The Editor’s Rant: Issue #22

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Last issue I discussed why we were classified as a semiprozine under the old classification system and why we were always just short of a Hugo nomination. And I promised to talk about the new and (hopefully) improved system this issue. So, here goes…

Here is the current definition of a semiprozine:

Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, which does not qualify as a fancast, and which in the previous calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria: (1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

That goes a long way to clearing things up. We don’t generally pay contributors or staff (outside of ad trade) and the zine is available as a free download.

So, what is now considered a fanzine? Take a look:

Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, that does not qualify as a semiprozine or a fancast, and that in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria: (1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

Seems pretty straight forward; we are officially a fanzine again. Now I just have to get myself back onto a regular publishing schedule.

Let’s get to the fiction! Last time I had a lot of fun with our first themed issue so I decided to give it another go. This time… Robots!

 

How to Run a Writers’ Group

writing(or Learning to Cope With Frustration, Embarrassment, and Pride All at the Same Time)
by Bud Webster

 

A year or so ago I was invited to participate in a day-long seminar for writers and writers’ groups in a town not far from here. It was held at the branch of the county library, and was well-attended both by group members and those individuals who wanted to know what the hell a “writers’ group” did, anyhow.

It was pleasant, for the most part; there were plenty of people there I knew (including a few from my own group, which is called “Writers’ Endeavor”) and it was interesting to see how many different ideas and perspectives there were. I drank some water, ate a couple of cookies, and put in my time on a panel devoted to how different groups operated.

When the panel was over, the seminar organizer thanked me effusively for participating, and added that it was nice to see a group which was led by a professional writer.

I was… well, something between “floored” and “flustered”. Call it “floorstered,” I guess. Weren’t there pros in all the groups?

Turns out there weren’t, not in all of them, and in most only one or two who had even made semi-pro sales. There was the usual gang of self-published eager-beavers, and at least one who had seen hardcover publication and was selling ex-library copies of his novels, but as far as street-cred was concerned, I was just about top of the heap. Doesn’t that just suck?

Let me start from the beginning, with your kind indulgence. In the fall of 2005 (geeze Louise, has it been eight years already?), a rag-tag group of would-be writers gathered together at a local Richmond bookshop, Creatures & Crooks, now unfortunately out of business. We didn’t know each other, and I was the only one of the bunch who had published professionally. We introduced ourselves, traded aspirations, and elected a group leader after deciding that each leader would organize and run the group for a period of four months, when we’d elect yet another poor bastard to herd the writerly cats.

Before we broke up, the owner of the bookshop gave us an assignment for the next meeting—the phrase “good taste.” We would all write something on that theme, read our pieces out loud to the rest of the group, who would then give their responses. Then we all went our separate ways.

It continued in that fashion for the first year. I wasn’t the first leader chosen, but after having been “elected” a few times in a row, the group simply thrust leadership upon me, and so it currently stands.

We did assignments for a year or so, some better than others. My personal favorite was when I gave them a list of six words and asked them to weave them into a story. I got a pretty good yarn out of it and titled it “The Shed.” In fact, you can read it in Nth Degree #20 if you care to do so. Other assignments followed: creating opening hooks, writing the same scene from three different viewpoints, and so on. Once I gave them a choice of four openers, among them the first line of my own “Bubba Pritchert and the Space Aliens” (Analog, July 1994).

Eventually, though, exercises fell by the wayside, as they should. Exercises are fine for, well, exercise, but eventually a writers’ group has to get down to the business of actually writing. As most of the members were already working on stories or novels, we decided to upload individual chapters (I had already created a Yahoo Groups page for us) for each member to download, print out, and critique. As these chapters were frequently longer than the assignment pieces, we no longer read them out loud; by then, we had enough members that reading just took too long.

Here’s the way Writers’ Endeavor works (I didn’t name it, but as a group name it’s adequate; it ain’t the Inklings, of course, but none of us are C. S. Lewis or that Tolkien d00d): members upload their chapter/essay/story/whatever (no more that 3k words, hopefully) to the Yahoo files page. Other members download, print out and write in their comments. Come meeting night, we go in turns to slam… sorry, gently critique… the piece. I’m serious about that “gently,” by the way, so let’s talk about it.

One of the things that floorstered me at that seminar was the pride so many of the participants in other groups took in savaging their colleagues’ work, apparently on the theory that this is what happens in the world of publishing. Editors writing vicious rejections, I mean, or calling the authors at home and brutally tearing them a new one of whatever it is that editors tear.

I have no idea why they think that. In my experience over the past 20+ years of submitting work to professional editors (and being rejected plenty of times) editors do not sadistically rip apart the stories they’re sent and spill bile all over their rejection letters. It is so rare that anything of the sort occurs, in fact, that the single editor (now deceased) I can recall who was know for occasionally doing so was considered remarkable. Critics are another thing entirely, but they perform their malicious surgery after the fact.

I require the writers in my group to be civil, polite, and articulate. We aren’t there to make each other cry, or to prepare each other for some mythical editorial venom, but to help each other become better writers. By the same token, I don’t expect them to (in effect) pat the others on the head, pin their stories to the fridge with a magnet and send them out to play; I require more than patronization.

