The end of a chapter in my writing careerMike Allen / Monday, May 2nd, 2016 / No Comments »
Since mid-April, I’ve started a new chapter.
Not so much in any particular writing project, of which I have several ongoing, but in my writing life as a whole.
This “new chapter” feeling comes not from fresh goals I’ve set for myself, but from the way a number of endeavors of mine reached a satisfying denouement, a sort of serendipitous equivalent of the awards-giving scene at the end of the first Star Wars movie.
May 2015 was a watershed month in my overlapping careers as writer, editor, publisher and journalist. On the freelance side, I hustled and huckstered my way through the $12,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology. On the newspaperman side, I was the point person for The Roanoke Times’ coverage of the return of the restored Norfolk & Western J Class 611 steam engine, a once-in-a-lifetime event for many in this built-by-the-railroad city where I live. (I called these twin tasks my “Test to Destruction,” which, for the curious, is a reference to Keith Laumer’s short story in the ol’ Dangerous Visions anthology.)
A lot more happened that month, some things awesome, one event a heartwrenching tragedy, but I’ll leave out those details for the sake of streamlining.
On April 5, I hosted the launch reading for the completed Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology in the Brooklyn Commons Café in NYC. Jim Freund had invited me to make the launch part of the monthly New York Review of Science Fiction Readings series that he’s overseen since the late 1980s.
You can hear Jim and I talk about how successful the reading was on the Hour of the Wolf radio show, which Jim also hosts (click here to listen/download). We had a standing-room only crowd — according to Jim, the second-largest crowd in the decades-long history of the reading series. Rob Cameron, Shveta Thakrar, Barbara Krasnoff, Sonya Taaffe, A.C. Wise, and the duo of C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez read excerpts from their stories (and in a couple of cases, the entirety of their stories), and even though these were all challenging, artistically-layered works, not the sort of stuff you think of as audience-friendly, this audience loved it. (There’s a Facebook photo album here; there’s even a File 770 report on the reading, a first for an event I’ve hosted.) It was a giddy night, and I spent most of the evening stunned by delight. After a full year of painstaking labor, I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing finale.
And then, further adding to that sense of a chapter coming to a close: four days later, on April 9, I shared a first place award for best story and pictures from the Virginia Press Association. I don’t talk about my journalism career much at all on this blog (professionalism requires me to be careful about “crossing the streams”) but this feels worth sharing. The award was for our Sunday, May 31, 2015, coverage of the 611 steam engine’s return to Roanoke. My role? I boarded the 611 in Lynchburg, rode it back to Roanoke, and wrote about the people I met and the things I saw during that historic ride. (You can read that story by clicking here.)
It was my first 1st place award from VPA since 2000, when I was part of a Roanoke Times team that claimed 1st place in the investigative journalism category, so to say it’s a satisfying personal milestone phrases it mildly. Another reason I’m fiercely proud of our 611 coverage? The second place prize went to The Washington Post, a paper with circulation at least five times our size.
Anita couldn’t join me for the Clockwork Phoenix 5 reading, but she was there at the Virginia Press Award ceremony, which made it 100 times better.
Now the CliffsNotes version: Clockwork Phoenix 5 made its funding goal May 28, 2015. The 611 came back to Roanoke on May 30, 2015. The launch for Clockwork Phoenix 5 happened April 5, 2016. The VPA awards were April 9, 2016.
Okay, life, what next?