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A Doctor Sees Death

Chapter 3 of The Choking Rain, “An Invader Repelled,” and Chapter 4, “A Doctor Sees Death” are now available for free at http://www.wattpad.com/story/23272878-the-choking-rain.

Okay, sorry about that. The press of Life has prevented me from fulfilling my promise that I would conclude our London adventures, and I am reminded that my fans might be hanging by their fingertips (metaphorically speaking, I hope). So here I am. Where were we…?

Yes, the last time we saw our intrepid adventurers, they’d finished Loncon (did I mention we met the showrunners from “Game of Thrones”? Did I mention I got to hold their Hugo? Did I mention it was freakin’ heavy?), and were on their way back to central London. Our hotel was across from a tube station, so good on that. Very nice, very comfortable and good service.

We’d been to London before, but we hadn’t seen the city, just the parts we visited, if you know what I mean, so this time we got bus/tube passes so we could travel aboveground and see things. This was great, double-decker buses and all. We did take the tube to our first play, because it was at night, a pleasant ten-minute ride. But we also believe in walking a city, so one day we decided to stroll down the boulevard a bit. And things were so interesting, we kept strolling. We walked from Earl’s Court to the West End theatres–where we had just been the night before. You know, the trip that took ten minutes on the tube. At one point I needed to re-tie my shoe, but something about the building we were passing made me think I shouldn’t stop. Good thing–it was the Libyan embassy.

So yeah, we saw some plays, my wife got to meet Nigel Havers, and that was all fun. One night we were early, and the only obvious places to eat were Five Guys Burgers and Chipotle. We asked the theatre box office man where we could eat food that “wasn’t American!” and he laughed and directed us to a lovely restaurant where they couldn’t take us because we didn’t have reservations. Except that then they did, and it was very good. As was the play. (It was “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde, since you ask. You should see it if you haven’t. It’s funny.)

But what about the tube, you ask? Where did the title of your blog come from? Oh, that. Turns out when they say, “The doors are closing,” they really mean it. And there’s a sign language for “Wait here! I’ll come right back!” You laugh, but I’m not the only person I saw employing it while I was there.

So finally we put London in the rear view mirror and returned home. Not much to say, except that the flight was 2 1/2 hours late (balancing out the trip), and we were delayed 45 minutes on the ground at LAX (because the trip hadn’t quite balanced yet) and on the plane we met the wife of the director of Downton Abbey, on her way to attend the Emmys with her husband (who, sadly, did not win). So all in all, pretty dull.

And that was our trip. Except for airport delays, crazy turbulence, making new friends, holding a Hugo, meeting famous people, nearly causing an international incident, and being kidnapped by the London Underground, not much happened. Oh, I almost forgot…but no, you don’t want to hear about that…

My homage to the 30s pulps of Doc Savage, The Shadow, and (if you’re truly an aficionado) The Avenger, entitled The Choking Rain, is being serialized free on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/23272878-the-choking-rain). It’s the first of what I hope will be a series of fast-paced adventure tales laden with cliff-hangers (think Radar Men from the Moon or The Phantom Empire). I will be posting chapters twice per week, and talking with my fans via the comments.

The 1930s–when novels were a dime, women weren’t liberated, and the world hadn’t quite been explored

1932. A wave of mysterious and seemingly random deaths has struck pre-Olympic Games Los Angeles. When the conspiracy seems to target his family, ex-fighter ace Eric Reinhold recruits a group of old friends with varied talents to track down those reponsible. But after tragedy strikes, the group must plunge into one of the last untamed wildernesses on Earth to seek the source of the Invisible Death–before it can reach out to strangle every city in America…

My short SF story, “Day of Reckoning,” has gone live at Plasma Frequency Magazine. It’s free. You should read it. I did, and I liked it a lot. They should publish more stories by that guy.

Whew! What do you call a ten-day whirl of delayed flights, storms, malfunctioning Jetways, broken luggage, 11 hours of non-functioning in-flight video, and 45 minutes on an LA tarmac in August without air conditioning? Answer: My trip to Loncon 3. And I mean that precisely: That was the trip out. (Not to mention the 90-minute tube journey through London at rush hour with two suitcases, but we knew about that.)

It is a tribute to the Loncon crew that even with all that, the trip was worthwhile. It helped that we lucked into a hotel next to the convention center; some people were commuting 30 minutes every day. We only commuted ten minutes a day, and that was because we were on the “unfashionable side” of the ExCel, as Lady Bracknell would say, and it was a long walk to the convention space proper.

And still it was worth the trip. European cons offer one great advantage that American cons just cannot seem to match: Europeans. I lost count of how many languages we heard. And European cons don’t run on the wimpy 10 – 5 schedule we have here. They ran seven tracks of programming from 9 am to 11:30 pm. (I shudder to think who you had to offend to get an 11:30 pm reading. Maybe those were reserved for horror authors.)