I want from my members their absolute best work as a writer. I want correct spelling, syntax and grammar; I want a beginning, middle and end (experimentation can come later after they’ve mastered their tools); I want standard manuscript format. What I want to see is what they would send to an editor, as clean and correct a ’script as any editor would expect to see from a professional-level writer.

When it comes to their critiques, I want their absolute best work as readers. It isn’t enough for them to know that a passage or phrase doesn’t work; they have to know why it doesn’t work. However, I don’t want them to tell the writer what they would do to fix the problem, because that’s not always helpful. Making suggestions is fine, but it has to be up to the writer to make any changes in a way that’s consistent with what comes before.

As a result, the members of Writers’ Endeavor have become friends, trusting each others’ motives and viewpoints. Yes, we’re a support group on those occasions when that’s needed, but we’re more than that. We can be honest without being cruel, we can give “bad news” where necessary without being mean about it (or having it taken as such), and that is far more useful and important than preparing each other for the sort of editorial ferocity other groups seem to think exists.

Now, I readily admit that there are other legitimate ways for writers’ groups to operate. In at least one case, the group assembles in a coffee shop with their laptops and spends their time writing; not together, as in a collaboration, but in the same place. At the same time. Not having visited their group, I can’t say that there isn’t some talk between them once in a while, but frankly I can’t imagine a more solitary process than writing, so I wonder what they get from it. Okay, so that’s not for me.

There are also plenty of groups run by working, professional writers. The members already have credits, but use the hard-nosed (if still courteous) advice of their colleagues to further sharpen their skills. I know, I know; I just said something up there about how solitary writing is, but believe me, the counsel of your peers can be invaluable, especially if they’ve already breeched the markets you’re aiming at.

“But, wait,” I hear you say. “Wouldn’t they be competing?” Yes. What’s your point? Do you really believe those silly rumors that publishers are reluctant to look at material by new writers? If so, let me disabuse you of that base canard: publishers actively seek out new writers, if only because the old ones keep quitting, slowing down, or keeling over from the strain of having to deal with silly rumors. This means that there is plenty of competition out there, but that’s nothing new—there always has been. Competition—healthy competition, anyway—doesn’t preclude cooperation.

So here’s what you do: forget all this crap about making your manuscript stand out from all the others by using colored paper, weird fonts, pictures, and all the rest of those gimmicks that wannabees are certain will be necessary to get the attention of editors, agents and/or publishers. Believe me, stuff like that will get their full attention right up to the second they feed your ’script into the shredder and turn their attention to the other 200 books/stories that came in that day.

If you want your work to stand out, make sure that your presentation is professional, even if you haven’t actually, like, been paid yet. After all, that’s just a technicality, albeit a very important one. That means using your tools—words, spelling, syntax, grammar, all that stuff you learned in third grade—as they were intended to be used. That means presenting your manuscript in the form the editor wants it to be in, something you can check out easily on their webpage under “Guidelines” or, if you’re a book-geek like me, by checking the copy of this year’s edition of Writers’ Market which resides comfortably (if a little lonely) on your library’s reference shelf.

That’s one of the things that make you a pro, not just getting a check, and a good writers’ group (hopefully one run by a pro, or made up of pros) will teach you all this and more. It will also give you ample opportunities to practice your craft. There really isn’t a whole lot you can learn from a group made up entirely of non-professionals that you won’t have to un-learn down the line, so it’s worth your while to find one with at least one or two pros, and probably worth driving an hour or so to join in.

A word of advice, if you’ll indulge me. Be careful, and find a group with which you’re a good fit. In my group, there have been a few who just didn’t work out. In one case, it was a woman who saw nothing wrong with ending sentences with three exclamation points!!! She came for one session and never returned. Another man stayed for several months, but adamantly refused to listen to the members’ advice and his work never changed, never improved. He also refused to use software which formatted his submissions as anything easily readable, but that was the least of his problems.

Figure out what you want from a group, and look for one that fits your needs, but remember this—the whole purpose of a writers’ group should be to aid you in becoming a reliable, consistent, and professional writer, not make you feel good or rip you to shreds. Look for good personality matches, a process that suits your working habits (or improves them), and whatever level of intensity you find most energizing, whether it’s full speed ahead or laid back and chatty. Finding a group that will help you sharpen your skills and lead you to professional publication may be hard, but it’s well worth it. That’s what we work hard to make Writers’ Endeavor, and I am proud of each and every member we have.

 

Dear Cthulhu: Issue #22

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Dear Cthulhu,

I’m a straight C student. Unfortunately I’m the child of two overachievers. Both my parents were valedictorians of their high school class. My mom’s a rocket scientist. My dad is a brain surgeon. They are constantly on my case about my grades, trying to motivate and force me to work harder, telling me that I’m never going to get into a decent college. This despite the fact that I really do study hard. The problem is I was diagnosed with dyslexia and I have trouble reading. However, I excel in areas they never did. I’m the pitcher for my school’s baseball team and can throw a 92 MPH fastball. I’m also class president and a member of the chess club. My parents taught me the game soon after I was able to walk. It’s the one area where I’m actually better than the two of them. Whenever we play these days, I set up two boards and play them both at the same time. I haven’t lost since I was eight.

