I can still see his raised eyebrow and hear that gregarious laugh. The truth, he told us was that we should not expect to become short fiction writers if we didn't read quality work, lots of it and from a variety of perspectives. How could we aspire to excel at what we did not understand intimately? How could we expect others to respect what we, ourselves, did not?
He didn't say all those things explicitly, but that's how I've come to frame the issue in my own mind. At the time I subscribed to Asimov's and F&SF and a few smaller press offerings, but I hadn't read through an issue in quite some time. I was supporting the field financially to the degree I was able, but I wasn't supporting it in spirit. Science Fiction, in particular, has a tradition of writers building upon each other's work, and readers strengthening the field by adding their voices to the discussion within it.
These days, with so many online venues publishing so much short fiction of varying quality and ambition, I wonder if we've lost some of that spirit, if we've become so focused on having our own voices heard that we sometimes forget to listen to others, to react to their ideas in thoughtful ways and thereby build our own ability to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. Drive by comments for our friends are one thing; substantial reactions to the works of strangers quite another. The latter can be the ones that stretch us into better writing, more nuanced thinking, stronger works.
One site where passionate discussion remains a reality is Every Day Fiction. An excellent (and high-paying) market that encourages participation is Daily Science Fiction. In fact, a great many venues make comments possible and provide forums for lively discussion of published works. Which of these do you participate in? How often do you read outside your comfort zone? When is the last time you recommended a story that was written by someone you did not know and had never read before?
These are worthy goals, I believe. Therefore, my challenge to you (and to me) this week is to read one or more publications you have not read before, find a work you respect by someone you do not know and have not read, a piece that deserves our attention for its craft, characters, ideas, etc. and post the information here in the replies. Include a link to the work if possible (the name of the market if not), and a brief description of why it deserves respect. When my next turn at blogging comes around, I'll post a summary list of the stories we find. No limitation on type of story; in fact I encourage you to read outside your normal bent. If you write horror, try romance. Science Fiction? Give literary a shot. Do you mostly write flash like me? Find a strong novella at Beneath Ceaseless Skies or Lightspeed.
Join me, won't you? It will be fun.