Tom Purdom built his own website

This is Tom Purdom.

Tom Purdom

image ©2009 Kyle Cassidy, Where I Write: Tom Purdom, used with permission.

I met Tom in 2000, when I became a member of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. Tom is 74 years old and has been writing for close to 50 years. One of the first things that impressed me about Tom was the fact that he built his own website.

I thought it’d be a great idea to let everyone know more about Tom building his own website, and Tom agreed:

Why did you decide to create your own website?

I do arts journalism in addition to science fiction and my arts writing convinced me every writer or artist should have a website. After I first went online around 1995, I found that I looked people up on the web when I needed information for a review or a preview of an upcoming event. The websites influenced what I wrote and they could determine who I wrote about. If an arts writer has two possible subjects and one has a website and the other doesn’t, the writer will probably decide to write about the person with a website. You can get basic biographical information and other stuff the old fashioned way, by visiting the library and making phone calls, but in most cases you’ll just go with the subject who’s made it easy for you.

My website is primarily supposed to reach four audiences: reviewers and reporters who want more information about me; interested readers; editors and publishers who may have a job for me; and miscellaneous possibilities like kids who are writing reports for school. If one reporter or reviewer looks at it once a year, it’s worth the effort. But it has a lot of other uses. When I send an editor a query, for example, I can give them a brief summary of my career and refer them to the website for more information. It’s also put me in touch with readers and other people I might never have heard from.

Most artists and writers have bios and other kinds of handouts. A website is a press kit anyone can access twenty-four hours a day, from anywhere in the world.

How long did it take to initially build your site?

I think it only took two or three days. The site wasn’t very big in the beginning I already had some basic materials, like a bio, so I just had to do some rewriting and insert the HTML tags.

How long have you been maintaining your own site?

Since I started it. Around fifteen years.

What were the major hurdles you encountered in building your site?

I guess the biggest hurdle would be realizing I could do it. As I remember it, the SFWA Bulletin ran a couple of articles on the subject, including one by Joe Haldeman, who’d set up his site by himself. I went to a couple of sites that included pages with the basic HTML codes and decided I could handle it.

My experience proofreading my books helped. The first time I read proof, I used a list of proofreader’s marks in the back of a dictionary. When I wanted to make a change or include a comment, I looked at the list and found the correct mark. I realized I could do the same with HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). It’s a markup language, just like it says.

Has building your own website influenced your fiction?

It’s put me in touch with readers I wouldn’t have heard from and that’s had some influence. My next story in Asimov’s is a sequel to The Tree Lord of Imeten, an Ace Double I wrote over forty years ago. I wrote it partly because of an email I received from a reader who had read my first Ace Double when he was fourteen. That got me thinking about the Ace Doubles.

I’ve been writing a literary memoir I’ve been publishing on my website. I probably wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have the website, since I normally only write stuff somebody is going to pay me for. I thought it might attract a few extra people and it’s a fun thing to do. I would have been happy if it had attracted a couple of hundred readers. Instead, it’s attracted thousands. David Hartwell has been reprinting it in The New York Review of Science Fiction, where it’s reached readers who probably wouldn’t have visited my website.

Do you have any tips for anyone building their own website?

I think it’s worth learning rudimentary HTML. I use Front Page nowadays but there are times when it’s easier to switch to the HTML view and change the code yourself.

But mostly I think every artist, writer, and performer should have a basic website. Don’t feel it has to be fancy. Get your bio, credits, and other basic publicity material online. Your primary audience is busy people with a professional interest in you and your work. They aren’t looking for gimmicks and fancy design.

If you do fancy it up, keep it simple. Make sure visitors can reach the basic material quickly and easily.

When you do add to it, try to add some things that will draw people to the website. Pamela Sargent put stuff about cats on her website, for example, because she likes cats and she thought it would draw cat lovers. I’ve written essays on different subjects, so my website includes essays on flying model airplanes, military tactics, and parenting. The essay on model airplanes has attracted a lot of people who probably wouldn’t have visited a science fiction writer’s website.

You can meet Tom Purdom in person at his reading at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival (8pm on Friday, July 9th 2010).

Tom’s most recent work of fiction appeared in the July Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and he should have copies of that issue for sale at the Fair. He also also has a new story that will be running in Asimov’s in the near future, and electronic reprints of many of his stories are available at

For more information about Tom Purdom, his fiction and non-fiction work, you can visit Tom’s website at


Coming to the Chestnut Hill Book Festival

The Chestnut Hill Book Festival (July 9th-11th) has a full track of science fiction panels this year. I will be giving an “Introduction to Space Westerns” on Friday night at 7PM. Afterwards, at 8PM, Tom Purdom will be reading. On subsequent days look for Lawrence M. Schoen, Gardner Dozois, Gregory Frost, and many others.

