Magazine Editors
Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
Gordon Van Gelder

conducted May 29, 1997

more writershome page

Jim Freund:  Welcome to a special "Fifth Thursday" chat at OmniVisions. Our panel tonight will consist of sf's foremost magazine editors: Gordon Van Gelder of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois from Isaac Asimov's Magazine, and Ellen Datlow, from of course, Omni. (She is also our esteemed producer.) We will begin as usual at 10:00 PM EDT with an interview/panel discussion, and will open the forum for your participation sometime around 11:00 PM. Join us!

Ellen Datlow:  Hi. I'm here.

Gardner Dozois:  Hi, I'm here. --Gardner

JF:  Two minutes till showtime. Anyone else here yet?

Gordon Van Gelder:  Hi Jim. I'm here. Am I early?

JF:  Hi Gardner.

GVG:  I guess I'm not early. Let me adjust my tie.

ED:  Hi Gordon.

GD:  I'm here, wherever "here" is. --Gardner

JF:  Nope, you're right on time, and it's now 10:00 PM. Welcome. Anyone see Gardner in the room yet?

JF:  Hi!

GD:  Oh goodness, we were supposed to wear CLOTHES? find some shorts> --Gardner

ED:  A beautiful tie it is Gordon (as usual)--I'm imagining it (I know you only have one:>)

JF:  Let start right in: In these chats, it has become my favorite stock question to ask writers about short stories vs. longer works. James Gunn and John Brunner (among others) asserted in essays that the short story can do turns and tricks in sf better than "mainstream" fiction. Do you agree with this, and is so, how/why? (Later I'll inquire about the marketplace.)

GD:  Can you not see me, Jim?

ED:  I think short sf is certainly more interesting than most mainstream short fiction. It's more imaginative (generally speaking) more outward (I find most domestic mainstream short fiction too insular and dull dull dull).

JF:  (An interface note to our guests: Remember that this software will only sustain about a paragraph of text. If your message is longer than that, break it up by ending with an ellipsis (...), and then when your multi-part message is done, type /ga for "Go Ahead".)

ED:  Oh Gardner....I've never seen....

JF:  Now I see you, Gardner... You were standing in the shadows. (By the bar.)

GD:  I've always been a short fiction man myself, and love the form far more than novels. --Gardner

GVG:  It's too easy to generalize about mainstream short fiction or SF short fiction. O. Henry's short stories turned tricks with the best SF stories.

ED:  Gardner, do you mean as writer or editor or both?

JF:  Gardner, can you elaborate on the difference as a writer on the craft of short fiction? Why do you prefer it?

ED:  But Gordon, I'm not sure that I consider O'Henry a "mainstream" writer.....he certainly wrote dark stories, and fantasy -like stories.

GD:  If you include novellas as short fiction, then that may be the perfect form for SF. Long enough to include some detail about the society, short enough not to be dull

ED:  I agree with Gardner, although a long novelette will do the same thing.

GVG:  That's why it's a tricky question---what do you call "mainstream"? I've read a lot of bad, boring "mainstream" stories. Ditto for SF.

JF:  True, Gordon. And of course, I should have specified that this was a generaliozation and as such, subject to all kinds of exceptions. I'd like to especially solicit your take on long vs. short, since you're still an editor of novels at St. Martin's Press, and now handling shorts (as it were) at F&SF.

GD:  Both, Ellen. I've edited a novel line, but enjoy editing short fiction more.

GD:  I like short fiction because it's CONSISE. A really good short story should contain no more words than it needs to get the job done. Just that many, then stop.

GVG:  I'm coming to disagree with Gardner over time about the novella being ideal for SF.

I'm starting to think the ideal form is the novel formed from linked novellas, like Sturgeon's MORE THAN HUMAN or Wilhelm's WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG. The total book tends to be more than the sum of the parts (in ideal cases).

GD:  Wheras many novels I see today strike me as grossly padded. As a writer myself, I'd be much more likely to boil a 400- page novel down to a short story than to expand a short story to a 400-page novel.

JF:  I can't define "mainstream" any better than I can easily define SF&F, other than to say that it's what some derogatorily refer to as "mundane" fiction; meaning that the stories could occur in the here and now without any extraordinary technologies or supernatural events. Even more simply put, non-genre.

GD:  Well, even novellas can be padded. Form dictates length: if you CAN handle the material as a short story, do so. You only need to go longer if the material is complex enough that you CAN'T do it justice at a shorter length.

ED:  I find many sf novels bloated. I think that it's only exceptional cases wherein an idea cannot be expressed in the short form (up to novella). But of course, one can't make a living writing short fiction.

GVG:  Gardner, I agree with you that there's something wonderful about a concise story in which not a word is wasted, but I have to say also that I love a long novel in which I can lose myself.

GD:  What a linked collection of novellas has going for it over a single novella is that it can show progress through time. How the implications of the idea work themselves out over a period of years. A minor character in one story can be the hero of another 20 years later.

