doctor joke

A novelist goes to the doctor for a checkup.

Doctor: "Hey, can you give me the name of your agent?"

Novelist: "Why?"

Doctor: "I've got a 6-month sabbatical coming up, and I've always wanted to publish a novel."

Novelist thinks for a moment.

Novelist: "OK, but can you do me a favor in return?"

Doctor: "What do you have in mind?"

Novelist: "As it happens, I've got a free 6 months coming up myself, and I've always wanted to do open-heart surgery. Could you set something up with the hospital for me?"


Everyone in the world thinks he can write. I think I can write fiction, although it remains to be seen if I am deluded in this. Why have I focused on fiction? I have no interest in delving deep within myself to write autobiography. I suspect that if I were to try to write nonfiction about someone or something I like or care about, it would end up as a sad and turgid recitation of facts. Is my fiction any better?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. When someone is willing to pay you for your writing, that is an indication of the basic quality of the work. There isn't a direct one to one correlation between money and quality, but no money is pretty much equal to no quality. It's non-linear after that. Once that binary hurdle is crossed, it's hard to measure how "good" your writing is.

Take a blogger who hates his job and uses time on the clock to pour out 3000 blogwords a day on the subject of his choice - wine, shoes, baseball, politics, etc. He says to himself, "Gosh, I really hate my job, but I really love writing my blog. I should try to write for a living instead." There are plenty of examples of people being offered columnist slots on after having written 500,000 words of cogent commentary on Subject X. But what about fiction?

Even if he's realistic about the fact that it would take years for him to develop his skills, income from writing will never come close to what he makes in his day job. So why bother? Where's the satisfaction of always being a rookie also-ran?

A taste of rejection

My short story was rejected by F & SF.

"Thank you for submitting (X), but I'm going to pass on it. This tale didn't grab my interest I'm afraid. Good luck to you with this one, and thanks again fo sending it our way. Sincerely, (editor)"

Nice note. I'm going to do my best to resist the urge to read the tea leaves.

I didn't expect it to get rejected until after the New Year. So, off it will go to a detective story outlet, after I fix a few minor things that were pointed out to me.

Submitted short story

I submitted my first short story yesterday, a 4000 word piece to Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I have my fingers crossed, but this will let me just try to forget about it until after Christmas. Since I'm not paying any bills with my writing, I don't need to jump right onto a new writing project, either. I can bask and relax and take inspiration as it comes.

In January, and after it comes back from F&SF, I can think about where I might be able to send it next.

Thaumatrope - fiction crack

I just sold a story to Thaumatrope. It will appear on March 23, 2009.

Thaumatrope buys and publishes short pieces of fiction. Really short, like teeny-weeny short, the kind that will fit in a 140 character Twitter post. Yes, 140 characters.

This makes the very first thing I have ever sold for actual money. Yog's law applies - the money is flowing towards me, so this is a real sale. Granted, I'm not going to be able to quit my day job on $1.20, but I wouldn't be able to quit my day job on an advance of $50,000.20 from Random House, either.

The internal self-defeating critic in me wonders if the editor is buying anything that gets sent to him at this point, in order to achieve some goal of his own devising. This would mean that, no matter how crappy my piece was, it would have been bought.

Maybe so, internal self-defeating critic, but you know what? It was bought. That means that in this particular time, this particular place, this particular venue, it was worth shelling out $1.20 for.

I don't think I will ever get any public accolade or any fiduciary recompense for my writing that will be sufficient to drive from the back of my mind the nagging suspicion that my work really kind of sucks.

That being the case, that I will never fully accept that my work is good, I need to learn to accept that, if an editor buys it, that is admissible evidence that my work is good enough.

Not yet

I take it back, this story isn't done. It would be a pretty bad idea to insult the very genre readership that you are trying to reach, wouldn't it? Having your main character say, "Romances are for idiots." would pretty much guarantee that no romance editor would buy your story, now wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?


Letting go

I'm beginning to understand something about writing. While I was working on this story, it was all I could think about. Tweaking, tuning, polishing, etc. Once it was finished, I read it and re-read it a dozen times. So proud, so proud!

However, now that it's been done for a few days, I don't want to look at it again. I'm tired of it. I just want it to get out of the nest and make room for something else to grow and develop. Another short story? More work on my novel(s)? I don't know.

I do know that these recurring daydream fantasies of being "discovered" thanks to this story are just ridiculous. Magazine editor reads this story, instantly agrees to publish it. Not only that, he/she shows it to a friend over at a book house (if this publisher doesn't also do books), and they ask if there is any more where this came from. "Why, yes," I say, modestly, "I do happen to be working on a novel at the moment." They plead to see a draft. I send them a chapter. They swoon, and offer me $50,000 on the spot, sight unseen. I take a week's vacation from my day job, finish the book and send it in. Though this is a small publisher, it takes off like a rocket, climbing the Best Seller list. A two book deal with the small house follows, then a three book deal with a major house after that. One or more of the books are made into a successful major motion picture. I make enough money that I never have to worry again.