For the full schedule and details visit the Chestnut Hill Book Festival website.

I hope to see you there!


The making of a mummy

I hosted the mummy unwrapping event at Jeff Mach’s The Steampunk World’s Fair in Piscataway, New Jersey this past May. Hoping that it will start a trend at other Steampunk Conventions, I’m posting the step-by-step process for building the mummy, as well as my experience in running the show.


The Victorians went through a wave of Egypt-mania. That’s why in many Victorian-era designs we see shades of Egypt (hieroglyphs, the lotus, the winged-orb, etc.). This Egyptian influence found it’s way into literature, art, architecture, design, and the study of the occult. At the height of this mania Egyptian mummies were imported to England by rich Victorians to unwrap at parties.

You can find an actual Victorian-era account of unwrapping a mummy at “The Unwrapping of a Mummy” by Theophile Gautier.

Making the mummy

Since the importation of an Egytian corpse is illegal and immoral (and icky) I had to make my own. Here’s complete list of supplies that I used:

  1. 2 8-foot lengths of ¾-inch PVC
  2. 4 elbow connectors (for shoulders and hips)
  3. 1 small bolt and nut
  4. 3 T-connectors (for the hip and feet)
  5. 1 newspaper (Sunday edition)
  6. Masking-tape
  7. 1 200-foot roll Natural-colored or white paper-towels (I used about ⅓ of the roll)
  8. 1 8-inch styrofoam ball
  9. Papier-maché
  10. 200 feet of white crepe paper

Rather than use a ruler, I used my own body to get the basic dimensions of the mummy. I used a hacksaw to cut the PVC, and a standard cordless drill for the one hole that I needed. The hacksaw and the drill comprised the complete list of tools that I needed.

I held the PVC up to my own limbs to get a measurement, and cut two to the same length. The arms, legs, hip-width, shoulder-width, and overall height of the mummy matches my own. For the elbows, I marked the location of my own elbow on the PVC and cut a notch, so that the arms could bend.

I drilled a hole in the center of the shoulder piece and another hole in the spine piece and used the bolt (and some masking-tape) to attach them—roughly at the level where the shoulders meet the arms, rather than where the shoulders meet the neck (which is a mistake I’ve seen made too often, as it seems to give the figure a permanent shrug). I attached the remaining pieces using the elbow and T joints. I used T joints for the feet to be better able to simulate a heel. This made the basic frame.

I used my knowledge of anatomy picked-up while studying Art in college to place the major muscle groups and bones using newspaper (you’ll notice the properly placed calves, thighs, patellas, gluteus, pectorals, scapula, etc.). The skull was then shoved onto the top, and newspaper fashioned the jaw. Masking-tape held the newspaper to the frame, until I could apply the papier-maché.

Papier-maché paste

  1. 1-part flour
  2. 5-parts water
  3. 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  4. 1 Tbsp salt (optional)

Begin by boiling 4-parts water. While the water is boils take the remaining 1-part water and mix it with the 1-part flour. Whisk it to remove lumps. Add the cinnamon and salt (the cinnamon does nothing but make the mixture smell nice; the salt prevents mold in high humidity areas). When the 4-parts water is boiling, begin to add the water/flour mixture slowly. Heat the mixture until it thickens—about 2 to 3 minutes. It should have a gluey consistency; feel free to add more water if you think it’s too thick. Let it cool before you stick your hands in it (I cannot stress this enough: let it cool before you stick your hands in it). Plan on at least 24-48 hours of drying time for each layer.

I used: 2 cups flour; 10 cups water; and 2 Tbsp cinnamon (no salt); but it was way too much for my needs by about two-thirds. It lasted, covered, for three days without any noticeable unpleasant odors or mold (this was in May weather in Pennsylvania, your mileage may vary). This formula and the use of paper-towels rather than newspaper made the mummy more flexible that I thought it would have been, which was actually useful when the time came to wrap the prizes into the mummy.

At the Fair

Jeff Mach had already received some of the items for the event delivered to him, after receiving those—about 4 hours prior to the mummy unwrapping—I went to each dealer individually to ask if they had anything to donate. All but a few did. I was actually astonished at the generosity of some of the dealers (notably Big Bear Trading Company who donated a pocket-watch). About 1 hour prior to the event I began wrapping the prizes into the mummy with the crepe paper.

