- Home > Archive: June, 2011
Last July while on a solo camping trip in the wilderness, I found myself in between novel projects. Because I dictate most of my writing while hiking, I hated to let all that good creative time go to waste—so I wrote two short stories that had been on my back-burner, a science fiction piece called “A Delicate Balance” and an original fantasy story, a spinoff of my Terra Incognita trilogy, titled “Mythical Creatures.”
I had a secondary purpose for writing “Mythical Creatures” (okay, call it an ulterior motive). My third Terra Incognita novel, The Key to Creation, was scheduled for publication in July 2011 (a year after my camping trip). Not only did I think “Mythical Creatures” was a good story, I also hoped that it would generate interest in the finale of the Terra Incognita trilogy, maybe attracting new readers who would decide to check out the three novels.
After returning from the camping trip, I sent the audio files to my typist, who transcribed both stories and sent my draft files back. I polished the two stories, finishing them by mid-August. “A Delicate Balance” and “Mythical Creatures” were ready to submit to magazines, and I sent them to top science fiction and fantasy publications.
By the end of September, “Mythical Creatures” came back from the first fantasy editor. “We don’t generally publish traditional fantasy stories.” (Yes, newbies, even successful authors still garner rejection slips, especially in today’s extremely tight short story market.) So I sent it to Fantasy market #2. We still had nine months.
Two months later (November) Fantasy market #2 went out of business, and the story came back unread.
Hmmm. By now, only seven months remained before the story needed to come out. Time was starting to get a little tight. Print fiction magazines usually can’t turn work around that quickly, so I chose to send the story to a web-based Fantasy market, assuming they had more flexibility and swifter turnaround. “Mythical Creatures” came back from them in late December. “We don’t like stories with religious overtones.” (The Terra Incognita trilogy is deeply rooted in a fantasy version of the Crusades, a bloody religious war that crosses continents.)
Meanwhile, I still hadn’t heard anything from Science Fiction market #1 about “A Delicate Balance,” even though it had been four months. That’s not an unheard-of response time, but when I sent in a query, the editor responded with some embarrassment: the submission must have been lost somewhere; could I please resend it? They would read it immediately. So I resubmitted the story.
Now, with only six months left before June and the impending publication of The Key to Creation, I thought I might have to bite the bullet and release “Mythical Creatures” online myself, strictly for the promotional value. Nevertheless, keeping my fingers crossed, I submitted the story to one more market, a major web-based SF and fantasy venue. In my cover letter, I explained the situation, that this story was tied to the July release of a novel and that—if the editor liked the story—could it possibly be released by June? If that schedule was unrealistic, I asked for the story back right away, and we’d make it an eStory.
Meanwhile, a month after my query, I still hadn’t heard back on “A Delicate Balance,” so I queried again. By February (more than six months after the submission), the story came back; the editor didn’t like the ending. So I sent it to Analog magazine, which has published many of my SF stories.
March: still no response from the web magazine on “Mythical Creatures.” Now only three months remained before my June deadline. This didn’t look good. I wrote a somewhat anxious letter, again emphasizing the ticking clock and saying “if you can’t publish this by June, please let me know and I’ll release it myself.” By now that seemed the only viable alternative, but the editor responded promptly: The submission had gone astray somewhere. Could I please resend it? I was promised an answer within a week, so I did re-send the story—and again included the reminder from the outset that if June was not a possible target release, then I would withdraw the story and publish “Mythical Creatures” myself.
In April, Stan Schmidt, the editor of Analog, wrote to say he liked “A Delicate Balance” and asked for a few minor clarifications to the text. I made the edits, gave the story another close read (it had been nine months since I’d last read it, after all), and sent it back. A week later he accepted the story for Analog. I received and signed the contracts in early May.
Alas, still no answer on “Mythical Creatures,” and so by May 1, I sent a polite letter to the webzine editor withdrawing the story. I’d written “Mythical Creatures” ten months earlier, which should have been plenty of time for its release in conjunction with the related novel. Now, however, the only possible way to do it in time would be to publish the story ourselves.
At WordFire Press, Rebecca and I have been releasing many of our own eBooks, putting my out-of-print novels and short stories back in print in all the same venues that major publishers do. We’re familiar with how to do it—so we got to work.
Lee Gibbons, the excellent cover artist for the Terra Incognita novels, had already sold us the rights to his paintings for use on our Terra Incognita rock CD covers, including part of his Key to Creation artwork for our third CD (currently in progress); I asked Lee if I could also use the ornate dagger handle as a graphic element for the eStory cover. I reread the story and gave it a final polish; Rebecca, who worked for many years as a professional copy-editor, proofed “Mythical Creatures,” then designed the cover using Lee’s artwork.
In order to sweeten the deal, to make the story more tempting to the Terra Incognita fans, we added bonus material: the full text, story, and all the lyrics from both Terra Incognita rock CDs (none of which has ever been available online). We priced the whole package at $1.99.
