Interview: Rob Dircks

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

rob-portraitHe talks with Diabolical Plots about self publishing, self recording, the sci fi humor market, buddy stories, the rambling/interjective narrative style of his main character, his recent how-to guest blog on Cat Rambo’s site (you guessed it, how to write humor) , the sci fi humor authors and stories that influenced him, his startup self publishing service, his recent membership in SFWA, and his fascination with Tesla conspiracy theories.

He also takes a crack at a 700 word flash piece, “The Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” by Josh Vogt, recently published in Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. One of Resnick’s trademarks is humor.

(Mike Resnick, current holder of the most Hugo nominations (with second place far behind), has been interviewed here at Diabolical Plots, as has current SFWA president Cat Rambo.)


Why go straight to novel instead of building a short story resume?

That’s a good question. There wasn’t a plan to it at all. I started out writing screenplays (and not selling them), then an anti-self-help book titled Unleash the Sloth! 75 Ways to Reach Your Maximum Potential By Doing Less, then just naturally went for another book, this time long enough to be called a novel. I’ve got lots of short stories, snippets of stuff, in my horde, but haven’t the slightest clue how to go about selling them to publications. Maybe you could give me a few pointers.


Why self publish?

Rejection. Well, not entirely. I love building things myself, and as a graphic designer too, I love creating art, books, websites, whatever. So when the rejections started coming in for my manuscript, I knew I couldn’t be the author who waits for the two-hundredth rejection before hitting something. Instead, I said “You know what? The tools are out there now, the playing field is starting to level, so f**k it – I’ll just do it myself.” Of course, the BIG bummer of self-publishing is that you start with ZERO exposure – no agent, or publicist, or publisher out there helping you get noticed. So I’ve had to learn that myself, too. But I’m definitely learning, and enjoying it as I go. (Oh, and I get to keep 70% of my sales with Amazon, and 40% of my sales with Audible. That rocks.)


You also help other authors self publish. What can you teach them and what can you do for them?

Well, it’s in the infancy stage right now, but I’m enjoying the ride and getting moving on some projects. There are three ways I’m helping authors: 1. For maybe two or three books a year, I’m handling the whole process, from editing to cover design, to production, platform building and promotion; 2. For authors who just need a particular service, like cover design or interior layout, I offer a la carte paid services; 3. For DIY folks like myself, I post about things I’m learning as I go on my website for Goldfinch Publishing. It’s all free, and people are starting to reach out and let me know it’s helping, particularly with their self-published audio books.


Your book is also available on Audible. And you did your own recording. How easy/difficult is that and what’s involved?

I’ve got lots of background in audio recording and voiceover, so I found it easy. But I did write up a lengthy blog post to help others do it themselves as well — because without any experience, as long as you have a few bucks for equipment, a decent voice, and common sense, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself too. The post is here. In short, you need an account with ACX/Audible (easy); recording software like Garageband (which comes free with all Macs); a decent mic (you can get for under a hundred bucks); headphones; a room that can get quiet, and some foam/blankets, etc., whatever you can use to deaden the sound in the room; and PATIENCE. It took a solid week to record my novel, and a solid week to edit it and upload it to Audible.


How much does an audio book sell for, versus an ebook, versus a tree book?

I don’t have any control over the pricing for the audio book, so Audible prices it at $19.95 (I think that’s kind of high, but like I said, I don’t get to determine price). The ebook is $3.99. And the print book is $10.79.


You recently wrote a guest blog for Cat Rambo about sci fi humor writing. How did you arrive at each of those 8 lessons?

I’d say it’s a mish-mash of learning, mostly through reading, taking classes, and trial and error. For example, with “Exaggerated Contrast”, John Vorhaus’ book The Comic Toolbox does a great job of walking you through the idea of fish-out-of-water and how it works. But then you start to see it everywhere, in so many things you read and watch on TV, and you play with it in your writing, and eventually it becomes one of the tools in your own toolbox. For “It’s Not About the Jokes,” that probably started when I took a screenwriting class at NYU, and my professor lightly scolded me for just sprinkling in jokes in my work to make it funny. And from then on I made sure to be wary of “jokes.” Some of these that I’ve learned haven’t come from anywhere in particular, like “Playfulness” and “Heart” – I think those were learned a looooonnnng time ago when I was a kid. It’s just always been the way I look at the world, that no matter how bad things are, there’s always something funny in there somewhere, and I’ve always sort of known that the books that I don’t like just lay there flat, with no heart in their characters.


Perfect timing. There’s a sci fi comedy in the latest issue of Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge. “From the Moment I Laid Eggs in You,” a flash piece (700 words) by Josh Vogt. What lessons can we learn from that story?

This story’s great. It sets up the expectation right off (couple just had sex). Then right into the “discovery” (of her egg-laying) — which totally upends our expectations. Totally opposite to the norm. Then it becomes an argument (arguments can be the best comedy), and the classic twist at the end (another defeat of our expectations). It’s great.


What kind of market is there for sci fi comedy?

I actually think it’s an untapped market. You have just a couple of huge traditional names in sci-fi humor, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and maybe Philip K. Dick, and now you have only a couple of modern names that immediately spring to mind: John Scalzi, David Wong maybe. But with successes like Big Bang Theory (a total sci-fi nerdfest comedy) on TV, I think that shows there’s a great potential market for more sci-fi humor — not only does that sit-com grab sci-fi fans, but it crosses over into the mainstream, people who want something funny and entertaining who aren’t necessarily sci-fi fans.


Why Tesla?

For a long time I’ve been fascinated with conspiracy theories. They’re very out-there, and usually hilarious. One in particular that I always thought was cool was the theory that Nikola Tesla, in his later years, kept a series of secret journals that contained plans for advanced technologies, some of which might be used as weapons, or as free energy for all. The story goes that the government (of course) took these journals upon his death, and they were never seen again. Also, the fact that New York was home to Tesla, one of history’s great inventors, responsible for alternating current, radio, x-rays, and more — and we never hear about him — made him even more intriguing to me.


Your main character is a vivid narrator – when he’s not interjecting or rambling. So why does he interject and ramble so much?

Chip is an exaggeration of myself, and in my writing I tend to interject a lot (in case you haven’t noticed). So it’s natural that he would ramble on even more. But I also think, in my everyday conversations with people, that there is a TON of rambling and interjecting going on. Just listen to two random people talking at a mall, or walking out after a movie, or standing in line at Starbucks. Sometimes these conversations are nothing BUT interjections! I wanted my book to feel very conversational, very much like your ADD friend is blabbing to you about his adventures, while you’re waiting on line at Starbucks.


Why a sci fi misadventure instead of a sci fi adventure?

Misadventures are funnier. Think about your favorite sit-coms: the funniest situations are the ones where the most things go wrong. Modern Family is a perfect example of this. Their writers are great at creating little farces, where multiple things keep going wrong, but in the end the resolution makes you feel wonderful. And I always loved Dortmunder, the cat burglar from the old Donald Westlake novels. Those novels were one misadventure after another, but made the ride a whole lot of fun, and actually made you root for Dortmunder even harder. (And laugh harder.)


Why a buddy story?

Who doesn’t like a buddy story? Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Crosby and Hope. Chandler and Joey. Aziraphale and Crowley in Good Omens, and David and John in John Dies at the End. Seth Rogen and James Franco. The list goes on and on and on. There’s something about a best friend that we can all relate to. It makes the story and the humor more intimate, it makes it easier to root for the hero, it gives the hero a friend to confide in (to help tell the story), and a foil to bicker with (to increase the comedy).


Will there be further interdimensional misadventures with Chip and his buddy? Will the girlfriend return for the sequel? Will the government be involved again? Will it involve another one of Tesla’s secret inventions? Will it involve time travel?

I said when I finished this book that I didn’t think I was a sequel kind of guy. But the response has been great, and many people have asked about a sequel, and I’ve caught myself thinking things like “I wonder what really happened to Bobo?” If I do write a sequel, you can bet that it’ll have everything you just mentioned – and more. I’d make it as over-the-top as possible.