At the event

The event was well-attended, very well-received, and everyone had a good time. I’ll be posting the video of the event (after I’ve finished editing it down to 15 minutes).

Had I to start over again

I plan to do it again next year, and reuse the same mummy, but since you may be starting from scratch… I would have begun building the mummy sooner. I would have liked to put on another layer of papier-maché and add some fine details (nose, mouth, and eyes), but I didn’t have time. It took about 24 hours per layer to dry (in dreary, rainy conditions, using a fan).

Also, I think I should have either wrapped the prizes into the mummy an hour earlier, or I should have wrapped it before-hand using numbered tickets, rather than trying to wrap the prizes into the mummy (to prevent the last minute rush that I had).


Interviewed by ErgoFiction

ErgoFiction visitors, welcome!

I was interviewed by A.M.Harte at ErgoFiction, a webzine about web fiction. I came to their attention through Thaumatrope.

Go comment there

On Writing

Twitter fiction is a joke

I published over 400 stories last year. The punchline is that they all averaged 22 words or less. These stories were published on Thaumatrope, the first twitter fiction magazine, and became part of the microfiction revolution and the recent trend of twitter fiction. Yes, they were all stories that were written in 140 characters or less.

In my comings and goings, introducing people to the twitter fiction concept, I’ve often heard it asked: “How is it possible to write a story that short? If a story must contain an entire plot then how can you compress all that into just a few sentences?” My answer: “Can you tell a joke?”

But seriously folks, try writing your twitter fiction in the form of a joke. Not that it needs to be funny, but that it should have a set-up (exposition, in literary terms) and a punchline (a climax and/or resolution). Consider the work of famous short-form comedian Henny Youngman:

A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

In under 140 characters you have a complete story—the set-up: A doctor has a stethoscope up to a man’s chest. The man asks, “Doc, how do I stand?” and the punchline: The doctor says, “That’s what puzzles me!”

Even Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story contains the same elements: the exposition: For sale: Baby’s shoes, and the climax/resolution: Never worn.

Here are some examples of twitter fiction stories originally appearing on Thaumatrope that follow the same pattern:

“The truth,” I said, “is out there.” In a bus station locker in Trenton, NJ, seething, breathing, waiting, explosive. “I have the key.”

“Your first edition of Twilight gave me a paper cut!”

“Yeah, it does that to everyone sooner or later.”

If a Chronodoc says not to let paradox worry you because the math is all right this time, punch him. Punch him while you still have fists.

But the set-up/punchline format isn’t the only one that you could use. You can be even more direct. Henny Youngman was famous for his one-liners:

My doctor grabbed me by the wallet and said, “Cough!”

The one-liner concept, a story that can be told without pause all in one breath, is a bit more difficult to write. It requires that the exposition, climax, and resolution be all in one sentence. Here are some twitter fiction stories using the one-liner concept:

Lying in drag, waiting for the little girl, the wolf wonders what his own grandmother would say about how his life has turned out.

Sadly, Lillie realized the full scope of her powers the day she wished her math teacher would be hit by an asteroid the size of the moon.

The joke is just one of many forms that twitter fiction could take. Take a moment to browse the Thaumatrope archives, and see if you can recognize the format in the stories there. Hopefully this serves as an starting point for writers who want to write stories in the twitter fiction and the other microfiction forms.


Hugo Nominees Flipping the Bird

I’m only posting this because it amuses my 12-year-old self…

I forget what events transpired leading up to this, but it was at Howard Tayler’s coffee klatsch at Balticon scheduled at 11am, so (theoretically) no alcohol was involved.

Lawrence M. Schoen, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Lawrence M. Schoen
Short Story: “The Moment”
Paolo Bacigalupi, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Paolo Bacigalupi
Novel: The Windup Girl
Howard Tayler, Hugo Nominee, Flippin' the Bird
Howard Tayler
Graphic Story: Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse

If I can get other Hugo Nominees to send me images maybe I’ll make a collectible card game out of it.


I like broccoli

I like broccoli—No, it’s true!

When I was a little child I didn’t want to eat it. Growing up, my mother never made it fresh—always from frozen and well-boiled. I didn’t like the color of the just-slightly-cooked-too-long broccoli. I wasn’t fond of the way that it flopped on the end of my fork. I was less than enamored of the bright-green-turned-just-a-little-grey-green color.