JF:  Gordon, is there a distinction between the 'linked novellas' you refer to, and serial short stories/novellas, such as City or Foundation?  (I should add Cordwainer Smith)

GVG:  Gardner---that's exactly what I like about longer novels (or linked novellas): the sense of scope.

No, I don't see a real distinction between linked stories and linked novellas, except that the books formed of linked novellas tend to flow much better. You get more unity.

GD:  I'm not really sure I share that feeling, Gordon. Unless they're exceptional, long novels tend to bore me. Even most of the best of them have long dead stretches to them.

Jim, it's hard to keep up with the screens in this format. If I miss an important question, just repeat it.

JF:  Understood, Gardner. You ain't missed nuttin yet.

GVG:  Usually, if I stick with a book past the first 100 pages or so, I can stick with it for a *long* time. I suspect I'm more of a Victorian reader than you are, Gardner.

ED:  Wasn't Bishop's Catacomb Years a series of linked stories and also Jack Dann's The Man Who Melted? Or a combo of short stories and novellas? I think it's difficult to make such wonderful fragments into a cohesive "novel." I read the Bishop _as_ a novel, the Dann as short stories first. The latter worked better for me separately because I read the stories individually.

GD:  I think many novels are the worst today for being padded, and some book editors even ENCOURAGE the authors to pad them, because a long book is more credible as an A title. It's a rare novel that I couldn't easily cut 30,000 words out of, though.

ED:  Gardner, you can change the history size to 8 or 10 and that might help.

JF:  How do you all feel about fix-ups? Are they merely a marketing ploy to sell a story individually, or do they have artistic merit? Personally, I preferred "The Guardians" over Childhood's End, and "The Fireman" over Fahrenheit 451.

GD:  Actually, Ellen, although no one believes this, Jack wrote THE MAN WHO MELTED as a novel FIRST, and then pulled short stories out of it for individual publication. People still insist that it's a fix-up, though. Maureen McHugh is sure they'll say the same about her new novel...

ED:  I agree with Gardner about the padding. I don't mind wallowing in a good novel but it might be I just don't have the time or energy to carry a doorstop around with me as I mostly read novels while on the subway.

GVG:  Gardner, I agree that most BIG FAT FANTASY novels have lots of padding, but Nicola Griffith and I tried to cut 25,000 words out of AMMONITE (to pull an example) and we couldn't do it without damaging the book

ED:  Gardner that's interesting about the Man Who Melted because it definitely did feel like a fix-up to me. I published several of the stories in Omni before the book came out.

GVG:  ...and AMMONITE clocked in around 384 pages when it was typeset.

GD:  ...even though 80 percent of it is new material. If you have any part of a novel published beforehand, though, many critics will dismiss it as a "fix-up," as though those are less viable than "real" novels.

ED:  But Ammonite wasn't that long to begin with was it? It certainly didn't end up very long.

JF:  (Note to audience: It can sometimes appear that questions are answered befor they're asked out of sequence, because all participants type simultaneously and then review what the others have said.)

ED:  Sorry. My comment came in before I saw Gordon's about Ammonite.

GVG:  I think the word count on AMMONITE was around 110,000 - 115,000.

GD:  And "Baby Is Three" is the best part of MORE THAN HUMAN. Often the initial story is the best--but ideally the other linked stories should help to explore some of the ramifications of the initial idea as they work themselves out over time.

ED:  I think some writers do "fix-up" novels almost as a place holder in their careers--while writing the actual next novel. I'm assuming their publishers also want something out there to keep the author's name out there? Do you think that Gordon? In your novel editor's hat?

ED:  110,000 words is hardly a doorstop. Most of my anthologies come out to about that length....

GVG:  As a book editor, I can tell you that publishers always want books that will sell from writers who sell.

GD:  Nicola Griffith is the kind of careful craftsman where that doesn't surprise me at all. But there are a lot of novels out there that are grossly padded, nonetheless. A novella or even a short story can also be padded, of course--then it's part of the editors job to cut those parts out.

GVG:  I think Bantam, for instance, has been just as happy to publish Connie Willis's individual novellas (UNCHARTED TERRITORY, REMAKE) as the big books like DOOMSDAY BOOK.

GVG:  Gardner---I agree there are lots of padded books out there; I guess I just don't read many of them.

GD:  This is a heretical opinion, because we're supposed to be all for absolute Freedom of the Arts, but sometimes I think that the upper word-limits that used to be set on novels, back when almost no publisher would publish a book longer than 60,000 words, tops...

JF:  I have noted that some of the digests have gotten thinner over the last few years, so I'd like to ask you all believe the market for short fiction is as strong as ever? And whether it's currently stronger in anthologies vs. magazines?

GD:  ...sometimes was actually a GOOD thing, because it forced writers to impose a certain discipline on the material. They were concise because they HAD to be. Give a writer almost infinite room, for all practical purposes, and even the good ones like Jack Vance tend to sprawl.

GVG:  That's a good question, Jim. I'm still trying to find out the answer.