For years, I pointed out that I’m good enough to get a scholarship to college for baseball, which likely means they would overlook C grades. I would also qualify for a scholarship for chess. They’re few and far between, but they do exist. It wasn’t enough for them.

Because of cuts in federal funding, when teachers retired at my school, they didn’t replace them. Instead, existing teachers had to double up, so my math and science teacher was the same woman, Ms. “Galore”. Ms. Galore is also the faculty advisor to the chess club. A few months back, on my 18th birthday, I was the only one on the chess team who made nationals. I spent a lot of time with Ms. Galore practicing and we became very close. I even gave her a shoulder to cry on when her husband divorced her for a college cheerleader.

The chess club raised enough money for me and one other person to travel to Las Vegas for nationals. I asked my parents to go. Mom was working on a reusable rocket design for a private corporation and Dad had been asked to give a talk at the local elementary school on career day, so they both said no. Despite all their other accomplishments, I honestly think there are some jealousy issues on their part. They met playing chess and I’ve been a better player than the two of them combined since I was a kid.

So I asked Ms. Galore and she said yes.

Despite all the raised money, there was only enough to pay for one hotel room and we had to share.

The night before the tournament I was real nervous and couldn’t stop pacing. Ms. Galore suggested we play a game of chess to calm me down. I beat her in twelve moves and didn’t stop pacing the whole time.

Ms. Galore had been trying to teach me to play with distractions, so she suggested we play strip chess. It was like a dream come true. Ms. Galore was the hottest woman I’ve ever seen in real life. It worked because I lost my shirt in the first game, but after that I beat the pants off her. Then the blouse and bra. I was distracted again and had lost everything but my boxers before I starting winning again and finally beat her thong off her, leaving her naked.

She stood to give me a congratulatory hug. When I stood my boxers had a very distinct shape. Ms. Galore looked down and smiled and the hug ended up leading to something else much more intimate and wonderful.

The next day at the national chess tournament, not only did I win, but I did it in record time. I was motivated. Ms. Galore promised to let me try anything I wanted with her if I won the tournament and I was in a hurry to take her up on the offer.

I got a trophy and a small award ceremony when I got back to the school. The tournament was in November and ever since then my grades in math and physics jumped to perfect scores.

My parents were thrilled, although they still give me grief over my other C classes. I’ve gotten several scholarship offers for both chess and baseball. One of the chess scholarships would even let me bring my coach up to the college level with me. And I’m seriously considering bringing Ms. Galore, because not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, although she is refusing to go to prom with me. Afraid of losing her job and teaching license.

The problem is I know I didn’t earn those As, at least in the traditional sense. I’m torn about whether or not I should confess, but I don’t want anything to happen to Ms. Galore or to lose my scholarship offers. And I would love to bring her to college with me to keep me motivated, but the baseball scholarship is to a better school and covers everything, while the chess one only covers tuition.

What should I do?

—Chess Player in Cleveland

 

Dear Chess,

You may be thinking with the wrong body part. Confession will do nothing positive for anyone involved. You did earn you grades even if it was not in the traditionally accepted way. For centuries men have been trading money, prestige and other favors to women in return for procreational acts. In recent years, women have been getting in on the act. You seemed pleased with the results and were not forced, so keep your mouth shut.

Cthulhu recommends not bringing Ms. Galore to college with you. You may meet someone your own age that you want to procreate with. Or you may both decide that you are both in the nonsense called love and want to be together, which would still get her fired, as few colleges will let their staff procreate with students. Since you are no longer her student, you might be able to formally date her.

Also it might be disturbing to you if she meets other men at the college closer to her age and decides to teach them how to work through distractions the same way she did with you.

Have a Dark Day

 

 

Dear Cthulhu welcomes letters and questions at DearCthulhu@dearcthulhu.com. All letters become the property of Dear Cthulhu and may be used in future columns. Dear Cthulhu is a work of fiction and satire and is © and ™ Patrick Thomas. All rights reserved. Anyone foolish enough to follow the advice does so at their own peril. For more Dear Cthulhu get the collections Cthulhu Knows Best; Dear Cthulhu: Have A Dark Day; and Dear Cthulhu: Good Advice For Bad People from Dark Quest Books.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #21

by Michael D. Pederson

 

The identity crisis continues. Or, just possibly, it’s finally been laid to rest. Since, the beginning of the zine—ten years now!—we’ve been plagued with the question of what type of publication we should be classified as.

My intention from the start was to publish a fanzine. The first issue of Nth Degree was sixteen pages with a beautiful four-color, glossy cover. People immediately said, “This doesn’t look like a fanzine.” I spent about a year insisting that modern design tools and cheap print co-ops meant that it was possible to print a professional looking zine for around the same costs as photocopying. Besides, I was a professional graphic designer, I wanted my zine to reflect that. Eventually, I caved and took a closer look at the Hugo rules concerning zines.