Which sci fi humor authors influenced you?

The ones I mentioned above: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, David Wong.


Which sci fi humor stories influenced you?

Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pratchett’s Good Omens, anything by John Scalzi but maybe Agent to the Stars is my fav, and even though it’s not sci-fi, I absolutely loved John Dies at the End. There are also lots of Philip K. Dick stories that are total gems and hit your funny bone straight on.


Did your advertising background contribute to your fiction skills?

I guess, but only in the sense that all of our past experiences help us in whatever our next thing is. For example, writing copy for ads for twenty years certainly helped my grammar, my pacing, my ability to surprise and delight (hopefully), so maybe those things helped my fiction. But I’ll tell you what the advertising background really helps with: marketing books. As a self-published author, marketing is completely up to you. So I think my experience has given me a bit of a head start, and has helped tremendously.


Any stories in the hopper?

Yes! I’m working on my next sci-fi comedy novel, about an A.I. that finds itself in the middle of nowhere, with a very important package to deliver. And I’ve got a bunch of things behind that, clamoring for my attention. The hopper is full. That makes me happy.


What’s your take on the SFWA?

I’m new to the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), but so far I like being a member a lot. There are tons of resources for finding your way as a new author, like finding out avenues to sell your book, or targeting blogs for guest posts, comparing notes on promotions and book sales. They have very active member forums — every time I’ve asked a question, it gets answered right away. And I’ll admit I really like the credibility that it lends me as an author. You can’t just pay your dues and become a member: you have to have sold a certain number of books, and only if you pass that threshold are you allowed to become a member. In other words, you can define yourself as a professional. I like that.


Any advice to aspiring sci fi writers?

With just one sci-fi novel out, and an anti-self-help book, and a bunch of short stories and screenplays piled up in my drawer, I’m not sure I’m the one that should be giving advice to aspiring writers. But if I had to say one thing, I’d repeat what I’ve heard lots of other folks say: that this is a loooonng road, with no shortcuts, so keep doing your best work, over and over again, and enjoy yourself!


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.

Hugo Short Story Review: “Totaled” by Kary English

written by David Steffen

“Totaled” by Kary English was first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, edited by Mike Resnick.  Galaxy’s Edge posted the story for free after the announcement of the Hugo ballot so you can read it for yourself if you like.

The story is told from the point of view of a disembodied brain extracted from a woman’s body after her body is “totaled” in a car accident.  Before the accident she had been a member of the research team that made this possible.  A rider on her insurance dictated that if she died or got totaled her tissues would be donated to her research lab–including her brain.  At first she can only sense from the outside nerve by feeling vibrations in the vascular tissue, but as the experiment advances she is connected to more peripherals, including sensory apparatus, and she can find ways to communicate outward as well because they are scanning her brain.  She tries to communicate with her research partner Randy, who doesn’t know that the brain he’s using was his partner’s.

I enjoyed this story.  The character is thrown directly into a difficult situation where she literally has only her brains as an asset and has to figure how to get through this situation with nothing on her side.  To me it felt kind of like a golden age science fiction story where it’s all about a scientist pitted against a brain problem, but with the un-golden-age characteristic that the protagonist is an intelligent woman scientist, so that’s a bonus.

There were high stakes and a difficult problem to solve, but although the stakes have plenty to keep the tension up, I didn’t feel emotionally connected to it the way that I really want to connect to a story.  I don’t know exactly why that was–perhaps the focus on the intellectual problem over other factors, or I just wasn’t feeling the personal stakes for personal reasons, I’m not entirely sure.  So, in the end I enjoyed the story but it didn’t blow me away the way I really want from an award story.


Mike Resnick on “No Heavy-Lifting Sales”

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

Mike_ResnickGordy Dickson told me close to half a century ago that if you were good, and prolific, and an aggressive marketer, there would come a point 25 years into your career where you received a pleasant surprise (which is to say, a reprint or foreign sale) in your mail box every week, all for writing just those two words, ‘Mike’ and ‘Resnick’ on a contract.



MIKE RESNICK: It’s my term for sales that require no writing, which is to say: reprint sales, foreign sales, audio sales, movie options, graphic novel sales, etc.



Better than 100 a year, if you include royalty checks on self-published reprints (which is to say, once a book is out of print and reverts to me, if I can’t sell it for what I think is a good price, I’ll convert it into an e-book and sell it on my web page, and through Amazon, Barnes, Kobo, and the like.) Otherwise, probably 50 to 75.



Over the past 30 years I’ve probably sold 3 books a year (excluding anthologies I’ve edited), and anywhere from 8 to 10 stories a year on average.



Depends on your expenses. In 2008, my no-heavy-listing income came to $33K; in 2009, $50K; in 2010, $43K; in 2011, $51K; in 2012, $73K; in 2013, $31K; and for the first 6 months of 2014, $18K. This, I should add, is the gross amount, before paying fees to my domestic agent (where due) and various foreign agents (where due).



It’ll work for most writers, and of course it’ll vary wildly, not only with the writer’s name and prestige, but also with the writer’s themes and styles, with how easy he is to translate, with whether his themes appeal to other nationalities. But in general, if he’s good enough to sell here, he’s good enough to sell in most places.



Novels require agents, so the writer will want an agent who is known to have a top-notch foreign desk. (I should add that “foreign desk” is an industry term which translates as “working relationships with top-notch foreign agents”.) You learn about this by asking, not the agents, but the writers.



There you don’t need an agent, any more than you need one to sell to the top domestic magazines. You start studying the market, you find which countries have viable magazines with viable rates, you check to see which of them buy from American writers (and, like novels, these are invariably reprints). Most of the foreign editors are on Facebook or Google+ and most of the writers are happy to share information with you: “This one wants names”; “That one won’t take novelettes or novellas”; “This one looks like it may be folding soon”; etc. In other words, you network and exchange information, preferably with those writers who know what they’re talking about, just the way you do for domestic markets.



I think I just answered that. 98% of your foreign sales are novels and short stores. True, I’ve sold a movie option to France, and they’re actually turning one of my stories into a movie in China as I write these words, but it both cases the sales were precipitated because they came across my translated stories in France and China, stories I had sold as described above.



There are a number of podcasts and podcastzines , Escape Pod, Starship Sofa, many others , that specialize in short stories. Some only want nominated stories or stories of a certain type, and they’ll contact you once they know you have one. With others, just listen to the shows, talk to people who have sold them, and find out what their submission guidelines are. The real money comes in audio sales of your books. The 800-pound gorilla in the room at the moment is, but there’s also Blackstone Audio, Brilliance Audio, and a handful of others. Again, find out who does the buying, make contact, and offer to submit your work.



Most of the time it’s entirely up to Hollywood. One of their execs sees something he likes (I almost said “reads”, but no one out there reads) and contacts you. You don’t need a Hollywood agent, but you must have a Hollywood attorney, and you get one by asking writers you trust who have dealt with Hollywood to recommend their own. Once you’ve made a sale , which is invariably an option and not an outright sale , you start befriending as many people as you can meet in the industry, because this industry exists via personal cachet more than any other. Every Hollywood sale I’ve made , and that includes 11 options and 3 screenplays over the years , stems from the very first contact I made (and, as the saying goes, his friends had friends who had friends, etc.)



As I said, I create electronic editions , it costs next to nothing , of any reverted novel that I can’t sell for the price I want, and put them up for sale. These days I also find ways to bundle them with books by other writers; usually it comes to a 30-day sale at a reduced price , and being in a bundle with, say, Kevin Anderson and Rob Sawyer and Misty Lackey and Nancy Kress and Robert A. Heinlein helps all of us. Paperback (or hardcover) implies an outlay of money, and I have believed from the start that money is supposed to flow to the writer, not from him, so I never print/publish hardcover or paperback copies of my books.