GVG:  Charles Brown at LOCUS thinks that book readers and magazine readers don't overlap much anymore.

ED:  Jim, I'm not sure either. I worry about the short fiction market. I also know I'm not getting as much fiction from the pros. I don't know if it's because of our going on line or if they aren't writing as much. What about Gardner and Gordon? Are you getting a lot of short stories from pros?

GD:  It's been a tough few years for magazines, Jim, mostly for reasons having to do with market-forces that have nothing to do with what's in the magazine. I'd like to think that SF magazines will survive, though, and they DO have some advantages, particularly the digest-sized ones.

GVG:  Ellen---I'm getting some, but I don't have enough experience yet to measure the amount against any previous period.

JF:  Ellen, could it be that the economics of short story writing is (are?) keeping the pros away?

GVG:  It seems to me that a lot of pros are strongly committed to short fiction and they make time for stories *in between* novels.

JF:  Can you enumerate those advantages, Gardner?

GD:  ...the big advantage being that they're VERY cheap to produce. So you can make a profit on a relatively low amount of sales. Anthologies, on the other hand, cost more to produce, and so have to generate a higher degree of profit to break even.

ED:  Gardner, of course the fact that the digest sized mags are cheaper to produce is a positive but the down side is that they just aren't as visible a they used to be on he newsstand. There's so much competition.

The economics of being a writer are nearly as bad as the economics of being a publisher (of either books or magazines).

JF:  Gordon, I suspect that some of these writers may work short pieces in-between, as you stated, to "keep their chops up". I believe short works are a specific craft that may have a high pay-off for some writers. But then, I'm no editor or writer. How do you feel about this?

GD:  That's true, Ellen, but the SF magazines may be able to survive by the strategy that kept the mammals alive during the dinosaur era: Low Expectations. Keep small and cheap and run through the underbrush. Whereas you'll notice that none of the anthology series of the last decade or so...

ED:  The writers I worked with when I first started at OMNI have all moved on to novel-writing. Some still write short stories but many like Wm Gibson, Dan Simmons don't have the time and others, like Bruce McAllister seem to have dropped out of the field for the time being.....

GD:  ...have managed to survive through more than a few volumes. The jury's still out on STARLIGHT, of course.

JF:  Speaking of anthologies, Gardner and Ellen, you each do "Best of the Year" books for Gordon if his SMP incarnation. What relationship do you have with him--is he the editor's editor?

ED:  There are of course, some writers who do keep writing both and both well--Silverberg, Connie Willis, Michael Swanwick, Bruce Sterling. I'm not finding as many newer really excellent writers as I'd like.

GVG:  Ellen---you're overlooking all the writers like Paul Park, Jack Womack, and K.W. Jeter whom you've gotten to write short fiction after they've published some novels.

ED:  Well, with Terri Windling and my Year's Best, Jim Frenkel is the packager so we deal more directly with him than with Gordon. Jim acts as our editor.

GD:  I think you'll find after a while, Gordon, that most pros only have time for the occasional short story, once they hit a certain point in their careers. The exceptions are those writers who keep doing short fiction because they LOVE to do short fiction, even though it's against their own interests.

GVG:  Jim---as I suggested in the note to Ellen re Womack & Jeter, I think a lot of novelists find they can stretch in different directions by writing short fiction.

ED:  Gordon, of course you're right about Park, Jeter, and Womack (also Terry Bisson) but believe me those were happy accidents. I had no idea that none of them wrote short stories (either at all, or very few).

GVG:  Gardner---I think you're basically right; Joe Haldeman writes a book's worth of short stories every ten years.

GD:  And the sad fact is that very few writers ever make a living at writing novels, either--especially if you define a "living" at a reasonable middle-class level. And, historically, they never have. Almost all of the famous SF was written by people with day-jobs.

ED:  ...and of course there have been the novelists I've nagged and nagged about writing short stories for me, who finally do, and the story doesn't work. That's embarrassing.

JF:  Right, Gardner. Historically, few sf writers ever made a living at it till the 60's, I believe. And even then... 

ED:  Gee, this is all very cheery.

JF:  Do you all have a commitment to "discovering" or fostering new writers? How do you manage to deal with slush piles?

GD:  I don't see any evidence, though, that fewer pros are writing short fiction now because of the economic situation. The economic situation has ALWAYS sucked. You see the same names in the piles now as you did ten years ago, unless they're dead or retired.

GVG:  Times are tough... but they've been worse.

ED:  I think that's what every editor works for "discovering (whatever that means) and encouraging wonderful new writers. But they rarely come directly out of the slush pile (at least for me).

GD:  And I think that there are plenty of talented new writers at various stages of development--but then, Ellen's fussier than I am.

GVG:  I'm still letting my hamster go through the slush pile. He seems to enjoy it.

JF:  But Gardner, could it not be that now, some writers EXPECT to make a living at writing, which was never the case in various Golden Ages?

GVG:  ...but he did need to take a week off.

