll be a paying fiction market.


Best Fan Writer

1. David Steffen
–For the short fiction listed above, the large number of nonfiction articles here and in SF Signal.

2. Carl Slaughter
–Mostly for interviews

3. Frank Dutkiewicz
–Reviews of Daily SF

4. Laurie Tom
–Anime reviews



Facebook “naked link” fix

written by David Steffen

Usually, when you post a link on Facebook you get a nice little preview image from the page you’re linking to along with a sample of text from the page. Except when you don’t. Sometimes it just shows the URL and nothing else–and you know that people aren’t going to click through if it’s just a URL.

I’ve had that problem with many links, especially to Diabolical Plots articles. For a while I didn’t know anything to do about it but to try again, and again, and again. Sometimes it would work well after hours, sometimes it would be incorrect for weeks.

So I was very relieved to find that there is very often something you can do about it, a trick that I’ve found very handy. It helps work around the flaw that Facebook hasn’t bothered to correct after years and years of it manifesting.

1. Visit the Facebook developer’s page.

2. In the text box enter the problem URL.

3. click Debug button.

4. On the page that loads click the “Fetch New Scrape Information” button.

5. Now go back to your regular Facebook page and try posting the link again.


After you enter the URL you’ll see a whole bunch of technical gobbledygook. You don’t need to pay any attention to that. The important thing is to cajole the Facebook engine into fetching new information about your page. Really, it should just do that whenever you post a link in preparation for making the link preview, but for some reason it doesn’t.

Sometimes this doesn’t work either, and when that’s the case I don’t know of any other solution.

Unbranching Personal Narratives

written by David Steffen

When I was about nine years old I was out at a story with my older brother who would’ve been about eighteen years old at the time. I think it was around Christmastime and there were a few inches of snow and ice on the ground. As we were walking out of the store, minds casting ahead to what we were going to do at home. Before we got to the car, a woman walking alone ahead of us slipped and fell on the ice, ending up flat on her back ahead of us.

If anyone had asked, I would’ve considered myself a compassionate person. But my kneejerk reaction was that we would keep on walking. But, to my surprise, my brother stopped and made sure she was okay. She was capable of responding and had no apparent injury. We helped her up to her feet. Some other people came over to check she was okay and then we were on our way. She was okay and no harm done, but of course I didn’t know that at the time.

That incident comes up in my mind from time to time, especially at times when I have a chance to help someone. I expect my brother doesn’t remember it. The woman probably doesn’t remember it either. But it comes to mind when I have an opportunity to help someone, so I don’t make the same mistake. It was a formative moment even though it probably wasn’t significant to anyone else.

From time to time I wondered why I acted that way at the time? I thought of myself as a compassionate person. So why didn’t I even think to help? I learned the Golden Rule in school and believed it was right, and if I fell I’d want someone to check that I was okay. The best explanation that I can think of is that I was focused on my own personal life narrative and I didn’t see how this stranger fit in–I was ready to get on to the next scene. But that’s no way to go about life. Everyone has their own storyline and maybe sometimes you’re just playing a bit role in someone else’s story–maybe no one will even remember it, maybe they will, but doesn’t matter.



written by David Steffen

One of the most important traits to lasting as a writer is persistence even in the face of long odds. I’m nothing if not persistent–I’ve sent more than 1500 submissions since I started submitting 6 and a half years ago.

Thinking back on my childhood, there may have been some early signs that I was (perhaps unreasonably) persistent. One particular story happened in 1991 with the release of Super NES game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I’d grown up playing the first two Zelda games on my brother’s NES. I had my own SNES and I was very eager to try out the game. But when the game was released, I didn’t have $50 on account of being an unemployed child. I had my eye on the game at the Lewis Drug down the street, and I was scrounging for pocket change in the couch, doing odd jobs for family, and so on. While I was saving up, I was worried the game would go out of stock and never come back in, so every single night 10-year old me would call Lewis Drug and ask them if they still had the game on their shelves. Somehow I was genuinely surprised when, after the first night or two, they didn’t actually go check before they told me they have it. It never occurred to me that I was most certainly the only one calling every day to ask about an item I didnt’ buy. Eventually I did come up with the cash to buy the game. And I’m pretty sure that when I came into the store the clerk asked me if I was the kid who called every day… before I counted out $50 of pocket change onto the counter.

We Are Multiple Man

written by David Steffen

What superpower would you choose? Most classical superpowers are awesome for combat, but not all that practical in day-to-day activities. Super strength? Guess who’s going to get asked to help everyone move. Fireballs–handy in limited context, maybe, but modern life doesn’t require a lot of fire-lighting on a day to day basis. Metal claws–wouldn’t need to hold pocket knives but you could never get through airport security.

For my everyday life, I would definitely pick the power of Jamie Madsen, aka Multiple Man. Jamie has the ability to create perfect duplicates of himself, each of which is intelligent and has free will. There’s some limit to the amount of how much he can split, but the limit is quite high–something like 50 when he was in X-Factor and more as he masters his power.

