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Contest I sat down and added up everything I’d written to date, and all totaled it came out to be roughly 850,000 unpublished words.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.

 

 

 

To Critique or Not to Critique: Kristine Kathryn Rusch Weighs In

interview by Carl Slaughter

KKRWorkshop instructors Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith take a different approach to coaching writers:

“We do critiques at first because people want them. We time the critiques and give rules:

  • If you liked this and would have bought it as an editor/reader, then say that and nothing else.
  • If it’s not your genre or your kind of story, say that and nothing else.
  • If you would like it and would buy it if x, y, and z were fixed, then say that.
  • And say what you believe is strong about the story. No grammar nits.
  • You have only one minute in which to say all of this. If you go over, you get cut off. If you’re under, that’s good.

Then we teach them how to read like editors/readers. If they don’t get caught by the beginning, they don’t have to keep reading.

They’re done. They can move onto something else.

From that point, the “critiques” are this:

  • “Stopped at page 1, paragraph 2”
  • “Read until page 10, liked it, then stopped on paragraph 3 because the character did something unbelievable.”
  • “Read it, liked it, not sure I want to buy it.”
  • “Read it, liked it, but not enough to buy.”
  • “Read it, loved it, will buy it.”

And that’s all.

Dean and I will then interpret,if everyone stops on paragraph two, there’s clearly a problem with the opening, but if people fade out,some stop on page 10, some on page 5, most on page 7, then the pacing is off, etc.

If we hated the story, but 3/4 of the class loved it, we don’t critique it in depth, because all that writer has to do is mail the story, and 3/4 of all readers who like that kind of story will probably like this story.

We have great success with this method because it mimics the real-world way people read.”

 

Carl Slaughter: Much if not most of this is in direct contrast to other workshop strategies and rules. For example, at Critters, the largest and oldest online speculative fiction workshop, the minimum word count for getting full credit is 200. Longer critiques and detailed critiques are encouraged. They even offer a Most Productive Critter Award for people who crank out the highest volume of feedback. Clarion, the Harvard of onsite workshops, devotes a large portion of its schedule to peer critiquing. At Odyssey, 50% of classroom time is peer critiquing: “Everyone in the class learns to become a top-notch critiquer, providing insightful feedback on your work. Workshopping sessions are designed to maximize their helpfulness.” How did you arrive at conclusion that brief peer critiquing is better than the longstanding and almost universal practice of extensive peer critiquing?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I am an editor, and I know what an editor’s job is. The editor must find something that readers will like and buy. Readers don’t care if a comma is missing on page 64. Readers want to know if the story is good, if the characters are memorable, and if the book pulls you all the way through to the end. When you reach the end, do you want to read the next book. If not, then your book failed. It’s really very simple.

If you look at the history of peer critiquing, you’ll see that it came out of the university system. The man who “invented” it later repudiated it. It’s a way to keep students busy without doing much work yourself. Now it’s become this monster that destroys writers and builds up critics rather than helping writers.

If critiquing were so important, then great writers of the past would have come out of workshops rather than out of their own practice and enjoyment of great fiction.

 

CS: Jeanne Cavelos, former senior editor of Bantam Doubleday Dell, is director of the Odyssey workshop. She says, “You should not apply unless you are ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them †We target those weaknesses one by one and work to conquer them †In critiquing stories, I give the same unflinchingly honest, concrete, detailed feedback that I provided as a senior editor.” But you were an editor too. You were the editor of a leading magazine for 6 years. You said you shared that view back then, but now you believe in emphasizing strengths. How did your view evolved?

KKR: I have spent the last ten years teaching professional writers how to save their careers. Most careers fall apart for two reasons: 1) a lack of understanding of business and 2) a lack of belief in your own voice. Workshops destroy voice and make a writer doubt. I have “repaired” so many writers who went through decades of peer critiques. Those writers stopped listening to “what’s wrong,” started learning what they did well, and began to sell their work again. Hell, most of them started writing again, because peer critiques had frozen them and made them stop writing altogether.

 

CS: OK, so you’ve got a system for establishing popularity. What about recognizing literary value. From “War of the Worlds” to “Harry Potter,” many classic stories were initially rejected by leading editors. Some were rejected several times, “Dune” being the most famous example. Suppose the census of the workshop critiques is to pan what turns out to be the next “Flowers for Algernon.”

KKR: Oh, the art question. It’s so silly. Readers determine literary value. They always have. They pass memorable works to their friends and then to the next generation. If you don’t have readers, your work will never have literary value. It’ll never get passed on. So popularity and literary value are related. Do most popular novels get read 100 years later? No. Were all novels we read 100 years later popular in their day?

Most workshops do pan works that will become popular, because those works are based on voice and vision, something peer critiques destroy. You cannot write by committee. You cannot learn to write from a committee, particularly one that reads critically.

Readers read for enjoyment. Writers in peer critiques do not. So they automatically misread a story when it’s presented to them.

 

CS: Your workshops are 4 days and 8 days, whereas others are several weeks. Why only a fraction of the usual time?

KKR: Because working writers (and people with day jobs) don’t have several weeks to devote to a workshop. Only students and retired people do. When Dean & I teach workshops, we look for people with drive. People with drive generally can’t take a summer out of their lives to sit around and chat about literature. In fact, people with drive get bored at such things.

