K. D. Wentworth has reached an almost divine state in the eyes of many aspirants; especially those who participate in the quarterly Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest. K. D. is editor of the anthology, and first-reader for the writing portion of the contest. She reads, or at least starts to read, every entry that comes through the doors of Author Services, Inc; a colossal task that she completes not once but four times per year.
Thankfully, unlike the varied recognized deities of Earth’s many cultures, K. D. is very approachable and friendly. While she is known to smite overwrought prose wherever she sees it, she would never pulverize a well meaning aspirant. Her kindness shows in the many ways she strives to help struggling writers achieve the elusive goal of publication.
Above all else K. D. is an author. She has several books and dozens of short stories in print. You can find her work in virtually every mentionable genre publication currently in print and many who aren’t. You can learn more about K. D. and her writing at her website, http://www.kdwentworth.com.
K. D., thank you for the opportunity to give this interview.
Anthony Sullivan: Three-time Nebula finalist, winning the Writers of the Future contest, Teacher’s writers award, tons of novels in publication; is it true are you really HG Wells reincarnated?
K. D. Wentworth: Actually, I’m a four-time Nebula finalist, but after you’ve lost three times, people mercifully stop counting. As for me and H.G., have you ever seen us in the same room together? Just a little food for speculative thought.
Anthony: As we all know, the speculative fiction genre lost an icon in Algis Budrys last year. How close were you to Mr. Budrys and how has he affected your craft over the many years you worked together?
KD: I adored Algis Budrys. He bought my first story and gave me invaluable advice at the Writers of the Future Workshop. We kept in contact over the years and it was a delight to see him every time our paths crossed. I still use what he taught me about writing every single day when I sit down to write.
Anthony: What was the most helpful or perhaps most profound piece of advice Algis gave you?
KD: There was so much, but one of his sayings was that “Remember that the story is not the words.” It was his theory that the story exists inside the writer’s head where it is perfect. The words we use to try and tell it on paper (or the screen) are imperfect vehicles for what we want to say. They will never be as good as what’s inside our heads. Lots of different words can be used to tell the same story. Just look at how many different versions of “Cinderella” exist. We have to make the words as smooth and descriptive and professional as we can, but should not get hung up on the fact that they aren’t as good as what’s inside our heads or else we’ll never stop revising.
Anthony: What, if any, formal training have you had? (i.e. MFA, etc)
KD: I have a degree in English, Liberal Arts, from the University of Tulsa, in addition to certification as an elementary teacher, fifteen hours of Computer Programming, and fifteen hours of Education graduate school classes.
Anthony: This year is the 25th anniversary of the Writers of the Future contest and its popularity seems to be growing still. Is the quality of submissions trending upwards or down? Does this make your job easier or more difficult?
KD: The quality of submissions is improving all the time. It makes it more difficult, but I love the increasing quality. There are so many talented writers out there who only need to be given a chance.
Anthony: As the contest continues to grow, many new writers are getting the courage to finally submit. What advice can you offer them as they pen their entries?
KD: Don’t reject your own story. A writer really never knows how good her story is until someone else reads it. Take a chance and send it in!
Then write something else!
Anthony: You’ve always kept the exact number of entries close to your vest but we know for sure that the number is large and that you read, at least the beginning of every story. Do you ever tire of the process? What keeps you going? Do you have any help?
KD: I only work about an hour at a time on the first-reading so that my eye stays fresh. I don’t have any help, but that’s the way I want it right now. It’s a lot of work, but I value being entrusted with this responsibility.
Anthony: What are a few things that are sure to send a story into the ‘Thanks for trying’ box?
KD: Passive characters. Weak endings that just fizzle out. Idiot plots (where someone has to do something stupid or there is no plot). Overused ideas without something new to entice the reader. Overdone language. Over the top metaphors and similes. On-stage sex. Pointless and gruesome violence. Anything that sounds like Star Wars, Buffy, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight, etc.
Anthony: About what percentage of stories do you actually make it all the way through?