Just think of how much you could get get done! If you have kids, you wouldn’t need daycare. Not only that, but if you have four kids, you could have one of you to watch EACH of your kids to give them personalized attention so watching four kids wouldn’t even be stressful. While you do that, you could also work to bring in money. Or more than one job simultaneously. Another one of you could head out to get groceries. Another one could be off taking vocational training. Or learning to paint. Or going on vacation. That’s only ten–you’d still have another 40 to go if you wanted to. Then at the end of the day, bring all of yourselves back to dinner, merge them all together again, and have a nice dinner with your family, reintegrating all the memories together as you spent all day one-on-one with ALL of your kids and got all the chores done (and went on vacation to unwind). That would be the coolest thing ever.

Unfortunately, I think I’m a little too old to expect sudden onset superpowers.

But that got me to thinking–just an ordinary human being has something kind of like that. Of course you don’t have multiple bodies, but more of a multiplicity of mind. Have you ever gotten together for a social gathering where you have people from work and neighbors and family members, and you find it awkward as you don’t know how to behave among them all together? In a very real way, that’s because you are a different person at work than you are with your family than you are with your neighbors, and the awkwardness comes because those different people don’t know how to integrate.

Everyone does this. They’re a different person when they’re being a father, or a son, or a brother, or at work, or as a customer at a store, or whatever. It’s not a result of dishonesty, but of compartmentalization–the traits that fit into that social group or environment dominate in that group.

So we’re all superpowered, really. The human mind is an amazing thing. Maybe as amazing, in its own way, as being able to spawn up to 50 bodies. Though, if someone knows how to make that happen, I’m in.


Based somewhat on Codex post:

I find it interesting (and sometimes disconcerting) how the human mind can compartmentalize or facetize and approach each differing circumstance or situation in such a different way so that in a way you’re a completely different person.

Engineer David is not Dad David. Writer David is not Engineer David. Grinder-Admin David is not Gamer David. Dad David is not Husband David (though those two are of course more closely related genealogically than some of the others). We all wear many hats. Some of us, like my good friend Bartholemew Cubbins, wear entirely too many hats and sometimes find it difficult to remove them or to pick the one appropriate for the occasion.

When I’m wearing any of those hats, I can of course remember wearing the other hats, and I can remember what I was thinking when I was wearing those other hats and what was important to me and what was frustrating me and what drove me. But at the same time, those other Davids can seem completely foreign (until I become them again). It can all work out if they tag team when they’re supposed to, if the more unsocial Davids can be kept away from people.

I can see how that kind of mental adaptability can be a survival trait that comes out of natural selection. I can also see how mental health problems including anxiety disorders can arise when something in this three ring circus of mental and social arrangements gets out of whack.

–This aside brought to you by Woolgathering-Philosopher David when Engineer David is supposed to be in charge, because that’s how he rolls
(To be clear: not saying I have an anxiety disorder, not crying for help, my mind is wandering and I decided I wanted to put the words somewhere)


Use the metaphor of Multiple Man and my musings that it would be awesome to be able to split into different bodies to be able to get everything done, but how it’s amazing how we can already kind of do that in a mental fashion.

On Unqualifying for SFWA

written by David Steffen

Note: It has been pointed out to me that because I have qualified and joined SFWA previously, I don’t need to qualify again regardless of rule changes. As a result, I could technically join again any time I wish. For me personally it’s more the principle of the thing–becoming eligible for SFWA was a long-term milestone as I started writing, and so being able to join by being grandfathered in doesn’t feel like actually meeting that milestone anymore. Also, regardless of whether I can technically join or not and regardless of whether one agrees with my qualms about being grandfathered in, the 10,000 word minimum affects anyone who hadn’t met the previous guidelines for full membership before the deadline and is still a change that I consider very problematic in both its strategic implications of keeping out writers who excel at the shortest form and practical effects of reducing potential membership for no clear reason.

For a lot of science fiction and fantasy writers trying to lay their claim to fame, becoming eligible to be a member of SFWA is a major milestone to mark their progress, and I was no exception. At the time, to get the full Active membership you had to make 3 story sales paid at least five cents per word and which totalled more than a certain dollar amount (I forget what the exact total was, a few hundred dollars I think) and where each individual sale was worth at least $50. I reached that goal and became eligible with the acceptance of “Marley and Cratchit” to Escape Pod, adding to my prior sales of “Turning Back the Clock” to Bull Spec and “The Infinite Onion” to AE. So, I reached that goal and there was much rejoicing (by me at least). I was able to join, and could go to the SFWA suite at Worldcon 2012 which was a great place to be.

This year SFWA changed their criteria, to up the professional rate to six cents per word, and also to add a minimum word count of your qualifying stories to 10,000 words.

