I have a new short story out, “Lost & Found,” in the sixth annual installment of writer/editor Alex Shvartsman’s popular Unidentified Funny Objects series.

My story in UFO5 was a satirical mash-up of The X-Files, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, and the classic movie, Casablanca. “The ∏ Files” (“The Pi Files”), featuring Special Agents Mully and Scalder, was great fun to write.

This time, though, my story for UFO6 is a little more personal.

I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. It should have been a great job. The hours, the location, the work, the community, and the rest of the staff were all pleasant, and the pay was okay.

Unfortunately, though, the boss (who was the editor, publisher, and owner of the paper) was an incredibly toxic person, which made working there miserable and stressful, despite all the positive attributes the place otherwise had. In addition to his stunning incompetence, he was also prone to frequent tantrums and irrational rages, he was jaw-droppingly rude, and he regularly insulted and gaslighted the staff.

Unsurprisingly, the place had a comically high turnover rate. Departures were an even mix of quitting and getting fired. I was only there for a few months before I was fired, during which time we ran through 5 office managers, for example. One very nice person quit after just one day, telling me as she left how appalled and astounded she was by the boss’ behavior.

Well, at one point, the boss wanted to print some “joke” stories in the newspaper. He presented staffers with a few real news stories that he wanted us to riff on. I selected one about NASA, wrote my story as directed, and turned it in. After reading it, the boss informed me that this story was not at all what he had wanted. In fact, it was what he had asked for, but now he was asking for something else. So I wrote what I was asked for. He sent it back to me with some notes. I revised the material in accordance with the notes and turned it in. Now he gave me all-new feedback, stuff he had not said on any previous iteration, and had me revise it again. I did so. And then he did the same thing again.

Next, he told me to start all over from scratch. He couldn’t articulate why, he just knew he wanted something else. I pointed out that I had already done 5 versions. He said I would probably have to do 10 or 12 versions before we were done. 

It was the “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it” school of editing. I had consoled various writers friends about situations like this over the years, but this was the first time I had dealt with it myself. This is a well-known gambit of completely incompetent and/or malicious editors, and it always goes very badly for the writer.

Then he told me I didn’t know how to write humor. He also said I wasn’t creative. He gave me a contemptuous look and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be a science fiction writer or something?”

At which point, I finally lost my temper. I don’t remember exactly what I said, though I do recall working into my tirade the information that I’d never before been asked for 5 rewrites because I’d never before worked with such an incompetent editor. I took my work away from him and stalked out of his office after telling him my next version of it would be final, period.

Not long after that, I later learned, he posted a want-ad for someone to fill my position, and after he arranged a start date with the new hire, he fired me.

The sad part, so to speak, was that the pieces he kept spiking were funny, and none of them ever saw the light of day.

So when Alex Shvartsman asked me to participate in UFO6, I decided to turn my ideas  for that article into a short story. The result is “Lost & Found,” in which some surprising visitors emerge from a UFO orbiting Earth.

And apparently someone thinks I can write humor, since Imagine A Book SF gave my story 5 stars and said, “So many different layers of humor. Wonderful.”

Yep, getting published is still the best revenge.

I was Guest of Honor (GoH – pronounced “go”) at MillenniCon 29 this weekend, where a good time was had by all. And at the traditional GoH reception on Friday night, the convention unveiled a beautiful sheet cake which was the size of my car–and decorated with themes from my Esther Diamond fantasy series, which I found especially thoughtful. (Note the diamond, the comedy-tragedy dual-mask image that’s the traditional symbol of thespians like Esther, and the books. Also, the cake was yummy!)

Photo Mar 20, 7 57 36 PM

MillenniCon is a science fiction/fantasy fannish convention in the Cincinnati/Dayton/Ohio Valley area, so it’s local to me (I’m a longtime Cincinnatian and now live in Northern Kentucky–so close to Cincinnati than I can easily walk to downtown Cinti, across the Ohio River, and can see parts of it from my back yard.) They like to feature local sf/f writers, and past GoHs include fellow Cincinnatians Mike Resnick (my dad) and Stephen Leigh aka S.L. Farrell, as well as Midwestern residents John Scalzi, Jim Hines, Eric Flint, and Tobias Buckell. Over the years, they’ve also brought in guests from farther afield, including Robert Sawyer, Connie Willis, Catherine Asaro, David Brin, Larry Niven, Lois McMaster Bujold, Joe Haldeman, and so on. As you can imagine, I am honored to be in such company.

Before opening ceremonies (generally pretty unceremonial in the sf/f world, but always fun and friendly), my fearless GoH liaison Cheryl, responsible all weekend for making sure I didn’t disappear down a manhole or get lost in the laundry, took me and several others out for dinner, including former MillenniCon GoH and friend-of-con David Drake. Later on, after the GoH reception back at the hotel and some evening programming (during which I confessed to enjoying Elvis Presley movies), there was the usual round of parties. (As I have said before, the sf/f world is mostly about the parties, not the books.)

I was settling down to sleep around 2am that night when I realized I had forgotten a bunch of essential things at home–such as something to read to the audience at my reading in the morning–so I made a middle-of-the-night trek back to my house across the river to get forgotten items. Upon arriving home, I surprised the Infamous Hector in the middle of constructing a catapult in the cellar by using–it seemed–pieces of a Scrabble game he had  liberated from the top shelf (9 feet high) in an upstairs closet. So it was a rather long night.

Like many others at MillenniCon, I was jailed the next day. (This is a fundraiser whereby people pay a few dollars to arrest and imprison anyone of their choice for 5-15 minutes in a temporary jail that’s constructed in the lobby. The jailer is a well-armed Klingon, so I went quietly, officer.) That evening, writer Stephen Leigh aka SL Farrell, who has been publicly performing in rock bands for decades, did a great job of entertaining the audience during the intermission at the masquerade while we waited for the judges to deliberate and make their decisions. Afterwards, on my way to the parties, I saw a giant blue sea monster in the hallway, and everyone said I’d had enough to drink. But I saw it again the next day, too, after all the effects of wine and questionable company had worn off. Hah!

Sunday wrapped up with some more programming, during which time I realized that I probably shouldn’t spend so much time at parties when I have a heavy programming schedule, since I am not quite the spring flower that I used to be.

Overall, I believe that being a good GoH means being polite and accessible, available to committee and attendees during most waking hours during the con, well-prepared on programming, and courteous to everyone who has shown up in hopes of having a nice time. So I tried hard to follow that example, since that’s all much easier than, oh, writing a book, and certainly not a lot to ask of an author in exchange for making her the honored guest of a convention.

And concoms make it a very positive experience for the GoH by running a good con where everyone has a good time, as well as extending warm hospitality to the GoH. All of which was the case at MillenniCon, which was a happy experience for me and, as far as I could tell, for everyone else, too.

Next year is MillenniCon’s 30th anniversary, for which they’re planning big festivities, including inviting back some former GoHs, such as my dad and my friend Jim Hines–so I’ll certainly be in attendance!