I wrote a Conan comic for Marvel back in 1971, and that is the full extent of my knowledge about the industry. I never asked for another assignment, and was never offered one. But a fellow I’ve collaborated with has all kinds of connections, and asked if I’d be willing to collaborate on graphic novels of a novella and a four-book series of mine, I said yes, and we’re in business.



My non-fiction tends to be articles about science fiction. Whether I write them for pro markets or for fanzines, every couple of years I collect a bunch of them into a book , I’ve got ten such books so far , and once in a while I can sell one to one of my foreign markets, but in truth I make very little money off that, hardly enough to warrant more than a couple of e-mails per country. I’ve just recently started writing mystery novels , I only have three out , and it’s too early to tell how they’ll do overseas compared to the science fiction. Anthologies tend to be owned by the publisher, and are not mine to re-sell (with very few exceptions).



That presupposes that all reprint sales are for the same amount, and of course they’re not. (My top for a foreign novel sale is $19K; my bottom is $500 from a country I probably couldn’t find on the map.) It also presupposes that all advances are identical, and ditto. I’d say in general I make more from the rest of the world (combined, of course) than from America five times out of six. I found out 30 years ago that, while no other country ever pays you as big an advance as you get in the States, 5 out of 6 books will earn more in the rest of the world than here.



No, though Japan has come very close a few times. And we won’t count Hollywood, which plays with Monopoly money.



You just keep looking, and remembering that a story is never done selling, which means you’re never done finding new markets. You also try to sell them with a five-or-seven-year term of lease, so that if the book is still doing well they have to put it again from you when the time period is up. Anyone who’s interested can hunt up my bibliography on my web page. It changes every few days, but it’ll give you a pretty thorough idea of what I’ve been talking about. And, for the record:


Santiago , 22

Ivory , 18

Stalking the Unicorn , 13

Soothsayer , 13

Kirinyaga , 12

The Widowmaker , 12

The Soul Eater , 11

Walpurgis III , 11

Eros Ascending , 11

The Dark Lady , 11

Oracle , 11

Prophet , 11

The Widowmaker Reborn , 11

The Widowmaker Unleashed , 10

Starship: Mutiny , 10


Short fiction:

Kirinyaga , 30

For I Have Touched the Sky , 28

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge , 22

Travels With My Cats , 19

The Last Dog , 15

The 43 Antarean Dynasties , 15

Winter Solstice , 15

Hunting the Snark , 14

Beachcomber , 13

Stalking the Unicorn with Gun and Camera — 12

The Elephants on Neptune , 12

Old MacDonald Had a Farm , 12

Robots Don’t Cry , 12

Down Memory Lane , 12

Article of Faith , 12

Me and My Shadow , 11

The Manamouki , 11

Hothouse Flowers , 11

Distant Replay , 11

His Award-Winning Science Fiction Story , 10

Frankie the Spook , 10

Bully! , 10

Malish , 10

The Pale Thin God , 10

Mwalimu in the Squared Circle , 10

A Princess of Earth , 10

Soulmates (collaboration with Lezli Robyn) , 10

All the Things You Are , 10

Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders , 10


Now, some of those, like “The Last Dog”, have been around since 1977, and have been selling and re-selling for 39 years†but some, like “Soulmates”, appeared first in 2009 and had its 10th sale by 2011. It’s a crapshoot, but if you do your homework and stick with it, eventually you’ll decide that it was worth it (and on some days, like when you get a handsome offer for a twenty-year-old book, it actually feels like stealing).



No. If it’s an English-language market, the story’s already copyrighted and can’t be changed; and if it’s a foreign-language market, they’ll hire a translator.



Like anything else, it’s a business. You run it in an orderly, businesslike manner, you never hold a grudge if someone doesn’t like your submission or doesn’t offer what you think it’s worth, and you use your brain. Here’s an example of what I mean by using your brain.

Back at the 1991 and 1992 Worldcons (in Chicago and Orlando), the Iron Curtain had just turned to tissue paper, and a bunch of magazine editors from former Soviet countries came to the cons, looking for stories. So did the Germans, who were starting some new publications. None of them had any money to speak of, but I met with each of them, and sold them a bunch of stories, usually for about $25 apiece, even gave away a pair of Hugo winners to destitute magazines†.and late one night, toward the end of the con, two of my friends took me aside and read me the riot act. You’re a pro, they insisted; and pros don’t sell quality reprints to anyone for under $100. That’s usually true, I replied; but these guys have no money, their countries just became free, and they have no book publishing industry†but they will have book publishers before too long, and I think those publishers are going to look with favor upon writers who have already established an audience through their local magazines.

OK, move the clock ahead almost a quarter of a century. I’ve sold 41 books to Poland since that day, plus 29 to Germany, 24 to Russia, 10 to the CzechRepublic, and 8 to Bulgaria. And my friends who were too proud to do business with the cash-strapped magazine editors? I believe they’re all still waiting for their first book sale from any of those countries. Like I say, you gotta use your brain.

And there are games you can play if you know what you’re doing. One I mentioned in one of my dialogs with Barry Malzberg is playing the exchange rate. The example was “Ivory”. I sold British rights in about 1989 or 1990, I’d have to check which year, for 10,000 pounds. On the day payment was received, in England, the pound was $1.53. The Wall Street Journal was convinced that the pound was undervalued on the world marker, so I had my British agent deposit my check at Barclays, where I had an account…and when I sent the money to my US account 12 weeks later, the pound was $1.92…so that $15,300 became $19,200 (minus agents’ fees) just by sitting in a British bank for 3 months, a tidy profit of $3,900, which is more than I sold the damned thing for in Hungary, Romania, or Spain.


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.

The Inside Scoop on Anthologies with Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

In the 1990s, Mike Resnick launched more careers with his anthologies than Asimov’s, Analog, and F&SF combined. He’s at it again with Stellar Guild. He gives Diabolical Plots the inside story on the nature and process of anthologies.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Which is a better/faster way to build a resume as a speculative fiction writer, anthologies or magazines?

MIKE RESNICK: The digest magazines. Then the print anthologies. Then the e-zines. But mass market novels are the quickest way of all.


CS: Which pays better?

MR: Depends on the market. Jim Baen’s Universe was paying a quarter a word when I was co-editing it with Eric Flint. Most of the print zines pay 7 to 9 cents, most of the SFWA-accepted e-zines pay 5 or 6 cents, though a few pay double that. The average anthology, at least the ones I’m acquainted with over the past half-dozen years, pay from 7 to 10 cents a word. Even when I was editing them twenty+ years ago, we never paid less than 6 cents. Which is to say, in sum, that it’s a crap shoot.


CS: Which involves surrendering fewer rights?

MR: Any legit magazine will buy first serial rights, and keep the option of buying it again for an anthology of stories from the magazine. Usually they want a six-month worldwide exclusive. Most anthologies will buy first serial rights, plus a worldwide non-exclusive (which means they can sell the anthology to other countries, giving you a pro rata split; but you can market the solo story anywhere you want.) That’s standard, but of course not all contracts are standard.


CS: From conception to publication, what’s the timeframe for a typical anthology?

MR: From conception, I assume you mean from the day the editor signs a contract with the publisher. If it’s an original anthology, figure twelve to sixteen months; if it’s reprint, maybe seven to twelve months.


CS: What’s the average number of stories per anthology?

MR: Varies wildly. Twenty is a nice safe average number.


CS: What’s the average word count per story?

MR: 5000 to 6500 usually. Which isn’t to say that flash fiction and novellas are totally absent from all anthologies.


CS: How well do anthologies sell?

MR: Not very. Most sales are made in the contracts, not the execution. And if a publisher is shelling out well under $10,000 for an anthology — and 95% of the anthologies go for four figures — then the only way he can get hurt is to spend $50,000 promoting it, or printing 300,000 copies, or hiring the equivalent of Frank Frazetta for the cover art…so he handles it like a $7,000 book…and lo and behold, it sells like a $7,000 book.


CS: Does every major speculative fiction publisher have an anthology division or are most anthology editors freelancers?

MR: Almost all anthologies are freelance edited.


CS: Where does a freelance anthology editor get capital for their next project?