GVG:  Jim, I can answer your question about the economics. There have ALWAYS been writers who thought the world owes them a living...

JF:  Have any of you ever found anything of value on the slush pile (outside of Gordon's hamster)?

ED:  Gardner, I see a few excellent newer writers but many more really dull writers with no spark whatsoever and that discourages me.

GD:  I think that's true, Jim, but all that means is that a lot of writers are going to be disappointed. You can even put a positive spin on the fact that historically most SF has been written by people with day-jobs. That means...

GVG:  ...and there have always been hard-working writers who couldn't survive economically off of their writing alone. The stakes may be a little higher now than they were in the past, but the basic situation hasn't changed much.

ED:  Rob Killheffer, when he was my asst several years ago, found an excellent story by Australian writer Stephen Dedman that I published in Little Deaths. This year I took a story of his from F&SF for the Year's Best and his first novel is out.

GD:  ...that most SF will be written by people who WANT to write SF, because they love to write it. That's not such a bad thing. I'd rather see that than a lot of cynical hack work turned out by people who are getting rich on it.

JF:  AgreeMsg, Gardner & Gordon. I just think that could be a difference between expectations today and yesterday, and why some writers will let economics rule their decisions.

ED:  And I've occasionally worked with writers from the slush pile,not buying their first stories but encouraging them to submit elsewhere and buying maybe their second or third stories....(I can't remember anyone like this specifically). I've also bought stories for anthologies from unpublished writers--not exactly slush;maybe they went to Clarion or were recommended to me by someone else.

JF:  That's great, Ellen, though sadly unique considering what everyone has been saying (and from my experience as a slush reader at Galaxy). How then, should a talented new writer begin to submit?

GD:  No one knows better than I how hard it is to make a living as a freelancer. But the writers who really LOVE writing SF find time to write it anyway, no matter what they have to do to pay the rent. I have no sympathy for someone who has no time to do good work because he's too busy hacking.

ED:  A talented new writer should start sending out her stories in a professional manner and hope for the best. And not be discouraged by rejections. And keep writing and keep submitting.

GD:  I've found lots of good stuff in the slush pile over the years, and there still is good stuff in there. A magazine editor who doesn't pay attention to the slush is cutting himself off at the feet. Where will he get his new writers from?

JF:  (Message to all: We have now opened up the forum for audience participation. If you would like to join in with Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, and Gordon Van Gelder, exit the forum and re-enter so you'll have a dialog box which lets you post questions. Please don't forget to sign your messages so we know who you are.)

Karl Erickson:  What do you think the role of the internet might be in the future of the writing-submission process? Is there concern that the convenience of email submission might make slushpiles unmanageably large?

GVG:  Jim---A new writer should stop wasting time watching us bicker and go write something and submit it to us.

GD:  Quite true, Ellen. And it should be cheering to the new writers to realize that it's probably easier to break into professional print in this field than in any other one I can think of. Lots easier than the mystery field, for instance, and light-years easier than the "literary mainstream."

GVG:  Karl---Most editors won't yet accept electronic submissions. It's still too hard to read on the screen (in my opinion, anyway).

JF:  I'd like to amend Karl's question about online to ask about the policy that one may not become a SFWA member based on anything published online. (Ellen may wish to exempt herself herself from this, as it's clear that Omni, as an online publisher has a definite stake...)

Dave Trusdale:  What about novelists like Robert Reed (with a few) and Gene Wolfe (with many novel credits) who both seem to be prolific short story writers? 

GVG:  Karl---but the corollary to your question is that there's LOTS of concern over what internet publishing will do to the field in general.

GD:  Electronic online publishing is the big wild card in the short fiction market. No one really knows what's going to happen in that area yet, the whole thing is too new. It could become a thriving new market, or amount to nothing much in particular. No one knows yet which it will be.

ED:  So far, Karl, there is little change in the submission process on the internet. Most ezines don't accept email submissions (I don't) except in very rare cases. Very occasionally I might reject a story via email though, if the story is by someone I've worked with a lot.

GVG:  Dave---What about them? They're the rare and blessed ones. More power to them.

Karl Erickson:  In 1995, Mr. Dozois said, "by FAR the most typical sort of SF story submitted is the near future, soft science, sociological, dystopian story..." Is this still true? Has the slush pile changed much in the last few years?

ED:  Jim, re: SFWA membership and online publication I'm on a SFWA committee dealing with that question right now. We're putting together a proposal about it to put before the membership.

Dave Trusdale: Gordon-- Gardner mentioned that few novelists write short stories anymore.

GD:  Dave, those are the kind of writers magazine editors love! There are several technical reasons why I don't think anyone is likely to end up reading an E-mail slush pile. For one thing alone, how would you protect yourself against viruses?

JF:  Gordon, I agree about reading longer works on the screen, despite an index to some 1100 works of sf I have links to on my website; yet when it is formatted well (as is done here at Omni) or used as a distribution channel for hardcopy using such technologies as Adobe Acrobat, online can still play a major role in publishing. And it's still one of the best ways to get excerpts of new books so one may "browse".

