Interview: Richard Zwicker

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Prolific Science Fiction-Detective-Humor writer Richard Zwicker has sold thirty stories to twenty-two markets in five and a half years. That’s a sale about every two months. How does he do it?

Zwicker has sold stories to Fantasy Scroll, Penumbra, Mad Scientist Journal, Perihelion Science Fiction, Kzine, Plasma Frequency Magazine, On the Premises, Eric’s Hysterics, Tales of Old, Stupefying Stories, LocoThology, Strange Mysteries, The Rejected Quarterly, Mindflights, Poe Little Thing, FlagShip, Labyrinth Inhabitant, Writing Shift, New Myths, Golden Visions, Speculative Mystery Iconoclast, and Ray Gun Revival.

Many writers with less than 5 years of experience would commit a felony to achieve such a record. Indeed, most writers are still unpublished after 5 years on the keyboard.

So how does he crank out the volume and juggle so much marketing at the same time? Besides submitting all his drafts to the Critters online workshop, well, let’s see, oh yes, he uses Diabolical Plots‘s Submissions Grinderâ€

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: You’ve sold to many different markets. How do you handle all the logistics involved in marketing a story? Finding and studying the markets, studying the submissions guidelines, customizing stories to particular markets.

RICHARD ZWICKER: I take advantage of just about everything The Submission Grinder provides. I often check their “recently added markets” and I also like their “My Market Response List,” which shows recent response activity from the ezines I have stories submitted to. Though I usually tinker with a story after it gets rejected, I try to have a ready list of potential markets to resubmit to. I don’t usually do a lot of customizing my stories to particular markets. Instead, I write the story, then look for a suitable market. I’ve sold stories to themed anthologies, but so far, those stories have all existed in some form before the call came out. It takes me a while to get a story into saleable shape, almost always longer than an anthology’s submission window.

 

CARL: You’ve been a prolific writer. How do you manage to do all that marketing and crank out the volume of stories at the same time?

RICHARD: Marketing doesn’t take that long, and it doesn’t take the kind of energy that writing demands. I’m an English teacher though, and that takes a lot of time and energy. So I have to prioritize. I think being middle-aged, I’m less susceptible to certain time-eating activities than younger people. To date, I don’t have a blog, a Twitter account, nor do I text. I don’t spend chunks of time chatting about trends in genre fiction. I’m sure these things help some writers, but for me it would cut directly into my short story writing time. During the school year I put in a few hours each weekend morning and try to steal the occasional hour during the week. I have much more time during the summer, and that’s when I write most of my new material. I also try not to submit to publications notorious for long response times, though there is not always a choice.

 

CARL: Once you’ve sold a story to an editor, is it easier to get to the top of that editor’s slushpile? Is it easier to sell to that editor again?

RICHARD: It might be easier to get a second reading, but I don’t think it makes that much of a difference in sales, unless you’re a household name, which I’m not. Not being an editor of a publication, I can only speculate about the process. I think a lot of it is the right story at the right time to the right publication. If those things aren’t aligned, with all the submissions editors get, I doubt my having previously sold them a story will put me over the edge.

 

CARL: One of your specialties is humor. What kind of market is there for humor science fiction?

RICHARD: A funny thing happens when you add “humorous” as a story style requirement to a science fiction market search on The Submission Grinder. Your list of potential markets drops to about a tenth of what it was. That said, there are soft SF, space opera-type publications that are open to light, humorous short stories. I do write some serious science fiction, and I believe it is easier to sell, but humor is my comfort zone. A big change in the genre from the 1950’s and 60’s is rigor in scientific details. It’s difficult to write something funny if you load up the story with hard science, however. I enjoy reading hard SF, but as I say in my Critters bio, “I like to write character-driven stories. If the science is driving, I usually hit a tree.” Ultimately, if I can, I’d prefer to add to the world’s supply of laughs rather than increase its angst.

 

CARL: What explanations do editors give you when they accept humor stories?

RICHARD: It varies. Some praise the humor, some don’t even mention it. It’s not uncommon for me to receive something as bland as, “Thank you for submitting such and such. We’d like to accept it.” Fortunately, my joy at being accepted overcomes blandness every time.

 

CARL: What explanations do editors give you when they reject humor stories?

RICHARD: I like to have fun with the classics. Being a teacher trying to get students to read anything written over twenty years ago, it’s essential to have fun. One editor who has bought two of my serious stories rejected out of hand a humorous take I wrote on a Greek myth. I understand it’s a balancing act. On the one hand you need a certain amount of period realism; on the other you have to accept that a certain amount of modern sensibility is going to creep in. One editor could say, “This is funny!” while another will think, “This is stupid!” As I’m often told in Critters critiques, humor is personal. So I try not to take my rejections personally.

 

CARL: Another of your specialties is detective. What kind of market is there for detective science fiction?

RICHARD: I believe cross-genre is in right now. I’ve never sold a story to a straight mystery magazine, but putting a murder mystery into a SF story makes them interested. Being an English teacher, I grew up reading a lot of The New Yorker-type literary fiction where a character remains lost until the end of the story, at which time he or she has some kind of understated realization. I still read that kind of stuff on occasion, but I now prefer a more active story. Mystery and science fiction stories provide more opportunities for that, and together, even more.

 

CARL: How much competition is there in the detective science fiction subgenre?

RICHARD: I don’t know. No detective science fiction writers have challenged me to a duel lately. My competition, and it’s stiff, is with the good science fiction and short story fantasy writers.

 

CARL: A lot of your detective stories are also humor stories. Surely someone who can blend 3 subgenres has few rivals.

RICHARD: Few readers either, but maybe this will help.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

Interview: Todd McCaffrey

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Todd MacCtoddmccaffrey3affrey has no plans to stop writing Pern books. He plans to sanction a movie but he wants the screen version done right rather than done quickly.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: The Narnia series was 7. The Rings series was 3. The Shannara series was 3. The Potter series, 7. But the Pern series is at 22. What’s the explanation for such an enduring series?

TODD MCCAFFREY: Dragons. I think that Mum tapped on a hidden artery in the collective unconscious when she decided that dragons had had enough bad press. We also tend to write real characters who live and breathe, cry and laugh, in a way that makes us all yearn to spend more time with them.

 

CS: What instructions did you get from your mother about how to pursue the Pern series after she was gone?

TM: Nope. What she said was, “I trust you implicitly!”

I should add, however, that Mum in her Will said that it was her wish that only myself and my sister, Georgeanne, write on Pern. So I’m hoping that we’ll see a lot of stories from my very talented sister in the the not-too-distant future which will expand upon what Mum and I have done and add even more to the weft and weave that is Pern.

 

toddmccaffrey1CS: Do you have a longterm outline for the series or do the plots come one book at a time?

TM: For myself, I have a goal of writing the entire Third Pass. Mum never followed all the way through a Pass, so I think it’d be interesting. When it comes to Ninth Pass Pern, my sister and I will spend some time thinking out what we consider to be the best way forward.

 

CS: Is there a stopping point or will the series continue indefinitely?

TM: I think that as long as there are good stories and people who want to read them, we’ll continue.

 

CS: Any plans for a screen version?

TM: Plans? Always. But “there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip!” Pern’s been under option on and off since the mid-80s. I’d much prefer see it done *right* than done quickly.

 

CS: If you could revisit a character with more books, which character?

TM: Ah, that would be telling! 🙂

As I said, I’d certainly like to follow the characters of Third Pass through to the end. We see hints of what’s to come in Dragon’s Time but we’re only in the beginning of the Pass. Not only do I want to see these characters through but I’m curious to see how their children turn out.

 

CS: If you could revisit an era with more books, which one?

TM: I haven’t any particular era I want to revisit at the moment.

 

toddmccaffrey2CS: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the fans? What characters, eras, themes, plots do they like/dislike? What scenes or plot twists or ending do they strongly approve of or disapprove of? Have they asked you to revisit certain characters or certain eras?

TM: Everyone would like to see more Lessa and F’lar (or F’nor and Brekke).

I get all sorts of feedback from fans – some positive, some negative. Writing in someone else’s world will generate a lot of strong emotions from fans. People who love Pern have a sense of ownership and I totally understand that (don’t get *me* started on Harry Potter).

At the end of the day, a story is about change and it changes the writer most of all. I’ve learned a lot writing about the characters of the Third Pass on Pern.

I think some fans wish they could get that same sense of wonder they got when they first visited Pern. Unfortunately, a lot of that sense of wonder is simply because the world is *new* to them — and it can never be that new again.

 

CS: Do you work the convention circuit? Do fans show up dressed as Pern characters?

TM: I go to conventions. I wouldn’t call it “working the convention circuit”, however.

Some people do show up dressed in Pernese garb, many as their own Pern characters but fewer as characters from the books. One of the marvelous things about Pern is how many people are still actively MUSHing, MOOing, and Play-by-Mailing on the world.

People are also writing fan fiction on Pern. Initially that was a source of concern for Mum — would it break her copyright and make a film deal impossible? Fortunately, the kerfuffle over Harry Potter fans sites sorted out the legal issues in that regard and so, now, as long as fans follow Mum’s Fan Fiction Rules, we’re happy to let them enjoy themselves. We were thrilled to discover that Wen Spencer, who wrote the marvelous Alien Taste series started out writing Pern fan fiction.

 

CS: Is there a Pern fan club?

TM: There are *many* Pern fan clubs. A quick web search will reveal the most popular.

 

CS: Are there Pern conventions?

TM: No conventions on their own. For a long while Dragon*con hosted a Weyrfest which morphed into a Worlds of Anne McCaffrey track and which has now matured into the Fantasy Literature track.