We structure our workshops to appeal to people who have the drive to succeed, the willingness to work hard, and the ability to learn.

By the way, even though our workshops are shorter than the other workshops, we force our students to write more. They write tens of thousands of words at our workshops. At the others, they might write a story or two.

 

CS: Do you and Dean provide verbal or written feedback or both? How long are your written critiques? How long are your written critiques?

KKR: We provide some verbal and written feedback. We tell writers they can ignore everything we say. We never write more than a paragraph on the back of a manuscript. We also write and mark what’s good about the manuscript.

 

CS: How much time do the workshops devote to feedback versus revision?

KKR: We don’t believe in revision. That’s a waste of time as well. Write the next story. No musician becomes good by going over the same piece of music at the expense of all others. We move the writers forward, asking them to write new material while keeping in mind what they learned about the old material.

We spend a lot of time debunking the “revision” myth. You cannot fix a broken manuscript. The manuscript is not the story. If you like the story and it didn’t work, then you must start from scratch and write it all over again.

 

CS: What portion of your feedback is devoted to structure, clarity, character development, etc? How much macro focus and how much micro focus?

KKR: All of it focuses on the story, character, and voice. None of it focuses on the words.

 

CS: Stanley Schmidt once said, “The first sentence of a story usually tells me whether I’m in good hands.” Sheila Williams said, “Get my attention in the first paragraph.” Mike Resnick said, “Put everything you’ve got into the first page.” The cutoff for the Hatrack workshopis 13 lines. How much of your workshops are devoted to opening sequences?

KKR: We don’t waste time on sentences or words. I really can’t emphasize that enough. Nor are the above comments from Sheila, Stan & Mike about words. They’re about how fast the writer takes the reader into the story and away from the real world.

 

CS: Is this practice even a good idea for editors and authors alike? How many good stories have been rejected because the first impression wasn’t awesome?

KKR: None. If the opening isn’t good, the story isn’t good.

 

CS: Are your workshops for short fiction, novels, or both?

KKR: It depends on the workshop.

 

CS: What are the most common misconceptions writers have and how do you address those misconceptions?

KKR: That words and critique are important. Story and business will give them a career. Focusing on one manuscript won’t help at all. Most workshops teach writers how to write one beautiful story. Most do not teach writers how to have a career. Yet writers want a career, and they’ve just wasted their precious time learning stuff that will hurt their careers rather than ever help them.

 

CS: What are the most common mistakes writers make and how do you address those mistakes?

KKR: They don’t learn how to write fast, how to write a lot, how to practice, and how to tell a story. That’s craft. But the biggest mistakes they make are ignoring and refusing to learn business. It doesn’t matter how well you write. If you can’t tell a story, your work won’t sell. If you can tell a story and don’t know business, someone will take advantage of you. It happens all the time.

 

CS: Do you advise writers to submit stories indefinitely or do advice them to put a story on the shelf after half a dozen or so rejections?

KKR: Keep submitting. Or self-publish.

 

CS: Do you ever tell a writer to adopt a different vision for a story? As in, “This story would be better/more marketable if you took it in a fundamentally different direction?” At what level of revision does the story cease to be the writer’s story and become the instructor/editor’s story?

KKR: Never. Never, never, never, never. That’s horribly destructive.

 

CS: Do you ever completely rewrite a passage or scene for a writer?

KKR: No.

 

CS: Is there a place for telling an author, “This story is fundamentally flawed. It has no hope. Abandon this project and move on to something workable.”?

KKR: God, no. And anyone who says that should never be allowed near writers again.

 

CS: Is there a place for telling someone, “You’re not cut out to be a writer.”?

KKR: Who voted that critic God? No!!!! That’s horrible. Again, that person should never ever ever be allowed near writers again.

 

CS: What about your new online workshop for beginners. How will that be organized? What skills do you teach? How many stories do they submit? How many times do they revise the same story?

KKR: They’re craft workshops. The writers learn new tools. They become aware of the tools. They do not submit stories. They do not revise stories (see above). They certainly do not waste their time revising the same story.

 

CS: The Clarion website says one third of participants get published. Odyssey cites a success rate of 56% of graduates. Critters has an announcements page for critiqued stories that get published. Do you keep statistics for stories that got critiqued in a workshop and later got published, or writers who participated in a workshop and later got published? How do you, and potential students, know your new approach works?

KKR: We don’t take credit for our students’ successes. We provide information. If they want to use that information, that’s their business.

 

CS: Now that you’re conducting your own workshops and now that you’ve adopted a different workshop philosophy/MO, does this mean you won’t be participating in other workshops?

KKR: No one asks any more. We tried teaching our way at Clarion in 1992 and got banned. I suspect others don’t want us either.

 

CS: What do you recommend for writers who can’t afford a workshop, can’t travel, can’t take time off from work, haven’t been able to beat the competition for a workshop seat, and so on, and therefore don’t have the advantage of personalized feedback from experienced writers and editors?

KKR: Stop stressing about it. You’re probably better off not going. Write a lot, practice new techniques, mail everything you write even if you think it’s bad, and keep at it. Learn business. You’ll be a success eventually if you do all those things.

 


Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he hCarl_eagleas 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: 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.