Has it been that long ago now? Have I been a “published author” for twenty-five years?


You know what, the idea came to me (late today, actually and after a couple of false starts on other topics) to write about my first sale. But it was only after pulling out the box with all my old publications in it and reading the masthead of issue number sixteen of The Wire did it hit me that my first published work was released in January of 1987—fully twenty-five years ago last month.

That makes me feel kinda old. That and the baldness, the knee pain, the gray in my hair and beard, the three-part vision . . . I can see far away with my glasses on, in the middle distance like right now with no glasses, and close up with my reading glasses . . . the joke: My eyes are fine, it’s just my arms aren’t long enough. Anyway, yeah, most days I feel old, but this little fact brought that home a little.

But this wasn’t meant to be some maudlin paean to my long-lost youth, so let’s get on with it.

I called this “My First Sale(s)” because I have two first “sales.”

Other than school projects—you’re talking to the winner of the Hoffman Estates High School Literary Award (Sophomore) for the short story “The Troll,” which you bet your ass was based on an encounter with a D&D troll—the first time someone published my work was a magazine called The Wire.

With all love and respect for The Wire, late of Dearborn Michigan, it’s a little hard to call it a proper magazine. It’s really more like a hand-out: five sheets of colored paper with photocopied text on both sides of all but the last sheet, stapled together with one staple in the upper left-hand corner.

I came in contact with The Wire, and its editor, Sharon Wysocki during my brief but amazing time among the wilds of the late-80s micropress boom. I was already editing and publishing Alternative fiction & poetry, and had started sending out work of my own. Sharon was the first to recognize my brilliance, and there on the second page is my “concrete poem” called “wait a minute.” It’s quite a piece of work, and can only be appreciated  in it’s entirety. Ready? Here it is:

You can see the cover bleeding through in this scan, too. Bonus.

I need to start doing that kind of work again. It was surprisingly freeing.

I’m serious.

So this was my first “sale”—but why the quotation marks? Becuase I wasn’t paid a dime. It was joy enough to be published. To my mind, anyway, this made me a “published author,” though I was yet to be a “professional author.”

Even twenty-five years later I cling to this definition. Once someone pays you one dollar or more to show any number of strangers something you’ve written, you are a professional author. For me, that didn’t happen for another few years.

I remember seeing a market listing somewhere—where? I have no idea. Probably a magazine like The Writer. There was a call for short stories submissions for a new science fiction magazine. I wrote science fiction short stories. Around this time, the mid 80s through mid 90s I wrote a lot of them. I had just finished one I was particularly proud of and I sent it in. Long story short: editor Richard Rowand liked it enough to include it in the premiere issue of Starshore magazine, from Summer of 1990. I was paid about $80 and it was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was in. I was a paid, professional science fiction author. Go me.

I was one of the many others.

It was at that point that I made the decision that I was going to subscribe to every magazine that published one of my stories. This decision was fueled by my own frustration at getting literally hundreds of short story and poetry submissions every month for Alternative fiction & poetry and literally ones of subscription orders. My one-year subscription ended up netting me the entire run of Starshore magazine, which folded after the fourth quarterly issue.

Well, they can rest easy knowing they discovered me!

Oh, and the story I was paid $80 for? It’s called “Video Bolo Two’s Muji Bastard” and it envisions a far-flung future in which the Soviet Union is still fighting a war against the Afghan Mujahideen.

The fact that that war is still going on, just with a different bankrupt, failing super power being dragged to its death in the asshole of the world only makes this tragic bit of military SF all the sadder.

It’s a good story, and one that even this many years later, I still stand behind. I should figure out some way to republish it. I wouldn’t be the first to throw together an e-book collection . . .


And as for the concrete poems, bits of what is now called “flash fiction” but as far as know back then had no name, and other literary flights of a young man’s fancy? I’ll call that one The Alternative Years.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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