Laser Tag in Traffic

Road trips.

My sons have memories of some really fun ones from New York to New Hampshire.

But with me as a single mom with three young energetic little boys, it could’ve been a real challenge to make the trip bearable. Then I had an inspiration.

All it took for me to entertain three young boys on an eight-hour drive was simple: Cheap laser tag guns that their grandfather had sent them.They were sold as a two-player game where you would have a laser tag gun and a target vest. We didn’t the vests for what I had in mind.

Since the “guns” shot infrared beams, we would keep score of how many people we could get to slow down on the interstates by shooting at their radar detectors. It worked!

Using this a night required a bit of an adjustment, though. The laser tag guns had flashing lights. So if I was driving in the dark I had them cover the lights by wrapping the gun with a towel, which also covered the speakers so that they less noisy.

Since I was paying attention to traffic, I would spot cars going over the speed limit for them. Anytime a speeder was coming our way I’d would say something like, “We have one coming up on the left! Three, two, one, GET EM!!”

… and then my sons would mercilessly fire at the speeder with their infrared laser beams of justice! Points were awarded for any vehicle that would slow down after our invisible barrage. They took turns, and whoever was not firing the laser acted as scorekeepers, so all three of them were involved.

One of the best hits we ever got was on a semi who must have gotten onto his CB radio to tell everyone else in a convoy that his radar detector had tripped. Four tractor trailers slowed down at the same time.

“….that doesn’t just count as one!” I laughed as I instructed the scorekeepers.

Time flew by, and so did the miles on that trip.

A year later my sons had a NEWER laser tag gun which they used when we took a trip from New York to Virginia. We soon discovered this gun was much, much more powerful when it did things like repeatedly open and close a distant Walmart’s receiving bay doors. And we discovered the new gun beam was not as tightly focused when we were repeatedly targeting an arrogant speeder in the interstate: it also kept setting off the radar detector for an elderly couple who were on the opposite side of our car. And we were not sure what it set off in that police cruiser, but we–ahem!–hid the gun for a while.

When the highway patrolman got off at an exit we went back to setting off the arrogant speeder’s radar detector (and, sadly, despite our best efforts the poor elderly couple kept getting the penumbra of our shots–I’m sure they thought their detector was malfunctioning.) When the arrogant speeder was gnashing his teeth and on an exit ramp we let him know he’d been had when we held up the laser tag gun where he could see it, flashing lights and all, set it off again, and grinned like mad things, laughing uproariously. When we last saw him he was shaking his fist at us.

Ah, memories.

Miracles on a Shoestring

A&A once was described as doing miracles on a shoestring. That was nice, if a little misplaced. And no, this is not a plea for money. It’s about you, the writer.

Many of you may not be aware of what it takes to run an online genre magazine. Most of the things we accomplish are done by volunteers, of course, and a lot of love (free labor) goes into every edition of Abyss & Apex. From the editors to the webmaster to the interns, you can thank all of the wonderful people on our masthead for their untold hours of hard work. We do this because we love the genre. We do this for you, and for the next generation of writers who need a place to break in. We have very high standards, so this entrée to being published means something that authors can put in a cover letter.

But all of this is not free. There is the cost of web hosting, domain names, and above all paying the writers because authors should get paid. It costs me little over $2,500 a year to bring you A&A, with very few people donating to defray my out-of-pocket expenses. That’s okay, I guess, but I want to ask an important question. Is success in the genre more accessible to those with money? Are Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing successes mostly for the rich? And is it more a matter of time than money?

A little personal history will be needed to answer that question. I’ve been in Fandom, capital F, for a long time. Many have been here longer, but I’m not a newcomer. My first convention was in 2002; before that I did not know there was such a thing as a genre convention. What a wonderful discovery cons were! I’d found my tribe, people who loved what I loved. But back then I was a struggling single parent and getting to conventions was a huge expense, often out of my reach, and taking the time to go to one was a far-off dream. I was working a full and a part-time job, with no vacation time.

And through the years, I’ve noticed a pattern. Most of the writers and editors who were regulars a conventions had a lot more money and free time than I did. On blogs—mostly LiveJournal back then—the convention regulars I followed exhibited the privilege of financial security, of not worrying about money. This pattern was not malicious, but it was there—making me realize it would be that much harder for a writer without this relative wealth to become a success, because of the pressures of just trying to get by. Oh, how I knew those pressures!