 

CS: What have the reviewers said or do you pay attention to them?

TM: Some reviewers like the books, some don’t. I would expect no different. I was thrilled to have several starred reviews and Mum and I were delighted when Dragon’s Fire got on the New York Times Bestseller list.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

Interview: Mindee Arnett

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

marnett_authorphoto_small

Mindee Arnett has had 3 novels published in less than a year, plus a prequel novella ebook, and is on the verge of publishing a sequel. She specializes in YA, writes both sci fi and fantasy, and receives rave reviews from fellow speculative fiction authors. Her debut novel was nominated for the Young Adult Library Services Association top 10. She is a fan of Josh Whedon, Veronica Mars, Firefly, Doctor Who, and Mumford and Sons. Her license plate holder says, “Leaf on the Wind, Wash is my Co-Pilot”; and if you know what that means, she can definitely be friends.

 

16-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare. Literally. Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough, but when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder. The setting is Arkwell. And then his dream comes true. Now Dusty has to follow the clues,both within Eli’s dreams and out of them,to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: I seldom meet a premise/setup that intrigues me as much as The Nightmare Affair. How long did you kick around ideas and put together elements before it all gelled?

MINDEE ARNETT: Thanks, so nice to hear. The surprising truth is that The Nightmare Affair jelled pretty quickly, although I more or less stumbled over the idea. I was actually searching for a new monster to use in a short story I was working on at the time. I wrote a lot of horror short fiction before moving onto novels. In this search, I came across the painting “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli. I’d seen the painting before, of course, but for some reason when I saw it this time I began to wonder what it would be like if the image were reversed,if the woman in the painting was sitting on the demon’s chest. Then I wondered what it would be like to be a nightmare, to live a life where you have to spend your nights sitting on people’s chests. Very weird and a little bit funny, I decided. And just like that, Dusty Everhart was born. I wanted to explore the humor, awkwardness, and scariness of this type of creature.

 

CS: You’ve had 3 novels published in less than a year. Plus a prequel. And you’re on the verge of publishing a sequel. Being a wife and mother and having a day job, how do you crank out the volume, not to mention all that blogging and promotion you’ve been doing?

MA: My other car is a TARDIS. Kidding. The answer to that question is that I don’t really have an answer. What it comes down to is this: if you really want something, you go for it, no matter what. You make time. You sacrifice. The only advice I have to give is to get enough sleep. That sounds glib, I know, but I honestly mean it. I think the ability for having maximum output in your day starts with good sleep. You’ve got to take care of the body if you want the mind and imagination to have the fuel to work at its best. And, of course, you’ve got to learn how to turn away from the distractions and focus.

 

CS: The conventional wisdom in the writing community is that you have to write a million words before you have to right stuff to be a successful author. How many words did you type before you wrote a marketable story? How many stories?

MA: I don’t have an exact count, but I would say it’s probably close to that million word mark. I’ve written dozens and dozens of short stories, and before publishing The Nightmare Affair, I wrote 4 complete novels that ranged in length from 90,000 words to 160,000. That’s about half a million right there.

 

CS: Conventional wisdom also says build a strong resume of short fiction with pro paying magazines before breaking into novels. How did you leap frog that process?

MA: I didn’t, not entirely. No, I don’t have a lot of “pro” sales, but I did place several short stories in semi-pro and literary magazines. I learned how to submit, to write a query letter, and to handle rejection. And even more than that, I spent a good many years focusing entirely on short stories. While I don’t think you have to learn how to write short stories, I think doing so provides innumerable benefits for any writer. Short stories are where you get a feel for the language, how to be concise, how to write prose that has an emotional impact. These are useful skills to have when you move onto novels, especially because longer fiction requires a whole new set of skills to master.

 

CS: How did getting a Bachelor and Master’s in English literature with an emphasis on creative writing help/hinder your career as a speculative fiction novelist?

MA: It was definitely a help and not a hindrance. At a minimum, these degrees gave me a legitimate reason to pursue writing. So much of being an “aspiring” writer is like taking a long journey in the dark with only a flashlight to see by. There’s a lot of unknown, a lot of “why are you wasting your time” attitude from the outside world. But my degrees came with that built-in support that the idea of pursuing fiction is legitimate. It gave me permission. Also, most of my teachers wrote speculative fiction as well. So at no point was I made to feel less because I wanted to write horror or fantasy or sci-fi. I do think that’s an important point to make. At no time was I made to feel that genre fiction is somehow less worthy than literary.

 

CS: You said of Avalon and Nightmare Affair: “Basically, if you like one, you’ll probably like the other, despite their differences.” Avalon is sci fi space action. The Nightmare Affair is fantasy detective. Where’s the overlap in readership?

MA: Well, perhaps I’m just hoping there are people like me out there who love both sci-fi and fantasy. I’m a genre junkie in general. But seriously, I think the stories share a similar feel. They’re fast-paced, have lots of action, some snarky humor, some scary moments, and so on.

 

CS: The Nightmare Affair is about a being that feeds on dreams, a fairly exotic creature in fantasy literature. Why not vampire, werewolf, witch, etc, which are all the rage in print and on screen?

MA: Those stories have been done. A lot. And I didn’t have anything new to offer about those creatures, although all three you mentioned are present in The Nightmare Affair. But really, I’m a firm believer that the story chooses the writer and not the other way around.

 

CS: Do you present Dusty primarily as a teen, a student, a romantic, a nightmare, or a detective?

MA: All of the above. In the beginning Dusty is very much a teen and student. Both the romance and the detective elements build slowly through the first book and into the next one and so on.

 

CS: What character development do you use to convince readers that a 16 year old can whip a crew even younger than himself into a highly effective team of mercenary thieves that target the most highly valued and therefore most securely protected merchandise in the galaxy?

MA: The answer to that one is the teens in Avalon aren’t responsible for it. Instead they’ve been recruited, trained, and controlled by their crime lord boss, a ruthless guy with lots of resources at his disposal. Also, the fact that they’re teens plays a big part in what they’re able to do. People underestimate teenagers all the time. This oversight allows Jeth and his crew to be so effective.

 

CS: You said of reviews: “I have never read them and I have no regret.” Why boycott reviews?

MA: Very simply, reviews are not for authors; they’re for readers. But more specifically, as an author, I prefer to get my feedback and criticism from vetted sources, people I trust, respect, admire and so on, people who are there to help me do the best job I can like my agent, editors, and critique partners. With most reviews, aside from the professional ones, the reviewers could be anybody. Writing is a hard art and a hard business, both. For me, I have to protect both my sanity and my creative drive. This means filtering out the outside world so I can focus on the inner world of my stories.

 

CS: How much of your promotion time is solo, how much is tag teaming with other New Leaf authors, and how much is tag teaming with other Tor authors? Who do you tag team with? Are they all YA writers? Are they all speculative fiction writers?

MA: Honestly, most of my promotion is solo, at least the online stuff. But most of my in-person events are with other writers. So far they’ve all been other YA writers, some with Tor, some with New Leaf, and some just regional authors that live near me.

 

CS: Your agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf agency, who was recently interviewed here at Diabolical Plots. Describe your life as a writer if you had no agent. Describe your life as a writer if Suzie were not your agent.

MA: If I didn’t have an agent, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do in terms of writing. My agent takes care of the business side, which allows me time to focus primarily on the creative side. She also serves as a filter on all the craziness that comes with this business. She helps me keep things in perspective. My life before I had an agent was all pipe dreams and wishes. Agents hold a lot of the keys to the kingdom, as such, when it comes to publishing. They have the contacts and the know-how. They are essential for a writer’s career. I really can’t describe how my career would be with a different agent, and I don’t want to imagine it. Not all agents are created equal, and Suzie is by far one of the best. She’s professional, responsive, supportive, and super smart about the business. I wouldn’t trade her for a different agent ever, not by choice.

 

CS: Why Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Jennifer Roberson? Not familiar with Roald Dahl. Why is Joss Whedon the only screen writer on your list? Why Veronica Mars? Why Doctor Who?

MA: The short answer here is that these writers tell the kinds of stories that speak to me. With King, well, he’s such a great storyteller. His stories are so real and vivid. And they’re scary. I love horror, both to read and especially to write. I’ve always been fond of the supernatural and the macabre. With Tolkien it’s all about the world-building. I think he’s what every writer of fantasy and sci-fi aspires to when it comes to creating a fictional world. I mean, the guy wrote whole languages. He was beyond brilliant. For Lewis, I love the carefree fantasy and the sense of adventure. Jennifer Roberson was the first writer that made me want to be a writer. Her stories were the first adult fiction I ever read, and her prose is beautiful and romantic. To this day, I still go back and re-read her stuff. Roald Dahl was like a precursor to King. His stories are both gruesome and fun. I consumed them with a voracious appetite as a kid, and I still love them as a grownup.

The deal with Joss Whedon is the same as the others. He tells the kind of stories I want to experience. My favorite part about Joss is the mix of humor and tragedy. The man makes me cry,a lot,but never before he’s made me laughed. Really, I want all my stories to be like that.

Again, Veronica Mars is about amazing storytelling but also amazing characters. Veronica Mars is smart, funny, and tough. Also, Rob Bell, the writer and creator of Veronica Mars is really what makes it so amazing.

And for Doctor Who, I pretty much agree with everything you have to say on the subject. I think my favorite part is the show’s sense of fun. Anything can happen. It’s always surprising, often funny, often terrifying, and most importantly,emotionally moving. Doctor Who has more heart than any other show out there.

 

CS: Why Mumford and Sons, because of the tunes, the lyrics, or the band members?