At the time, the definition of a semiprozine was:

Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) of the following criteria: (1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue, (2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (3) provided at least half the income of any one person, (4) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising, (5) announced itself to be a semiprozine.

We published four issues a year, had a minimum print run of 1000 copies, did not pay in other than copies, provided no income, and had around 15% advertising (much of it, though, in trade). We just barely qualified. The definition of a fanzine was basically, “Does not qualify as a semiprozine.” So we announced ourselves to be a semiprozine.

As a result, we ended missing out on the Hugo ballot year after year because our nominations were always split between semiprozine and fanzine. If you added them up, we usually had enough nominations to get on the ballot.

But that’s where we were. Next issue I’ll talk more about where we are now. Now, sit back and enjoy our very first themed issue… Superheroes!

 

View From Nowhere: Poly Styrene, R.I.P.

An alien perspective on the human race
by Peter Huston

 

For the last several issues, I’ve shared my thoughts on how humanity might appear to total strangers, say aliens from space. This time I’m going to take a break and write about something a little closer to home: writing, reading, art and the purpose of it all.

I’m a bit emotionally worked up. I just received word that Poly Styrene died in April. Now, who’s Poly Styrene? some of you might ask. And, should you not know, it’s good to ask because better to learn late than to never learn at all. Poly Styrene was the stage-name of British performing artist Marianne Joan Elliot-Said, best known as the lead singer of the early punk band X-Ray Spex. Inspired by a Sex Pistols show, Poly Styrene put out an ad, collected some like-minded people and began recording songs.

Not yet eighteen years old at the time, half Somali-half English, dressed in bizarre clothes and with a strange hair cut, at times performing with dental braces, Poly Styrene did not look like someone who should be the lead singer of a band. Nor did she sound like one, alternately introducing songs with a little girl voice and then shouting out lyrics—often unintelligible lyrics—as loud as she could. Yet Poly Styrene was, indeed, lead singer of a band. And, should anyone care, that band and their most popular song, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” is in my CD collection four times. Once on the band’s classic album, Germ-Free Adolescents and three times on various compilation discs. It is with shame, regret and a feeling of being a poseur that I confess the group to be absent from my much older vinyl collection.

Poly Styrene had somehow managed to reach the age of 53 at the time of her death, a mind-boggling feat for anyone who has seen videos of the early X-Ray Spex, videos that froze a certain image of the band in time.

Is the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” great art? Obscure, perhaps, but it has clearly had an inspirational impact on many people, and, now, perhaps sadly, has outlived one of its key creators.

These are both goals that I aspire to as a writer, and like many people connected with this publication, I am a writer. What that means is that just as teenage Poly Styrene once saw a punk show and cried “I want to do that too,” at some point in my life I finished a favorite book and shouted “Hey, could I, too, write one of these things?” In other words, I embraced the punk slogan, D.I.Y., Do It Yourself.

There is, as far as I know, no way to become a professional writer that does not at some point involve announcing oneself as a writer to the world and then seeing how seriously people take your claim. And it’s a strange feeling when you first do it, a feeling of perhaps being an imposter.

Like the punk singers, I wanted the world to notice me, and react, but, let me tell you, it ain’t easy. And, like many punk rock singers those same demons that drive one to cry “notice me” and drive you to seek attention hoping that in some small way you can change the world for the better, are often the same demons that get in the way of one’s production as an artist. Drugs, violence, alcohol, behavioral problems and addictive, damaging relationships can all provide life experience, ideas for stories, and an interesting perspective and outlook on life which make for better writing, but at some point the resulting mental, physical and emotional problems start to hinder your ability to actually write, finish and market anything. Remember, if you want to be a writer, you must be physically and mentally able to focus yourself on projects long enough and regularly enough in order to string out long sequences of words that make sense to other people. And then you must be able to put these passages together into an article or a story and send it somewhere where people will show it to each other.

Think of all those artists—punk singers, as well as writers—who destroyed themselves. Sure, some died young and stayed pretty, becoming icons, but most just wound up forgotten.

So, if you want to write, take care of yourself, at least well enough that you can actually produce writing that makes sense to other people and get it to a market.

And don’t expect to start at the top. Yeah, it’s happened, and, yeah, I just might marry Jennifer Lopez now that she’s single again, but it’s never a good bet. If you want to write and you want to change the world consider contributing to forums like your local paper’s Op-Ed page. You’ll gain valuable experience working with editors, writing on a deadline and with limited space, and, like the punks, if you do it right, you can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, always a good rule of thumb when deciding how to act.

Which brings me to two ongoing writing debates I’ve recently faced.

Should writers read and should writers include messages in their writing?

Some writers read and some don’t. But I believe great writers read and they read extensively. Writing is their art. How can they grow as a writer if they don’t have a love of this art that manifests itself through a strong desire to experience the writing that already exists? What sort of visual artist, if given the chance, does not visit art galleries and art museums? What sort of musician does not listen to music? Do you think Poly Styrene listened to other people’s bands or not?