ED:  Karl, my slushpile is producing a lot of cloning stories these days (unfortunately) and I expect more computer/AI stories than ever before because of the Deep Blue win. The problem is that the slush stories don't seem to have a clue that these ideas are not new to sf and have been done and done for the past 20 years in sf.

Dave Trusdale: Gardner-- I agree. There are many things about e-pubbing that are a nightmare. 

Christopher Rowe:  Gordon, are you using your double position to convince some of your novelists (like Rachel Pollack hopefully) to write short fiction?

Lawrence Person:  Howdy Ellen, Gardner, Gordon.

ED:  Dave, like what?

Karl Erickson:  Popular science does seem to spawn its share of fiction. We've had fiction on all the latest, hippest topics, such as VR and nanotech, and now cloning, etc. What interesting areas of current science have been neglected? Have you seen many stories on, for example, memetics?

GD:  Karl, things haven't changed much there, I'm afraid. I have no strong opinions on the electronic qualifications issue, except that some moderately tough restrictions should be built into the system, or you're going to be swamped in SFWA by writers with a sale to an obscure E-zine.

JF:  (Technical note to Gardner--text-based e-mail can't carry a virus--only an executable program or a macro. And as for Word Macros, there's free protection, but you're better off just accepting mss. in text or HTML.)

Dave Trusdale: There is now a SFFWA committee studying the e-pubbing qualifications issue.

ED:  Hi Lawrence. Dave, I think well-formatted fiction is very readable online or it can be printed out or downloaded. As for slush reading, I agree that reading that all day on a screen would be deadly.

GVG:  Yes, I'm trying to get more of my novelists to write short fiction.

Karl Erickson:  I can see the inconvenience posed by an email slushpile. It seems, however, that publisher-writer interactions such as rejection/acceptance and editing might work quite well through email. It would certain reduce response times to submissions, no?

Lawrence Person:  I, for one, don't think you see many stories based on non-organic chemistry . . .

JF:  Dave, FYI, Ellen is on that committee.

ED:  Gardner, re: SFWA membership. And how is that different from the print issue? Payment will certainly be a criteria.

GVG:  Rachel Pollack hasn't written any new short fiction yet, alas.

GD:  Lots of other problems with E-mail slush, including all the time you'd have to spend scrolling it down the screen--or the money it would cost to print it out first. Easier to read hardcopy slush. Hi, LP.

Dave Trusdale:  Gordon -- Except in rare cases, years ago, short fiction writers have never made a living from it.

Christopher Rowe:  Have the three of you seen Arlan Card's new e-zine, Undiscovered Country? He's attempting to solve some of the problems of electronic publishing with "no-print, no-copy" Adobe Acrobat files.

JF:  Ellen, you wouldn't need to read it on a screen. One could print it out.

ED:  Karl, I'm finding email a godsend for editing writers over- seas and just making the back and forth process quicker. It's becoming quite inconvenient for someone not to be on email.

GVG:  E-mail is a big boon, but I've got to say that the lack of a paper trail still worries me at times...

Lawrence Person:  Andy Watson has made noises about publishing a Rachel Pollack short story collection, but it will be after he gets around to doing Paul di Filipo's gargantuan novel (if that ever happens)

GVG:  Dave---And nowadays short fiction writers are making a living at it? Besides Harlan Ellison, who?

GD:  We do work from disks once we buy something, but we still want to see hardcopy submissions first. I think it will take a while for that to change, too. I don't think it makes much difference, print or electronic format, as long as the membership requirements are made stringent enough.

Dave Trusdale:  Gardner-- This is a helter- skelter format, but I agree with you that the digests will survive because of their low profile. Good point!

ED:  Jim, re: slush I realize that. I don't want to spend my money printing out slush. Also, I share a printer with 4 other people. They wouldn't appreciate my tying up the printer.

JF:  As for Adobe Acrobat, you can print from it if: 1. You own the distribution program to create Acrobat files, and 2: If you simply capture the screen and print it.

GVG:  Yes, the BURNING SKY collection of Rachel's short stories is a long-term project.

Lawrence Person: Howard Waldrop, but its not much of a living. :-(

ED:  Gordon, lack of a paper trail? Are you kidding? I have more paper now than I ever did before email. I print everything out and then lose it on my desk... Christopher, I checked it out. Had a hard time figuring how to work the system and never got around to actually reading the stuff in it.

GVG:  Re printouts, I also hate wasting time formatting electronic stuff just so I can print it out.

JF:  Good points re: printing, Ellen.

ED:  Lawrence, Howard is your classic starving writer.

GD:  I don't think anybody ever made a living in this field JUST from writing short fiction, not even Harlan. In his prime, he was making a big part of his income from doing lectures and such, for big money. LP, if most people made the "living" that Howard does, they'd be dead!

