The Demise of SciFiction

Earlier this month, a message appeared on’s SciFiction website from editor Ellen Datlow. Evidently, (which is owned by the SciFi Channel) has decided to cease online publication of SciFiction, leaving Ellen without a job.

I’m dumbfounded.

Over a seventeen year period, Ellen Datlow built Omni magazine into the premier market for science fiction and science fact. When Omni ceased publication due to the financial difficulties faced by General Media, Bob Guccione’s publishing company, Ellen ran the online version of the magazine — successfully — for three years. With the final demise of Omni‘s online version, Ellen collaborated with Robert Kilheffer on the Event Horizon website for a short time before being hired to edit SciFiction for in 1999.

Like Omni, SciFiction quickly became the premier market for short science fiction. Since the magazine was supported by the SciFi channel’s revenue stream and had no physical print costs, it was able to pay double the standard professional rate for fiction ($.20 per word!) Over its six-year lifespan, SciFiction broke new ground in many ways, most notably garnering Nebula and Sturgeon awards for stories and novellas first published in electronic form. Datlow herself won the Hugo award twice for Best Editor, as well as the Locus Magazine Best Editor award in 2005.

So, why would shut down such a well-regarded publication and editor? No one is quite sure, but suspicion points to finances. Evidently SciFiction wasn’t bringing in enough money, so it had to be cut.

Let’s get something straight; SciFiction was originally published as a loss leader. The idea was to become the industry’s leading fiction market, and with Ellen Datlow at the helm, they did that. It was never intended to make money; it was intended to attract fans of true science fiction. SciFiction was created to lend an air of industry credibility to a cable network becoming increasingly known for its reliance on formulaic original programming. Faced with declining ratings, I wonder if the brass decided that it was easier to cut Ellen’s salary and eliminate a well-paying fiction market rather than spend the money and time necessary to improve the quality of the network’s original programming. I don’t know for sure, and I’m not enough of an industry insider to have all the facts.

But I do have a blog (of sorts.) And I know an e-mail address where people can write if they think this was a poor decision. Write to if you wish to express your displeasure.

Folding Paper Cranes

My first writing mentor was Leonard “Red” Bird, a professor at Fort Lewis College. In the second half of my freshman year, another professor recommended, based on the strength of a story and paper I had written for her class, that I take Red’s Creative Writing class. Creative writing was a senior level class, and normally required a couple of prerequisites, including Advanced Composition, which I had not yet taken. But the other professor talked with Red, and convinced him to give me a try.

The first day of class, he made a point of stating that Creative Writing was a difficult senior level class, and that everyone in the room should be at least a junior — with one exception. He looked at me when he made the exception, so everyone immediately knew I was the young ‘un of the bunch.

I did well in Red’s Creative Writing class, as I did in every other writing class that I took in college. I was struck by the power of Red’s writing, in particular two poems from his book River of Lost Souls, “Walter Mitty” and “The Mourning Dove.” Last night, over twenty years after he personalized a copy of that book for me, I did a Google search for “The Mourning Dove” appearing with “Leonard Bird” and found that the poem has evolved.

“The Mourning Dove” is about Red’s experience as a young Marine in 1957 at Yucca Flats, Nevada, the site and date of an above-ground atomic bomb test. The Marines were told to huddle in a trench only four thousand yards from ground zero as a seventy kiloton bomb was detonated and the shock wave rolled over them. I remember Red telling us how the Marines were asked to line up after the detonation, and they filed past a Geiger counter. If they clicked too much, their uniforms were dusted off with a broom. If they still clicked, they were told to destroy their uniforms.

I know that even in 1985, nearly thirty years after the event, Red was still haunted by it. But evidently he found peace in his third trip to Japan, when he visited the International Park for World Peace in Hiroshima in the early nineties.

He chronicles this in a new book of prose and poetry, Folding Paper Cranes: An Atomic Memoir from the University of Utah Press. Evidently, a documentary has also been made by Kurt Lancaster, which includes Red reciting some of his poetry.

I find it interesting how the story of a young Japanese girl folding paper cranes has become such a source of healing for so many people. Of course, in Hiroshima, I’m sure the story holds the greatest power, because it was a symbol that helped the city rebuild. But it offers healing for other tragic events, as well. Paper cranes were also an important part of the healing for Oklahoma City after the bombing in 1995. Lannette and I have a golden crane hanging over our bed as a reminder of our trip to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and of how the city has healed in the ten years since the bombing.