Working together, we got the story up for sale within two weeks.
If I had done that in the first place, the story could have been available (and generating sales) since last August.
This changes the whole publishing and release dymamic. I had spent the better part of a year going through the traditional submission process with traditional publications—as I’ve done all my career. I sold “A Delicate Balance” on its second submission to one of the most-respected science fiction magazines…but even that took nine months, the contract was signed in the tenth month, and I don’t know yet when the story will hit the newsstands (probably another six months or so). That isn’t an unusual amount of time by any means, and Analog has been very, very good to me over the years. It’s just the way magazines work.
My concern about the timely release of “Mythical Creatures” didn’t much matter to the other editors involved. It was my deadline, not theirs. But even without a self-imposed deadline, do authors—and readers—need, or want, to wait more than a year between the writing and the publication of a new work? (And that’s if an editor accepts it early on…some highly successful novels were rejected half a dozen times, causing a delay of five years or more!)
Ebooks offer an express lane for authors interested in getting their books and stories into print as soon as possible—much faster than the speed of traditional publishing.
The clock is ticking.
Our novel THE TRINITY PARADOX throws and anti-nuclear activist back in time to the days of the Manhattan Project in WWII. Activist Elizabeth Devane wished for an end to nuclear weapons. During a protest, the unthinkable happens: a flash of light and Elizabeth awakes to find herself alone in a desolate desert arroyo almost fifty years in the past: 1944, Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project. Could she—should she—attempt the greatest sabotage in history?
German publisher Atlantis will be issuing the book in translation, and we have made TRINITY available as an eBook for all formats. Coauthor Doug Beason just finished the following interview for Atlantis.
INTERVIEW WITH DOUG BEASON
for the German Edition of THE TRINITY PARADOX published by Atlantis
Hello Mr. Beason. Can you describe the meaning of Los Alamos for mankind and from your view as scientist, author, and US Air Force Colonel and the modern world in one or two short sentences? (Is there maybe a difference when the scientist and the colonel in you “are answering” this question?)
DB: I believe that the Los Alamos project only accelerated the inevitable. That is, I believe that nuclear weapons would eventually be discovered, but it took a forcing function of perceived national survival to make it come to fruition in 1945.
The story of the beginnings of atomic weapons is also a history about great science, incredible progress, military ambitions, and needs of a dark time with war and terror, later about power, international “balance” and even spies! It was a crazy, ambivalent time back then in the 1940s, wasn’t it? It’s hard to imagine that on that hot, dangerous ground such great, but again very ambivalent, inventions were successfully made.
DB: Humans rise to the occasion, regardless of their environment. It’s tough to imagine people working in conditions other than what they’re used to – but to those in the past, they didn’t know any better, nor could they imagine any other conditions. They did what they did, regardless of the circumstances.
How did you research all that? Los Almos back then in the 1940s, the environment and surroundings of the Manhattan Project, and all that stuff back then?
DB: Both Kevin and I did an incredible amount of research by reading, as well as visiting Los Alamos on several levels. I completed my PhD thesis on Los Alamos supercomputers in the 1980’s, and worked in several of the labs and outlying areas. Kevin worked there for a while as well, and we both hiked the surrounding area. I had a chance to visit Trinity Site at White Sands with my daughters, where the first device was detonated; I also had performed research at Oscura Peak, a mountain overlooking Trinity on another project, so both Kevin and I were well versed in the Los Alamos wartime-era heritage.
How did you came first in touch with Science Fiction and how had you become a fan of that very speculative fantastic genre?
DB: I had read the SF classics as a boy – Heinlein, Asimov,Clarke, etc – and was encouraged by my Mom, a friend of my parents … and my reading was grudgingly tolerated by my teachers.
Do you see yourself more as an author, or more as an scientist? And were those two “souls” in your heart a problem while writing THE TRINITY PARADOX?
DB: I had always dreamed I was going to be a rock star when I grew up. But my mediocre talent as a musician (exacerbated by the draft during the Vietnam War) took backseat to my talent in science. So TRINITY allowed me to fulfill both my fascination by the science (which is an incredibly alluring field) and the creativity in exploring the question “what else could have happened” in this world-changing event.
What fascinates you personally as author about alternate history novels? And what do you think it is that readers love about them so much?
DB: It’s the possibility that things might have turned out to be so incredibly different if it wasn’t due to the “flap of a butterfly’s wing.”
Can you describe how the idea of THE TRINITY PARADOX came to life first and how it came to co-writing the book with Kevin J. Anderson?