GVG:  The only things that I've found that work well electronically are newsletters like Dave Silva's HELLNOTES and Paul Guran's DARK ECHO. Anything long is hard to read on-line

Dave Trusdale:  Ellen-- Literally, in Howard's case! 

Christopher Rowe:  I don't think Howard Waldrop could survive on short story writing if he wasn't such a good fisherman.

Karl Erickson:  Earlier, there was talk of the 'trick' story, with O. Henry being mentioned, and SF discussed as being more amenable to such stuff. Is there much of a market for the trick-ending story any more? I had thought they were out of style.

ED:  I think it's easiest to read something online when it looks like paper.

GVG:  Ellen---regarding the paper trail, I've had lots of problems when an e-mail bounced and I didn't find out for three days. If a letter "bounces," it's easier to track back the paper trail.

Dave Trusdale:  Gardner-- An exception, maybe, but Ed Hamilton did quite well years back cranking out pulp stories.

GD:  The big problem with online publishing, especially of short fiction, is that no one has yet come up with a reliable way to make MONEY off it. That will have to change before this area can really start booming.

GVG:  Karl---I think also that "trick" stories are generally out of style.

ED:  I personally, only like a "trick" ending if there's some- thing more going on, and I'm not wild about them in sf. I think it works better in the short sharp shock kind of horror.

JF:  Editors: Do you see any hope that online (or disk-based) publishing might enhance the medium of writing? i.e. hypertext. (I really should have posed this last week when we had Stephen Baxter, who's composed fiction in hypertext, but we were having technical difficulties.)

GD:  But Dave, for that to work, you have to have a LOT of buying markets--there were about fifty or more pulps of one sort or another in the '50s at one point--and you have to crank the stuff out FAST. Very fast. I don't think that strategy could work today.

Dave Trusdale:  Gardner-- Absolutely correct. that was a different era.

ED:  Gordon, you're right that you don't know if something bounces for a few days but the same goes for a letter and our illustrious post office and it often takes longer than a few days to find out your check never made it where it was going.

Dave Trusdale:  So Gordon, does Montgolfier like mainstream?

ED:  Jim, I have to say that I personally have very little interest in hypertext fiction.

GD:  Depends on how tricky your trick IS. On the whole, I think they work better as TWILIGHT ZONE-ish things. I find most FICTIONAL hypertexts annoying. I want to read the STORY, if it's interesting, not to be distracted by looking up what kind of lemurs there are in Madagascar.

GVG:  Jim---I think Geoff Ryman's internet novel 253 is brilliantly adapted to the internet; on paper, I suspect the book will look more like a literary game than a novel.

JF:  Ellen, any particular reason? Is it that stories stop being linear when in hypertext?

Christopher Rowe:  Gordon, I saw Geoff read from his manuscript last year, he looked a little like a mad professor having a fist fight with a text book. But his delivery, as you would expect, was outstanding.

GVG:  Dave---Monty likes a good story. His little beady eyes don't distinguish the various genre/nongenre distinctions too well.

Karl Erickson:  I've given some thought to hypertext fiction, but I tend to think that regular fiction is like hypertext fiction with all the choices pre-made by the author. If the author is good, this is ideal, isn't it?

GD:  My reaction to most of the hypertext embellishments is, So What? While reading a regular story, I could be moved to get up and go get an encyclopedia and read about the lemurs too. If I do this, it's an indication that the story isn't doing the job it ought to be doing.

GVG:  To whoever saw Ryman read from 253, you probably saw him acting out characters, yes?...

ED:  I feel the same way Gardner does about hyperfiction. I want to be involved in a story. If I'm forced to shift focus to a trivial detail that takes me somewhere else, my concentration is lost. I think hypertext is better for nf.

Dave Trusdale:  Gordon: {Chuckle} Maybe Monty doesn't know he's reading for a genre magazine??

GVG: of the things that I enjoyed about 253 was the sense of *movement* that I got just cruising from passenger to passenger. You don't get the same sense on paper.

Billie Mosiman:  Are the editors online now?

JF:  Gordon, do you therefore feel that there might be a future for hypertext in literature, or just a few exceptions?

Christopher Rowe:  Gordon, yes he acted out the parts. And until you've seen a seven foot Canadian/Englishman portraying a 70- year old Anne Frank, you just haven't been to a reading.

GD:  I still think the big question is, who's going to be able to figure out a way to make money by publishing stories online. Do any of you think the TOMORROW experiment--publish the first few issues free, then charge for access to the site-- will work? What about the MIND'S EYE approach?

GVG:  ...Maybe in Guttenberg's day, people got that sense of movement from reading books on paper.

Dave---Give the poor rodent a break. He's a hamster! His brain's about the size of my thumbnail.

Jim---I really have no idea if there's a future for hypertext fiction. All I can tell you is that things is sure changing a lot, and the more they change, the more they stay the same.

Billie Mosiman:  I have a story at Mind's Eye. So far it's not working. People get too much for free on the web to pay for fiction.

Karl Erickson:  I saw an e-zine today that gives previews of a story and makes you pay for the ending if you like it. Sounds interesting, but feels like a con. I didn't try it.