My mother told me to pretend that I was a dinosaur and that the broccoli was a little tree. For the next several years I was a dinosaur, eating broccoli trees smothered in butter—rawr. I learned that I actually like my cruciferous vegetables. There’s a little bit of sweetness in the broccoli stalk, unlike cauliflower, that contrasts nicely with the saltiness of butter. The florets break apart in a satisfying manner when I bite into them. I devoured forests.

I learned a lesson about trying new things and I don’t need to pretend that I’m a dinosaur anymore… I don’t need to.





Proof that no one reads the program book biographies (or at the very least, proof that no one read mine)… here’s the bio as I submitted it and as it ran in Balticon BSFAN, the Balticon souvenir program book:

Nathan E. Lilly is an unimportant web developer and editor of three online magazines of little consequence. publishes short stories weekly for a dead-end sub-genre of a genre that is itself dying. Everyday Weirdness publishes weird flash fiction daily in an obscure corner of the Internet. Thaumatrope is the oldest and longest running twitter fiction magazine, and it publishes fiction shorter than this bio on a daily basis. He’ll give $5 to the first person who tells him that they read his bio in BSFAN. In his spare time it’s rumored that he builds websites for SF/F/H professionals via GreenTentacles. I swear, it’s only a rumor.

The $5 went unclaimed.


Balticon 2010

I had a wonderful time this past weekend at Balticon, as always. I roomed with Lawrence M. Schoen, met Howard Tayler, and was on a panel with Paolo Bacigalupi (among others). Some photos coming soon.

I was able to give a reading—a sampling of fiction from Thaumatrope, Everyday Weirdness, and Space Westerns Magazine. It went rather well, I was given a pretty good time slot: Saturday at 11am. I’ll announce when the recording makes it to the Balticon podCast.

Sunday night I had dinner with Lawrence, Howard, Jane Jewell, and Peter Heck, and was invited to the SFWA party. After dinner I moderated Because It’s Cool. On the panel were Joshua Bilmes, Larry Hodges, and Paolo Bacigalupi.

Starting in the 1960s, SF began aspiring to literary greatness, over the next decades producing books which enthralled critics while market share imploded. Meanwhile, fantasy had fun with quests, dragons, evil wizards and epic increases in market share. Today, Space Opera is still defined as a guilty pleasure at best by critics who frown at interstellar battles and heroic characters. Has SF taken itself too seriously for too long?

After a bit of a false start, we tackled the subject. I was fairly well able to keep the conversation moving and evenly paced. Joshua and Larry felt that it was a well-moderated panel. Paolo was mobbed by fans.

At breakfast with Lawrence, he threw an idea at me—curse him!! The last time I had an idea like this thrown at me I created Thaumatrope (inspired by Mary Robinette Kowal), and the time before that it was Containment (a geek event finder inspired by John Joseph Adams).

I went to Howard Tayler’s coffee klatsch as a prelude to my final panel. I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at Schlock Mercenary. He was wearing some awesome boots.

Overturning Preconceptions: Doing New Things with Old Myths was Monday at 12pm. I’m afraid that, before the panel even started, I was off on a rant about space westerns. On the panel were, Bernie Mojzes, Leona Wisoker, Alexander B. Potter, and Vonnie Winslow Crist.

What are some of the old myths we’re seeing new treatment of in today’s speculative fiction?

As we were waiting for the final panelists to arrive I was discussing space westerns with the audience, and got carried away. Luckily Alexander reminded me that we were here for the panel, and that we should probably get started. It was a pretty lively discussion to a packed room. We touched on various cultures and sources of myth.

I was approached at the end of the panel, and one or the audience members let me know that they were enjoying my original space western rant. Another audience member approached me to let me know that they were pleased that I was familiar with Captain Video and his Video Rangers. Western-genre influence on Science Fiction definitely seems to be a weak spot in programming at current cons. I’ll have to do something about that.

Aside from the panels I was able to enjoy the room parties (it’s likely that I’ll be at the following upcoming cons: Philcon, LunaCon, RavenCon, Renovation). I did discover a new con that I’m excited about: Intervention (A Convention with Webcomics, Videos, Gaming, Vendors, Music, and You) scheduled for next September in Washington D.C.

I returned home from Balticon weary, yet rejuvenated.



My first memory is from when I was about three or four. My father woke me up by scratching me with his mustache while trying to give me a kiss on the cheek. He was on his way to his first day at his new job.

My first science fiction memory is of seeing Star Wars in the theater with my father. I vividly remember the large green riding-lizards, dew-backs, in the desert of Tatooine; and the escape from the trash compactor, Darth Vader, and the Death Star. I took my first steps into a larger world.