Those who disagree with me, argue that they read when they were younger but are just too busy at this point in their life. A friend of mine likes to quote a widely published pulp writer he knows as saying, “Why should I read? I can write a book faster than I can read one.”

I think in a case like this it comes down to motivation to write. If you write for money and are able to get paid to churn out content to fill voids in publishing catalogs, you probably don’t need to read. But don’t expect many people to read what you write after you’re gone if you do. After all, you’ve virtually admitted to yourself and others that you don’t care what you write so long as you are paid to do it. And if you don’t care what you write, why should I care what you write?

Other writers write for other motivations. Some of us are looking for attention. We want others to see how intelligent, insightful, knowledgeable, important, or outrageous and crazy we are. I’ve been there and done that. But I think that once we reach a certain point, achieved certain goals, then we’ve got to focus again on what we are doing—creating art. And what sort of artist says, “I don’t need to see any more art. I saw all I needed years ago.” What sort of musician stops listening to music because they have heard enough to last a lifetime?

Similarly, some writers debate if fiction should be written to share a message. Yet they generally seem to think that it’s essential to have a theme and character growth. How can one include theme and character growth without even considering the possibility that this growth and change in the character might produce growth and change in the reader? Sure, a lot of stories have been destroyed through heavy-handed attempts at selling a message. But a lot of stories have been destroyed through poor characterization, wooden action sequences, clumsy dialogue, and laughable portrayals of sex and romance, but no one uses this fact to argue that fiction is better off without these things.

Recently I stumbled across a list of 25 highly rated novels chosen by the Cincinnati library. (Why Cincinnati? They were high on a Google search.) It’s astonishing how many of these great classics had clearly defined messages and this is certainly a part of why they have lived on beyond their time.

So, in conclusion, if you are going to use writing to express yourself, then stand tall, speak out, speak clearly, say what you want to say, look to other writers for inspiration in not just technique but also the power of your chosen art and, above all, say something that makes the effort to write and read your pieces worthwhile.

If you do, Poly Styrene would be proud.

 

Dear Cthulhu: Issue #21

DearCthulhuLogo

 

Dear Cthulhu,

I’ve read your last two columns dealing with breastfeeding issues with interest. Let me throw my problem into the mix. I am also getting extra scrutiny and grief for my breastfeeding which I think stems from my being male.

It all started five years ago when my son was born. My wife refused to breastfeed and made this decision while still pregnant. I argued with her that all the studies and anecdotal evidence pointed to the benefits of breastfeeding for physical, cognitive and emotional development. We kept fighting for a week until she finally screamed at me that if I wanted our child to be breastfed so badly that I should do the breastfeeding.

If was an off-handed comment made under the assumption that only women can breastfeed. It turns out it’s not true. A small number of men have been able to breastfeed by taking hormones. I decided to add myself to their number. My wife was more than a little taken aback. I said I wouldn’t if she would do it, but she stuck to her guns never believing I’d go through with it. But I did.

I breastfed our son and to be honest I thoroughly enjoyed it so I did the same for our twin daughters. My wife and I were fine with three kids so she had her tubes tied but I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding. I applied for a job with a rich family as a wet nurse. Apparently the wife paid big bucks for her breasts and felt she was too good to use them to feed her own kid.

I was told I got the job until I showed up and they found out I was a man. My name is Fran, so they assumed I was a female. I was fired on the spot.

I sued for sexual discrimination. They decided to settle out of court and as part of it gave me the job. They owned a dairy and just didn’t want the negative publicity.

Things worked out for a while. I was making double what I made at my full-time job. Then things got a little freaky and I did some thing I was embarrassed by, but got almost a half million in bonuses.

I figured that would be the end of it but it wasn’t. First, I should explain what I had to do to get the cash. “Mr. Dairyman” was a bit of a closet freak. Apparently he was never breastfed as an infant. He told me it was one of the reasons he paid for the missus’ breast enhancement. It was also one of the reasons he wanted a wet nurse, not so much for the kid but for him.

The first time he asked me to nurse him, I told him to go to hell. The second time he waved ten grand in my face and I relented. I mean, I managed to nurse twins and had plenty left over. I figured that one time would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. He kept coming back and each time waving more cash. Then his requests got weirder, but the money kept going up. I agreed to everything but the shaving of my chest. I mean a man should have chest hair, even if he works as a wet nurse. I felt cheap and used, but rich at the same time.

I didn’t tell anyone about it. I figured I’d wait it out and pocket everything I could and move on.

I didn’t count on a big-breasted maid who was mad at Dairyman because he had been carrying on with her and had been neglecting that affair to drink my “father’s milk.” She hid a camera and recorded one of our sessions in which Dairyman milked me like a cow into a bucket and then drank the bucket. Then he set up a bunch of shot glasses and squirted my father’s milk like he was using water pistols.

And, as sad as it is to say, that was one of our tamer sessions.

