OK, maybe “obsessively studying” is a better term.
Stanley Schmidt is the Editor for Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine. The Magazine is what I would consider the pinnacle of the Science Fiction short story market.
I have sent off a few short stories, trying my hand at getting into this pro market, and so far have been thwarted… but rightly so. My fiction contained grammatical errors, and probably a lot plot related errors that Editors like Mr. Schmidt are able to spot in an instant.
My goal is to get published, and not in any old “Pay in copies” type publication, I am going for the pro markets; the kind that count toward the three stories you need to get qualified for membership to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
So while I am working to better hone the craft of speculative fiction, I thought it might be a good idea to get to know the gatekeeper at Analog. Some people might just give him a phone call, or shoot an E-mail off for virtual meet and greet, but I know how busy Stanley is, and don’t want to be that guy that bugs him at work to pick his brain for publishing tips.
I just can’t imagine that going well.
Besides, studying him from afar is necessary to keep my preconceived illusions intact. I don’t want to risk finding out that the man I put up on an editorial pedestal is anything less than the literary genius I expect him to be. Didn’t we all feel just a little bit bad for Oz when Toto pulled the curtain away?
But why study Stanley?
My first comment on a rejection slip came in the disappointing form of a request to always number my pages. It came from Stan the man himself. It was the sci-fi writer’s equivalent of a message from God, but instead of instructions on how to carry the tablets down from Mt. Sinai, it was more of a “don’t do that or you’ll go blind” sort of thing.
I later read through one of his editorials that are always present in the front of each issue of Analog. A chill went through me when I saw:
“Lately, for reasons that perplex me, I’ve been getting an astounding number of manuscripts with no page numbers, a practice for which I’m hard put to imagine an advantage.”
I knew that that at least two of those page-numberless stories were mine. It felt like an indirect communication. Sort of like if my dog crapped on his lawn and he wrote a letter to the town paper about it.
I suppose this could be a pet peeve of his that is set off by two only occurrences. But an “astounding number” sounded like it must have been on the order of dozens of stores submitted without page numbers for Mr. Schmidt to make such a remark in an editorial like that.
In a strange way, it almost feels as though Editor Schmidt and I have a connection; granted it’s built on my failings, but a connection nonetheless. Like when I do finally get a story published with Analog there will be a wink and a nod in a now you get it kind of way.
So what have I been doing to stalk study Stanley?
From there I bought two of his books: Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writers Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life-Forms, and The Sins of the Fathers.
And what have I learned thus far?
I am about halfway through the Aliens and Alien societies book and it is apparent that Editor Schmidt feels that there are a lot of Aliens being created for fiction that are not really plausible.
I think this comes from the dividing line between Science Fiction and Fantasy. In Fantasy almost anything is possible within the rules that are set up in that story’s universe. In Science Fiction, while it is still fiction, there needs to be plausibility to the Aliens. A possibility that, while these creatures may not really exist, in some way or another, there is a logical scientific reason why they could exist and that doesn’t break the laws of nature.
For example: Giant insects 100 feet tall could never exist on Earth as they would collapse under their own weight. Tiny microbial beings wouldn’t really be able to have any sort of intelligence, as there is no room for a thinking brain that small to develop, at least following any sort of rules that we currently know about neurology.
But what I have really learned was something I have known all along.
Stanley Schmidt, like all great Editors, is really just interested in a dammed good story.
Well, I hear you Editor Schmidt, and I am going to do my best to try to knock your socks off.