The Things You Notice

On Writing

We’re in the process of moving books from one room to another, organizing the library and the backstock and, well, our lives, really.

I’m moving my overstock of everything that I’ve published in fiction, anyway.  It’s impossible for me to do so with non-fiction, since I didn’t start at the beginning of my career.  Heaven knows what I’ve lost or misplaced or simply forgotten.

In my writing office, I have one copy of every story and novel that I’ve published, in order of publication.  (Or in the order in which I received contributors copies.)  The stuff I’m moving now are the extra copies.  The 48 copies of a novel from the U.S. or the 10 copies of a magazine.

What I’m noticing, however, is that I’ll often pick up an issue of a magazine and think, “Did I have a story in there?”  Realize I’ve published hundreds of short stories over my career.  The novel covers I remember, but not all the magazine covers.

Except for the magazine covers from my first 2 years of publishing fiction.  Those I know as well as I know my friends.

What I realized is simple, really:  In those days, a short story publication was an event.  And well it should have been, considering how long it took me to sell my first short story.  But somewhere in the early 1990s, after about four years of steady short story sales, I stopped staring happily at the covers.  I still recall my first cover stories (heck, all of my cover stories), but not every cover of every issue of every magazine I’ve appeared in. 

It’s the same with anthologies.  With two writers in the house, sometimes our overstock gets mixed up.  More than once, as I’m doing this move, I’ve checked the contents to make certain that the book I’m putting in my pile is one with my story inside.  Inevitably it is.  But I am amazed at how much I have forgotten.

I never thought it possible, even though I knew it was possible.  At my very first World Science Fiction Convention, I had a book signing with Fred Pohl and Jack Williamson.  I have no idea why, but the con had scheduled the three of us together.  (Thank heavens we knew each other–Fred and Jack were two of my instructors at the workshop where I met Dean.)  They had lines that extended through the door, into the corridor and around the corner.  I had no line at all.  In that hour, the only person who came to see me was some guy who wanted his picture taken with “a Locus covergirl”  (My picture had recently been on Locus Magazine’s cover.)

But Fred and Jack signed and signed and signed.  And often, they would pick up a magazine or a book and squint at it.  A few times one of them would say, “Ah, yes.  I’d forgotten that story.”  And I remember thinking, “How can you forget a story?”

I haven’t forgotten any stories.  But I have forgotten what the publications they first appeared in look like.  I find that startling–and reassuring at the same time.  Because it simply confirms what I’ve always said:  Writing is my job.  Do you remember what you did at work 15 years ago?  I often remember the content of a story, but not where it appeared or what (if anything) I wrote it for.

It’s quite fun to put everything in order–and not in the order it was received.  The magazines are going in date order.  The anthologies are alphabetical by title (because I’ll never remember how to find them by editor).  I’m not overwhelmed yet, but I figure it’s only a matter of time….