So I became a successful engineer, and the financial burden of going to conventions and running A&A became easier, but the time pressure became a burden. Toward the end of my safety management career I made six figures, but was working 60 hours a week with 20 hours of commute time. It was a nightmare, and the time I had to work on A&A became almost nonexistent. (If you had long wait times on your submissions back then, I apologize.)

So I dropped out of the rat race, and remarried at the age of 53. I expected to have much more time, and to continue to make money at a slower pace so that I could fuel my genre passion. But, then, I had a harsh glimpse of my mortality.

First, I was unable to work because my hip went on me, due to a congenital defect not caught until I was in my 50s. Six months of excruciating pain was followed by the promise of getting my energy back in a year after the operation. Instead, my energy got worse and worse for two years, and I started to not be as mentally sharp. I wondered if I could handle A&A anymore and cast about for a successor (that did not work out). I even contemplated closing the zine. Fainting spells eventually led to a diagnosis of a severe arrhythmia: my heart was doing a horrible job of oxygenating my blood. They shocked my heart back into a good rhythm. It worked. I am back on all cylinders, rarin’ to go. But I was so long out of my field that my earning potential in safety management evaporated. Still, I was in a more comfortable place financially.

So I was poor and could not go to cons, then I was wealthy and could, and now I have to be selective. As Sophie Tucker once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” At least it’s better for paying for things, if not for time. I’ve never been a woman of leisure, but then I enjoy the work I choose. You can make up for some of a lack of money by hard work, if you have the time.

And this brings us back to the question, is it easier to become a success in the genre if you have money? You have to have talent, of course, but you need time to hone that talent: time when you are not worried about keeping a roof over your head or where your next meal is coming from. The privilege of not worrying about necessities is a big deal to the creative process. Worry and depression and fear can sap your emotional strength and stifle your creativity. I have incredible respect for those who surmount the odds and make a career for themselves in the genre, despite poverty and time pressures. Yes it’s harder when you don’t have the resources but it’s not impossible. We want to help.

Abyss & Apex understands. We’re here for you whether you come from privilege or poverty, leisure or overwhelming time pressure. If you carved out the time to send us something you worked hard on, we appreciate that. If you cannot make it to the important conventions, the big workshops—if you don’t have an MFA—you’re welcome here. If all you can spend is the $40 it takes to vote remotely for the Hugos, or not even that, we are not going to look down on you and think you any less of a fan.

You’re participating in this grand thing we call fandom, by writing, reading, and loving the genre. You do miracles on a shoestring, every time you have a shortage of time, or money, or both.

Keep those stories coming. We want you to win at this writing thing.

Wendy S. Delmater

For Book Quote Wednesday, a hook!

Today’s Book Quote Wednesday keyword is “Real.” Here’s a quote from my WRITING THE ENTERTAINING STORY. #BookQW It contains everything I’ve learned about writing and selling fiction in the 17 years I’ve run Abyss & Apex Magazine. From the foreword by James Van Pelt:

You’ll notice that first sentence is an attention getter! He’s demonstrating one of the skills I talk about in Writing the Entertaining Story: a hook.

There’s so much more, and the ebook is only $3.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited. So what are you waiting for? Here’s where to get it:

On being discredited

I can see it coming. And to explain what I’m predicting I’m going to quote a couple of science fiction and fantasy books. Bear with me, please, because they are good stories and point in interesting directions.

First of all, let’s talk about the premise of the fantasy novel Steel’s Edge by husband-and-wife writing team Ilona Andrews–part of their Edgers series. In it a young woman named Charlotte lives in a parallel world where magic is commonplace. She flees her native world for a place where magic is weaker called The Edge, and finds asylum and a new life there only to have it violently destroyed by some slaver raiders who kill those she cares about. She heads back to the full-magic world and does her damnedest to stop the slave trade there with others, including the cute hunk of a guy on the cover. (Yes, it’s also a steamy romance. So sue me.)