What would be beneficial to me at this point is a solid dose of reality, maybe three or four heaping tablespoons of it. Reality is a heroically powerful laxative. Anybody who's been served up a heaping helping of reality, and been forced to choke it all down, is far less likely to be full of shit than someone who's never had to face reality.

So, here's the Noland Truism: one rejection notice is equivalent to one tablespoon of reality. I will pick a venue and submit it electronically. Maybe tonight, in fact. The sooner I get some reality, the better off I'll be.

More perspective

I was starting in on a blog post, and got so appalled by my own arrogance and self-absorption that I deleted the entry in disgust, half-written.

Sometimes, I need to see my thoughts written down in black and white to appreciate what an ass I am.


I find myself thinking a lot about decisions about what to do and how to do it with respect to my writing career. I'm regarding this as carefully laying the groundwork, to make sure decisions made in haste don't come back to haunt me in the future.

My first complete short story has finished for two days, and has yet to be submitted anywhere, yet I'm practicing how I'll handle myself when I'm on Oprah. What the hell?

I did the same thing when I did all kinds of research on how to prepare and mount a deer skull to show off the rack to the best advantage. Then, I went on my hunting trip, and came home empty-handed. You'd think I'd have learned a lesson from the experience.

This is starting to cross the line from escapist fantasy to delusional obsession.

Hello world!

It is a very strange feeling for me, Tony Noland, to be on the cusp of sending out my first shorty story for publication. I'm not even sure where to send it.

I have to resist the urge to fantasize about winning Nebula, Hugo and Edgar Allen Poe awards with this story. If I had any sense of perspective, I would fantasize about having it get accepted at all.

4000 words at $0.06/word = $240. How's that for some perspective?

Note also that I would have to sell three stories like this even to qualify for membership in SFFWA.

Fantasies like this are cheap. This is like holding a lottery ticket before you check what last night's numbers were. Do I realize that they are ridiculous fantasies? Yes. It is almost completely impossible that this story will be bought, published and make a splash. Almost.

Finished a story

I finished a story, had a few people read and critique it, then revised it. I tweaked it, and went over it for final proofreading. Now, I just have to figure out how to submit it someplace.

1. Write.
2. Finish what you write.
3. Except under editorial edict, do not re-write.
4. Submit it to the marketplace.
5. Keep it in the marketplace until it sells.

I'm now looking at step #4.


At the suggestion of a mutual friend, I offered to critique someone's work. Prose, intended for children. There were some good chunks in there, but the main characters just drifted along. Stuff happened to them and they never really reacted much one way or the other. No motivation to do anything, no emotion in response to anything. The peripheral characters were alternately thunderous and musing, lurching back and forth from one sentence to the next. It was all choppy and disjointed. There was stuff that I liked, but there was a lot that could be improved.

The author responded that I missed the entire point of the piece, that it was supposed to be choppy, the characters were supposed to be mellow and unconcerned. She acknowledged that it was choppy, but said that she liked it that way. She said that she was sorry I got so lost and that if I was looking for motivation, consistent plot structure, development of characters over time or any other "deep" stuff, then I should look elsewhere. These were, she said, for children after all.

I review stuff all the time in my professional life. I'm actively *trying* to understand and appreciate your piece. If I miss the point or can't understand something, that's your fault as an author. You won't have a chance to respond, defend or explain to the readership of the magazine. They will just consider it a mess and move on.

I'm concerned that people seem to think that kids as readers don't deserve the same respect from an author as adults do. You don't need to explain the motivation for a kid trying to get a cookie from the cookie jar. That's a point of common understanding. However, you DO need to give a little backstory on why a giant is unhappy at having to rescue a dragon from a tree. This is not something which is readily obvious.

I assume that I will have the same level of problems when I go to publish something. If not with the plot, then with the setting, or the dialogue, or something. Get ready for critiques, right? Fortunately, I get critiqued all the time, and have been harshed and rejected many times. I like to think that my skin is reasonably thickened by now.

Ah, well. I'll wait a day then respond.

Too subtle, or just no context?

I put this up on another blog, one that has a high geek index:

"Forevor Lord, We Place Our Trust In Thee"
by Miles Naismith

The foundation of our faith is Christ
The uplift of earthly life,
At childhood's end our faith protects us
A high castle above strife.

This could be a plot device in a book, where the guy leaves instructions on how to obtain the magic Macguffin from his secret safe after his demise. Without any context to say, "Hey, this is a clue to something", it just reads like a stilted, oddly phrased prayer. To a science fiction fan, though, it should ring a few bells.

Two big hints here, even if you miss the overall references. First is the spelling error in the title: "Forevor". Without knowing anything else, this might not be very significant. In a novel, however, the detectives might eventually Google the author of this prayer and come up with this for Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. The entry talks about the Vor. Looking at the title of the prayer, we see "Forevor Lord", which should tip off to "For a Vor Lord". That means that the prayer is really code, using science fiction references.

Another way to approach it is by the references in the lines for "foundation", "uplift", "childhood's end" and "high castle". These are titles of novels written by Asimov, Brin, Clarke and Dick. A-B-C-D.

