Tag Archives: magazines

Monthly, Forever

It’s not that I’m a stranger to subscriptions. I started getting magazine subscriptions when I was a teen and began receiving them for Christmas presents when our family finances were impacted by my father’s illness. I chose astronomy and science fiction magazines. My parents didn’t subscribe to magazines much, except for Reader’s Digest and their condensed books.

I also dabbled in record subscriptions, back in the day when they sent actual vinyl records that had every chance of arriving with scratches and warps. (I don’t know if music subscriptions went to tapes, 8-tracks, CDs, or downloads after that. I do have a couple of subscriptions on Patreon and at least one of them supplies me with music every month, but otherwise, I get all my music via the internet. Not that I download much. I already have nearly 670 albums stored on my music app (formerly called iTunes). But I digress.)

Later on, once I was married, I found a pet store in town that offered a “Fish of the Month” club. (For some unknown reason, we referred to it as “Fish ala Month,” although they weren’t, of course, edible. Another digression.) Dan had a fish tank at the time and enjoyed going to the store every month to see what new species of fish was on offer that month. I kept up the subscription until the pet store went out of business. This was back in the days when there were still locally owned pet shops.

Since that time, the idea of subscriptions has blossomed. You can now get blossoms that arrive every month and can be given as gifts. Not just flowers, either. I once gave my therapist a small succulent as a gift and have ever after been pursued to upgrade to a succulent subscription.

Nor are plants the only subscriptions on offer. You can get quarterly subscriptions to goods from Ireland, including food, snacks, and jewelry. You can subscribe to puzzles, either jigsaws or more elaborate ones that require solving a mystery. Other “surprise” subscriptions where you don’t know what you’re getting are for children’s toys (or dog toys), foods from different regions of the country, rare coffees, discount wines, Asian snacks, cocktail mixers (and liquor, if you choose that option), cheese of the month or charcuterie kits (including vegan and gluten-free), cookie dough, pasta, spices or hot sauces, candy, tea, beauty items or perfumes, detox products, vacation souvenirs, earrings or necklaces, socks-of-the-month, replicas of historical documents, dried flower arrangements, candles, and pet foods and supplies.

Some of the subscriptions available leave me befuddled. One is underwear. I buy new bras and panties when my old ones are no longer serviceable. But I don’t subscribe. I go to Jockey, Fruit of the Loom, or another source and order what I need. I can’t imagine avidly anticipating the arrival of three new panties or bra-and-panties sets every month. (Besides, I never wear matching bras and panties. Every victim of a serial killer you see on TV shows is wearing matching lacy undergarments. I figure I’m a lot safer if I were a purple-polka-dot bra and simple green panties. But I digress some more.)

Other subscriptions I don’t understand are oysters-of-the-month (ick!) and monthly sex toys and books (although if they’re delivered in plain brown wrappers, they will spare you embarrassment and make a visit to the local sex shop unnecessary).

The really strange subscription I came across during my research for this post was playable musical postcards, something previously unimaginable to me. Evidently, the postcards from different lands are made of vinyl and can be played on a turntable. (There is an option to receive only a postcard and an online download of a song if you don’t possess a turntable.) The tunes are from indie artists, so you don’t need to worry about getting Mariah Carey in your December mail.

Will I get another subscription to something-or-other? I think not. I already have subscriptions to TV streaming channels. I have Patreon subscriptions to support my friends’ art. I have subscriptions to Archaeology and Smithsonian magazines (offline versions) for my husband. I subscribe to the New York Times crossword puzzles. I probably have a few other subscriptions that I’ve forgotten about and ought to cancel.

But I am tempted by the solve-a-mystery and cheese-of-the-month subscription, though only if I can specify cheeses that don’t advertise the fact that they’re made of mold. I figure that anything the postal workers can smell is a bad idea, even if it’s only once a month.

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The Year Our Christmas Presents Changed

Our family Christmases were idyllic, if simple. Each year on Christmas Day, we would all open our presents. My sister and I would get doll clothes (this was when you got outfits, not multiple Barbies) and plush animals, Spirograph and paint-by-numbers, and such.

Then we’d get dressed, jump in the car, and drive to Granny’s house, where we’d open more gifts of clothes and stationery and Avon cologne. We’d wreak havoc on a turkey and trimmings, before the adults went off for naps, after dropping us kids off at the movies.

Then came the year when my sister and I had to grow up fast.

My parents had always tried to keep any bad news away from us and carry on as normal, but there was no hiding this bad news. After being accidentally hit by the garage door, my father’s injured neck turned out to be something much worse than a sprain, strain, or contusion. It wasn’t the garage door that caused it. of course, but that was when my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

It’s a horrible form of cancer that attacks the bones all throughout the body and destroys them. I hope the treatments have gotten better in the decades since, but for my father cancer meant radiation, chemotherapy, and an operation to fuse the bones of his neck using bone from his hip. He lived many years longer than the doctors predicted, which I attribute to his stubbornness. He certainly wasn’t a health aficionado.

