On Art

This is not hand soap

People think in symbols but the symbols in our mind are not the actual objects themselves. That is to say: when you think of an apple, that apple is not real. This is the treachery of symbols. The symbols in our mind don’t always match the reality of an object. We think we know how to use an object based on the symbol in our mind that we apply to it.

This leads to encounters with objects like this:

We automatically interact with an object as if we know what the object is based on the symbols in our mind. It’s second nature.

This object is perfectly functional: push on the top; liquid squirts out. But good design isn’t just designing an item that functions. It’s designing for expectations. No matter how well designed a widget may be, people expect certain things in certain contexts. They expect certain interactions to produce certain results.


What killed Thaumatrope?

This has been a hard post for me to write… All fiction markets die; every last one. It saddens me to (officially) announce the closure of what was the first Twitter fiction magazine. I’d like to thank all of the contributors who submitted to the market while it was open. It was fun while it lasted.

So what caused the demise of Thaumatrope?

  • Twitter API: OAuth
  • Time
  • Payments

I was feebly plugging along when Twitter changed their API, and I wasn’t able to make the site compatible with those changes. In order to truly relaunch the magazine I have to go back and completely rewrite the backend of the website (which included all of the code to receive submissions and send acceptances/rejections) to work with OAuth. Which leads to the second Thaumatrope killer: Time.

The time it takes to edit stories that are 140 characters long is minuscule. Not only does it just take about 5 seconds to know if your going to accept the story, it only takes 5 seconds to read the entire story: beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, it takes much more time to run the magazine (think marketing, advertising, development, and for the truly courageous, commerce) than what I was able to provide. Rewriting the back-end to really work with OAuth, and/or so that volunteers might be able to manage much of it in my stead, is time that I don’t have.

Which leads to the final reason that Thaumatrope closed: I got behind (WAY behind… embarrassingly behind) in my payments to authors. It reached the stage that I didn’t see the point in going further into the hole. My current goal is to address all outstanding payments before I launch (or re-launch) any additional fiction markets.

In retrospect, I should have pulled the plug and made changes to the website to reflect the fact long before now, but I didn’t have the time. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t even really have the time to read and respond to e-mail, among a host of other things I didn’t have the time for. As I wind down my fitness regimen and get used to my schedule working on the house I’m finding more time to get back online and tie up loose ends. At some point Thaumatrope is likely to relaunch, and when it does you’ll hear it here first.


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