MA: I love them because of the music and the lyrics. The combination of both speaks to my soul. I’m a huge fan of folk music, and the banjo in particular. Combine that with lyrics that are mind-blowing, literary, and emotionally gripping, and you’ve got something, magical. They are also amazing in concert. Seriously, the best I’ve ever seen.

 

CS: What does “Leaf on the Wind, Wash is My Co-Pilot” mean?

MA: This is a quote from the movie Serenity by Joss Whedon, the follow-up to the short-lived, tragically cancelled Firefly. I can’t say a lot more than that without spoilers. But this quote makes you laugh when you first hear it, and then boom,punch in the gut. Hard. It’s a classic Whedon moment. I still want to cry just thinking about it.

 

 

For Mindee’s writing advice, check out her blog below and look for these topics:

— The Myth of the Crappy First Draft
— The Elevator Pitch
— “and then” versus “therefore” and “but”
— World building
— Cover letters
— Sequels
— SUSPENSE
— “write deep.”
— Writer depression.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

Interview: Christopher Priest

interviewed by Carl Slaughter


priestbannerThe Prestige
, a box office hit directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johannson, was based on a novel of the same name by Christopher Nolan. I seldom watch a movie more than once. The Prestige is an exception. Every time I watch it, I discover something new. Another science fiction movie hit was Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio and also directed by Christopher Nolan. Christopher Priest put the premise of Inception in print 3 decades earlier with his novel A Dream of Wessex. His latest novel, published in 2013, is The Adjacent. Christopher Priest talks to Diabolical Plots about the themes and elements of his novels, his definition of science fiction, and the influence H.G. Wells had on him.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why magicians?

CHRISTOPHER PRIEST: Because when you know what they’re really like, they are co-o-ol.

 

CS: Why war?

CP: Because it’s a constant force, even if you don’t happen to witness it every day. Since 1945, more than one hundred full-scale wars have been fought, many of them still ongoing now.

 

CS: Why WW1 and WW2?

CP: WW1 because of the poetry. WW2 because it isn’t over yet.

 

CS: Why airplanes?

CP: I’m still struggling to come to terms with the theory of flight, which as far as I am concerned remains only a theory.

 

CS: Why doppelgangers?

CP: Don’t you have an inner life? A shadow identity no one sees?

 

CS: Why the theme of what’s reality?

CP: When you discover what reality is, let me know. That search is largely what the books are about.

 

CS: What is the Dream Archipelago, what role does it play in your stories, and how often have you included it?

CP: The Dream Archipelago is a world with two continental masses, north and south. The north is complex, modern and industrialized, full of technologically advanced countries who have formed alliances and are at war. The south is a barren, frozen, uninhabited wilderness, where the armies of the north try to resolve their issues by violent means. Between the two continents is a vast ocean girdling the world. The ocean is crammed with uncountable islands. Culturally and racially their peoples are peacefully mixed, politically they are neutral, ideologically they are dreamers.

 

CS: Several reviewers have said that although they admired your stories and were impressed with your skills, they had to reread and re-reread your stories to put all the pieces together. Why not a more pedestrian approach?

CP: You want a pedestrian approach? Look elsewhere. (Plenty of it about.) I’m pleased to hear reviewers are re-reading my books. That’s music to my ears. After all, reviewers get paid to read books, which most people don’t.

 

CS: The characters in your books are victims or cogs. Why no heroes?

CP: How many genuine heroes have you ever met? Or even heard about? Most people do the best they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves, and some do better than others. The majority of people in the world are in one way or another victims: of financial greed, despotic governments, prejudice, cruelty, autocratic corporations, ignorance. Do you want every novel to be about Superman? I prefer to write about the world as I perceive it.

 

Adjacent_DJ.inddCS: The Prestige has a device that copies and transports people. Your latest novel, The Adjacent, has a device that transfers people to an alternate universe(?). You don’t delve into the science of these devices. No effort to make them seem plausible. They’re just invented and they just do what they do. Why no hard science in your stories?

CP: On the contrary, my novels always have hard science in them. What you and I call science is not the same thing. You’re thinking of the exact sciences, excluding others.

I have a broad, inclusive approach to the scientific method. There’s a science of society. A science of politics. Of demographics. Of interpersonal relationships. Of surveillance. Of criminology. A science of sex, fear, influence, people, culture, history, thinking. These are the sciences I write about, I research them thoroughly and consider that my approach to them, if not exactly hard, is certainly firm. “Science” means “Knowledge”.

As for what you call “not delving into the science” — when you use a photocopier do you tell everyone in the room how fascinating it is that inside the cabinet there is an electrostatically charged drum, which uses negatively charged paper exposed to a light source …? When you make a call on a mobile phone, do you tell the person you are talking to that all this is possible because your voice has been converted into an electrical signal which has been relayed through a series of hexagonal cells at a variety of radio frequencies …? When you drive a car …? Get the idea? That’s how my characters use matter transmitters.

 

CS: What’s the best way to describe your chosen genre? Science fiction? Speculative fiction? Defies categorization?

CP: The only exact definition I have ever come up with is: “Books by Christopher Priest.” However, I confess that isn’t much help to someone who hasn’t read any of them.

 

CS: The theme of “what is reality” was also in Philip K. Dick’s books. Were you influenced by him?

CP: I read Phil Dick’s stuff when I was a teenager, and really liked it. However, at that time I was reading and liking a lot of science fiction writers, so I can’t say Phil Dick’s work was a special influence.

As for the “what is reality” riff … As I recall much of that in Dick’s books was related to chemical substances, or some kind of physical interference with the mind. My own take on inner reality is much more to do with perception, with memory, with muddle, with forgetting, with imagining, with being mistaken.

 

CS: How did H.G. Wells influence you?

CP: He wrote “The War of the Worlds” and “The Time Machine,” and in particular a large number of wonderful short stories. He was the first writer I came across who made me feel he was speaking directly to me, on my wavelength, away from the world of teachers and parents and critics.

 

CS: What’s your role in the H.G. Wells Society?

CP: My role is a more or less honorary one of Vice President. I don’t have any official duties, but I do what I can, whenever I can, to “promote a widespread interest in the life, work and thought of Herbert George Wells.” He was a great man and a great writer.

Here’s an example of something I did last year.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

Interview: James Patrick Kelly

interview by Carl Slaughter

jim_kelly_thumbSuccessful science fiction author and prolific workshop instructor James Patrick Kelly talks about his passion for mentoring new writers.

(BTW: JPK is an avid user of the Submissions Grinder, a new feature here at Diabolical Plots.)

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: WHAT GOT YOU INTO WORKSHOPPING AND WHY HAVE YOU STAYED WITH IT?

James Patrick Kelly: I think the thing that spooks most beginning writers is the lack of input. Or maybe we should call it “on the job training.” We lock ourselves in a closet and try to build worlds out of the thin air. How do successful people do it? More important, how do we do it? Alas, reading craft books about writing is like reading books about how to make love.

Workshopping is a way to measure your progress toward getting it right. You find out immediately what very smart readers have gleaned from what you wrote. The flaws you spot in other writers’ work are often the very same flaws that will distract from yours. Oh, and if you think that eventually you might not need workshops because you’ve learned everything they have to teach †well, good luck to you. I still attend workshops and probably will until my fingers curl up and fall off.

I was going to adult education workshops in the Boston area when I first started sending stuff out. Then I went to Clarion. After Clarion I was so converted to the workshop method that I joined a workshop by mail. I would send a story out to the list and maybe six weeks later it would come back with comments. Later, I was thrilled to be asked to the final incarnation of Damon Knight’s Milford Workshop, then run by Ed Bryant. I went to the original Sycamore Hill workshop and many thereafter. I plan this year to go to Walter Jon William’s Rio Hondo workshop. Oh, and I’ve now taught at both Clarion and Clarion West , the Odyssey workshop, Viable Paradise, and the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA program. And I attend a bi-monthly local workshop, the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop.

Do I believe in the efficacy of workshops? Duh!

 

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS WRITERS HAVE ABOUT HOW TO CRAFT A MARKETABLE STORY AND HOW DO YOU HELP THEM OVERCOME THOSE MISCONCEPTIONS?

The most common misconception is that of the editor as a fierce gatekeeper eager to turn away all newbies. The exact opposite is the case. Editors are in competition to discover new talent. Being the first to publish someone who goes on to have a long career is, and always has been, one of the badges of honor in the editorial community. I wrote a couple of columns that touched on this for Asimov’s: Part One and Part Two.

Where newbies go wrong, in general, is that they have failed to read their manuscript as an editor would. For example, they are not familiar with what the editor has already published and will send her something very much like the cover story of the March issue, or else they will merely file the serial numbers off the best seller that she published in 2012 and submit a generic rehash. All too often they will not read their manuscript with the care that an editor who is pondering a buy decision would. Are there typos? Are there obvious grammar mistakes? Does the first sentence/paragraph invite the reader into the story?

Having read slush, I will tell you that it is all too easy to make the decision to buy or reject having read just the first page of 80% of submissions.

 

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MANUSCRIPT MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE AND HOW DO YOU HELP THEM RECOGNIZE AND AVOID THOSE MISTAKES?

God, where to start? There are so many ways to go wrong, which is why this is a tough profession. Let me just give two:

Over/underpopulation. This depends on the length of the story, obviously, but if there is really only one character in your story, even if she is remembering other characters, then you probably suffer from underpopulation. Conversely, say you are writing a war story, or a family saga and you are going to mention eleven characters by name in a 5000 word story, then you are overburdening the reader and ought to consider culling the herd. Have you ever heard of the three character rule? A story should have three characters: two in some sort of relationship and one who disrupts that relationship.