The problem is the maid posted the video on Itube. Dairyman hit the ceiling and his wife left him and took the kid, so I figured I’d be out of a job. Instead he tripled my salary to stay on. My wife doesn’t surf the net much, so she hasn’t seen the video yet. You can’t make out much of me except for my chest, but that would be enough for her to recognize me. Besides, how many breastfeeding men are there out there? I’m torn. I don’t feel it is cheating because we never had sex, but it looks bad. I’m not sure how I will explain it to her if she finds out, let alone how I’d explain going to work as a wet nurse in a house without a baby. The truth is she thinks I’m still working at the rock quarry.

It’s really got me bothered to the point where I’m considering stopping the hormones and letting my father’s milk dry up. There’s just no joy in nursing anymore. I need some guidance. What should I do?

–Breastfeeding Papa Playing Milking Games In Milwaukee

 

Dear Breastfeeding,

When faced with a problem like this, one needs to ask oneself is it worth it? From what you have written, it no longer is for you. I suggest you do stop the hormones and leave your job at Dairyman’s. You are richer than when you started so you can get by without a job for a while. (Although you fail to mention if you declared the income. Cthulhu suggests that if you do not have a foolproof way of not getting caught that you report it. Those people at the IRS scare even Cthulhu.)

You need to have the maid take the video off. There will still be copies up, but it reduces your risk somewhat. Since she is unlikely to be predisposed to help you, I suggest you offer to take her with you to the doctor who gave you the hormones and he could do the same for her. In fact, do it right and you might be able to get a nice severance package from Dairyman.

Have A Dark Day.

 

 

Dear Cthulhu welcomes letters and questions at DearCthulhu@dearcthulhu.com. All letters become the property of Dear Cthulhu and may be used in future columns. Dear Cthulhu is a work of fiction and satire and is © and ™ Patrick Thomas. All rights reserved. Anyone foolish enough to follow the advice does so at their own peril.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #20

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Sorry, sorry, sorry. It’s been way too long since the last issue of the zine. When last I ranted here I was going on about the joys of a nice relaxing summer. You’d think that by now I would have learned that what we receive usually turns out to be the exact opposite of what we hope for.

I’ve moved three times since the last issue.

About a month after settling in to my new apartment in Richmond (yes, I am very very happy to be back in Richmond) I suffered a catastrophic hard drive crash. Nothing was salvageable. Ironically, I had just pulled a back-up drive out of storage the week before but was holding off on installation because I was too busy working on the next issue of the zine—I was OCRing Margaret Yang’s “The Last Word” when I heard a horrible clicking sound. Sigh. I am irony’s bitch.

I have now replaced my hard drive, reinstalled quite a bit of software and completely recreated my Nth Degree templates from scratch. Oh yeah, and there were a couple of serious time-killing holidays in there as well. At times it feels like the fates are conspiring to keep this issue from being posted online. Ha! I laugh in the face of doom! We’re back now and we’re better than ever. Or, at the very least, we’re back and we’re exactly the same as before!

(Note: Shortly after writing that last paragraph Central Virginia was hit with an earthquake, a series of severe thunderstorms, and a hurricane—all in the span of five days—causing a week-long power outage. Further note: Never laugh in the face of doom.)

I feel it’s important to point out that I had chosen the stories for this issue prior to the events of the last year. The fact that death and loss play an important role in all three stories really had nothing to do with my state of mind. It’s just a happy coincidence.

So… Yes, I’m very excited to be finishing this issue up. And there is some good news: I’ve been trying to swindle multiple-AnLab-winner Bud Webster into giving me a story for years. And I finally succeeded!

 

View From Nowhere: Knowledge

An alien perspective on the human race
by Peter Huston

 

If space aliens came to Earth and tried to understand the behaviors of the human race, they would soon find us a complex, diverse and often contradictory species.

I teach English at a major university in Shanghai. Despite previous years in Asia, the cultural obstacles amaze me. Recently, I faced a roomful of graduate students each eager to know, and genuinely uncertain, if they were guilty of plagiarism.

After being assigned to summarize a news article, and then share thoughts about it, I discovered two undoubtedly plagiarized submissions. The first not only had remarkably good English but included facts not in the original piece. The second copied the original piece almost line by line. I announced the situation and requested the guilty students to come forth privately and resubmit their work.

A confession soon came, then another, but from the wrong people. I examined the writing of the self-confessed, only to discover it did not seem plagiarized. Rechecking still revealed no hints of plagiarism. Next came a flurry of e-mails from students wishing to know if they too had plagiarized.

These students were, at most, guilty of improper citation technique.

Meanwhile, of the two parties originally guilty, one finally confessed, admitting to lifting sentences from a Canadian government website. The other never confessed, but when confronted, explained that direct copying seemed like a good way to avoid mistakes.

Some will ask if these were typical Chinese students. Based on their level and school, if anything, they were above average.

Clearly they had not been taught proper citation technique or the importance of original work. When told, my department head, a Chinese academic, was not surprised and said I was doing well. Our students, he said, must be taught not to plagiarize. After all, he explained, some day they might study abroad or submit to foreign journals. I soon modified my syllabus.

Plagiarism, as serious academic misconduct, seems a foreign concept in China.

In this column, I’ll focus on just one of many causes of this complex situation—how theories of knowledge vary across cultures.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. But what is the source of knowledge? How is it discovered? How is it judged to be of value?

