Interview: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has vast experience and enormous success as an author, editor, and publisher. She also has a lot of experience as a workshop instructor. As an editor, she has a strong background in magazine and anthologies. She was editor of F&SF magazine for several years and was publisher and editor of Pulphouse’s Hardback Magazine. Her latest project is Fiction River, a new anthology series.


Carl Slaughter: First, let’s talk about anthologies. What gap do anthologies fill that magazines cannot?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Anthologies can focus on a single topic or can take risks that a magazine cannot. A magazine is responsible to its readers and its advertisers. An anthology has no advertisers and builds its readership on its topic and the table of contents alone. That allows for a lot of freedom.


Carl: Tell us about Pulphouse. Was that your first experience with anthologies? What did you hope to accomplish? How successful was it, from an editor/publisher standpoint and from a fan standpoint? What ultimately happened to it?

Kristine: Well, do you have a few years? We can talk about this.

First Pulphouse: the Hardback Magazine was an anthology series of twelve issues. Pulphouse itself was a publishing company that my husband Dean Wesley Smith and I started. So I assume, when you ask about Pulphouse, you mean the anthology series. The answers to your questions are very different if we’re talking about the publishing company.

So the Hardback Magazine was my first experience with fiction anthologies. I’d edited a lot of nonfiction “anthologies” in the form of radio programs.

We did an issue zero “a blank book” to show bookstores we were serious, to practice the form, and to get the bugs worked out before the first issue. I mailed a copy of issue zero to every major name I invited into the anthology, and got all of them to submit stories, including people like Jack Williamson and Kate Wilhelm, who never worked with start-ups. I also got a Harlan Ellison story which was unusual, something I didn’t know at the time.

The anthology series’ reputation just went up from there. Everyone who wrote wanted to be in it, and everyone who heard about it wanted all twelve issues. It was a limited run series, and when we reached the end of the run, we were done. Twelve issues, which we are still very proud of, and whose reputation grows as each year passes.


Carl: What lessons did you learn from the Pulphouse project and how will you apply those lessons to Fiction River?

Kristine: Again, I’m assuming you’re asking about the anthology series and not Pulphouse Publishing. Because, again, the answers would be very different.

I learned how to edit fiction from Pulphouse and how to manage fiction writers, which is a real trick. I then went on to edit The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where I learned even more.

Because we built everything from scratch at the Hardback Magazine and I had to revamp everything at F&SF, Dean and I knew how to set up Fiction River. We know what we want from each issue, how we will accomplish it, and what it will take, both financially and editorially. We did not know that with Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.


Carl: Why raise funds through Kickstarter instead of seeking corporate backing or self-publishing?

Kristine: Let me stop laughing first. Corporate backing? Seriously? Do you mean selling the anthology to a traditional publisher? I’ve done that too, and it’s not pretty. They want only J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, not new writers, and they don’t want to pay anyone anything. Then they’ll edit the content themselves and kick out stories that might build a reputation or win an award. I will never, ever, ever work with traditional publishing again on an anthology. If I want to do something with my vision, then I’ll do it on my own. Oh, wait! I am.

I don’t understand why going through Kickstarter makes self publishing impossible. Do you mean self-funded? Again, I’ve done that before (see Pulphouse) and that way lies madness. Bookstores pay on 90 days if they pay at all, and distributors want a huge cut. E-books bring in money but 60 days (minimum) after publication. So paying authors and paying for the production becomes a dicey proposition in the best of times.

Dean and I could do that and were thinking of it, but ultimately, we decided to use Kickstarter. As we said in our Kickstarter pitch, we wanted to gauge interest in the project. We can think the project is great, spend a fortune doing it, and have no one buy the books.

What we learned with Kickstarter is that we have an even bigger audience than we thought. And that’s extremely worthwhile. We’re even more excited about the project now that the Kickstarter was successful.


Carl: Many anthologies use a lot of reprints. Fiction River will be entirely original material. Why?

Kristine: We’ll do reprint anthologies as a separate line of anthologies down the road. But readers deserve new fiction, instead of reading the same five stories over and over again. I’ve written stories that have been reprinted a dozen times and even better stories that no anthologist has picked up, mostly because they don’t know the story exists.

When we do reprint anthologies, we’ll have someone dedicated to the anthology series who will find the stories that we need. We had someone in mind, but we lost him last year, and that put the project on the back burner.


Carl: Will Fiction River be strictly speculative fiction or will it include other genres? All subgenres of speculative fiction

Kristine: With the exception of F&SF (a rather large exception, I grant you), I have never edited anything that limits itself to one genre. I find that uninteresting in the extreme. I write in every genre, I read in every genre, I edit in every genre. The first Fiction River Special, which will be out in a year, will be a crime anthology, with stories from many genres, stories that feature a crime. So I suppose you could call it a mystery anthology, but that’s not really accurate.

In our first year, we’ll have a fantasy anthology, an sf anthology, a romance anthology, an urban fantasy, a crime (mystery) anthology, and one other as yet undetermined. I suspect that the next year will be just as eclectic.


Carl: What’s the business model? Will Fiction River be print, electronic, website, Kindle? Will it be a periodical or a series, do we look for it on the magazine rack or the book rack? Set expiration date or indefinite? How much will it cost?

Kristine: Fiction River is an anthology series, with a regular schedule. A hybrid, if you will. It will come out in print and ebook editions, with some website activity, a bit of audio, and a few other things. You’ll find each edition on the book rack, with no pull date. But like a magazine, you’ll be able to subscribe. The price varies depending on what you want. An e-book? That’s one price. A print book with the ebook bundled in? Another price. A year’s subscription to the ebook? A third price. And so on.

Carl: How has the internet and epublishing had an impact on the anthology market?

Kristine: Not as much as you’d think. Mostly the impact has been on actual magazines. There are more magazines now than ever before.


Carl: You’ve done magazine and you’ve done anthology. Which do you prefer?

Kristine: I prefer anthologies. They’re limited and they don’t interfere with my own writing career.


Carl: Finally, a tip for aspiring writers. Which has more opportunities for breaking in, anthologies or magazines?

Kristine: Magazines. The editors read slush and are always looking for new writers. Anthology editors rarely do.


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.