Tony:  Gardner-- As a consumer, I happily have been reading off of the Tomorrow site, but I won't pay either there or at the other sites. I find that I significantly prefer paper.

GD:  I think that, like any other form, there will be a few brilliant successes with hypertext fiction--but that, for the most part, it won't work all that well. It might be better adapted for the kind of Victorian, Dickens-like LONG novels that Gordon was talking about earlier.

ED:  Gardner, re: making money online. I don't' think Mind's Eye will work at all. That's where they print some of the story and you have to pay for the rest. Subscriptions might work but I think the best way will be sponsorships and advertising. that's what the OMNI business plan it. Whether we'll make it depends on whether our owners will give us the chance to get that far.

Dave Trusdale:  Until e-fiction can be read in a palm-sized reader, we won't buy into it whole hog.

JF:  Gardner, I think it's all dependent on whether They (sic) will ever work out commerce online. If so, then paid subscriptions to websites and portions of websites will become more common, and charges to particular pages can be assessed on a "per-use" basis. But the technology is still far from safe.

Dave Trusdale:  I think I made 37cents on one story at Mind's Eye.

GVG:  Gardner---MIND'S EYE is the one that lets you have the start of the story for free, and then you have to pay for the rest of it?

Lawrence Person:  I, for one, find it hard to read all the fiction I've already paid for. ;-)

Christopher Rowe:  Well, again, I'll point to Undiscovered Country. As I understand it, you subscribe to the magazine, then Card e-mails you the issues as Acrobat files, or maybe provides a password so that the subscriber can download then from a site.

Billie Mosiman:  Mind's Eye is now working out sponsorships. I still don't know how it will work out.

Tony:  Ellen -- I should note that I've been reading from here also. I like what you have been publishing, but I'm only willing to put up with the screen 'cause it's effectively free. Sorry. Is OMNI being successful 100% advertiser supported?

JF:  Looking to move on, I note that there was a question regarding sciences that haven't been covered in sf yet. Any respondents?

GD:  Advertising works well as long as the advertisers are willing to continue to advertise--but I hear some advertisers are growing disappointed with the results of Web advertising. In the long run, I think that a way will have to be found for online publications to make money DIRECTLY, before it can work

ED:  I think there's a need on line for excellent content because there's so much garbage online. If a site with good content can build up enough traffic, big corporations will be willing to invest in them with advertising and sponsorships. The problem is, of course that as with any magazine in print no money will be made at first so whoever invests in the\ ezine must have deep pockets and willing to wait for a return on their investment.

Lawrence Person:  Jim: I put forward non-organic chemistry. 

And you don't see many stories about cutting edge semiconductor processes. ;-)

ED:  Gardner I think you're wrong. As advertisers learn how to advertise on the web, they will be more successful (think of tv). I don't think that the web zines will ultimatley make money without advertising.

JF:  Ahh... Is THAT what memetics means... *blush*

Lawrence Person:  If I might utter a heretical thought, I think it entirely possible that advertising as we know it might collapse.

Karl Erickson:  On the unexploited sciences issue, I am particularly curious if much is being done with memetics. It seems like it'd be a great item for 'meta-sf'. Has there been much sf-about-sf lately?

GD:  Online publication is appealing because it makes an end-run around the distribution network and many of the other technical problems, like returns, that plague print publishing. Someone still has to figure out a good way to make it PAY, though, before it can come into its own.

JF:  Lawrence, you see those stories where I write: Computer SHopper. :-)

ED:  Tony, right now we're working on rebuilding our traffic. It was up to 9,000 hits a day before we changed servers. then we (and the Penthouse site) were essentially in stasis for two months. Now we're about to put up the front pages of our redesign and start pushing traffic again. Then we'll see what happens.

Karl Erickson:  memetics = the genetics/evolution of ideas

Dave Trusdale:  Gardner-- Excellent point about on-line pubs getting in the black. They must make it PAY first.

Lawrence Person:  After all, with DIAMOND AGE and Bruce's forthcoming DISTRACTION, we're just starting to see the first novels that really deal with distributed intelligence.

JF:  Gardner, a very few sites (like Yahoo, ZDNet, C|Net, Netscape) do claim to make a profit from webvertising. Red Herring magaine maintains a list, and the Wall St. Journal occasionally covers the issue.

ED:  I'd love to see more stories on unexploited scientific issues.

JF:  NOTE TO ALL: 5 minute warning

GVG:  I hear this question about "sciences not in SF" a lot, and I tend to think those "hidden" sciences just don't lend themselves well to dramatic scenarios. I mean, would you rather read about Roy Chapman Andrews adventuring in search of dinosaurs in the Gobi or would you rather read about Andrews cutting up whale corpses in the basement of a Museum?

Billie Mosiman:  I have wondered why some novelist hasn't put up an entire novel on a site, offering it in installments, to be paid for in a "shopping cart", just like people pay for items at other commercial sites. I mean, if S. King did it, millions would buy.