DB: I think Kevin came up with the original idea. We’d met back in 1985 when I was doing a sabattical at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and we’d hit it off, having numerous things in common: an appreciation for good beer, writing, and pontificating about the future. We decided to collaborate on a short story, and after several collaborations had sold, we decided to write a novel together. LIFELINE, a story of the survival of our species in space, was our first collaborative novel, based on a short-story we’d sold to David Brin’s SOLAR SAIL anthology. That led to a 3-book contract, and for the next book after LIFELINE, Kevin got this great idea of writing about this passion we’d both shared: writing about the simultaneous horrifying yet alluring chronicle of the Los Alamos project. We wanted to show the reaction of a nuclear weapons protestor who was suddenly thrust back in time to the Manhatten Project. Even more challenging was making the protestor a feminist, and juxtapostioning her modern sensibilities in a WWII male-dominated society.
What are the advantages and what are the difficultues in writing a book with another author?
DB: Collaborating is a 110% effort. I initially went into our collaboration thinking I’d only do 50% of the work – but I ended up brainstorming, negotiating, and re-writing to produce a product that although was a lot harder to do, was instead much, much greater than what either of us could have done alone.
How do we have to imagine the co-working-process of you and Kevin J. Anderson? How did you write the book together? Who’s job was what and so on?
DB: It helps that Kevin and I are friends. We’re definitely not clones, and that’s great, because Kevin is an incredibly energetic, bright, and motivated writing partner – one of the most amazing people I’ve known. But although it takes 110% of the effort, a collaboration is always a 50-50 responsibility, each person having equal say in how the book turns out. So when we plan a book, we start with an idea, then expand on it – usually by poking holes in each other’s thesis, while coming up with a singular path for a compelling story. Then we start chopping up the parts to discretize our story. Afterwards, we lay out the parts and decide who will write which parts: one of us may take a single character all the way through, or one of us may write a specific location. I know for TRINITY that Kevin had an affinity for the German scenes, so he wrote those and I wrote most of the Los Alamos scenes. But it doesn’t always work that way. Basically we do whatever seems right and we change it to make the best product in the end. So if either of us has a problem with any of the scenes, paragraphs, or words, we change it at will: a true example of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Where there some real noteworthy arguments or problems that occur because of working together on a novel?
DB: No, I don’t think so. We always got along and managed to negotiate. I think we both realized that the end product was more important than our individual contribution.
How do you think the novel would be different if it had not been written by two _American_ authors?
DB: I would hope that the sense of urgency for national survial might not be lost. That’s why we wrote this in the first place. Remember, when TRINITY was published, the US was going through a great angst against our use of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Kevin and my thesis was that people responded to the times, and to their perception of the most likely future that would result if they didn’t do anything – and at the time, that was world dominace by Hitler and Japan. The US first established the Los Alamos project because of Albert Einstein’s warning of Germany’s dominance in nuclear physics, and the consequences of Hitler misusing that dominace. As an aside, I was on a cruise-ship last year and an English gentleman, upon learning that I had worked at Los Alamos, thanked me for saving his life. In 1945 he had been ordered to invade Japan with his countrymen, and the allies expected 1 million allied deaths during the invasion. But because Japan surrendered after the 2 nuclear attacks, his life, as well as his allies, had been spared. And after 55 years he thanked me. In 1945 he was responding to the times, and he was not trying to second guess what other paths the allies might have taken. So by writing TRINITY, we tried to show both the horrors and the thankfulness that resulted from developing nuclear weapons – for hopefully – their last and only use.
The tragical events in Japan earlier in 2011 show the danger not only from atomic weapons, but from atomic energy in general. What do you think about that whole “green planet” and “alternate energy” discussion?
DB: Nuclear power is only one but many options for clean, efficient power. It should be part of a holistic approach, and not ruled out simply because of unfounded fear.
Are you aware of the differences in that [political] discussion and topic between the USA and Europe?
DB: Yes – but I would welcome any constructive engagement, as I believe both the US and Europe have end-states of peace, plentiful power, and prosperity in common.
You wrote a fact book about the future of the war and how the American e bomb will affect it. Would it be correct to call modern atomic weapons – first of all – as leverage? Or are we maybe nearer to atomic war-actions than we all believe? Maybe nearer than while the cuba crisis? I have the feeling people “get used to” the news about some crazy dictators having nuclear weapons or that they just don’t care …
DB: World interactions are evolving, and aknowledging the existence of nuclear weapons and their threat are only a portion of the calculus required to fully live in peace. For example, even the irradication of small pox showed that a quantum of the virus had to be maintained in order to fight against future outbreaks. In the same manner, even in a hypothetical “nuclear-free world,” arguably some expertise must be maintained to detect, understand, deter, and negate any future nuclear threats by those who don’t subscribe to nuclear disarmament. My book THE E-BOMB shows a new facet of interaction – but no solution is all-encompassing, for there will always be counter-threats. A combination of technology, political, and even innovative social solutions are required in our ever-changing world.
Anything left you want to share with your German readers?
DB: Writing TRINITY was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had, both on a professional and personal level. Although not everyone has the same world view as I – even Kevin and I disagree – I hope TRINITY will continue to fuel intellectual debate on the history and existence of nuclear weapons.
Thank you for your interest, and all the best!