MR: You talk to “Names” that will make the book marketable, and when you get enough commitments, you take your anthology idea to the various publishing houses until someone likes it enough to sign a contract and pay you an advance. I should add that almost all advances are half on signing and half on delivery…and since you budget about 90% of the advance for stories, the editor is often a few thousand dollars out-of-pocket until he delivers. (And mass market publishing is historically a month or two late on the signature advance, and two to four months late on the delivery/acceptance payment.)


CS: Are most anthologies open to submission or by invitation only?

MR: Most are invitation only. For sound economic reasons. If I sell an anthology for $8,000, I’ll budget it at $7,000…and someone always has diarrhea of the keyboard, so it’ll cost me about $7,300…which means I’ll make about $700. Now, if I’m dealing with journeyman writers whose work I like well enough to invite them, I can usually do the editing in a few days…but if I open it to submissions, I’m going to get about 600 stories, maybe 500 all-but-unreadable, and it’ll take me a month to wade my way through them…and if I’m only earning $700 a month, I’m in the wrong business.


CS: For the ones that are invitation only, how does an aspiring writer get on the editor’s radar?

MR: He keeps his eyes and ears open, he networks, he talks to pros, to other beginners, he attends conventions. I know it seems like “invite only” means “no beginners wanted”…but I bought more first stories for my anthologies in the 1990s than Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF combined.


CS: For the ones that accept submissions, how do they spread the word? Post on Codex, WOTF, Hatrack, and Critters; advertise in the SFWA newsletter; if it’s a horror anthology, advertise in the Horror Writers Association newsletter; if the subgenre is vampire or zombie, do they notify the Vampire Writers Association or Zombie Writers Association (I’m joking, are there such associations?)?

MR: You can whisper, very softly, that you accept submissions, and you’ll be whelmed over with hundreds of them within a couple of weeks.


CS: Novel editors put stories through extensive revision. What about anthology editors. Do they request multiple rewrites? Do they do the rewrites themselves?

MR: If it’s a theme anthology, and 90% of them are, that means it’s a story that wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t commissioned it…and that means I have a moral obligation to the writer. I will return any story for revisions if it needs them…and on those occasions that the author simply can’t give me what I want — and it’s only happened three times in over fortyanthologies, I’ll pay him a kill fee, since as I say he’d never have taken the time to write a story on that particular theme if I hadn’t assigned it.


CS: What percentage of stories in a typical anthology are by new writers?

MR: I can’t speak for any other editors. I’d say about 20-25% in my anthologies are by new or newer writers, or to be more blunt, by names we can’t put on the cover because they have absolutely no following or value at present. This, I should add, is not a permanent condition. 10 of the writers I have bought from made the Campbell ballot after I bought their stories.


CS: How often do we see anthologies with all new writers? Is it too much of a risk for publishers? Aren’t readers keen to check out new writers?

MR: My guess is: Never. I did one for SFWA, published by DAW, called NEW VOICES IN SCIENCE FICTION, a few years back, and it contained only writers who’d broken into print in the past five years…but even so it contained some bestsellers, a bunch of Campbell winners and nominees, etc.


CS: Who are/were the heavy hitters in the anthology industry and what is their greatest contribution?

MR: Anytime between 1980 and 2005 I’d have said there was Marty Greenberg and then there was Everyone Else. With Marty gone, no one has begun to dominate the field the way he did. John Joseph Adams is putting out some nice anthologies; so is the team of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. And there’s something new afoot — the Kickstarter project. The best so far have come from Bryan Schmidt, Marty Halpern, Alex Shvartsman, and a few others…but it’s very early days in that field.


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: 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.

Diabolical Plots Talks With Mike Resnick

interview by Carl Slaughter

Quick! Who is in second place as the award winner for short fiction (according to Locus)? I have no idea, but it isn’t Mike Resnick. He’s first. Mike has been a writer of speculative fiction for the past 50 years. He has been a writer, an editor, featured speaker, judge for Writers of the Future, father of a best-selling authorâ€the list just goes on and on.

Let’s face it, Mike has done it all (at least everything I wish I could do). He has been one of my favorite authors of all time, and one of the reasons why I still read science fiction today. His novel Soul Eater, was the first paperback I couldn’t put down. His success speaks for itself. If science fiction had a crown for the leading writer, it would be Mike’s head that would be wearing it.

It is not easy feat to be so successful, for so long, in this small corner of literature. Print and publishing has changed dramatically since the days Mike first burst on the scene. The small bookstores I first shopped to find Mike’s writings are all but gone. The big chains that supplanted them are against the ropes as well. Selling fiction, and marketing it, isn’t what it used to be. Our own Carl Slaughter wanted to know what Mike thought about these changing times and wondered what advice Mike had for the up and coming writers. , Frank Dutkiewicz

Carl Slaughter:Â Which conventions are the most worthwhile for an aspiring writer?

Mike Resnick:Â In order: Worldcon, World Fantasy Con, DragonCon. Reason: that’s where you find the greatest concentration of editors. Worldcon is much the best; not only does it draw the most editors from here and abroad, but it has the added advantage that it lasts almost a week, which gives the newcomer more time to make contact.

Carl: What’s the first thing an aspiring writer should do at a convention? What’s the second thing an aspiring writer should do at a convention? Third, fourth, and fifth?

Mike:Â There are things he should do before the convention: try to make appointments to see any editor or agent he wishes to see, and try to find some experienced fan or pro to show him around. Again, I’m speaking of those three major conventions. Most conventions are fun to attend, but totally useless from a business point of view unless you know a particular editor you want to deal with is showing up , and most cons don’t draw any editors at all.

Carl: What’s the best way to approach an editor at a convention? Invite them to lunch with the writer picking up the tab? Hand them a manuscript? Inquire about the type of stories that interest them? Give a quick verbal rundown of a story? Just write down the writer’s website?


  1. The writer never picks up the tab.
  2. Primarily because of that, it’s bad form for a writer to invite an editor to a meal.
  3. Editors aren’t errand boys, and they’re not at the con to read your manuscript or carry it home with them.
  4. Simply describe what you’re writing, or planning to write, and see if the editor is interested.

Carl:Â What’s the worst way for an aspiring writer to approach an editor in person?

Mike:Â Bragging, when you’ve few or no accomplishments to brag about, is as counter-productive a way as any. Interrupting the editor when he’s clearly conferring with another writer is another. As in all other endeavors, good manners will get you farther than bad.

Carl: Should a writer break in through 2nd and 3rd tier markets or target 1st tier markets exclusively? If the former, how long does a writer stay in lower tiers before targeting 1st tier markets exclusively?

Mike:Â You don’t hit the moon if you don’t shoot for it. Also, I’m very leery of what you call 2nd and 3rd tier markets. There are professional markets, as defined by SFWA, and non-professional markets, and you do your reputation and your future absolutely no service by appearing in non-professional or semi-professional markets.

Carl:Â Is it possible to become a successful science fiction writer without ever getting a story published in Asimov’s?

Mike:Â Of course. I’d list all the major writers who haven’t sold Asimov’s, but I’m sure you have space limitations.

Carl: Are free markets a good way to build a resume? After all, even free markets choose stories from a slushpile. So a story chosen for a free market has been vetted by a team of editors.

Mike:Â If by “free markets” you mean non-paying markets, the answer is a resounding No. Appearing in a semi-pro or free market is a public declaration that your story couldn’t compete in the economic marketplace, and the very best thing you can hope for is that no professional editor you wish to sell ever becomes aware of it.

Carl: Suppose an editor expresses interest in a story by a new or unestablished writer, but requests a revision that would take the story in a different direction than the writer originally envisioned. Should the writer sacrifice the story for sake of getting a foot in the door?

Mike:Â “Sacrifice the story” gives a false impression: that the novice writer knows more about good, saleable fiction than the experienced editor. That might be true 3% of the time; for the other 97%, the assumption is invalid.

Carl: If an editor requests a major revision, should the writer make the revision on faith or request a contract? Does requesting a contract risk alienating an editor?