GD:  I'm interested in getting more detailed information about THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. Can someone send me some? (I hope that they realize that "the undiscovered country" is DEATH...) I agree, actually, LP. Since everyone tapes shows & fast-forwards through them, TV advertisers aren't getting

JF:  Karl, thanks for the definition.

Tony:  Ellen-- Well, I'll be watching. Out of curiosity, that works out at roughly 270,000 hits/month. I don't remember what OMNI's circulation was before the switch from paper, but do you thin that you are reaching a different or wider audience online?

GVG:  Billie Sue---There aren't many writers like Stephen King.

Lawrence Person:  One more thought: Most post-cyberpunk fiction doesn't deal with just one science. Rather, it deals with the effects of all of them at the same time.

JF:  Gardner, I can e-mail info to you. It's put out by Scott Card's brother, Arlen.

ED:  Billie Sue, do you really think readers are going to want to print out an entire novel to read? It's cheaper to buy the book in pb than to buy the printer paper. Only King could get away with it if that's the only one could read the novel.

Karl Erickson:  The question is, perhaps, just how *does* one exploit these unexploited sciences. Memetics is perhaps too new, and maybe too subtle (?) for exploitation just now. It seems relevant to the distributed intelligence idea. I'd love to read about the *inside* of a cultural singularity (ref Vinge), and I think memetics might help with that.

GD:  ...the value out of the TV advertising dollar they're spending that they THINK they're getting.

Lawrence Person:  Well Gardner, Ellen, Gordon, I have to go sleep. Next issue of NOVA EXPRESS should be out by the end of June or early July. Night all.

JF:  Thanks, Lawrence!

It is now Midnight EDT, and I've sealed the forum doors. Last words?

Billie Mosiman:  Ellen, yes, I think people might print out whole books--by installments. If they'll buy them in the grocery and read them that way, with the cheap cost of printing from one's own printer, I do think they would. It needs to be tried.

GVG:  Lawrence---Take your computer to bed with you the remaining five minutes of discussion.

GD:  Actually I think there's more really hardcore "hard SF," good stuff, being published now than there was ten years ago. You've got writers like Greg Egan, Paul McCauley, Michael Swanwick, Brian Stableford, Stephen Baxter, and so on, all writing at the top of their form.

Karl Erickson:  Great to chat with you all. Thanks for the words.

Tony:  Gardner-- Didn't some executive once say 'I know that 50% of my advertising budget is wasted ... I just don't know which 50%"?

Dave Trusdale:  See you all soon. Gotta run. Gordon? You're gonna love a certain photo I took of you at the Nebs, in the next T. Nice to have all three of you here. thanks.

ED:  Thanks for everyone dropping by. It's been fun. Jim, don't forget to copy the chat into html. And finally thank you Gordon and Gardner and Jim.

GVG:  Actually, I think that comment about taking a computer to bed with you may serve best as my final words. I still prefer reading books in bed (when I'm reading in bed, that is.)

Christopher Rowe:  Gardner, you think THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY is bad, it's full title is THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY: BEYOND IMAGINATION. First issue has stories by Orson Scott Card, Dave Wolverton and a whole pack of people from Utah.

Billie Mosiman:  Enjoyed it. Thanks, editors. Night everyone.

GD:  Was it good for you too, Ellen?

ED:  Gardner, when you're around it's always great:>

JF:  (BTW, Gardner, my editor as Computer Shopper is Sharah Thomas.

Tony:  Thank you, Ellen, Gardner, Gordon. I forgot I wasn't on EDT for awhile.

JF:  Gordon, final thoughts?

GVG:  Gardner---That wasn't Ellen, that was me (and it wasn't bad). Thanks, all.

GD:  Thanks, Ellen! All personal endorsements gratefully accepted!

Christopher Rowe:  Good night, Ellen and everybody else.

ED:  xxoo. Good night all.

GVG:  Jim--After midnight I have no further thoughts.

GD:  Shall we all go to the bar now? Jim, I'd like to get info on THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, if you remember. You can get my E-mail address from Ellen.

JF:  Understood. This was MOST exhilarating and fun--perhaps we can reconvene at some point. Thank you all for being here!

JF:  I have it Gardner, and will send it.

Dave Trusdale:  Whimps! {Chuckle}  Later...

GD:  Gordon, you have THOUGHTS? Well, editing a magazine long enough will take THAT out of you!

JF:  Thanks for coming by. Don't forget that next Thursday, June 5, OmniVisions will feature Ed Bryant interviewing Peter Straub on his latest book, The Hellfire Club.

Billie Mosiman:  Okay, I give. Where's the bar?

GD:  Well, I guess it's time to go. Goodnight, everyone. Buy our magazines!!!!!!

JF:  Billie, the bar is between the Alt keys.

JF:  Good night, and thanks again.

Billie Mosiman:  Hahaha. Night all.

JF:  ...and to all, good night.

home pagemore writerstop of page