I did have a problem with the program–not that there weren’t panels I wanted to see, because we’ve been to so many cons that new and interesting panels are few and far between, but because I was shut out of fully sixty percent of those I did want because the rooms were too small. I realize Loncon may not have been expecting 7000 attendees, but really, if your venue’s rooms aren’t big enough, get a new venue. Otherwise you might as well call yourself Comic-Con.

Fortunately, the real reason I went was to meet people. I’m a member of Codex, the internet community for newer pros, and we have an annual Worldcon breakfast which is the only chance many of us ever get to meet the others, let alone those of us who live in Europe and don’t get to smaller domestic cons. The breakfast was a great success, and I managed to put faces to a lot of names, exchange some business cards, grouse a little about magazine response times. There were other meet and greets, and I believe I made some worthwhile contacts.

After four days mostly spent walking or sitting at the convention center coffee house, the con was over. The concom was exhausted. Most of the guests went home. Us? We were only half-way through our London adventure, and the “interesting times,” in the Confucian sense, were only beginning…

“Time heals all wounds.” I don’t know about that, some wounds are pretty deep, but it’s amazing the wounds time can heal in your fiction.

The standard wisdom is that once you draft a story, and re-draft, and edit, and…you get the picture, and you do this however many times are right for you,* you put your story aside for a while, preferably long enough that you can no longer recite it in your sleep and will be able to look at it with a fresh eye. (I call this the “cooling-off period,” like when you leave a pie on the window sill for a cartoon bear to steal.) Then you do some more editing and it’s finally ready to send to your beta readers, if you’re lucky enough to have some.

Well, guess what? That “cooling off” period is never enough.

I just finished revising a story which had been through a number of initial edits and which I considered good enough for submission. It went to 18 different magazines, receiving personal rejections and being short-listed more than once, but never bought. (And yes, I know it’s bad form to talk about how many rejections it’s gotten; that’s why I’m not saying which story it is. Honestly, I hadn’t realized how many times it’s been rejected until now.)

So at last I asked a new beta reader to look at it, and the number of things that now appear blindingly obvious, things that I should have taken out, things that I have now added in, is ridiculous. There is so much more to the story now…

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. It happens with every story, even the ones you sell, which is why it might not be a good idea to re-visit your successes. It happened most vividly with one sale that was handed over to an editor after acceptance, not just a copy-editor, but an editor. When she and I were done the story was so much better I couldn’t understand how I sold it in the first place.

So a “cooling-off” period is never enough, because if you wait long enough that you have improved, and gain sufficient objectivity, to refine your story to its peak, the scientific advances you’re writing about will have taken place and you’ll be creating historical fiction. You need help. You need another set of eyes—and not just any eyes. You need someone who (a) understands the field you’re writing in, and (b) loves you enough to be honest. A well-meaning but soft critique is worse than useless. Get used to it. You need a thick skin to do this.

But don’t worry. Time (and sales) heals all wounds.

*There is no one way to write. As long as you are actually writing, your way is the right way.

If you ask a writer what the most unwelcome words in the English language, you would expect him to say, “We’re sorry, but your work doesn’t suit our needs.” This is truly a hated phrase, one which no writer enjoys hearing (or more likely, reading), but when you have been in this life for a while (i.e., after your first submission), you come to realize it is part of the job. If you can’t deal with it, you bail for something less stressful, like bomb disposal.

Every writer lives in fear, however, of a different phrase, two sentences whose utterance can inspire panic and desperation in the greatest, the most stalwart, and the ones who couldn’t run away fast enough. I refer, of course, to:

“I have this idea for a story. How about you write it, and we’ll split the profits?”

(Pause for shrieks of agony from writers.)

How do you deal with this? How do you tell this well-meaning but incredibly naïve hopeful (who may range from a complete stranger to your brother-in-law) that you would rather read slush for a living at a for-the-love unicorn-slash fanzine than accept his offer?

First, let’s examine why this is such a terrible idea. There are two main reasons: (1) Most the writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. (I have notebooks full, myself.) They don’t need your ideas. (2) Your ideas are your ideas. You want to see them written down because they resonate with you. They will not resonate with others the same way. So if your idea is so great, if it sets you on fire, write it yourself. (Note: Certain celebutantes with too much money and no self-esteem have tried to make it acceptable to hire a ghost writer and then put their own names on the cover. Really? You can’t be bothered/brave enough to put your own work on display?)

These days, if you have an idea for a story or a novel, you can write it and publish it yourself. It won’t even cost you anything. So why would anyone ask someone else to do this for him? Why would anyone ask another writer to put in hundreds of hours hunched over a laptop, spend days researching agents, dispatch dozens of queries and submissions, and endure months of waiting only to find that, “We’re sorry, but your work doesn’t suit our needs”?

Huh.

Say, I have this idea for a story. You want to write it and we can split the profits?

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