Slow start, abrupt ending: If you can start with a line of dialogue, do. Nothing puts editors off faster than a writer who spends the first page clearing her throat with weather reports, lyrical nature writing or infodumps about backstory. Conversely, learn the difference between climax and denouement. Too many writers end the plot but fail to adequately end the story.

 

WHAT’S THE RIGHT WAY AND WRONG WAY TO MENTOR WRITERS?

You should really ask my students this. I tend to be blunt but supportive. I see writers who are at various stops on the road to success. Those near the start get more general (and gentle) comments. Those who are close but are clinging to some dysfunctional plot point or character interaction get more specific criticism.

I can be very persuasive when I get into my plot doctoring mode. It’s easy for me to say rewrite the ending, change the point of view or lose the grandma. But I try to remind my students that I am reading according to my own tastes and prejudices. There are many, many popular writers (and styles of writing) that I have no use for. And I don’t need anyone writing James Patrick Kelly stories , that’s my job. So I make the point that I’m not an editor, unless I am. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve urged my workshop colleagues and students to send stories to this editor or that, only to find out that they got rejected.

 

TIPS SPECIFICALLY FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Umm †Get into a workshop? Read the stories/novels bought by the editors you want to sell to? Send stuff out? Don’t give up?

And it’s never too soon to start thinking about your Hugo acceptance speech.

 

Carl_eagle

Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

 

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

Interview: Brad Torgersen


interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Brad TorgersenHugo nominee, Nebula nominee, Campbell nominee, Writers of the Future winner, and Analog regular Brad Torgersen talks with Diabolical Plots about his journey as a writer, the blue chip veterans who mentored him, and his hopes for the Society Advancement of Speculative Storytelling.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: Did you write the proverbial one million words before you got published in Analog? Before you won Writers of the Future?

BRAD TORGERSEN: Just about. When I won the Writers of the Future Contest I sat down and added up everything I’d written to date, and all totaled it came out to be roughly 850,000 unpublished words. So in my case I feel the “first million words” really were an accurate gauge. I know this also goes by the 10,000 hour rule. And I think it’s true. Fledgling and/or aspiring writers need to understand that it can take a lot of work and time to reach what more or less passes for entry-level professional quality. That’s not a bad thing, really. Almost anyone desiring to do a thing professionally,especially an artistic thing,needs to put in his or her practice.

 

Lights in DeepCS: Do you have a first reader?

BT: No. I have in the past used an exclusive reader group. But for the last two years virtually everything I’ve written and sold has gone through one and only one first reader: my editor(s) at Analog magazine, Baen books, etc. I know some writers swear by their first readers. Me? I fly solo these days, and do so knowing that I have only myself to trust when I am sculpting the stories. It’s a little unsettling, until I get that next acceptance letter in my e-mail. Then I breathe a sigh of relief and remember something I like to tell new writers: the point of a writing group or a first reader is to not become dependent on the writing group or the first reader. Your objective should be to eventually get proficient enough to send directly to editors without fretting about whether or not the story has what it takes to impress an editor.

 

CS: Do you use workshops?

BT: I have used several different workshops over the last five years. The first one I ever did was called the “Kris and Dean Show” and it was a weekend event hosted by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith out in Lincoln City, Oregon. “The Kris and Dean Show” was a kind of two-day crash course in how publishing works, and it really knocked my socks off at a time when I was struggling a great deal, and wondering if I would ever become good enough to sell even one story, much less the many stories and book I’ve since sold. I liked the “Kris and Dean Show” so much, I went back (after I won Writers of the Future) to do Kris and Dean’s short story workshops, and a novel pitch/packaging workshop. I sold all of the stories I did for the short story workshops (two of which got covers, and one of which was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula) and the novel pitch/package workshop was hugely valuable. Needless to say, I am not just a fan of the workshops in Lincoln City, I am a friend of Kris and Dean now too. Lovely, wonderful people.

Speaking of which, I’ve also done Dave Wolverton’s “Million Dollar Outlines” workshop. Which, combined with the Kris and Dean novel workshop, helped prepare me to sell to the book-buying world. Having cut my teeth and proven my worth at short fiction length, I really wanted to zero in on some stuff for my books. I knew the skillsets for writing at book length were different from writing short stories, and I really needed help putting my brain through the outlining process. Because I am a “seat of the pants” man for short fiction. But, having lost several older books to this method in the past, I didn’t want to lose any more books. So I appealed to Dave for help, and his week-long workshop was amazingly informative. Dave’s really got his pulse on the underlying emotional and “legendary” aspects of storytelling. Perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever seen, as writers like Brandon Sanderson (a student of Dave’s) might attest.

Mike ResnickAnd of course, there is the Writers of the Future workshop itself; which is free to all winners of the Contest, and puts a new writer through his or her professional paces. The best benefit I can think of from Writers of the Future was the networking: being able to meet and talk to all these very-successful and award-winning authors. In an intimate setting. Often for hours and hours. I not only left the workshop with numerous contacts in the industry, I eventually became good friends with many of the judges, such as Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, and especially Mike Resnick; the last having become like a father to me in the business.

One thing about workshops: there are workshops for craft, and there are workshops for business. Be sure what you want to do (and where you need the emphasis most) before you sign up. Kevin J. Anderson (along with Dave Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and several others) runs a stupendously useful and very fun professional business workshop called Superstars Writing Seminars. I took the three-day course at Kevin’s encouragement, following my stint in L.A. for Writers of the Future, and I found Superstars to be chock full of valuable writing business advice, anecdotes, cautionary tales, and encouraging news. A top-notch workshop if I do say so myself; excellent for those writers who, having published a bit, are wanting to bump up to the next level and really start making money.

 

CS: How many times do you revise the same story?

BT: I used to endlessly revise my stories to death. It was what I thought you had to do to become a pro. Dean Wesley Smith disabused me of that notion in 2008-2009 and it paid off: I won Writers of the Future, and have not looked back since. Now I give myself roughly three passes through a thing: the initial creative pass, a second pass to check for consistency problems and emotional impact, and a final pass for fine-tooth-comb stuff like spelling and grammar and occasional sentence or word changes. After that . . . I am done. I know the story or book is as good as I can possible make it (in that particular time and place) and I need to get the story out to the editors, and begin working on something new. If I let a story linger too long, and go for even more passes, I always have a bad time of it. Always. So I try to make sure I don’t get cold feet. I grow more as a writer working on new work than I ever do endlessly “fixing” old work. I think many writers are the same way, but we’ve all been taught this myth that exhaustive revision is the only way to be good. I think it’s not so.

 

CS: Do you write an outline, character profiles, etc?

For short fiction? Almost never. For books? I lost six books writing by the seat of my pants, and swore I’d never do it again. I went and sat at the feet of professionals with dozens and dozens of novels to their credit, and forced myself to learn how to outline. I used to think working with an outline was stifling and would kill the creative juice of the story. But I was wrong. An outline (for book length) is the only way I personally know how to do something that long, and not get lost in the sub-plots, let the small characters grow and take over the big characters, etc. Outlines can be anywhere from a few pages, up to as much as 50 pages. Depends on how much world building and character development I want to do before I actually begin writing the prose. And there is always a *lot* of that behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn’t wind up in the book verbatim. Because while I may need to know a character’s eight-paragraph bio in order for her to make sense to me in the overall plot, the reader may only need to know a few details dispersed here and there; as the action moves along.

 

Analog 2CS: Are most of your stories primarily premise-oriented, character-oriented, plot-oriented, or theme-oriented?

BT: All of the above. I have written stories based purely on a suggestive title, a nugget of a plot, a single interesting character premise, or a theme that’s rolling around in my head and which I want to explore. Usually I wait for two or three of these things to collide in my unconscious before I decide I have enough material to put together an interesting and engaging story. One of my best-known stories, a novelette called “Outbound,” actually began as a kludging-together of two previous stories which had, on their own, failed to gel. One of them had a good theme and a decent plot, but no compelling character or situation. The other had a compelling character and situation, but no theme or plot. Throwing these elements from these separate stories together, and making a brand new story from the bones of the old, made all the difference.

 

CS: Do you make major changes at an editor’s request or hold your ground?

BT: I am easy-going. Toni Weisskopf, Stan Schmidt, Edmund Schubert, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Trevor Quachri, they all have valuable feedback, and there is almost never a time when I can’t improve a story with some experienced feedback from the editor. That’s what they’re there for, after all. And no editor, especially book-buyer like Toni, ever gets a book from a new author which cannot use at least some commentary and feedback. I look at it like a perpetual learning process, and as long as the editor seems to see the same (more or less) story that I am seeing (and this is almost always the case) then I am perfectly happy making whatever changes work best. Or which might be required to take a decent story, and make it into a good story. Or take a good story, and make it into a great story.

 

BradConCS: How many stories has Analog bought and how many have they rejected?

BT: Before Stan Schmidt bought “Outbound” in January 2010, he had rejected two or three dozen previous stories. Since then Stan (and his successor, Trevor Quachri) have bounced a tiny handful. All of which found their way to homes with other markets. One of the nice things about cracking the professional glass and gaining entry-level proficiency as a story teller, when a story gets rejected these days, it’s almost always a matter of taste for a given editor; someone else (with a different taste) will almost always like the story and pick it up. I often go to Analog with my stories first because Analog’s needs so closely match my particular style and content; of story subject, theme, protagonists, etc. But not always. Analog has taken things other editors could not use, and vice versa. Again, a perk of being pro level.

 

CS: Now that Analog has a new editor, will the magazine, or you, have a fundamental shift in MO?

