Updated May 7, 1997
Here's your chance to let me know what you think of this whole idea. You can send messages to me, or to visitors appearing in my Short Fiction Roundup area. Send messages to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll post them as I get them. Please put "Roundup Chatter" in the subject line to help me keep my mail straight. Thanks for your participation.
Welcome my Short Fiction Roundup area. I've been messing around with this Web Site for about a year now, trying different things here and there, learning new methods and techniques as I went. However, I'm still in an all-text mode, primarily out of preference. I feel I have better things to do with my allotted memory and your time than to throw cute graphics at you around every link.
What I'd rather do is try to find interesting things to read, both for you my visitors and for myself. That primary goal has finally led me to this point and this area. I've also always felt that a message board format is the way to do that. I may be able to come up with some interesting things to say, perhaps even good enough where others would want to read it, but I know darn well that I couldn't keep coming up with enough of it to keep people coming back on a regular basis.
If I let everybody else do the hard work of coming up with clever things to say, I figure the rest of my job is easy. The maintanence of this site is largely cut-and-paste work -- take the messages I receive in e-mail and post them where appropriate.
Sounds easy, except for two things: How to attract visitors in the first place, and how to keep them coming back for more. The answer is a unique "product" and superior "customer service."
By happy accident, I've had a chance to prove that over the last few months. I had named my AOL site "Pink World" after a favorite album of mine by Planet P Project. It's a powerful SF story told in a music format over a double album, and since it combined two of my own passions, music and SF, I thought the name appropriate. I made a page explaining my experience with the music and why I named my Site after it.
Well, I kept getting messages from other people who remembered the album and had done a web search on the title. They were too good to keep to myself, so I started up another page to post them to share with other visitors who would stop by. Everybody that came by was just so grateful to find somebody else that remembered, to find out they weren't alone in appreciating this long-forgotten gem. They shared the tidbits of information on the band and the man behind it, Tony Carey, and I've benn compiling the data into what is probably the best current source of information on Planet P anywhere on the Internet. Sure it's a specialized niche, but it sure is nice to be the best at something. :-)
Now I'm setting my sights (and site) a bit higher. By taking the lessons I've learned from the Planet P fan page, I'm going to take on a particular area of SF fandom and try to be the best on the 'Net at it.
I've picked the short fiction side of the genre both because I'm a big fan of the form (I currently subscribe to 13 magazines, and I buy lots of anthologies old and new at used book stores), and I haven't been able to find a satisfactory forum for talking about it. Newsgroups like rec.arts.sf.written or message boards on AOL just move at too fast of a pace for fans of the short form to gather and talk about favorite stories. There are just so many different stories and publications that by the time somebody else comes along that may want to discuss the same story, your original message has scrolled past into the oblivion of old posts.
That's where I hope to be able to put certain aspects of a web page to good use. First, I can create specific locations for each and every story to come out over a year's time. With each having a permanent place in the site's structure, I can also create easy methods for finding that story. I currently have two ways to look through my collection -- either by publication, or by the author index. Second, I can keep each location up and running for as long as it takes to accumulate comments. There can finally be a dialogue on these stories, even if it takes months to generate. My plans are to keep the 1996 collection up until at least the presentation and post-mortems of next year's awards.
The final stage is to attract visitors and their comments, then to keep them coming back for more. My major enticement for getting people here is the Author's Index. Whatever else it is, I think it will be a resource that people will find useful and entertaining. By including links to magazines and writers with Web presences, I think it will be a nice place to start an enjoyable evening's worth of browsing.
I plan to keep you all coming back with a personal touch. I acknowledge all messages when I get them posted (usually about once or twice a week), and I thank each and every one of you for your contribution. No autobots sticking who-knows-what onto these pages -- I read, post, and take personal responsibility for everything you will see here. (And I do know the difference between the occasional offtopic nonsense that keeps things fun, and the offtopic drivel that can make things not fun.)
I'm hoping that if the initial experience is rewarding enough, my visitors (you) will take some time and make a few comments of your own on a story or two that you've read. I don't expect scholarly literary reviews (though I'll take them), just a few words of praise here, a plug for an award nomination there, a little egoboo for a writer friend over yonder. Just have fun as you bounce around seeing what's been written over the last year in the SF field. I've created a vast playground for SF fans, now it's your turn to go get dirty in it! :-)
"Writing the Short Form"
The short form is no way to make a living. I'd have to write and sell a minumum of 500-600k words a year in order to support myself as a full-time short-story writer; not only would I burn out before very long (that's an average of 100-150 shorts a year), but there simply aren't enough markets to go around, and there's no telling how much more than that wordage *wouldn't* sell. The same amount of work/wordage (done in a different way) would produce 8-10 novels - and I'd still burn out. If I could produce half that much in the long form and sell it (AND get decent advances, AND the books earn out, AND they stay on the shelves at Border's), I could easily support myself as a full-time writer.
So, why have I chosen short stories?
Because I like 'em. I have always read shorts, beginning with Pohl's Star SF anthologies for Ballantine and those wonderful Groff Conklin anthologies. Not to mention the magazines those stories originally appeared in.
I may, eventually, write novel-length fiction, but I'm content for now to stay in the field cultivated by Simak, Leiber, Leinster, Sturgeon, Asimov, Pohl, Heinlein, Silverberg, Ellison... I'm in exalted company.
[[Thank you, Bud. These short works have a way of getting in the blood, don't they? Look at all of the authors who keep coming back AFTER they've "made it" in the novel field. I think you've expressed some of the unescapable reasons so many of us try to write these stories for the magazines and anthologies. Whatever anybody may say, I think the primary motivation is always going to be, "Boy, wouldn't it be neat to have my story in one of these things?"]]
Just read the latest in Roundup Chatter, and thought I'd add my view. I'm currently writing for DargonZine, and e-zine, that prints fantasy short stories. One of the main reasons that I'm writing short stories is that it's a great deal easier to put together. For a beginning writer like me, that's a first step I can handle. Although the short story isn't long, it still encompasses all the writing elements.
Writing for DargonZine is another first step for me, because DargonZine sets up a writer's forum that your story goes through before it sees print. That means that all the other authors comment on your story. It's a fantastic learning experience for beginning writers.
Writing short stories gives me the writing experience to continue writing and improve that writing. As for why short stories over novels? I don't really have an answer to that one. I like reading both, but I've never really attempted to write a novel. I say "never really" because I did start writing a novel, but it didn't get past a rough draft of twenty pages. I'm still writing short stories, though. I think I've gotten hooked on them. Next step is to submit some of them to magazines. That's the big step.
Mark A. Murray
Now that I've moved SFRoundup over to my SFF-Net pages, I just wanted to leave a note here to encourage whatever feedback you wish to give me. What can I do to make this a more useful and fun site for you? There's a lot happening in the SF/F field, and I'd like any advice you have about how I can cover it, so hit me with that e-mail!
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