Taking flight with Andromeda Spaceways

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine has been around for ten years now. To celebrate, ASIM#56 is a bumper edition containing no less than 20 – count ’em, 20! – fabulous stories of sffnal goodness. From aliens and asteroids to demons and zombies, if science fiction and fantasy are your thing, there’s something here for you.

There’s also the story of a sphinx who’s bored with asking riddles and the desperate family of merchants who have to outwit her or lose everything, including bits of their anatomy they’d really rather stayed attached. A story – and I quote from the editor – which is “light-hearted and whimsical, a story that makes you smile”.

Well, it certainly makes me smile, because it’s my first semi-pro publication. Very exciting to see it looking so grown-up and real in print. And even though the pay rate wasn’t “professional”, everything else about this magazine and the experience of working with them was.

They have one of the best submission systems I’ve seen. Instead of disappearing into a black hole for months, as happens with so many other magazines, you can track the progress of your submission through first readers, second readers, editors, etc. When you get accepted, the editing is painless, and the contract, payment and contributor’s copy arrive in a timely fashion.

The whole process was smooth and stress-free. And now I get to hold this cute little magazine in my hands that has my name on the cover and my story “The Family Business” inside.

It’s almost exciting enough to make me stop procrastinating and write another one …

The writer’s dilemma, or “Dammit, that was my idea!”

I’m working on a short story for a competition. The competition’s theme is the Apocalypse, which isn’t really my cup of tea. So I decided to do a lighthearted take on the four horsemen of the Apocalypse instead of a gloomy breakdown-of-society story, and have it all turn out happily in the end. I do like me some happy ending.

In completely unrelated news – or so it seemed – someone recommended Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to me while I was standing in a bookshop on Saturday. Naturally I bought it. Why else stand around in bookshops? I like Terry Pratchett and this is one of his I haven’t read before. But guess what it’s about?

I’m now nearly halfway through, and it’s vastly amusing but dammitall, they’ve used half my jokes! For instance, their apocalypse is set in a small English town, and when the horsemen arrive they comment that they thought the apocalpyse would start somewhere bigger, like New York. Mine’s in a small Aussie town, and when the horsemen arrive they comment that they thought the apocalypse would start somewhere bigger, like Washington or Beijing.

Aaargh! Guess I’ll have to take that line out.

Clearly Pratchett and Gaiman don’t have a monopoly on the Apocalypse. Just because they’ve written about it doesn’t mean it’s now off limits for everyone else. It doesn’t even mean that no one else can write a funny version of the Apocalypse.

But it certainly makes it more challenging. While I know I started my story before I realised theirs existed, other people reading my story won’t, and if it’s not sufficiently different they’ll assume I’m ripping off Good Omens.

Some writers refuse to read the work of other writers in their field, not wanting to be influenced by others’ ideas. I’m glad I’m not one of them since I found the bit about assuming the apocalypse would start somewhere bigger. Leaving my very similar reference in would just look like plagiarism.

You’d be surprised how often this kind of thing happens. People will often come up with similar ideas for books, movies, songs or inventions quite independently. Sometimes it’s because of some big event that moves a lot of people to write about it, like September 11, or a need that becomes apparent that prompts several inventors to design the same thing. Other times there’s no apparent reason. It just happens.

The common writing wisdom is that there are only so many ideas around anyway. The idea isn’t important; it’s what you do with it that makes your story different from the others. Look at vampires, for instance. There are shelves and shelves of vampire stories these days, but none of them are the same. And nobody tells all those authors they can’t write a vampire story just because Twilight’s so famous.

Nevertheless, some of my initial enthusiasm has faded. I’ll still finish the story and submit it. It’s an amusing yarn, and really nothing like Pratchett and Gaiman’s apocalypse. It’s just …

Damn. I wish I’d been first.

Who am I?

I received my first “editorial letter” recently. One of my stories is being published in a semi-pro magazine in a few months, and the editor sent me an email with a file attached suggesting a few changes.

I was quite nervous about opening it. What if she wanted to change great chunks of it? Or delete parts I felt were integral to the story? She said they were only minor changes, but maybe her idea of minor would be different to mine.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried. One phrase deleted, a couple of words switched for synonyms and a handful of commas added. Nothing to alarm even the most sensitive of writers, and I’d already decided before I opened the file that I’d agree to any changes she wanted. Editors have a lot of experience at prettying things up for publication, after all. If they think something needs changing then it probably does.

So – big sigh of relief, trauma over … until she sent another email requesting a paragraph-long biography to go with the story.

“Marina is the best-selling author of Blah …” I wish.

“Marina has travelled the world and held 57 fascinating jobs that make her uniquely qualified to write this awesome story …” Not quite.

How do you describe yourself without boring people on the one hand or sounding like you’re blowing your own trumpet on the other? It has to be true (damn), interesting, relevant to the magazine’s audience and preferably humourous.

I could tell them I’m a skilled quilter, but readers of a spec fiction mag aren’t going to care about that. I have three children (likewise, yawn). I could say I have a masters degree in English, which might be relevant but makes me sound like a tosser.

Hey look! I have eyes that look blue in some lights and green in others. Also, I’m a pretty ordinary photographer.

I’ve been to more weddings than anyone who isn’t a marriage celebrant (I used to play the organ at weddings). And I cried at every single one of them. I always cry at weddings. And funerals. Even if I don’t know the person.

I own a dog with a death wish. I have a huge collection of dragon statues. I’m a really crap housekeeper but I cook a mean spaghetti bolognese. I had to beg my sister for months to give me her Super Secret Spaghetti Recipe.

That one little paragraph caused me a lot of trouble. This is what I came up with in the end:

“Marina lives in Sydney where she divides her time between kid-wrangling, writing and many other interests. She has a bad habit of starting new novels without finishing the old ones, which she’ll have to kick if she is ever to get any of them published. She blogs at www.pecked-by-ducks.blogspot.com.”

How do you sum up a life in one little paragraph? What would you write if you had to describe yourself?

*@!!*$%! names

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have to name the owl, Marina. It’s just a stuffed toy. And it doesn’t even look like an owl.

I know you’re right, but he’s just sitting on my desk staring at me, all vague and nameless. Sad, unloved and nameless. Accusing, almost. What kind of mother are you? If you really cared you’d give me a name. And stop letting people say I don’t look like an owl.

Sorry, buster, you really don’t look like an owl. The original did, but I think I overstuffed you. You look more like a sparrow with a really big butt. Maybe an overweight robin.

Hey, I could call him Robin. Robin the Owl.