BT: Nope. I’ve sold two big stories to Trevor Quachri (“The Chaplain’s Legacy” was a massive novella, and “Life Flight” was a substantial novelette) which I believe would have easily sold to Stan Schmidt when he was editing. In fact when Stan Schmidt did the intro for my short story collection LIGHTS IN THE DEEP he noted that his wife had already read “The Chaplain’s Legacy” in the magazine, and gave it very high marks. And he tends to trust her taste, so I think Analog and I will continue to have a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s a lot of fun being able to publish in such a well-known and venerable magazine. I am pleased that Analog’s readers have continued to respond so well to my work. I hope that’s always the case, and I endeavor with each story I send to Analog to match the bar I set for myself with the last Analog publication.

 


CS: How long is the “Unpublished But Hopeful Stories by Brad Torgersen” list?

BT: Difficult to gauge, as I generally have several dozen ideas rolling around in my head at any one moment. I have on occasion gone back to the “trunk” an unearthed an old story which got rejected at all the markets previously, then reworked the story from the ground up, and sold it contemporarily. In those cases it’s a total rebuild, almost always using the character or the idea as the skeleton around which the new, re-drafted (Dean Wesley Smith’s phrase) story takes shape.

 

DP: Do you anticipate ever breaking into novels? Anthologies? Editing? Full time sci fi work?

BT: Full-time writing would be great, but give the vagaries of the marketplace and the needs of my family, it remains to be seen if full-time ever becomes truly feasible. I have spoken to several of the elder statesmen in the Utah spec fic writing community, and among them is a fellow named L.E. Modesitt, Jr. who says full-time writing (pre-retirement) isn’t even a necessary goal, as long as I keep putting the hours in at night and can produce fresh work on a regular basis. So, for now, I live with late nights. Yes, I’ve sold my first novel, a “fix up book” (in the vernacular of Mike Resnick) called THE CHAPLAIN’S WAR to Baen Books. It’s based on my two Analog stories “The Chaplain’s Assistant” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy,” both of which appeared in print previously. I’ve had several stories reprinted, and have also put fresh work into anthologies on request from the editors. I am not sure I can afford the time to edit right now. Though if a choice editorial opportunity came along (and I felt it was my chance to really make a statement and/or affect the field) I might try to take it. But only provided that I could work it in with my other jobs: full-time healthcare nerd, part-time Army Reserve soldier, and night-time sci-fi writer.

 

CS: Give us the background on Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling?

BT: Lou Antonelli came to me shortly after I broke into print, and he proposed the idea that the spec fic community needed a new organization that could not only focus on bona fide advocating for established authors, but which might also help foster the growth and development of aspirants as well. Now, I knew then as well as anyone the heartache of the aspirant, and I like a lot of what Lou had it mind, so I signed on. Unfortunately, because my three jobs still have to take precedent, I wasn’t able to do much more for SASS at the start, than serve as a hood ornament Vice President while Lou got the word out and tried to attract new members. I think SASS is definitely something that will gain speed and momentum over time, whether I am able to lend it much credibility or not. Right now I am a dues-paying member and I like (again) what Lou is trying to do with the organization. Spec fic really could use a group capable of bona fide professional advocacy, combined with grass-roots growing and fostering of new talent. Too often sometimes (at least in my perception) the existing bod(ies) get tangled up in personality disputes or political bickering that’s got nothing to do with anything important to me as a professional. Can SASS be the answer? I would certainly like to think so. I hope Lou continues to gain traction and that SASS moves forward.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

 

 

Lou Anders Interview

interview by Carl Slaughter

LouBlueShirtLou Anders is the Hugo Award winning editorial director of the SF&F imprint Pyr Books, a Chesley Award winning art director, and the editor of nine anthologies. He has also been nominated for six additional Hugo Awards, five additional Chesley Awards, as well as the PKD, Locus, Shirley Jackson, and three World Fantasy Awards. His first novel, Frostborn, book one in a three-book middle grade fantasy adventure series called Thrones and Bones, will be published in August 2014 by Random House’s Crown Books for Young Readers.

 

ABOUT YOU

CARL SLAUGHTER: You’ve done stage, scriptwriting, magazine, journalism, ebook. How did each of these fields prepare you to be editorial director of a speculative fiction book imprint?

LOU ANDERS: In one form or another, I’ve been working in the science fiction and fantasy genre since the early 90s. If we carve off my (perhaps dubious) stage work, then I’ve been a professional in science fiction and fantasy entertainment since 1995, and I was in the ebook space in 2000 before there was such a thing! I think the diversity of my professional experience gives me well-rounded perspective on media, while keeping the focus on genre.

 

ABOUT YOU AND PYR:

CVG 2013 GoH Badge - Lou AndersCS: There were several speculative fiction imprints at the time Pyr was launched. Tor, Del Rey, Ace, DAW, Baen, Why another imprint? What void have you been filling? How is Pyr distinct from other imprints?

LA: My parent company, Prometheus Books, wanted to get into fiction and chose science fiction as an appropriate niche for a company founded on principles of humanism and science. When we were starting out, we very quickly dismissed the idea of specializing in a particular subgenre in favor of trying to provide high quality science fiction and fantasy in what Asimov’s once described as genre being “pitched down the middle of the field” but written at a higher level of prose quality. About three years into our run, we began to hear from the chain buyers and distributors that we had the “most consistent quality” of any publisher as well as the consistently best looking covers. So, I’d say that we are trying to be SFF “dialed to eleven.” One fan once told us that while they don’t always like every Pyr title, they know that every Pyr book will be an engrossing read, well executed.

 

CS: Pyr was launched in 2005. You were nominated for a Hugo for best editor in 2007 and have been nominated every year since. How did you come on so strong so early and how did you maintain that momentum?

LA: There were a lot of factors that came together at the right time around our debut. We’re very fortunate to have connected with the readership so strongly, and I’m grateful for all those nominations. All we can do is continue to do our best and be glad that people appreciate that.

 

CS: Imagine you’re assigned to write a three paragraph entry about Pyr for the next encyclopedia of speculative fiction. What do you say? Give us a peekat those three paragraphs.

LA: I can’t answer this. It’s up to the field to define who we are. We can only offer the best we can. How the readership responds to that offer isn’t up to us. So far they’ve liked what we do and we’ll work to ensure that continues as best we can.

 

CS: You’ve also been nominated several times for anthology editor. Give us a thumbnail sketch of your vision for anthologies, past, present, and future.

LA: Well, I don’t know if I’m going to do any more anthologies in the future. I’ve turned my attention to my own fiction, and given the copious amounts of free time I don’t have, any and all snatches of personal time I have that is not claimed by my family goes into my own creations. But when I did anthologies, my goal was to never simply present reprint collections of themed stories, but to ask questions of where I thought the genre was, where it was going next, and where it should be. Each of my nine anthologies are attempts to engage the dialogue of speculative fiction in a moment, whether that was my frustrations with the limits of post-cyberpunk fiction in Live Without a Net, or my desire to explore the intersection of sword and sorcery values with modern, “realistic” fantasy in Swords & Dark Magic (co-edited with Jonathan Strahan). Every anthology is a question put to the field and hopefully a collection of answers.

 

CS: You’ve won the Chesley Award for Best Art Direcotr. I confess,I’m not an art person. I confess further that most sci fi / fantasy art strikes me as, well, bizarre. Explain the why and how of cover art for the decidedly non-arts people.

LA: Well that makes me sad to hear. Our field is unique in that it has over a century of cooperation between visual artists and wordsmiths. It’s one of the most exciting and distinctive things about the SFF field. But you have to understand that a cover’s first function is to attract the attention of the one guy at Barnes and Noble who buys all genre books for the entire chain. Beyond that, it’s to get the distribution sales force excited about a book. Then it’s to catch the casual browser’s attention, to close that deal in the nanosecond you have when someone glances at a title before his or her eye slides on to the next one. Think of covers like flowers, signaling with their colors to the right insects they need for pollination. You have to match the right flower to the right bug , the right book to the right reader.

 

ABOUT PYR

CS: What percentage of fantasy versus science fiction versus, shall we say, works which defy category, have you published? How much hard science, space opera, alternate history, steam punk, horror, etc. How many serials, how many anthologies, how many reprints?

LA: We publish a great deal of epic fantasy and sword and sorcery fiction, a great deal of steampunk, some space opera and military science fiction. We don’t publish horror and very little of what you’d call slipstream. Our Vampire Empire trilogy may defy categorization as you say , being an alternate history, pulp fiction, paranormal romance, steampunk, vampire epic , but that’s not the same thing as the more literary “new wave fabulism” that I think you mean. I should point out that these days we publish a LOT more fantasy than science fiction, though when we do SF, we do it well (ahem, Ian McDonald). We also have some very hard hitting work coming out from Joel Shepherd.

 

CS: Is there a market niche you’re struggling to meet? Is there one with a glut of manuscripts?

LA: We are trying to publish the best stories we can and serve a wide variety of readers. That being said, the urban fantasy genre is certainly glutted and probably in retraction.

 

CS: Which subgenres are you drawn to and which subgenres do you avoid?

LA: I have a sweet spot for sword and sorcery, and for the modern fantasy epic.

 

CS: With fantasy, do you prefer original characters or classic creatures – dragon, vampire, werewolf, witch, ghost, mermaid.

LA: This depends entirely on execution. There’s been a backlash against classic fantasy characters like elves and dwarves for a while now. In the wake of George RR Martin’s success we’ve seen a lot of “humans only” fantasy. I think we’re actually due to come back from this.

 

CS: Vampires are all the rage. Sexy kickass heroines have been in vogue for some time. Alien invasion and alien encounter are staples. Do you go with the flow or do you resist the flow?

LA: Read Mark Hodder’s A Red Sun Also Rises and tell me what you think.