Mike:Â No editor is going to give a novice writer a contract based on the good faith that the novice will make the major revision to the editor’s satisfaction. Requesting a contract simply tells the editor you’re a clueless beginner. It won’t alienate him, but you won’t get the contract until the changes are made and he approves them.

Carl:Â Is it fair for writers to expect some type of feedback about why a story was rejected?

Mike:Â No. Back in 1996, I asked the various editors , for an advice column I was writing , how many slush submissions (i.e., unagented, by writers they didn’t know) they received in a month. Asimov’s got about a thousand, F&SF about 750, etc. So the answer, of course, is that the editor isn’t going to give detailed feedback to 1,000 beginning writers a month. The meaningful feedback that he gives to every unsaleable story is a rejection slip.

Carl: Why would a magazine editor ask if an author is published? Shouldn’t the story be judged on its own merits? Isn’t it an injustice to the readers when the criteria is the author’s resume instead of the story’s value?

Mike:Â The criterion for selling isn’t the author’s resume. The criterion for moving up in the slush pile is sometimes the resume. And remember that this is the real world. One reason, for example, that it’s almost impossible for an unknown to sell a novella is because the magazine is in the business of making money, and no professional editor wants to turn over 40% to 50% of his issue to a name he can’t put on the cover, a name that won’t help sell a single extra copy.

Carl:Â Which magazine and anthology editors are keen on new writers?

Mike:Â Any of them will buy a brilliant story from a newcomer. Most would buy a piece of garbage from a Heinlein or an Asimov if they could put his name on the cover. Like I say, this is the real world, and it’s a business.

That said, I have probably bought more first stories than any other editor, but again, it’s a function of the business. When I edit an anthology, and I’ve edited 41 of them thus far, I need 12 to 15 Names I can put on the cover, but that lets me buy half a dozen stories (on average) from newcomers. If I edited one of the digests I could only buy 5 or 6 stories an issue, and I could occasionally sneak in one beginner, one name that didn’t have to pull its weight on the cover.

Carl:Â How can a fiction writer maximize the system to make $750 off a story instead of $250?

Mike:Â People will talk about e-publishing the story, but that doesn’t work for unknowns. There are a million e-stories out there; why should anyone look for yours before you establish a following? The best way to maximum your earnings from a story is to sell it to a major market , either a digest, or one of the handful of “prestige” e-markets such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Subterranean,, or another (they change all the time) , and then, with that credential, start selling foreign rights to it. My personal record is 29 foreign and reprint sales for a single story (“For I Have Touched the Sky”; and 28 for “Kirinyaga”), but I average about 5 sales per story, even the less-than-distinguished ones.

Carl: Let’s talk about SFWA. With pro paying markets being so difficult to break into, wouldn’t it make more sense to lower standards to increase membership? What could go wrong with ushering in talented writers who are getting published and getting paid? Wouldn’t broadening membership give the organization more power?

Mike:Â No, the broader the membership, the less clout is has. When I joined SFWA more than 40 years ago, we were a lean fighting machine, boycotting publishers and making it stick, publicizing bad contracts and bad agents, auditing publishers and actually winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported royalties for our members. But we were all full-time writers. Then we stopped insisting on requalification every 3 years, and our membership went from maybe 150 real writers to 1,500, of which more than 1,300 are not full-time writers and do not have the same professional interests as the full-timers. As a result, we are now pretty much powerless to act as an organization whose first duty is to protect its membership, because our membership no longer consists of people who write for a living. We have not conducted an audit in 30 years; we have not publicly evaluated a contract in 25 years; we have not publicly evaluated agents in 25 years; we do not report the average wait time , above and beyond what is contracted for , for a publisher to pay the signature advance, the delivery payment, or to issue the royalty statement; and we have totally disbanded our piracy committee. All this is a direct result of becoming a less professional organization with every passing year and more of a social club, so you’ll forgive me if I think that lowering the standard even more will be anything but deleterious.

Carl: Imagine an editor gets 2 novels. One from a SFWA member, one from a nonmember. The editor is thinking, “If I go with a SFWA member, I risk SFWA intervention, which could result in publishing delays and legal fees. But the nonmember, he just wants to get published, so he’s not going to make things complicated.” Is that a realistic scenario?

Mike:Â Absolutely not. SFWA rarely intervenes, and then only when asked to by the writer , and all other things being equal (such as the quality of the manuscripts) buying from an author with some credentials, however minimal, is certainly no worse, and probably more beneficial to the publisher, than buying from an author with no credentials.

Carl: What about style. Is show really better than tell? Is third person really better than first person? Is narrative really better than dialog and vice versa? Are dream sequences and infodumps really inherently problematic? Is changing POV in the middle of a scene really a cardinal sin? Is white room syndrome really a handicap? Is it really good/bad to use alternate verbs instead of “said”? Is a 3 act play really the best way to arrange a story? Is opening with the most dramatic moment in the story and then rewinding really more effective? ÂShouldn’t the story determine the style, not the style the story?

Mike:Â This is a typical beginner’s question. There’s no right answer, of course. If you write a fine story, whatever you use , first person, dialog, alternate verbs, et cetera , has gone into creating that story. And if you write a turkey using those same things, the fault does not lie with them, but with you.

Carl: A lot of writers swear by workshops. Others see no benefit in workshops. Where do you stand?

Mike: I think most workshops are ineffective. The exception is Clarion , but there’s a reason. In a one-or-two-day workshop I can point out everything that’s wrong with your story and suggest how to fix itâ€but then the workshop is over and you’re on your own. Clarion lasts six weeks, and the instructors can see the story through half a dozen rewrites to its conclusion. Also, Clarion has a different major writer teaching each week, so the students get more viewpoints and opinions to pick and choose from.

Carl: What about online workshops and forums like Critters, Hatrack, WOTF, and Codex. No editors, few established writers, but lots of first readers.

Mike:Â I haven’t attended/taught any online workshops, so I can’t speak to their methodology. I’ve judged Writers of the Future the past three years, and I’d say their roster of successes over the years is every bit as impressive as Clarion’s.

Personally, I prefer working one-on-one with writers. Over the past quarter century I’ve accumulated about 20 of what Hugo winner Maureen McHugh calls “Mike’s Writer Children”. When I find a talented newcomer whose work impresses me, I collaborate to get them into print, I buy from them for my anthologies, I introduce them to editors and agents. I must be doing something right, because 9 of them have been nominated for the Campbell Award, which goes to the best newcomer each year.

Carl: Workshops like Clarion are expensive. Are they worth it?

Mike:Â Meaningless question. They’re worth it if you learn and improve because of them, and they’re not if you don’t.

Carl: At 5 cents a word, can someone who specializes in short fiction ever recuperate the cost of a famous workshop? Wouldn’t they have to win a lot of Hugos/Nebulas and get invited to a lot of conventions to eventually justify the investment?

Mike:Â If their goal is to sell 5-cents-a-word markets for the rest of the careers, they can never recoup the cost. If their goal is to graduate beyond bottom-of-the-barrel markets and they apply themselves, then of course they’re worth it.

And it’s been a fact since the 1950s that you cannot make a living writing short fiction, so of course you also plan to do novels, which are what pay the major bills.

Carl: What about fiction software. Can a computer program really write a story? By the time you fill in the plot outline forms and character development forms, you’ve answered hundreds of questions. Plus the time invested in learning how to use the software. Is it worth it? What about the claim by software companies that 80% of scriptwriters us fiction software?

Mike:Â If you want to be uncreative and write stories that reflect that lack of creativity, I can think of no better way than to use fiction software.

Carl: There is a longstanding debate in the science fiction community. One camp says science fiction writers should strive for literary worth in their stories. The other camp insists the science element is supreme, that the literary aspect is optional, even a hindrance. Shouldn’t science fiction be primarily about exploring the possibilities, results, and implications of science? Aren’t there literary markets for writers who value storytelling over science premise?