I generally approve of the upping of the professional rate–it needs to go up periodically to have some relation to inflation, and I think that’s really overdue. Yes, it makes it more difficult for magazines to meet the criteria, but this list of markets is a large part of why SF/F has generally higher standards than some other kinds of short story markets.

I don’t approve, though, of the 10,000 word limit. Presumably there was a specific reason–but what is that reason? It seems to me that this is a strategy specifically designed to keep flash fiction from counting toward membership. I don’t know if this is another one of those conversations where some older members of the organization think that SFWA membership should be kept only to those who have writing as their only job. Could you do that? Sure. But the organization would be small and much more irrelevant, and would explicitly exclude a whole ton of award winning authors like Ken Liu who have day jobs. Who does that benefit exactly?

So, who does this benefit,changing the rules so that flash fiction is less important? I’m not the only writer whose most sales are flash fiction. Is it because the people prompting the rule change don’t understand the form? I’ll grant you, you can’t have a full complicated plot in a flash story like you can in a longer story, but flash fiction has its own appeal that other kinds of fiction can’t do well. Anecdotally, I’ve heard speculation that this is to keep some well-paying drabble (100 word story) sales from getting you to membership, but if you can sell a drabble for $50 you are my hero and I want to pick your brain. I haven’t seen any public statements about why SFWA’s organizers thought this was a worthwhile change.

As a result of this change, I no longer qualify for SFWA membership. I have 4 individual sales, but they only add up to 9180 words. So I’d need to make at least one sale of 920 words which makes at least $50. This frustrates me, for me and other flash writers like me to be excluded for no explained reason when we meet the other criteria.

I will note as well that the rules on the SFWA website say “Three paid sales of different works of fiction (such as three separate short stories) totaling a minimum of 10,000 words to Qualifying Professional Markets”. Note that it says “three” not “three or more. Which, if that’s what was actually meant, would limit flash sales even more, because getting 10 professional 1000-word story sales wouldn’t count to get the 10,000 if you can only pick 3 of them to count. I’ve been told by members of SFWA that the actual bylaws say “three or more”, which is a relief because then I’d have even further to go–then I would only be able to count 3 of those sales to count 8200 words and I’ve just have to sell longer stories. One story of 2800 words or 2 stories that total 4100 words between them. The trouble with the website being wrong is that it’s the source that newbie writers are going to use to determine whether they should apply or not–so even though the bylaws are the source, this is the public side of it. Hopefully they’ll get the website updated soon.

And I hope that they repeal the 10,000 word minimum. At the very least, I’d like to hear why they think flash fiction isn’t valuable to the SF community, or what other strategy they might have behind this change–I don’t think such a thing would make me happy, exactly, but then we could have a discussion about the topic at the core of this rather than just complaining about the symptom.

In the meantime, I guess there’s nothing to do for it but to consider “Requalifying for SFWA” as a new milestone to reach. Onward and upward!

Podcast Spotlight: Extruding America

written by David Steffen

“Searching for the heart of a nation… in the throat of its people.” Thus is the mission of Extruding America, the brainchild of podcaster Gerard Armbruster. His mission: to deliver a nice slice of Americana straight to your ears with a generous dollop of profundity on top. Such as Stetson Tudd who lives in the state of Washington and has delivered periodic Postcards from Battersea, and… Well, admittedly, Gerard has only one correspondent. But don’t tell Stetson that.

Extruding America is a little tricky to classify. It’s certainly not the short story fare that I usually spend my listening time on. I listened to it on a recommendation, and didn’t really expect to like it since it wasn’t in my preferred format. Since it’s not in short story format I am doing this spotlight in place of the usual Best Of list I do for story podcasts.

But I really liked it. It had me laughing from the beginning with its tag line. And in the end I really felt like I knew the bumbling, well-meaning, lonely Gerard who puts everything into making this podcast and his rambling, philosophical, moody friend Stetson. Gerard’s not great at conducting interviews, but then again Stetson’s not great at being interviewed. Gerard begins most episodes with a target theme, like “Isolation” and a core question in support of that topic that he wants Stetson to answer. But Stetson usually just ends up talking about whatever’s on his mind at the time, which is rarely the chosen topic of the day.

The best way that I could describe the show is heartfelt parody of a show like Prairie Home Companion (or a parody of my mental image of that show since I’ve never listened). It’s heartfelt, but also silly. I especially liked some of the later episodes, after Gerard purchases a recording device which is so sensitive it can even record thoughts and dreams–and it works as advertises, as evidenced by some very hallucinatory recordings. My special favorite of these is Extruding America 36: Ghosts.

Sadly, the episodes of Extruding America started petering out in 2010, and the most recent episode was posted on September 2, 2011. I don’t believe there was ever an official announcement that the podcast was cancelled. Maybe there’s still hope that Gerard and Stetson’s voices will grace our ears once again! Gerard is voiced by Eric Luke, who I have been happy to hear as a voice actor on other podcasts.