In the West, where the scientific method is paramount, we generally see knowledge as something that is discovered through research. Ideas, patterns, secrets are uncovered through hard work and verified by careful testing. When disproven, knowledge is discarded and seen as a thing of little value, save perhaps as a historical curiosity. (Of course, we know that in the real world of science, things are actually often murkier than such an idealized series of events.)

Within this paradigm, ideally, knowledge that is useful, or in other words shows the capacity to be applied to solve a problem or create technology, is valued, regardless of its age.

As mankind moves forward into the future, knowledge grows and should continue growing.

However, some cultures, past and present, view knowledge differently.

In many Asian cultures, for instance, the traditional paradigm was that knowledge originated in the past, descending to us from a distant golden age. Things were better. People then could do things we cannot today, for the reason that the knowledge they had has often been lost over the generations.

Within this framework, medical knowledge, for instance, is not something that is discovered, but instead something that can only be rediscovered. If one says, for instance, to a person who holds these views, that traditional Chinese medicine is not as effective as modern, scientific allopathic medicine, they might counter that centuries ago it used to be much more effective than it is today and claim the comparison unfair.

I once heard of a Taiwanese kung fu teacher who claimed his teacher’s teacher’s teacher had defeated a local rival’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher in a street bout. The surface implication is that his style is superior. The deeper subtext is that one’s fighting ability depends almost entirely on one’s training, and that the entirety of his training had been passed along, without either depreciation or improvement, for three generations.

Within this paradigm the creator of an idea is not respected, because, as being new, the idea itself is not seen as having proven value. If original ideas are not of value, why should someone who creates them be seen as having done something valuable?

Therefore, for instance, the identity of the author of the classic of traditional Chinese medicinal theory, the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine), is unknown. Whoever he or she was, when they wrote (or compiled) the book two or three centuries before Christ’s time, they saw no benefit to putting their name on the work. Instead it was advertised as the work of the Yellow Emperor, a mythical sage said to live around 3,000 B.C.

The value to an individual lay in possessing knowledge, not in its creation. Study of past knowledge, after all, was a much more efficient and respected way to obtain learning than to simply try to invent new ideas whole cloth, hoping they somehow worked as well as long-respected ideas handed down for generations.

In fact, in the nineteenth century, when the West proved itself undeniably in possession of superior technology, the Chinese soon developed what seemed a logical explanation. Perhaps the Westerners had somehow acquired and then built upon Mohist knowledge. The Mohists were a school of ancient philosophers and scholars from the days of Confucius, a few centuries before Christ. They were known for skill in fortifications and siege warfare. To the Chinese of that time, such an explanation seemed much more likely and sensible than to imagine that Europeans had just invented these things, thinking up ideas out of nowhere.

And when an idea is disproven? Within the traditional Chinese paradigm, this was seen as largely situational. Just because a long-respected idea seemed incorrect in one situation, meant little. It should be saved, taught and passed on to the next generation as it undoubtedly held the potential to be useful elsewhere. The key, perhaps, was to know when and where to apply different theories even if a later civilization might find them contradictory,

Among the less-civilized people of south east Asia some of the same ideas exist. The Chin and the Homng (Miao) are both tribal peoples of the region. Surprisingly, both groups have near identical stories to explain their traditional illiteracy, something that distinguishes them from the literate Burmese and Chinese who they fought with. According to these legends these peoples were once literate but during a great battle with their enemies they left all their books at home. When they returned they discovered, in horror, that pigs and horses had eaten them all. With the books lost, so too went the knowledge of reading and writing. In fact, one reason both peoples welcomed Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is that the missionaries not only came with a book but taught them reading and writing, an event seen as a wonderful restoration of things lost long ago.

Countless books have been written on the complex problem of China and intellectual property rights. China is our biggest trading partner and often a political rival. Traditional ideas concerning the origin, value, creditation and development and/or decline of knowledge are just one facet of the issue.

Yet to resolve this it will help to understand that many people in this world see knowledge as something that is better acquired instead of created.

And if we can’t understand our fellow humans, can we expect extraterrestrials to fare any better at understanding humans?

 

Dear Cthulhu: Issue #20

DearCthulhuLogo

 

Dear Cthulhu,
I’ve had a very traumatic week. I just found out that my girlfriend of three years was just a figment of my imagination. I still don’t believe it. I mean I admit I was always suspicious when she never wanted to go out and I never met her parents but she met mine and a bunch of my friends.