Here’s the thing I’d like to point out from Steel’s Edge: Her strategy hinges on the fact that a few people in the royal family support someone near the throne who is running the slave trade without knowledge of his sovereign. They cannot just accuse this man because he’s elite and too close to the throne. So Charlotte and her dedicated crew decide to discredit this evil man and make him unacceptable to the royalty and their hangers-on. They’re special and they have standards, and his public exposure will do the trick and make them reject him. If Charlotte & Co. can discredit him and embarrass him publicly by showing how he is running the slave trade in front of the assembled nobles, those nobles will cast him out as unworthy of them. And that was exactly what happens. (Great book and series, by the way.)

The second book with an applicable lesson is A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s a romantic farce where one of the three romances it intertwines has an epic “record-scratch” moment where the guy finds out that the woman he’s interested in has had a sex change operation to become a male and therefore be able to inherit a countship. The rival for the countship tries to discredit the new claimant as “just not being the real thing” but it looks like the former she, now a he, may just pull it off. I’m not going to go into all the delicious details–it’s simply an amazing book and if you’ve not yet read the Vokosigan Saga you’re in for a treat–but here’s the relevant passage to my topic.

The rival, unable to discredit his newly-male opponent, gets caught hiring thugs who (at his direction, albeit through cut-outs) tried remove the new claimant’s newly-acquired *ahem* male member. Most of the counts upon whom the original guy depended for votes, when he was the uncontested heir-apparent, will not even speak to him after he’s found out. And then one of them says something particularly scathing. “There is an unwritten rule among us, Richars; if you attempt any ploy on the far side of ethical, you’d damned well better be good enough to not get caught. You’re not good enough.”

And this leads into the point I want to make. Much of what we’re seeing in the news seems to be about embarrassing and discrediting others. Incontrovertible truth instead of innuendo is my standard on such things. Let me see what’s really going on. Show me, for I might as well be from Missouri. And as the proofs start to trickle in I’m starting to wonder about the “nobility” and “eliteness” of some of our leaders and institutions. It looks like many of them are being discredited right before our eyes.

The Newest Edition of Abyss & Apex Magazine is now live!

Current Issue

Issue 81:  1st Quarter 2022

“Writer Friendly” by Wendy S. Delmater

“Stranding Room Only” by Ray Daley
“Land’s End Light” by Stephen A. Roddewig
“The Memory Spider” by Fiona Moore
“Heat of the Moment” by Gordon Linzner
“Quarantine” by KM Dailey

“Stars and Stones” by Paula Hammond

Introduction to A&A Poetry, Issue 81 by John C. Mannone

Seasonal Poem “Ark II”
“Fertile” by Ann Thornfield-Long
“In the Dream Bunkers”  by Ann K. Schwader
“Godhuli” by DJ Tantillo
“Baby-Sitting a Bone in Washington Square Park, Once a Potter’s Field” by Linda Ann LoSchiavo
“The Magpie’s Consort” by Avra Margariti
“Beaks” by Katharyn Howd Machan

Small Press Reviews
A&A Reviews: Infiltration by Griffin Barber
A&A Reviews: Assault by Mike Massa

Snippet: SOM

My novel, The Sands of Mime, is out with a final beta reader before going out on submission. Here’s a bit of the story you might enjoy.


“Good, you’re awake.”

 Alix blushed and stood still. Dr. Gasparelli paused in the doorway, obviously not expecting to see her there. Then he shrugged, stepped inside, and began speaking before they could ask him about the strange sounds that had heralded his arrival.

“You aren’t going to be surprised, I suppose, that MedGalaxy is using this as a reason to leave Mime?” Fort nodded and Alix reached for the doctor’s windbreaker, but Gasparelli hung it on Fort’s one empty door-hook, not seeing her hand extended. “Here’s your surprise then, Fort. It’s wrong, but they feel they can get away with it, legally.” The doctor unhooked his Nett and shook out his speckled hair with one hand. His jaw was clenched.

Fort’s dread grew. “Legally,” he repeated.

I just heard about the emergency administrative meeting last night, after it was over. MedGalaxy has decided to pull out, yet they are still charging MimeCo for the three-year balance of their contract. I checked for myself; on a technicality, they actually can. Unbelievable.”

What?” The rough monetary figure they’d be demanding spat itself out of Fort’s unwilling mind. It would more than ruin him, and destroy the planetary economy. Could his lawyer forestall it?