 

CS: Hypothetical question: You have 2 manuscripts on your desk, one sci fi, one fantasy, both by the same author, and you can publish only one. Which one, or does it just all depend? If the latter, depends on what?

LA: I publish the one that has me jumping out of my chair in excitement. Period. If I can’t get excited about it, how can I get you excited about it? That being said, you never have two manuscripts from the same author.

 

CS: Who do you have doing hard science, how do they approach hard science, and how is that approach distinguished from what else is on the market?

LA: Hard science fiction is very much a niche interest right now. When I publish hard science fiction, I lean away from transparent prose in favor of the literary end of that spectrum. I’d say all our hard SF is “literary award caliber.” I think our awards track record bears this out!

 

ABOUT ASPIRING WRITERS

CS: True or false: Every editor is eager to find new authors. It’s virtually impossible to sell a first novel manuscript without working your way up the short story magazine food chain til you’ve been published in SFWA markets a few times. A novel by a veteran sell better and are first novel sales sluggish, or is that also conventional wisdom? A big name author can sell you on a story with strictly the premise, but a rookie has to submit a full fledged outline.

LA: You have a number of false assumptions here. Plenty of first time novelists have never written/sold short stories. The two forms are very different and a lot of people find they excel at one and not the other. I myself am in that camp. I’ve only written a handful of short stories, none appearing in pro markets, and I’ve just sold a children’s book to Random House. And Pyr has published a lot of debut and new authors. Also, a novel by a veteran author may be constrained by his/her previous sales record, whereas a new author is an unknown quality, and that can be attractive. That being said, a “rookie” has to submit a full fledged NOVEL, not outline. No unproven writer can sell anything but a complete, polished manuscript. And most of my established authors are still giving me very, very detailed outlines if not whole manuscripts. (Ian McDonald’s outlines can run to around 60 pages.) Mike Resnick did sell me his Weird West quartet of steampunk Doc Holiday novels on a premise, but in that case it was because I called him up and said “Mike, how would you like to write Weird Western?”

 

CS: Hypothetical question: You have 2 manuscripts on your desk, one by an established author, one by an unestablished author, and you can publish only one. Which one, or does it just all depend? If the latter, depends on what?

LA: You seem to be implying that I’ve got this checklist of criteria or quota that I’m looking at when I select a manuscript. Need suburban werewolf space opera. Must fill niche. I publish the manuscript that has me jumping out of my chair. The one that has me gasping for breath. The one that has my heart racing. I publish the books I love. If a book is “interesting” but I can put it down, I pass. There is a great line in the film Ronin in which Robert De Niro says, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt.” That’s my mandate when acquiring novels.

 

CS: Advice to an aspiring writer who is already working on a novel?

LA: Is this your first novel? Expect to write several more before you produce one of professional quality. Don’t be discouraged. Write a novel. Finish it. Write another. Writing is like any other profession. It takes long hours of hard work and practice to get good at it. I’m a big believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s
10,000 hours rule, the notion that 10,000 hours is the average time it takes to master a pursuit. I wouldn’t let a brain surgeon operate on me if he told me
he’d never been to med school but was “pretty sure he could perform a good operation.” So why would someone believe they could pound on a keyboard for the
very first time and produce a masterpiece? Write, write, write. That being said, it’s not my job to help aspiring writers. It’s my job to select the best
manuscripts I can possibly find for my publisher from the pool of those who have already mastered the craft. I’m serving the reader, not the writer. The
competition is fierce. There are much better ways to make a living. If anything can discourage you, you should listen to it and quit. If you can’t quit, you
might make it.

 

CS: Advice to an aspiring writer who is considering writing a novel?

LA: You have along road ahead of you. Get started. Or don’t.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

Interview: Tom Greene

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

tomgStrange Horizons editor Julia Rios, in an interview with SFWA, said of Tom Greene’s “Zero Bar,” published last year: “It knocked my socks off because it brought up so many things I’d experienced in my own life.” Greene recently sold “Another Man’s Treasure” to Analog. Greene has a Bachelor in English, a MFA in creative writing, and a Ph.D. in English literature. But he struggled for thirty years to discover why his stories were being rejected and how to write marketable fiction. In this interview with Diabolical Plots he explains what he learned in the process. “Zero Bar,” probably Greene’s best story, was significantly revised at the request of the above mentioned Rios. Greene explains why he didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction to these suggestions. He also shares some profound insights into why vampire stories are so popular and why the vampire myth has endured in fiction for so long.

 

YOU TRIED FOR 30 YEARS TO WRITE MARKETABLE SCIENCE FICTION. YOU SAID YOU DISCOVERED ONLY A FEW YEARS AGO HOW TO WRITE WHAT SELLS. WHAT DID YOU LEARN AND HOW DID YOU ADAPT?

Well I started trying to write science fiction and fantasy back in about 1984, and I got my first actual sale in 2011 and my first SF sale in 2012. That’s all year after year, hundreds of rejections. And for all those years I was completely clueless about why no editor was interested in what I wrote. My teachers and family members seemed to like my stories, and I was good enough to get into and graduate an MFA program, but no publications. Not even one.

So I did what a lot of newbies do and blamed the industry, as if there’s some kind of conspiracy of publishing insiders striving to keep new writers out (actually the truth is that most editors are desperately looking for talented new writers).

Some people tried to help me, but I wasn’t ready to hear those lessons because I didn’t accept that the problem was with my stories. So I rejected any suggestion that it was my writing, and I became the stereotypical sulky, failed writer and wore a beret and smoked clove cigarettes and drank a lot of red wine at parties.

What was actually happening is that for the first 25 years or so, I was writing stories about characters who weren’t very interesting doing things that nobody cared about. I think a lot of newbies fall into the same trap: unlikable characters in linear plots. Sometimes I had good ideas, and sometimes not, and it wasn’t that the stories were always bad, but even the best ones just weren’t interesting for most readers to read. So editors would send them back with comments like “some good ideas, but not for me,” which was puzzling.

The turning point came when I heard about Critters and joined in about 2008. I’m not the first one to say this, but the really great thing about online workshops is not that you get to read some good fiction, but that you get to read a lot of bad fiction, fiction that is as bad as your own. So after the thirtieth or fortieth time that I had to read a story about characters who weren’t very interesting doing things that I didn’t really care about, it dawned on me and I was like, “Hey, these are just like the stories I write!”

Some of us are just slow learners I guess. In a way, It’s a really good thing I didn’t make a sale in all those years, because that would have just reinforced the error.

 

THE OPENING SEQUENCE AND ENDING OF “ZERO BAR” WERE SIGNIFICANTLY ALTERED BY STRANGE HORIZONS. WHAT HAPPENED IN THAT PROCESS?

My wife is a professional editor, so I was lucky enough to go into the situation already knowing what editors actually do. Editors are not gatekeepers or adversaries to writers (it seems many writers tend to think this way). The editor is the person responsible for making the publication as good as it can be in terms of what their readers want. Good fiction editors read a lot, and they get constant feedback about the choices they make from a huge group of readers. So that gives them expert insight into what makes stories work for their readers.

Also I worked on and off over the years as a curriculum and technical writer. Nothing teaches you how to not be ego-invested in your work like writing manuals for bank software. Professional writing is all collaborative, so you work with editors and marketers and graphics designers and so on. Primadonna writers don’t last long in that environment. You learn quickly that the person who wrote the document is just one voice in making the document work,and usually also not the most important voice.

So in fiction, it’s like the author is the expert on his or her vision of what the story wants to be, and the magazine editor is the expert on the audience and the characteristic voice of that particular publication. So you work together to make the story the best story that it can be for that particular audience and publication.

So when Julia Rios, my editor at Strange Horizons for this story, offered to give me feedback and make suggestions for improvements to my piece, my reaction was more like, “Wow, so you’re going to offer me a service that I would ordinarily have to pay hundreds of dollars to a freelance editor for, and then you’re going to pay me? Cool.”

The process was very much like what would happen in any professional writing environment. My editor sent me notes on where she thought things weren’t working, and I rewrote those parts (actually I typically write multiple alternate versions of fixes and send them all). Then we’d go back and forth with more changes until we were both satisfied. It was hard work, but in my opinion the story is much improved. If anything, Julia was much *more* respectful of my opinion than I’m accustomed to from non-fiction writing.

 

DID YOU WRESTLE WITH THE THOUGHT THAT THIS MIGHT BE YOUR MOMENT AND THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE TO COMPROMISE TO REACH A PRO MARKET?

After my Critters revelation about why my stories were failing, making the changes necessary to reach a pro market didn’t feel like a compromise. When I’m the reader, I like to read stories that are engaging. So as a writer, the last thing I want to do is burden other readers with stories that they don’t care about.

So far at least, I get to keep my ideas, my themes, and my message (if any) in my fiction without compromising. The changes I’ve been working on learning are in putting my own conceptual stuff into a story that people might be actually interested in reading.

 

YOU LECTURE ON THE VAMPIRE GENRE. SHARE SOME INSIGHTS WITH US.

There are a lot of precursors out there and some controversy, but the completely modern version of the vampire myth was actually invented by Stoker right at the end of the 19th century, and it was one of those magical moments in the history of genre fiction when some random guy (he was actually a theater manager, not an author) just happened to strike on exactly the right symbol to represent exactly what people were afraid of in his society at that time. The British Empire was coming apart, there was a lot of free-roving anxiety about the growing independence of women and the diminishing role of the aristocracy, the anonymity and social isolation of growing cities, the influx of foreigners into London†So a supernaturally-powerful aristocrat from a foreign country who preys on women by sexually liberating them and lurks around city streets–it’s just exactly right.