Lannette was two blocks away from the Murrah building when the Ryder truck exploded in front of it, and she moved away from there only a few months after that, before the city had built the memorial. As a result, her final memories of Oklahoma City were of chaos and destruction, rather than peace and rebuilding. Until she went back, nine years later, she was not able to see the results of the rebuilding effort. Until she went back, she was not able to start healing, and the crane in our bedroom symbolizes that healing.

I’m glad to see that Red has found his own source of healing in the cranes, as well. Though I have not read the memoir, I know the man’s work, and I’m sure the memoir is well worth having.

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic

Tomorrow, Lannette and I start volunteering for Colorado Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. This is something I have wanted to do since the early nineties, when I managed a pizza store.

One of the employees who worked for me was a teenager who had dropped out of school because he had been told he had a learning disability. He had been placed in remedial classes for most of his schooling, but something didn’t add up. He was clearly an intelligent kid; he spoke well, he never had to be shown more than once how to do a job right, and he took pride in his work. The only thing I noticed was that he didn’t do very well taking phone orders or reading the tickets to make pizzas.

One night, while he was scheduled to close with me, we got to talking and I asked him about the tickets. Embarrassed, he told me that he couldn’t read very well. He explained about the remedial class placings and how boring school was for him because he wasn’t challenged, and how he had been diagnosed with dyslexia when he was fourteen. Fourteen is very late for that diagnosis, and unfortunately, his school didn’t do much to correct the improper class placements he had been given before. To him, the school didn’t care, and he wanted to be a mechanic anyway, so he dropped out.

I began working with him on his reading in the evenings after hours. I helped him learn what all the abbreviations on the order tickets meant, and started scheduling him to work the positions that required more reading. At first, he was frustrated, but he learned pretty quickly when he had someone who was willing to take the time to help him. He learned not to get angry when he couldn’t figure out a ticket, but to just ask someone to clarify the ticket for him.

One night, he surprised me. After everyone else had left, he pulled a book out of his backpack and showed it to me. It was a children’s book, about third or fourth grade level, and he beamed as he handed it to me. It had a Maricopa County library sticker on it; he had gone to the library, gotten a card, and checked out the book on his own. From that point on, he started showing me the books that he was reading after all the other employees had left.

Before long, he was offered a job with a landscape company. The hours were better than what I could give him, and the pay was significantly better than the pizza franchise would allow me to offer. It was a no-brainer for him to take it. Before he left, he thanked me for understanding his reading problem, and for encouraging him to keep trying. He told me he wanted to get his G.E.D.

I still don’t know exactly how he got past the dyslexia. Maybe it was sheer persistence, or maybe a big part of his problem was stigma placed on him by others. All I know is that a little support and understanding was all it took for him to want to try, and I remember how good it felt to hear him say he wanted to try for the equivalency certificate.

When Lannette mentioned RFB&D in passing one morning, saying that she wanted to volunteer there, I checked it out. I wrote to them the same day, and told them that I was interested in volunteering, then, after confirming with Lannette, signed us both up for an orientation meeting. That was two weeks ago, and tomorrow night we start our first session as volunteers.

I’m looking forward to it.

NaNoWriMo and General Creativity

I decided to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month this year. The idea is to spend the month of November writing a novel, focusing on output rather than quality. Once the text is out there, you have 50,000+ words to revise and sculpt into a quality novel. (A sculptor must define the general shape before refining the sculture, you know.)

I have yet to write a single word on my novel. It’s not because I don’t want to; I just haven’t had the time available during the first three days of the month. With the schedule I built for myself, I need to average 2,500 words per day to reach the goal of 50,000 words, and I’m already 7,500 words behind. I was tempted to just give it up for this year and concentrate on bringing in more freelance writing and consulting work, but Lannette encouraged me to do some writing on the novel every day anyway, even if I don’t meet the goal of NaNoWriMo. Somehow, I think she gets the point of the event more than I do.

In other news …

I have been revising the site a bit, changing the name to Lytspeed Communications and Consulting and building a page to house my writing and consulting credentials, hoping to generate some more income from freelance work. I pitched a number of article ideas to ComputorEdge for 2006, and hopefully I will continue to get work from the kind editors at that publication. (No, really, they are great to work with!)

Tomorrow, I will be recording some cover tunes with Steel River Three for our new demo CD. We hope to distribute the demo to radio stations and clubs in the area, which could lead to more additional income.