What a Long Strange Year It’s Been: A Personal Look at 2017

Like many of you, I have been aghast at America’s convoluted, complex, and dysfunctional political situation this past year, but I’m not going to comment on that. Early on in this blog’s history, I decided to stay far away from politics, religion, and other hot topics in favor of a more literary outlook. There are other blogs that argue contemporary issues, but this is not one of them.

Contemplating the vicissitudes of my life since January 1st, 2017, I wonder what I should focus on. I had an important operation early in the year, spent the night at the hospital, and then spent another month or so recovering. The operation was successful and enabled me to get off some medications that were leaving me constantly dizzy and exhausted. But I don’t really want to talk about my health. I’m almost sixty-five years old, and I’m bound to have health issues from time to time.

I suppose I could delve into my financial situation. That certainly occupied a lot of my thoughts over the past year. It’s been a struggle to survive sometimes, and when I came close to the edge of poverty from time to time during the year, I became anxious and depressed. But I don’t really want to write about my finances either. I actually did write a blog post called “Sometimes We Just Have a Bad Day” when I was going through some of the worst of my financial struggles. And do you know what happened? I never published it. I decided that it was too negative and I didn’t want to bring you down. Anyway, I’ve been poor most of my life, and I’ve written extensively of my poverty before, especially in the memoirs World Without Pain: The Story of a Search, America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad, and Writing as a Metaphysical Experience. No use going over old ground. Suffice it to say that over the past year I have had considerable difficulties with finances.

What I would like to talk about instead is my writing, and in that I have made considerable progress. I published my twenty-second book, a short story collection called Heroes and Other Illusions: Stories. Some stories of mine were published in anthologies. Among these was my first hardcover anthology sale, my story “The Lady of the Lost Valley” in the anthology Gothic Fantasy: Lost Worlds, in which I was sandwiched in between two writers you may have heard of called Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

In 2017, I focused on writing short stories and novelettes rather than longer works, and so I also focused on marketing short stories. For most of the year, I have had from twenty-five to forty short stories making the rounds of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and literary magazine and anthology markets. Persistence has paid off, as I have several stories sold and due to be published in the spring.

One of my most important accomplishments this year was finally selling enough stories to professional markets to qualify as an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I have been an associate member for years, but those final qualifying professional sales were elusive until recently. As I wrote in an earlier blog post called “Three Out of Five”:

The goals that I formulated shortly after I began writing again a little over three decades ago were these:

 First, to sell a story to a magazine or an anthology. Self-publishing was not an option at that time, and to count the story had to be sold and not given away for free.

 Second, to get at least one professional sale so I could join Science Fiction Writers of America as an associate member. I understand that some writers value membership in writers’ organizations more than others, but to me this held great significance ever since I attended Clarion West Science Fiction Writing Workshop when I had just turned twenty in 1973.

 Third, to get at least three professional sales so I could upgrade my membership in SFWA to active, which is the highest class of membership.

 Fourth, to sell enough fiction and other writing professionally so I could make my fulltime living as a writer.

 The fifth goal, I admit, is the most arbitrary and the one I have the least control over. I’m not going to tell you that one right now; it stays under my proverbial hat.

 I sold my first story in 1999: “Clear Shining After Rain” to the Australian SF magazine Altair. I don’t count my first publication, which was “The Ghost of Halkidiki Past” to an English-language Greek magazine, because they never paid me for it – I had to wait to get paid for that story until it was reprinted in the US literary magazine Lynx Eye in 2001.

 It turns out that my first sale was also my first professional sale, as Altair paid pro rates, but SFWA didn’t list it as a qualifying market for membership until 2007, which is when I joined as an associate member. So that was that.

 In the next ten years, I sold quite a few stories and self-published many more, but I didn’t get the credentials to upgrade my SFWA membership to active until recently.

 So there it is: three out of five. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work.

 As far as goal four, I am in fact a fulltime writer, but many of the pieces I get paid to write are articles about which I have no personal interest. While I am researching and writing these articles, I often wonder how much more productive my fiction writing would be if I could pour all that energy and effort into that instead of those articles for which I get a one-time payment and then they are afterwards relegated to oblivion. So I won’t feel I have reached goal four until I am supported by my fiction and memoir work, not by that work for hire crap.

 As for goal five, that one goes on the back burner. It’s not in my hands.

 What’s upcoming in 2018? As I said, several stories are coming out in the spring, all of them in prestigious professional venues, so I hope that they create a stir. I have suddenly found myself in the midst of writing a novel that I thought was going to be a novelette. This will be novel number seven, so there’s that. Additionally, I still have a lot of stories out to market. Although I am busy with article writing to raise funds for the rent and bills, I always try to write a minimum of five hundred words of fiction or personal essays daily, even if I have to do it late at night, and I intend to continue that practice. Persistence is the key. I hope to progress much farther along the path of my own personal writer’s journey in 2018.

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