Mike:Â There is a school of thought , less and less each year , that says that In science fiction the Idea is king, far more important than the characters or anything else. Then there is a school of thought, to which I belong, that says that in any type of fiction the characters are the most important thing. I feel that if a story makes you think, so much the better; but that if you don’t feel it has failed as a work of fiction. The other side thinks that if a story makes you feel or care, so much the better; but if it doesn’t make you think, it has failed as science fiction. I think over the years my side has pretty much won the battle.

Carl: The science fiction genre has evolved into a very large umbrella with many subgenres. Old schoolers disapprove of most of these subgenres using the term science fiction. They want the genre to change its name to “speculative fiction” and leave the term “science fiction” for stories that are science oriented. Is that a fair proposal?

Mike:Â It’s just a term, and by the way, “speculative fiction” was first proposed by Robert A. Heinlein back in the 1950s. Either is fine with me, but more to the point, I just write the stuff; it’s up to the publisher and his marketing team to decide what to call it.

Carl:Â How long before the only place we can see a print version of one of your stories is in a museum?

Mike:Â Not in my lifetime, but probably within 50 years of its end.

Carl: Several online magazines have experimented with various business models. The Internet has convinced readers they can get online content free. Ad strategies haven’t worked. So what’s the solution?

Mike:Â It’s a conundrum that’s not going to be solved anytime soon. proved that there is so much free crap online that readers will pay for reprints by names they know, and Amanda Hocking to the contrary, you’re more likely to make money publishing e-books if you have a following among readers than if you don’t.

Carl:Â Can an ebook become a hit without editors and marketing agents behind it?

Mike:Â Yes, Hocking proved it , but I would say that a conservative estimate would make the odds about three million to one against it being a bestseller, and a couple of hundred thousand to one against a beginner making enough that way to live on. With an established audience, the odds go way down.

Carl: Advocates of ebooks use this reasoning: An ebook can stay online indefinitely, therefore an author can eventually make as much money as a print run, even if it takes several years. Whereas with a print run, the book is off the shelf in a few months and therefore not even available as income. Is this strategy viable?

Mike:Â No. It doesn’t take into account the marketing arm of a publisher who himself is just a cog in a multi-billion-dollar international conglomerate. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, at present, a lot of countries where you can sell your foreign rights for substantial money have so few e-readers that there’s virtually no market for e-books. It doesn’t take into account the fact that almost every book published , paper or electronic — is pirated and available for free on the internet, if you know where to look, within months (and usually weeks) of publication. And of course it doesn’t take into account that a self-published author, whether in paper or phosphors, does not receive an advance, which is what most authors live on.

Carl: Some ebooks advocates are also predicting publishers will become extinct. Is that an exaggeration?

Mike:Â Yes. Some will go under, some won’t. And the smaller presses, who have targeted their audiences, will do just fine. Difficult to sell an autographed, numbered, leatherbound book in electronic form.

Carl: There’s a debate raging over piracy. One side claims tolerating a certain amount of piracy increases exposure. The other side considers this idea heresy. Apart from the moral and legal issues, which side has been vindicated in terms of sales?

Mike:Â Much too early to tell, but I suspect the added exposure doesn’t equal the lost income. After all, if someone reads one of my pirated e-books and loves it, what is he more likely to do , take $25 or $28 and go buy my latest hardcover, or hunt for more of my free pirated e-books online?

Carl: You once said that you make a comfortable living as a writer while your genre friends struggle. Do you have a better financial strategy? A better marketing strategy? More talent? More output? More revision? A better style? More appealing stories?

Mike: Some of my genre friends struggle. Some far out-earn me. Many things go into making a comfortable living as a writer. First, I’ve been at it for just about 50 years, so I have half a century’s worth of contacts, an intimate knowledge of the business, and readerships in countries all over the world. I like to think my stories and books are outstanding, but that’s subjective. Mostly I have a huge output , over 100 books and over 250 stories in this field alone , of material that is at least saleable. I have a top agent. I have editorial contacts all over the world. I have optioned numerous books and stories to Hollywood, and even sold some screenplays, both of which come from a knowledge of how the movie industry works at least as much as from the quality of what I’ve optioned. I have always adjusted instantly to new markets , audio, e-books, whatever. Writing constitutes 100% of my living, so it takes up an enormous amount of my timeâ€and as I have been lecturing beginners for close to half a century, you can be an artist until you type “The End”, but then you’d better morph into a businessman or you put yourself at a huge competitive disadvantage.

Carl: You recently reached your 70th birthday, 50th year in sci-fi, and 50th wedding anniversary. Looking back, what would you have done differently?

Mike:Â I wouldn’t have wasted a whole year being engaged to my wife before I married her. Other than that, no regrets.

Carl: You’ve been writing a lot of sentimental stories lately. What’s the explanation?

Mike: Aren’t old guys allowed to be sentimental? I should point out that my first two awards for science fiction stories in 1977 and 1978 were for sentimental stories, so it’s nothing new. And I should also point out that according to my bibliographer, I’ve sold over 125 funny stories, more even than Robert Sheckley.

Carl: You spend an awful lot of time on the fan circuit. What are the most frequent questions and requests you get at conventions?

Mike:Â The fans want stories about the old days , or at least my old days , and about the giants they never met who are no longer with us. The hopeful writers want to know how to sell and why the world is against them.

Carl: You have more awards than any writer in the history of the genre and you are the most popular living author among the fans. Asimov had a magazine that still bears his name. Orson Scott Card started his own magazine. Robert Silverberg is trying to revive Amazing Stories. Any chance we’ll be reading “Resnick’s Speculative Fiction Magazine” before you retire?

Mike:Â I’d love to see “Resnick’s Speculative Fiction Magazine”, but I’m smart enough not to invest one penny of my money in it, and I have a feeling that sentiment will be shared by every potential investor.

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.

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 electricityÂis anÂinconsistent commodity.

Adventures in Amateur Art (Drabblecast Edition)

written by David Steffen


I’ve always felt drawn to creative endeavors of various kinds. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. When I was in high school I wanted to program video games. I tend to wander from one creative medium to another, drawn from one to the next by the prospect of something new and interesting. Writing has been the odd duck in this string of attempts in that I actually have stuck with it for years, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty good. I’m not planning to quit any time soon. Yet I’m still always looking to explore other mediums just to keep myself from getting too comfortable, because that way lies boredom. If you believe in Muses, at least in a metaphorical sense, I like to say “My Muse, she be fickle.” I’ve tried to force her to work for me, and that always fails. She just leaves if I try that, and will stay away until I stop trying to give her orders. I am much happier, and much more productive if I just go with the flow, and let her drive the car.

Anyway, the point is that I am now, as ever, having fun trying out new creative fields. At the moment I’m dabbling in story illustrations. I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while. In particular, I think it’d be fun to illustrate my own stories, or the stories of friends.  But I have never felt particularly driven to do so. But then along came the perfect opportunity, as offered by the Drabblecast!

Drabblecast is working their way up to a major site upgrade. As part of this grand project, Bo Kaier, their art director, has kicked off the Drabblecast Art Reclamation Project (follow the link for all the juicy details). Since about episode 130 of their podcast, they’ve had illustrations for every single episode, provided by volunteer artists. When they move to the new site, in an effort to make everything more uniform and to provide shiny new content to attract listeners, Bo has asked for volunteers to fill in the episode artwork for all those older episodes. Anyone who feels they might like to take a crack at it, there are still more than 50 episodes unclaimed–follow the link. The deadline stated there is August 1st, but that’s a very soft deadline. They’re currently shooting for mid-September launch, and anything they don’t have artwork for at that time… will just have to go without art for now. So, I’m sure they’d love to have whoever volunteer.

I decided to volunteer for 3 episode artworks for now, and I’ve completed and submitted by the time of writing this post. These will go up on the Drabblecast site when it’s ready to launch, but I’ve asked for permission to show the artwork I’ve done here. And, for those who might be interested in such things, I will describe how I did each of these pieces of visual art from start to finish.