Naturally, all those cancer treatments and hospitalizations were expensive. My parents had good insurance, but even that was nowhere near covering the costs. And my father’s illness was not something my parents could keep secret from us kids, much as they would have liked to. It affected every part of our lives.

When Christmas came that year, I was 15 and my sister was 16. My mother explained that because of the family’s medical expenses, we wouldn’t be able to have Christmas as usual. No driving from Ohio to Kentucky to see our relatives. And no Christmas presents.

Except one.

My mother said that all we could afford was a magazine subscription for each of us. Our choice of titles. She hoped we weren’t disappointed.

I wasn’t. To me, a magazine subscription was special, something that grown-ups got, and something that kept giving all year long. I chose Analog, a science fiction magazine, and my sister chose Sixteen. It was exciting to watch the mail for each month’s issue. (As kids, we didn’t usually get much mail, except cards on our birthdays.)

For the Christmases after that, my mother would renew our subscriptions, or let us change to a different title. When I started studying astronomy in high school, I switched to Sky and Telescope. When she turned 17, my sister switched to Seventeen.

Now I subscribe to the electronic versions of three magazines –Smithsonian, National Geographic, and Discover. I still get a little thrill each month when the new cover icon appears on my e-reader screen. It reminds me of the first time I ever got an actual, grown-up present – when I started becoming an adult, whether I wanted to or not.


Writing Advice From an Editor

Want to know more about the writing and editing process? I’ve been a writer and an editor for most of my life. Of the two, editing is easier – looking at a piece of writing and seeing what it needs, rather than producing something worthwhile from scratch.

I’ve learned a lot about editing from other editors, but I’ve also learned a lot about writing from them. Here is some advice, primarily about writing for magazines, which is where I spent most of my career.

Every piece of writing needs editing. Without exception. There is nothing that cannot be improved. I don’t care if you’re Hemingway (who said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”). Many times pieces of writing don’t get the editing they need, whether because the editor is too lazy or the writer is too famous. I cringed when I heard that an unedited version of Stephen King’s The Stand was going to be released. The original version was seriously overwritten and needed a good editing. I gave up reading King after that. Every piece of published writing gets edited. Or should, anyway.

There are different kinds of editing. Many people think that editing is all about putting the commas in the right place. They’re right, but they’re also wrong. Editing comprises several levels: acquisitions editing (choosing or commissioning pieces of writing for publication); content editing (preparing a piece of writing for publication, including additions and deletions, errors of fact or grammar, and more); copy editing (correcting grammar and punctuation errors and making suggestions regarding style). What most people think of as editing is either proofreading or copy editing. Of course, at a small magazine, an editor may perform more than one of these functions.

There are many reasons a piece of writing gets changed. Not all of them imply that the writing is bad. The editor is not your enemy. Sometimes editing makes a good piece of writing better – or more in line with what the publication needs. A piece can be edited because it’s too long or too short for the space allotted. Cuts may be a word or two here and there, or entire paragraphs.

Work with your editor. If he or she requests revisions, it’s best not to argue. Magazine editors won’t have the time for much back-and-forth. A request for revisions means the editor trusts you enough to fix your own work. Most of the time the editor just goes ahead and makes the changes. If you’re difficult about revising, you likely won’t be asked back.

The first and last paragraphs of a piece of writing often need the most editing. Too many writers write “In the beginning” first paragraphs that start too far in the background. The first paragraph should answer the question, “Why should I read this article?” The last paragraph should tie back to the first paragraph, ask a relevant question, or do anything but say, “Time will tell.”

Your own work is the most difficult to edit. It’s hard to gain enough distance from your own writing to analyze it. One thing you can try is to put the piece away for a day or two, or at the very least a few hours. Work on something else, preferably something entirely different. Then come back to the first piece with a clear mind and more perspective. You could also try reading your writing aloud. If a sentence is difficult to say, if it rambles, or if you lose the thread of it, it probably needs shortening or rewriting.

Don’t spend too long trying to fix a stubborn sentence. Make it into two shorter sentences, or reframe the thought and write it a different way. There’s always more than one way to express a thought. You can express a thought in many ways. Thoughts are adaptable to many grammatical forms. If a sentence doesn’t work, find some other way to say it. Your first attempt at a sentence doesn’t have to be your last. Stay open to alternate modes of expression. Your sentences aren’t chiseled in granite.

(See what I did there?)

Editing is a process. If you edit your own work, you may want to make more than one editing pass. The first time, read for meaning. The second time, read for grammar and style. Then read for punctuation. If you try to do all of them at once, you’re sure to miss something – especially if you’ve already found an error on a page.

Do not trust spelling or grammar checkers. A spell checker can’t tell whether you meant “form” or “from” and accepts either as a valid word. You may have used a sentence fragment on purpose, to achieve a particular effect. That’s why you need a human editor as well as a machine.

Love them or hate them, editors are not going to go away. They are the gatekeepers of published writing and, at their best, they are resources to help you make your writing more effective, more correct – and more publishable.