It’s the same kind of thing we see whenever some new genre hits it big–cyberpunk representing the fears about the Internet that people had in the 80s, all those giant bug movies in the Cold War, Steampunk now, and so forth.

The thing that’s unusual about vampires, though, is that the myth has a kind of persistent flexibility that allows it to speak to people across a variety of generations with only some minor changes. So vampires remain popular because their mythology can be repurposed to fit whatever people are currently afraid of. So, Eastern-European aristocrats in the 1930s, Hippie Atheists raise Dracula in one of the Hammer films from the 60s, Anne Rice and her AIDS-era handsome male vampires lurking around the alleys of New Orleans in the 80s, waves of illegal vampire immigrants invading human society in the True Blood series…

Don’t ask me in a short interview to explain Edward Cullen, though. I could write a whole monograph on that one. Probably I should.

 

YOU HAVE A BACHELOR IN ENGLISH, AN MFA IN CREATIVE WRITING, AND A PH.D. IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. HOW DID YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND AFFECT YOUR VIEW ON WRITING FICTION? WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT HELPED AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT YOU HAD TO UNLEARN?

The major advantage of formal education in literature for me was that it forced me to read a bunch of stuff that I never would have picked up otherwise, the canonical works of literature in English. I don’t have the kind of personality that would have resulted in my reading Milton or Richardson or Sterne without a deadline and a paper hanging over my head.

Being exposed to all that stuff really does change your brain, I believe. It really does shape your sense of aesthetics and your understanding of history and culture in the English-speaking world and the big themes that authors have been dealing with since the invention of writing. But also it broadens your sense of what is possible and what has already been done, seeing what other people have done.

But of course we’ve all seen the studies that show that the more school you attend, the worse you do on creativity tests. It’s impossible to know if I would be more creative without it, I guess. But I did always prefer to focus on the wonky, forgotten corners of literary criticism: folklore, magical realism, Jungian psychology, vampire myths, men’s fraternal organization, semiotics, Victorian adventure fiction. I had good teachers early-on who taught me that you can carve out your own space in literature studies and you don’t have to
write another tired old paper on “Hamlet’s left toenail” as one of my teachers put it.

When I draft fiction, I try to follow my emotions with where I think things should go. But it happens pretty regularly that when I’m revising afterward, that I’ll have an intellectual insight, like “Of course she needs to spill the ink on her hands in this scene, because that’s what happens in Perrault’s ‘Bluebeard’ and the ink represents blood.” So I think it helps the ultimate shape of the way things turn out, and hopefully doesn’t interfere too much with the creativity.

And the education, of course, allowed me to go into teaching, which is not only my dream job, but also actually rewards me with extra time and resources when I successfully do my creative writing work.

My MFA in creative writing I have to treat separately because, for me, that experience was a failure in a lot of ways. I mean, I was not the best student either because I was still in a place with my writing where I wasn’t ready to hear that the problem was with me. But also, it seemed my program wasn’t set up to teach me a lot of basic fundamentals of writing that might have helped me. And my program focused primarily on mainstream, literary fiction while I was doing much more speculative stuff. So most of my colleagues’ comments in workshops started with the phrase, “Well, I don’t really read science fiction, so…” and that just reinforced my belief that I was misunderstood, rather than that I needed to change things about my writing.

It was mostly pure luck that Samuel R. (Chip) Delany happened to be teaching in the Comp Lit department at my MFA school, and that I was able to persuade him to sponsor an independent study for me, and then later to be my thesis advisor. I learned a lot from him.

So I usually warn people to modulate their expectations about MFA programs. As a speculative fiction writer in a mainstream literature program, there was a constant tension for me during those three years between the pressure I felt to write for the grade in the workshop (i.e. realistic fiction) versus where I felt my fiction ought to go. Then afterward, because of my bad experiences, it took a couple of years to really find my direction in writing again.

 

YOU WRITE ABOUT VAMPIRES AND ZOMBIES, BUT YOU ALSO DO SCIENCE AS IT AFFECTS SOCIETY AND SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND PERSONAL DECISIONS. “ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE” SOLD TO ANALOG, WHICH EMPHASIZES HARD SCIENCE. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIALTY / PREFERENCE?

My favorite stories to read are the ones that are kind of mythic: that is stories about individuals confronting experiences that are transformative or unknowable on a scale that’s outside of the normal human realm. Orpheus in the underworld, or Psyche and Eros. It’s possible to do this kind of story in a realistic setting–“Moby Dick” or “Heart of Darkness.” But science fiction, fantasy and horror give you a bigger canvas and more colors to play with in constructing mythic-scale stories.

Scholars who write about SF agreed a long time ago that science is the symbolic magic of the technological age–that science serves the same function in SF stories that flying carpets and magic potions serve in fairy tales. Similarly in horror, there’s a wide consensus that zombies are closely associated with the plight of anonymous industrial workers, and vampires have represented a whole slew of cultural fears from Stoker’s original British Imperial anxiety up through the current rash of sparkly abstinence-vampires.

So on some level it’s all myth-making. Rewriting fairy tales with new symbols, and I feel pretty feckless about using whichever symbols I think will work.

I do really like hard SF, though, and I always give those ideas priority when they come up (which I wish were more often). I feel like the whole Enlightenment idea of rationality as the solution to human problems is both important and endangered. So anything that expresses that ideology in a positive way is maybe part of the way forward.

 

ANY NOVELS IN THE WORKS?

Like most SF fans probably, I have tons of accumulated notes on some settings for possible novels, and I hope to get there eventually. But I still feel like I have years of hard work ahead of me on the rudiments of storytelling in short fiction before I’ll be ready to seriously take on longer projects.

 

ADVICE TO ASPIRING WRITERS?

I can tell you what seemed to make the biggest difference for me (in chronological order).

1. Accept that if none of your stories ever get published year after year, it’s almost certainly a problem with your writing. Join an online workshop (I like both Critters and Online Writing Workshop ) and read all the weak stories to find out what is weak about your own stories. Pay particular attention to critiques from people who tell you why your stories suck, because they are trying to help you.

2. Get away from the idea that your stories fail because of language problems. For many years, I thought that tweaking my words around or writing in the “style” of this author or that author would make my stories publishable. But a failed story can’t be made to work by changing the language.

If the story is good and the writing is competent, nobody really cares about the style. Something that happened to me after my big revelation is that I started simplifying my language. Something we learn in technical writing: to be simple and clear is hard work. I think it was a big improvement, stripping away the verbal distractions and focusing on the story.

Also, actual language problems are amazingly easy to fix. Pick up a copy of Browne & King’s “Self Editing for Fiction Writers.” This book explains in specific detail about the amateurish mistakes that we all make as newbies, and how to clean them out of your prose. Browne & King are freelance editors who do this stuff for a living. I’m teaching a creative writing class at my college this Fall, and this is the textbook for the class. This is the book I wish I’d had when I was 17 and decided to try to be a fiction writer.

3. Work on diagnosing and fixing the specific problems that make your stories fail. My stories were all about unlikable characters (when readers say “unlikable” they actually mean flat or uninteresting) going through the motions of linear, contrived plots. I used to put all my focus into engaging the intellect of my readers, and paid no attention to engaging the reader’s emotions.

The best book that I’ve found specifically about how to engage reader emotions is Donald Maass’s book “Writing the Breakout Novel.” Maass is not an author; he’s a literary agent. Therefore he really knows more than most authors about what readers enjoy, and explains it very clearly and in practical terms. Maass makes a persuasive argument that if you want to engage reader’s minds, you have to engage their emotions first. This is what I wish somebody had told me in my MFA classes.

4. This isn’t true of everybody, but for me, I have to write every day. No exceptions. Holidays, traveling, birthdays, puking up last night’s hangover– If I miss even one day, it takes me at least two or three days to pick up the thread of where I left off.

When I write every day, this really helpful thing happens where my brain continues working on what I’m writing during the downtime. So if I stop writing on Tuesday because I don’t know what comes next, it cooks around in my unconscious for 24 hours so that when I sit down Wednesday, I typically know what’s supposed to be next. If I wait until Thursday, it’s gone.

I used to think that I didn’t have time to write every day. Over many years of not getting very much written, I discovered that you *never* have enough time to write. Waiting for that ideal job or that vacation or that relative to die and leave you a trust fund doesn’t improve the situation any. I sincerely believe that if I won the Powerball today and quit my day job, I still wouldn’t feel like I had any time to write. The only way to get enough time to write every day is to actually write every day. Somehow, when you actually do it, the other stuff that used to fill that time magically becomes less of an issue.

When you write every day, the economy of scale really gets on your side. If I had started writing every day 30 years ago (instead of 3 years ago) even at my current slow rate of about 750 words a day, that’s over 7 million more words that I would have written by now. Most of it would have been crap, but the nice thing about writing is that even writing crap helps you write better as long as you learn from it.

And a final word: Probably the advice you most expect from somebody who started finally getting some things published after 30 years of failure is something like, “Be like me, and don’t give up.” But actually, my best advice is, “Don’t be like me! Wasting years of writing time.” If your stories are not getting published, then there’s a reason for it, and the most likely reason is that your stories aren’t good enough to publish. Figure out why, and fix it now.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

Interview: Ken Liu

interview by Carl Slaughter
introduction by David Steffen

ken_liu_small

If you’ve kept up with science fiction publications in the last few years, you’ve probably at least heard the name Ken Liu. Dozens of his stories have been published just in the last couple of years in the biggest and best SF publications out there today, including F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction… The list goes on and on. He won the Hugo for “Mono No Aware” this year. He won the Hugo and the Nebula for “The Paper Menagerie” last year, one of my personal favorite stories I’ve read in years. I just read a fun story by him on the Drabblecast titled “The Call of the Pancake Factory”, about a representative of a certain supercorporation amusement park happening to cross paths with a cult of Cthulhu–great story. He’s on a roll, and showing no signs of stopping. He’s a great writer and you should check out his work if you ever get a chance to read it.