The Art

“Malish” by Mike Resnick

“Malish” is a story about a deal with the devil. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for that type of story in that the main character is not the one who makes the deal. The main character is Malish, a racehorse, and his owner has made a deal with the devil, described in the story only as “the gnarly little man”. The devil comes to claim the owner, and while he’s there decides to nab the horse as well. But Malish won’t be taken so easily.

1. What to depict?
The first thing I had to decide is what I wanted the illustration to depict. I chose this specific story because I figured that I could do the image of the horse justice with the “pet cartooning” method that I was playing with last year. So, of course, I knew the horse would be in the image. But I wanted to get at least some hint of the speculative element into the image as well. In this case, the only speculative element is the presence of the devil, described as “the gnarly little man”. One of the biggest moments in the story is when the gnarly little man first tries to take Malish in the stable, so I decided to illustrate that.

2. Picture of a horse
Next, I needed to actually get started on the image. In particular, I needed to get the outline of the horse. My method for doing this is perhaps not the most sophisticated, but I think it worked well enough. First I needed a picture of a horse. I mentioned this to Bo and, he is such a nice guy, he contacted another Drabblecast fan and got me a few home pictures of one of her horses. Of the three, one stood out to me as a particularly interesting image, so I picked that. I like it, because the horse is looking right at the camera. You can see the horse’s face very clearly and it is the most prominent part of the image, but you can also see the horse’s body in the background. It has some interesting perspective proportions, with the horses hindquarters appearing smaller than its head.

3. Cartoon outline of the horse
Now I needed the bold line drawing of the horse, to give it a cartoon feel, with digital colors to be added in later. I can draw relatively well in freehand, but I decided that, in order to do the horse image justice, I would do some good old fashioned tracing. I printed out the image, overlaid it with tracing paper, and traced the boldest lines with a nice thick 1.2mm felt pen. The lines on the outer edges were easiest to see, as they showed through the tracing paper most clearly. Some of the others I had to just eyeball. Note, I added some lines that aren’t strictly lines in the photo, to suggest the shape of the horse’s body.

4. Binary image of outline of the horse
One trouble is that, when I scan this nice clean outline, the scanned image that ends up on my computer is not perfectly clean. The scanner picks up some of the paper’s texture, etc… So, to get a really clean image, I opened it up in Microsoft Paint, and saved it as a Monochrome Bitmap. This format only stores white and black, nothing in between, what computer vision folk call “binary thresholding”. Saving it as that leaves some extraneous speckles, but by zooming upsize in Microsoft Paint, I could clean those up with the eraser tool.

5. Sketching the hand
And then on to the hand. I drew it in a sketchbook freehand using my own left hand as a model. I’m very happy with how the hand turned out, as it’s one of my better attempts at realistic freehand drawing of human anatomy. For now, drawing the hand as close to my hand as I can.

6. Gnarlifying, cartoon outline, binary image
From the sketch I had to get back to a similar type type of cartoon image as the horse. Tracing paper, thick felt tip. And, remember, the hand is supposed to be the hand of the gnarly little man, so at this stage I embellished from the original image to make it gnarly. I tried to add swelling to all of the knuckles, and while I was at it, extend the fingernails and add prominent veins. And then I repeated the same steps I’d used for the horse to get a clean binary image.

7. Combining cartoon horse with cartoon hand
Now to combine the images, resizing, overlaying. Using Microsoft Paint for this again.

8. Simple coloring of image
Simplest coloring step, just using Microsoft Paint’s basic paint bucket. Tried to match colors to photograph. Tried making the hand green to begin with. The story did not specify the color and I wanted it to appear somewhat “other”.

9. Color shading of image
That last coloring scheme was rather too simple, so tried to add a comic style 2 step shading to the main body of the horse as well as to the hand. To make the shaded areas look like a differently lighted patch of the same color, went into Microsoft Paint’s custom colors, started with the original color, and simply dialed the Saturation level down. Since the new shading levels suggest the shape of the horse’s body, I removed the black contour lines I’d added to suggest that shape.

10. Extra Shading, Red Hand
I changed the color of the hand from green to shades of red because one person, upon seeing the image, immediately said “Is that a zombie and a donkey?” Okay, so green does tend to suggest zombies, so may as well change it. Confusing the horse for a donkey though… Not much to be done about that but educate him on the difference between donkeys and horses. 🙂

11. Final copy
Had to make some more changes before the final draft. In the original one, the hand is rather hidden behind the Drabblecast logo. There wasn’t anything to do but to shrink the image down and draw extensions. These extensions go outside the boundaries shown in the photo so I had to estimate what the rest would look like. I also added in a new background color with a gradient so it isn’t so uniform, and added in the title. I got some help from Bo on the title formatting, adding in the darker boundary to the letters, which i haven’t figured out how to do. That’s good because the font didn’t pop out of the background clearly enough without that.

“Marbles” by Ayn Sauer

“Marbles” is a dark story from a child’s point of view. This is one obsessive little girl, fixated upon her button collection. She plays by herself and sorts the buttons by size, color, number of holes. A neighborhood boy invites her over to play, and shows her his stuffed bunny with button eyes. Big mistake, as she immediately extracts one of the button eyes for her collection. And that’s not the end.

1. What to depict?
Decided to do this one in a child’s art style. I figured it could be a simple crayon drawing, perhaps a self-portrait drawn by the girl at a psychiatrist visit after the fact. And, what better moment to show, but the very moment when she has extracted the button eye. So I decided I’d draw the girl with the button, and the boy with the bunny within a child’s simple house shape. A bit later in the story, the boy’s cat plays an important role, so the cat’s in the image as well.

2. The drawing
I learned a lesson from the Malish illustration, to leave room at the bottom for the Drabblecast logo, so I made a grassy lawn down there. Simple house outline. Girl with triumphant smile and pose, holding up the button. Boy wailing and crying with one-eye bunny in tow. Cat off to the side. Instead of making an electronic font, I decided to draw the title and episode number into the crayon drawing itself. And, since the episode number has a zero in it, I made the zero into a button.

3. Final copy
I handed the image off to Bo, and he did some treatments to it, which I thought turned out well.

“The Fine Point” by Gary Cuba

“The Fine Point” has a very classic SF feel to it. In the story, someone has made a profound discovery about the world we live in–the world is made up of a limited set of repeating hexagon-shaped tiles. He proves this by marking a couple of nearby forested locations. Taking a photo from these two locations creates the exact same photograph. Evidence, he says, that rather than making every bit of Creation completely unique, God has used a repeating set of tiles.

I volunteered for this one because Gary’s a good friend of mine. I get a kick out of his stories and I thought it’d be fun to illustrate one of them to share with all the Drabblecast listeners.

1. What to depict?
This one was a bit trickier than the others to try to decide what to do. I wanted to get the speculative element into the illustration, but the speculative element in this case is extremely subtle. It manifests in the story by showing the two photographs side by side, but that by itself wouldn’t make a very compelling illustration to me. Instead, I decided that rather than illustrating an explicit scene/even in the story I would try to illustrate the concept of the story in a more abstract way. I decided that one way that I could manage to do this would be to try to do an image that might interest the great M.C. Escher, blurring the boundaries between reality and unreality. Since the pictures in the story were a forest, I thought I’d start with a forest.

2. Find a forest picture
I’d fully intended to take a forest picture with my own camera. But, that didn’t end up working out. Whenever I would head out to a nearby park, something would stop me from getting the picture. Sometimes it was weather. Once I got all the way there only to realize my camera batteries were too dead to take even a single picture. So, instead, I searched online and found at Burning Well, a website that has public domain images.

3. Sketch the forest
Hey, look, another use for tracing paper! :) I printed out the photo, then laid tracing paper over it. From that I was able to get the boldest outlines, the starkly contrasting tree trunks, the edge of the treeline in the background. There were a lot of details I had to doodle out by eyeballing it, all the leafy details especially.