KD: I’m just guessing, but I would say fifteen to twenty percent.
Anthony: What is the most memorable story you have ever sent up to the judges?
KD: That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child! Here are a few favorites: “Blackberry Witch” by Scott M. Roberts, “Last Dance at the Sergeant Majors’ Ball” by Cat Sparks, “Schroedinger’s Hummingbird” by Diana Rowland, “Numbers” by Joel Best, and “Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter” by Joy Remy.
Anthony: Dave Farland once mentioned that he received a submission written in crayon. What is the most bizarre entry you’ve seen in your time with WotF?
KD: I keep getting poetry, scripts, hand-drawn illustrations, and high school and college theme papers about things like the evils of okra and how misunderstood pit bulls are.
Anthony: Do you feel like your affiliation with the Writers of the Future contest is a lifelong one?
KD: I certainly hope so. I love getting to pay back some of the help that was once given to me.
Anthony: In 1988 you won the Writers of the Future contest with your story Daddy’s Girls. How important was this in the success of your career?
KD: It was an amazing moment in my life. I’d never sold anything up until that point. Winning meant that I wasn’t wasting my time writing and that it was possible I could have a writing career.
Anthony: How hard was the wait until your second publication, Dust, two years later?
KD: It was a year after winning the Contest before I sold “Dust” and the waiting was very hard because my expectations had been raised. I just had to have faith in myself and keep writing.
Anthony: Most of your stories and books seem to be fantasy and urban fantasy. Do you have a penchant for those sub-genres?
KD: I like and write everything, from high fantasy and a bit of horror to hard sf. All but one of my books have actually been sf. I especially like to write about aliens, the way their minds work, and how they see the universe.
Anthony: Your novel with Eric Flint, Course of Empire, has received a good deal of praise. So few authors are able to collaborate well. How are you and Mr. Flint able to balance the responsibility of such a project?
KD: Eric writes the outline and an extensive background. I write the book. Then Eric adds material, in some places up to an entire chapter. He’s a very generous collaborator and I enjoy working with him. I think our strengths braid well together.
Anthony: What can you tell us about your upcoming novel project?
KD: The next book out is Crucible of Empire, a sequel to The Course of Empire. It deals with a trip to a distant nebula where a human/Jao crewed ship encounters not only the Ekhat again, but another species long thought by the Jao to be extinct. There’s lots of fighting and space battles and I got to bring back two of my favorite characters from the first book.
Anthony: Do you have any short fiction releasing anytime soon?
KD: I just had “Hex Education” published in Witch Way to the Mall. Upcoming I have “Special Needs” in Strip-Mauled, “Owl Court” in Sword and Sorceress XXIV, “Miss White-Hands’ Class Goes Shopping” in a yet untitled humorous suburban vampire anthology, and “The Embians” in Destination Future.
Anthony: Some say that short form fiction is being revitalized by the internet. What changes do you see on the horizon for short fiction and the publications, both print and electronic, that publish it?
KD: The SF/fantasy field is blessed with still having a vigorous market for short fiction. I just wish that everyone who is trying to sell short fiction would subscribe to at least two magazines and help support them. These are tough times and we just lost Baen’s Universe, a wonderful market, due to lack of revenue. Online venues are good showcases, but most of them do not pay very well.
Anthony: You have written some stories in the alternate history genre. Do you see this as viable market or a fad? Would a AH story stand a chance in the WOTF contest?
KD: Alternate History is always fun, both to write and read, and it seems to be here to stay. It will always have a chance in the Contest as long as 1) it’s well researched and 2) you make it clear where the point of departure from the real timeline is.
Anthony: K. D., thanks so much for your time. I hope our readers will take your advice and run out and subscribe to a genre pub to support short fiction.
Also, thanks to Frank Dutkiewicz, Dan Gaidin, David Steffen, Brad Torgersen, Laurie Unas and Jennifer Wendorf for their submitted questions.
Photo used by permission from Author Services, Inc.