This is the key. Go into the victim's library of first editions. Arrange the right books in alphabetical order, by author, and implanted RFID tags unlock something in the final book, "The Vor Game" to provide you with the ultra screct access code you need.

He put his trust in the Vor Lord, get it? He left this puzzle, figuring that only his pal and fellow geek John Doe, would understand it and decode it.

Why am I putting this up in a public space, instead of in a word processor? Why not write the book? Too lazy, I suppose. Plus, I want the credit for being clever NOW, not when the book ever gets written.

A flood of books

I have at least two dozen books that I've been given or have acquired, which sit unread on my shelf. I get new books faster than I can read them. In part, this is because people give me books for my birthday and for Christmas. I'm an intelligent, curious person, so this would seem like a natural. However, I also don't read as quickly as everyone seems to think I do. I don't have as much time to devote to reading as I used to, and my rate of pages-per-hour isn't high enough to keep ahead of what I have.

Some of the books are things that other people thought I would be interested in, like the disappearing water in the American West/Southwest or the fate of one half of Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic exploration party. Others are important books by Ayn Rand and Winston Churchill, whose writing I know I will enjoy (based on skimming). Biographies, fiction, science fiction, histories, non-fiction about economics, politics, science... so many books, so little time.

One book has pretty much made itself obsolete before I read it. It's a deep-thought analysis of the emerging world economic and soci0-political structures. I got it for Christmas years ago. I'd have to check, but I believe it was written pre-9/11. It was certainly pre-Iraq, pre-world financial crisis, etc. What will it have to say that is relevant now? Maybe a lot about where the nations were, but not about where they are or where they will be. I don't have time (or inclination) to undertake a big critical analysis of geopolitics. So, skip it. Pack it away or give it away, unread.

Another one is a collection of essays which my brother-in-law was sure I would just love, and would find fascinating. He was right, I did find them fascinating when I read them as they were originally published in the New Yorker years ago. (He doesn't read the New Yorker, so they were all new to him.) There is one essay which I haven't read, since it was published in the Atlantic. Since I've already read 85% of the book, catching that one essay hasn't been tops on my list. I also did a spot check, to see if the pre-published essays were other than I recalled them. I don't think they changed any.

I want to read, and to let my kids see me reading. My sons used to love to sit and read, then they wanted to play video games all the time. This transition took place right about at the time that I started playing video games as a form of entertainment, instead of reading.

Books aren't immersive enough for me anymore. Maybe this is because I'm not reading the right kind of books, maybe because I'm so tired and distracted and depressed by work that I need something more insistently bright and flashy to keep my attention. When I read, my mind wanders to all of the crap I have to put up with at work, and I lose my thread in the story.

Last year I got movies and video games. I found a couple of chunks of time to watch the DVD, and have played the games, but not finished any of them. In response to questions from relatives, my wife told them that more books would not be a good thing for Christmas. This makes me feel really depressed. The clearest indication of an active, inquiring, intelligent mind is reading. Look at me - on my shelves I have DVDs I haven't watched, games I haven't played, books I haven't read. My kids, my wife, my job, my house - these all take up 95% of my time.

I don't read the newspaper in the morning (no time). At the end of the day, the headlines from the newspaper are obsolete, since I hear the news on the radio. I read the comics and that's it.

When I come home from work, it's time with my wife to debrief and to get briefed on what's going on with the homelife. Help get dinner, or make dinner myself. Eat with family. Read comics in newspaper. Enforce homework, dash to choir practice, evening meetings, whatever. Enforce bedtime for kids, read them a story. This takes me up to 9:00. I've got an hour to fix whatever got broken, do necessary chores, etc.

Settling down to read is hard to do.

And I want to add my little droplet to this flood? How stupid.

Who is that guy?

So if I'm being all twitchy, why post a photo? First, because normal people often post a photo of themselves when they start a blog. If I'm going to pretend that I'm a normal person, then I need to act like a normal person. Second, no one is reading this, so it doesn't matter. Third, because the photo is a particularly appropriate one for this blog, since it confirms my status as a seasoned world traveler with a lot of experiences to bring to bear on whatever I'm writing about.

The photo was taken at some Mayan ruins in Campeche, Mexico. I took the stairs all the way to the top, two at a time. It was a pretty unbelievable view, and a rather remarkable experience. These particular ruins were among the smaller ones that have been reclaimed from the forest, but still an amazing place.

Look for a change

Welcome to Landless, a place for prose. This reboot is certainly escapist and presumptuous, but it's a necessary thing, I think. There are so many things that I, wearing my writer's hat, need to be able to say with a free hand.

It's not that I'm helpless or in a rut, far from it. I am who I am, but I am also who I am known to be. Sadly, left brain and right brain activities are presumed to be mutually exclusive. Only geniuses and retirees are allowed to do both without raising suspicion, and I can lay claim to neither qualification.

It's just too complicated to say what I want to say about love, longing and loss. These are only slightly outpaced by what I'd like to say about fear, betrayal and hatred. Don't even get me started about sex and desire.