4. Lay out hexagon pattern
Just found a single hexagon and repeated the pattern until I’d filled the area. In GIMP, I made the spaces between the grid transparent. I wanted some hint of the hexagon tiles in the story, so that the illustration could more effectively bring the story to mind.

5. Combine, with layers
Okay, now to combine three layers together with selective transparency effects. Again, using GIMP.
First, the sketch on the bottom layer, no transparency.
Next, the photograph on top of that, with a radial transparency to make it look like the photograph has bled away in a circular pattern.Â
Next, the hexagon pattern. This one with a square transparency pattern, so that the hexagon just bleeds in at the very edge.

6. Final copy
I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the title just right, so I handed it off to Bo and asked him for help. He worked his magic, and made the title work very well with the image. Note that the new title even has a color gradient from gray to green, that matches the image. Perfect.

The Best of Escape Pod

Escape Pod is the mother ship of speculative fiction podcasts. Five years ago, Steve Eley posted the very first Escape Pod episode, and set out with the goal of providing a weekly audio speculative fiction story. He did not want to charge for it, and he didn’t want listeners to be annoyed by constant advertisements. And he’s kept to these goals remarkably well for nearly half a decade. He’s created a company to run it, Escape Artists Inc., which has spawned two sister podcasts, Pseudopod for horror and Podcastle for fantasy, while refocusing Escape Pod’s tastes to focus on science fiction. All three are supported by user donations. You can make a one-time payment or set up a monthly payment, whichever makes the most sense to you. They prefer reprints, though they do run original stories from time to time (like mine), so they’re sort of like a “Best of” podcast themselves, taking high quality stories that have (usually) appeared elsewhere, and breathing new life into them by having them read aloud.

I’m eternally grateful to Steve Eley for starting this venture because Pseudopod was the very first market to ever buy my fiction. If it weren’t for the success of Escape Pod, that sale would never have happened. After I received the Pseudopod acceptance letter, I set out to listen to Pseudopod’s backlog to find out whose footsteps I was following in, and I loved it!  If you’re like me and you rarely take the time to just sit down and read, podcasts are the perfect medium. I listen to stories while driving to and from work and while doing low-cognitive tasks around the house like washing dishes or raking leaves. So I listened to all of the Pseudopod stories, and then wrote a Best of Pseudopod list. I did the same for Best of Podcastle. And now, to complete the Best of Escape Artists trifecta, this is the Best of Escape Pod list.

I’ve listened to every single Escape Pod story that’s been published to date, 239 full length episodes and many flash fiction extras. iTunes estimates 6.5 days of audio for all of this. And from all of those stories, I’ve picked my top 10 ranked favorites, along with 6 more that almost made the list. In truth, there were a lot more that I would’ve liked to put on the list, but I really wanted to keep it at a top 10, not a top 100 or 200. Trimming it down to just these 16 was extremely difficult, but these are what I consider the cream of the crop and I hope you agree. And the good news is that there are plenty more quality episodes to listen to after this.

By the way, Escape Pod is on hiatus for the moment because Steve Eley’s second child was born a couple months ago. He’s resigning from his position as editor of Escape Pod, but EP will be returning with new episodes and a new editor on May 12th.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough, on to the list!

1. Sinner, Baker, Fablist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster
Read by Lawrence Santoro

Another world very different from our own, where masks define who you are. The worldbuilding in this is among the best I’ve ever seen, easing you into this strange world at just the right pace so that it’s neither boring or too confusing. The first section or two are a little hard to grasp, but just keep listening, it should start to come together. This one is nominated for this year’s Hugo award, and I really think it deserves it. And, as if that weren’t enough, this is one of those cases where a narrator transforms a great story into something even more outstanding. Lawrence has a very versatile and emotional voice and it fits perfectly with this story.

2. Friction by Will McIntosh
Read by Stephen Eley

There’s some great philosophy on this one and some great characters as well. Told from an alien point of view, I really felt for the characters and this story left me pondering long after it was done, about finding a purpose in life.

3. Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Read by Ray Sizemore

Another great philosophical one. Another alien point of view, this story leans more toward the hard science fiction side of things than I usually care to go, but manages to tie in the science in such a way that it’s interesting to hear about, it’s relevant to the plot, and makes me sink into a delightful philosophical stupor.

4. Connie, Maybe by Paul E. Martens
Read by Wichita Rutherford

The funniest Escape Pod episode, this one had me rolling. This is another case where the perfect choice of narrator made the story transcend above the words it contained. Wichita Rutherford’s exaggerated backwoods accent fits perfectly with this story about identity and alien abduction.

5. Lachrymose and the Golden Egg by Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley

Don’t look so surprised. You knew that Tim Pratt had to be on the list after he got 3 spots in the Best of Podcastle top 10. I don’t know how he does it, but with every story he manages to create an interesting and unique setting and populate it with compelling characters and keep me on the edge of my seat up until the end. A great story about parallel worlds and the ties between them, and the price you’re willing to pay to help others.

6.ÂÂ I Look Forward to Remembering You by Mur Lafferty
Read by Daisy Ottman, Anna Eley, and Stephen Eley

A great example of a time travel story done right. A woman hires a time-traveling consort to travel back in time to help herself lose her virginity in the hopes of improving her current life. Heartfelt and wonderfully done. Also includes a mention of Ranma 1/2, which was a great show.

7. His Master’s Voice by Hannu Rajaniemi
Read by Peter Piazza

A tale of cyberhumans and clones as told by cyborg dog. Can it get any better than this? Yes it can–the cyborg dog also has a cyborg cat friend! The first few minutes can be a little confusing as you try to sort out the setting, and I’m not entirely sure that I understood everything that happened. But whether or not I did, I enjoyed the ride!

8. Barnaby in Exile by Mike Resnick
Read by Paul Fischer

Resnick has a reputation on the Escape Pod forums for writing tearjerkers, and this is definitely one of those. Barnaby the ape talks to his handler about various and sundry things, all filtered through his very limited point of view. If this doesn’t make you feel any emotion, then you may very well be a robot.

9. Reparations by Merrie Haskell
Read by Mary Robinette Kowal

A worthwhile use for time travel! I dug this story mostly for its premise. The story’s compelling as well, but just the idea itself had me so in awe of Merrie Haskell’s creative powers that I was too awestruck to nitpick the story much. I’d like to think that I would volunteer for this program if such a program existed.

10. How I Mounted Goldie, Saved my Partner Lori, and Sniffed out the People’s Justice by Jonathon Sullivan
Read by Stephen Eley and Jennifer Bowie

Another canine point of view. What can I say, I like dogs! Told as a debriefing of a K-9 cop. Steve Eley outdoes himself with the voice on this one, sounding like a perfect dog. Keep in mind while you listen to this one that Pixar had not yet release UP when this story was published, so he is not just copying Dug. I like to think that someone at Pixar heard the story and that Dug is a copy of Steve Eley’s voice. Also, for anyone who’d like to get a peek behind the scenes of podcasting, EP also released an unedited version which includes multiple takes, and just BSing between Stephen and Jennifer. I wouldn’t listen to it before the final cut, but I got some laughs out of it listening to it after.

Honorable Mentions:

Impossible Dreams by Tim Pratt
Read by Matthew Wayne Selznick

A hugo winner, and perfect for media lovers.

Cinderella Suicide by Samantha Henderson
Read by MarBelle

Full of weird slang, a little hard to follow at times, but fun.

Pennywhistle by Greg van Eekhout
Read by Anna Eley

Flash fiction. Dark, very dark, but oh so great.

When We Went to See the End of the World by Robert Silverberg
Read by J.C. Hutchins

A bit dated, written decades ago. A vision of the future that had me laughing for odd reasons.

Save Me Plz by David Barr Kirtley
Read by Mur Lafferty

A world where monsters are commonplace, people carry swords, but knights and pirates never existed. Fun!

Off White Lies by Jeffrey R. DeRego
Read by Scott Sigler

Just one of the many Union Dues superhero stories by Mr. DeRego that ran on EP. I like most of them to some extent, but this one has some actual action.