I wrote “The Touch of Their Eyes” in 1979 and sent it into a contest/workshop that was being run by AggieCon, my home convention. (Back in 1974 it was the first convention I’d ever been to and I chaired Aggiecon V the following year.) The stories were going to be evaluated by the Guest of Honor that year–Theodore Sturgeon.Now, this was only the second story I’d ever completed. My first, a story called mumbledy-mumbledy, I sent off to Analog and it was rejected with a personal letter by Ben Bova who was editor at that time. I understood that to be a fairly encouraging thing–the letter actually said let me see your future work.Now, “Touch” reached the convention committee on time but it was apparently slightly over the length requirements so there was some debate as to whether they would be forwarding the story to Mr. Sturgeon or not. Eventually they did, though.
I showed up for the convention and was told, “He didn’t get your manuscript. It missed him in travel. We’ve given him the mss when he got here but we don’t know if he’ll be able to read it.”
Well, the workshop was in two hours–the first day of the convention. I didn’t have high hopes, but I showed up for the program slot anyway.
First he evaluated the manuscripts he did receive–none of them were complete stories and he had kind things to say but more on the order of, “This is good experience, now go write something else.” This took him about fifteen minutes. Then he said, “The Committee tells me that two manuscripts didn’t make it to me in the mail, so, since we have a good hour-and-a-half left, I thought I’d just read them out loud, and then we can talk about them.”
First, there was Jon-Tim Cowden’s noir story of a guy with a motorcycle who runs across odd anti-gravitationally enabled aliens. It was far better than the partials that had already been discussed but it too had some completion issues. He gave a few suggestions and then read my story aloud.
At the end he said, “Calvary and Cavalry are two different things. Fix that. Send it to Stan Schmidt at Analog. Tell him I told you to.”
I did. Wouldn’t you?
It was back in the days when Analog belonged to Conde Nast Publishers and the contract was a longish paragraph printed on the back of the check. So, endorsing the check meant signing the contract. But it also meant you didn’t sign a contract, send it off, and wait for the money. The money was your notice that you’d sold the story.
That first story. That first sale.
It was in the September 1980 issue and was the second place Anlab contestant, beat out by Clifford Simak’s Grotto of the Dancing Deer. And no wonder, Grotto won the Hugo and the Nebula that year.
I don’t have an e-text version of this story. I wrote it on a Smith Corona portable electric typewriter. I typed it multiple times getting the drafts right. I hate typewriters.
But, like Ted Sturgeon, I realized that I could read it aloud. So, here it is, in two twenty-minute parts, read aloud. Feel free to download it, play it on your computer, burn it to CD, put it on your MP3 player, and give it to others as long as you keep my name on it. Any non-commercial use. I hope you like it. It’s an early work read in (shudder) my voice.
But Sturgeon read it better.
The Touch of Their Eyes by Steven Gould is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.