 

You’ve been getting an awful lot of stories published the last few years. Did you build up an archive or have you just been a really busy guy lately?

For the longest time, I wrote very slowly, and so there never really was much “inventory.” But I’ve been writing at a somewhat steady, faster pace for the last four years. The more I write, the more ideas I seem to have. So that has worked out well.

 

How do you maintain quality and quantity? Natural talent, hard work, long hours, disciplined lifestyle, or some combination?

I think over time, I’ve learned to do a better job of picking out which story ideas seem cool but won’t work, which ones are good for flash pieces, and which ones are good for longer development. That has helped to reduce the number of stories I have to trunk.

I’ve also learned to work better under deadline. Knowing how long it takes me to finish a story and polish it to the point where I’m satisfied with it builds confidence, and that makes it easier to take up new projects and plan them into my schedule.

 

What’s your day job? How do you find time for family, the office, and the keyboard?

I used to be a programmer, became a corporate attorney, and now I work as a litigation consultant for high-tech patent cases, which sort of combines my areas of expertise. It’s very interesting, stimulating work, and probably helps with giving me story ideas.

I have two young children at home, ages 3 and 1. As anyone with young children knows, they severely constrain your writing time. I’ve learned to be better about time management and use the little writing time I do have more efficiently. For example, I try to do some drafting on my commuter rail ride every day.

I can’t say I’ve got it figured out. My novel revisions are going much more slowly than I’d like, partly due to the lack of uninterrupted writing time. But plenty of writers have figured out such a balance before, I just need to keep on working on my process and improve it.

 

Some author’s sell to the same two or three markets or half a dozen markets. You’ve been selling to every market under the sun. What’s the explanation? Diverse material? Looks better on your resume? Just like to shop around?

I enjoy working with different editors. Every editor has taught me something new. And I do write a wide variety of stories, so some stories might be a better fit with F&SF while others might work better at Analog. Not every editor likes everything I write.

I also like being exposed to new readers through new markets, so being published in multiple markets has worked out well for me.

 

You’ve been winning and being nominated for a lot of awards. Mike Resnick said about awards, “When you walk out of the convention, nobody on the street knows who you are.” This in contrast to, for example, the Oscar. How has winning famous awards affected you personally? How has it affected your career? More sales? More fan mail? Invitations to speak at conventions? Requests for interviews?

I can’t say it has affected my personal life significantly — I did get a lot of congratulations from my friends and co-workers, which made me very happy. I think the stories that were nominated got more readers, and of course I’m happy about that.

Career wise, since I don’t have a novel, I can’t point to any concrete sales boost from the awards. I do think some of the translation deals I’ve gotten were due to the awards — if nothing else, they help with name recognition, especially overseas.

Unless people ask about the awards though, I just don’t think about them much. I’m very grateful to have been nominated and to have won some of them, but what keeps me writing isn’t the desire for awards, but to write stories that I want to read myself.

 

You’ve been concentrating on short stories. What does the novel horizon look like?

I’m working on a novel, an epic fantasy of sorts, set in a secondary world created by my wife and me together. The setting is an archipelago, and there are magical creatures, gods, and lots of fanciful machines based on ancient Chinese mechanical engineering. The plot is loosely adapted from the historical legends about the founding of the Han Dynasty, and some of the cultural aspects are derived from classical East Asian elements.

The first draft is done, but there’s a lot of rewriting left still.

 

What about the screen market? Any queries to or from Hollywood to buy or write scripts?

I do like scripts, and want to get better at writing them. But there’s not much of a market for them unless you’re in Hollywood, so, for now, I’m focusing just on narrative fiction.

 

What’s the market like for science fiction in China? Aren’t they more into traditional fantasy? You know, beings with magical powers. Personification of animals, like the famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West.” (Or is it more accurately translated, “The Journey West”?) Is there a market in China for traditional science fiction? Biotechnology, space travel, etc.

I’m not an expert on the Chinese science fiction market, but from what I’ve seen, science fiction does very well there. Of course, China is a very big country, so even if only a small percentage of readers are interested in science fiction, the absolute numbers are going to be big. Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, for example, sold some 400,000 copies, and that’s a hard science fiction first contact story. (I’ve been engaged to translate the first book of the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, into English, and Tor Books will be publishing the book in the US in 2014.)

A lot of my writer friends in China — in science fiction, fantasy, and slip-stream — seem to have many more readers (even if they don’t all have novels out yet). And even my own stories, translated into Chinese, seem to have generated more feedback than they received in English. So I’d say the market is very healthy, overall.

 

Besides China, how are overseas sales going?

I have a Japanese collection coming out from Hayakawa Publishing in 2015, and I’ve sold a few reprints to markets in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Sometimes I get a chance to work directly with the translators, and that’s always such a pleasure.

 

You have all your stories critiqued on the Critters Online Workshop. How has that affected your writing and your sales?

I haven’t used Critters for most of my fiction for a while now. Over time, I’ve developed a circle of beta readers (several of whom I met through critters) whose opinions I trust, and it’s just more efficient to get their take than to go through critters, especially when I’m under tight deadlines.

I think Critters taught me, above all, how to figure out which critiques are helpful and which ones are not. When you’re relatively inexperienced as a writer, there’s a lot of benefit to getting a wide range of opinions because they help you figure out who your target audience is. Learning to ignore opinions from people who aren’t in your target audience is a difficult lesson because our natural tendency as writers is to try to please everyone. But that’s impossible, and it’s better that you learn this lesson earlier rather than later.

 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Listen when other writers share their process and try their techniques out, but don’t be surprised when most of them don’t work for you — but also be prepared for the possibility that a few will. You won’t know which is which until you try them though.

 

Carl_eagle

Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

 

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

Interview: Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

Mike Resnick recently launched 2 new projects. Stellar Guild, an anthology series, and Galaxy’s Edge, an ezine. Diabolical Plots asks
who, what, when, why, and how.

CARL SLAUGHTER: You did these type of projects in the 90s and launched a lot of careers. Why again? Why now?

MIKE RESNICK: This field has been phenomenally good to me over the years. I can’t pay back — everyone who helped me is either dead or rich or both — so I pay forward.

CARL: Will these 2 project continue indefinitely, with you turning over the editorship to someone else, or will you shut them down after you’ve accomplished certain goals?

MIKE: That’s up to the guy who pays the bills, but I don’t believe he plans on halting either project in the foreseeable future.

CARL: The magazine stories are free. What’s the business model for a free, online magazine?

MIKE: That’s a publisher question. I’m just the editor. I assume that being free online serves multiple purposes: it lets me recruit new
writers he may want to work with in the future, it advertises many of his books and projects (like the Caribbean cruise workshop) in its
pages, etc. And I should add that although it’s free online, we’re actually selling a surprising number of copies of the Kindle, Nook and
paper formats. And as each new issue comes online for free, the prior one is accessible only for a fee.

CARL: Speculative fiction is a big umbrella. Which subgenres will you emphasize and which will you exclude?

MIKE: I like science fiction. I like fantasy. I like humor. I like odd and offbeat. I have no interest in horror.

CARL: What percentage of stories will be original and what percentage will be reprints? What percentage of stories will have recognizable bylines and what percentage will be new names?

MIKE: We’ll be running 5 new stories and 4 reprint stories and/or novelettes each issue, so it’s 55% new, 44% reprint, and 1% left over.
The new stories will be by newcomers, or journeymen whose names aren’t well-known yet. The reprints will be by major writers whose names on the cover will theoretically keep us in business. We’re also running a science column by Greg Benford, a book review column by Paul Cook, and an anything-he-feels-like-writing-about column by Barry Malzberg. And my editorials seem to go a few thousand words each. Oh, and we serialize a novel each issue, we run a novel excerpt from the publisher’s list each issue, and we run a short story from one of the
publisher’s available collections each issue. Like the old Lucky Strike commercials, we’re firm and fully-packed.

CARL: How does the protÃ’ gÃ’ thing work? Does the protÃ’ gÃ’ write a story and the veteran help with revision or do they both write a story on a similar theme?

MIKE: I contact a superstar and assign him/her a novella. Then a protÃ’ gÃ’ (of their choosing, not mine) will write a novella or long
novelette that is a sequel, a prequel, or just set in the same universe — and share cover credit. And when you’re a newcomer sharing cover credit with Mercedes Lackey or Larry Niven or Kevin J. Anderson or Robert Silverberg or Harry Turtledove or Nancy Kress or Eric Flint, it’s got to give your embryonic career a lot more of a boost than selling half a dozen stories to the usual markets.

CARL: All the established authors you contacted initially declined to participate. When you informed them the project would involve working with a protÃ’ gÃ’ , they all immediately reversed their decision. Why is working with a protÃ’ gÃ’ such a motivation?

MIKE: For the same reason I work with beginners: to pay forward. I just ran through the names of the senior partners on these books. Most
are contracted years ahead, most make far more than we can pay…but the moment the philosophy of the line was explained to them, each of
these talented and truly generous writers instantly agreed. I should add that the very first Stellar Guild book to come out — Kevin
Anderson’s and Steve Saville’s TAU CETI — just won the very first “Lifeboat to the Stars” Award, which carries a 4-figure cash prize with it.

CARL: An important question for aspiring writers. Are submissions open?

MIKE: No, but I hope to open submissions soon. Maybe 3 or 4 months.

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.