My co-workers told me that all my pictures of the two of us together were PhotoShopped. Apparently they first became suspicious because “Monroe” looked just like Marilyn Monroe. Truthfully, it was one of the first things that attracted me to her. I, of course, defended our relationship and pointed out to one of my co-workers that her boyfriend looked like Marilyn Manson and I didn’t judge her or her goth ways. I swore the picture wasn’t touched up, that she was real. I even tried to prove it by calling her on my cell phone. When she picked up, I put her on speakerphone. All my co-workers claim all they heard was the listing of movies and times for the local theater. I started to listen to them. I admit that it did seem rather odd that all she talked about were movies. I needed another opinion so I called my ex. She looked like Raquel Welch. Oddly, when I called her, her number gave the weather. I asked my parents about the times we had dinner together. My mom told me that she had never met Monroe. She told me I had always had imaginary friends and just never grew out of it. She said she always humored me so I didn’t get upset. In fact she explained that she had never married and had always been a single mother. She got pregnant with me after a drunken binge at college. She told me my father never existed. Yet I remember him tucking me in, checking under my bed for monsters, playing catch with me. When I asked her how a figment of my imagination could throw a ball. Mom said I would go out in the backyard and throw the ball up on the roof and let it roll down and catch it.

Needless to say, my world was shaken. I called my friends and got a suicide hotline, a computer help line, and a number that took toaster registrations. I realized for the first time how odd it was that my childhood friends looked like Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Kermit the Frog. And my father looked like Homer Simpson.

My problem is figuring out if I am crazy or just have some odd-looking friends. And did I waste all that money over the years buying condoms? How do I figure it out?

–Possible Head of The Imagi-Nation

 

Dear Head,

Yours is a pitiful tale. Cthulhu is not a psychiatrist but it does appear that you do have some serious reality perception issues. It is very sad. Normally Cthulhu would encourage your delusions to have some fun with you, however there are those who consider Cthulhu himself a figment of fiction, of imagination and fantasy and that these columns are written by another pretending to be me. To them and you I say that reality is usually a harsh place and if these fantasies help you cope and give you some happiness, then do not toss them aside. However try to put the same amount of effort into connecting with real people. And always check the phone numbers you call with your mother or co-workers to make sure you are not calling for sports scores or a recipe hotline.

 

 

Dear Cthulhu,

I read your recent comment to the woman who was getting grief for breastfeeding her adult son in public. I too have problems breastfeeding in public, even though my daughter is an infant. My problem is I look very masculine and people call the police on me. I’ve been arrested three times as a sexual predator. I’m let go each time after the strip search, but still it is embarrassing. And I still have a court date and had to come up with twenty grand for bail because they wouldn’t accept the word of the officer who searched me.

Plus, my husband left me. Turns out he was really gay and just married me to have a beard to fool and please his parents. It’s hard enough being a single mother without all this going on. How can I stop this from happening to me?

–Manly Woman in Manchester

 

Dear Manly,

Yes. Stop breastfeeding in public. Use a breast pump, put the milk in a bottle and use that while you are out.

However you have suffered at the hands of others and the great thing about your country is that it gives anyone the ability to get revenge and inappropriately large sums of money by suing for real or imagined slights. You should file a civil rights lawsuit for sexual harassment and discrimination. I assume the officers who strip-searched you were male. Cthulhu has never been depraved enough to attend law school, however that alone should add a zero or two onto the end of your settlement. You can then use some of the money to visit a plastic surgeon to make you more feminine. And be sure to save some for your daughter when she grows up. Chances are she will resemble you and need the same surgical fix to make sure other children do not mistake her for a male.

Have A Dark Day.

 

 

Dear Cthulhu welcomes letters and questions at DearCthulhu@dearcthulhu.com. All letters become the property of Dear Cthulhu and may be used in future columns. Dear Cthulhu is a work of fiction and satire and is © and ™ Patrick Thomas. All rights reserved. Anyone foolish enough to follow the advice does so at their own peril.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #19

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Ah, summer. As I finish production on this issue, I’m right in the middle of my end-of-spring convention rush. For me, March is StellarCon (one day I hope to try LunaCon instead) followed rapidly by a month of panic trying to get RavenCon up and running. Then the one-two punch of Balticon and ConCarolinas on sequential weekends. With Balticon running four days it makes the turnaround even more hectic.

And then… Summer.

I’m not a huge fan of summer (generally speaking). I prefer cool days to the hot muggy east coast summers we get around here. I’ve never seen the appeal of the beach, I’ve always preferred the mountains. When I was young I always found myself looking forward to school starting up again so that I could see my friends. Now though, I find myself enjoying the lazy days away from conventions. Yes, I love being a diehard con goer but even I need a break once in a while.

And there are plenty of summertime conventions that I could be attending. Most of these though would require extra travel and/or expense. By the time June rolls around I’ve pretty much exhausted my supply of local cons until October. I had originally been expecting to be co-chairing the NASFiC this summer but my schedule has since forced me to resign. So here I am, enjoying my summer!

But enough about me… How about some info on the zine? I’m very excited to have a story from Lawrence Schoen this issue. I don’t often run reprints but when Lawrence offered me a chance to reprint his Hugo-nominated short story “The Moment,” I jumped at it. We were lucky enough to have a Frank Wu cover the summer that he won his first Hugo; I’m hoping that Lawrence’s story gets the same kind of mojo.

In addition to a Hugo nominee, we’re also bringing back comics by Robert Kauffmann and finishing out the run of Rob Balder and Dan Fahs’ strip “BelchBurger.” Last issue we introduced new artist Denny Marshall. He’s back again this month and shows off some poetry chops as well. Enjoy!