Amy Sterling Casil writes a remarkable memory of A.J. Budrys. And, yes, I do remember her confusion over A.J.’s commentary one year. And yes, she has a rare gift.
I felt A.J. was pretty rough with my work my first year at WotF until very late in that week. He dismissed a piece of mine with an admonition that another established writer had done it far better…which was true–and he bashed another work as being light…which it was. But then he took extra time with the first draft of “Stealing the Sun,” a story that would eventually go to find a spot on a few lists and served as the anchor for a three-story set that Stan Schmidt bought for Analog. Rather than critique it in front of the class, he told me to meet him for breakfast the next morning. When I arrived he pushed the manuscript to me and said “It’s pretty good. Change < this > and it will sell.” And that was it for the comments on the story itself. But he wasn’t done.
I wish I could remember the exact words in the bit that follows, but I can’t. So I’ll paraphrase and say that in so many words, sitting there alone at breakfast, A.J. Budrys told me that I was a writer–that he saw I had things I was trying to say, and that he saw I was saying them. He saw how hard I worked–but that I needed to stop being so cute, that I had to dig out the heart of the story I wanted to tell and leave it bare. That I couldn’t let myself “settle.” Like Amy, it took me a bit of time to figure out what he meant. But the guy really was a teacher. He made me think about that message for years, and I think I’ve maybe got it now. Kinda. Almost.
And I’ve also got the memory of the look on his face as he was telling me this. Which is worth a helluva lot, really.