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Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling: Depth and Heart (part 2)

[ Part 1 ]

Terri Windling was born December 3, 1958 in New Jersey, and grew up there and in Pennsylvania. She studied literature and mythology in the US, England, and Ireland, and in 1979 moved to New York, where she began working in publishing as an editor (and occasionally as an artist). She was Jim Baen’s editorial assistant at Ace, soon became associate editor, and was then named fantasy editor to help found the Ace Fantasy imprint; in 1984 she was promoted to executive editor. After Ace was sold to the Putmans Publishing Group, she worked as a consulting editor for Ace in 1985 and 1986, while also creating the Fairy Tales series of novels (Ace), the Borderland shared-world series (NAL), and establishing the MagicQuest YA fantasy line at Ace/Tempo. In 1987 she moved from Ace to Tor, where she then worked as a consulting fantasy editor for over 20 years. She co-edited The Journal of Mythic Arts (1987-2008), edited or co-edited half a dozen anthologies in addition to those with Datlow, and also produced her own fiction, notably debut novel The Wood Wife (1996, winner of the Mythopoeic Award), children’s books, and middle-grade fantasies. She has also written text for art books (including by Brian Froud), numerous essays, and has contributed to scholarly works in the folklore field, including The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. She founded the Endicott Studio organization, is on the board of The Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy (University of Chichester, UK), and her own ‘‘folkloric’’ artwork regularly appears in galleries and museums. Windling has been nominated for 31 World Fantasy Awards and won nine, putting her just after Datlow for the most nominations and wins for that award, and received the SFWA Solstice Award in 2010 for ‘‘outstanding contributions to the speculative fiction field as a writer, editor, artist, educator, and mentor.’’ She married British dramatist Howard Gayton in 2008; they live in Devon England.


Excerpts from the interview:

Ellen Datlow: ‘‘Do you remember how we met? Because I don’t re­member that at all.’’

Terri Windling: ‘‘We met at conventions, but we knew each other only socially until we began working on the Year’s Best anthologies. You were at Omni then.’’

ED: ‘‘Omni was my first genre job, so yeah. I started there around 1979. I was associate fiction editor, and by 1981 I was fiction editor. Our first year’s best anthology was in 1987.’’

TW: ‘‘You were at Omni, and I was at Ace, then at Berkley/Ace, and then at Tor. I was at Tor at the point when you and I started doing the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.”

TW: ‘‘I had done three Elsewhere anthologies by that point. My first one had won the World Fantasy Award. That was in the early ’80s. I’d also edited an anthology of faery stories, and was building up the fantasy line at Ace. It was Jim Frenkel’s idea to do The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. At that point Ellen was making a name for herself with horror anthologies, and I was known as someone who came into the field specifically interested in fantasy. At the time most fantasy was being published by SF editors, some of whom didn’t even like fantasy, whereas I was specifically focused on fantasy. I consider it a separate genre. SF and fantasy are parallel genres, and they overlap, but they are not the same genre. They have different literary histories, and different (if overlapping) readerships. I think that’s why Jim thought of me to do the fantasy side of Year’s Best, because I was very passionate about the fantasy field, and Ellen had become very pas­sionate about horror. We knew each other to say hello to back then, but we didn’t know each other well. And yet, when we started working together, it was so lovely.’’

*

ED: ‘‘Didn’t Tom Canty suggest the fairytale anthologies? Staring with Snow White, Blood Red?’’

TW: ‘‘The two of us did. Tom Canty is a good friend of mine and we were both really interested in retold fairy tales, which were not a big thing at the time. We were obsessed with Angela Carter’s adult fairy tale collection, The Bloody Chamber, Anne Sexton’s Transformations…’’

ED: ‘‘Tanith Lee.’’

TW: ‘‘….and yes, Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood. At that point, there weren’t many other ‘adult fairy tales’ out there. I had specialized in the history of fairy tales in university. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little girl, really. Tom Canty shared that passion. We were talking over lunch one day about how great it would be to do an anthology of retold fairy tales in the fantasy field, using Angela Carter as a model, and Tanith Lee as a model. Ellen and I had been working together on Year’s Best for a few years at that point and I immediately said, ‘Let’s get Ellen involved, because the range of stories will be so much better.’ I’m not so good on the horror/dark fantasy end of things, so I asked Ellen if she would edit the books with me, with Tom as our first choice for cover artist.’’

ED: ‘‘I had grown up with fairy tales. I adored fairy tales. My mom read them to me when I was a kid. So I said, ‘‘Yeah.’’ I loved Angela Carter. I was not as familiar with Tanith, but Angela Carter I adored. The intention of doing the retellings was to go back to the roots.’’

TW: ‘‘We started planning the project when I was living in Boston at the very end of the ’80s. It took us a while to get a publisher interested. Back then, people still thought of fairy tales as Disney movies and as stories for very tiny children. The darker, adult roots of the stories were known primarily only to fairy tale scholars. That was something we really wanted to correct. It’s changed so much since then, there’s a much wider understanding of the complex history of the tales.’’

*

ED: ‘‘Let’s talk about what anthology editors do, and how we work as an editing team.’’

TW: ‘‘Well, with the original anthologies, we work more collaboratively than we did on the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series. For Year’s Best, we chose our stories separately and didn’t weigh in on each other’s choices, but for the originals, writers submitted their work to us both, and we had to agree before we accepted a story. In the rare instances where we disagreed, the rule of thumb was that if one of us really loved a story and the other didn’t hate it, we would generally buy it. But there were occasions where one person really disliked something the other person liked, and then we didn’t take the story. That didn’t happen very often. There might be one or two stories in each an­thology that one or the other of us was lukewarm about, but none that either of us actively disliked.’’

ED: ‘‘Right – and it didn’t dilute the anthology because one of us loved it.’’

TW: ‘‘I think that was a good system, because it gave a wide range to our selections. It wasn’t just my taste, and it wasn’t just your taste, and it wasn’t just our combined taste. We covered a lot of different bases. I think that’s what makes our partnership work.’’

ED: ‘‘There are plenty of writers who write stories where I can objectively see how people would like them, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t speak to me. There are certain kinds of stories I realize I’m totally cold to, that you love. You’re much more into folktales than I am – not fairy tales, folktales. I have a blind spot with most folktales. I have no idea why. I haven’t thought about it enough to know why they don’t work for me. It’s a very general thing. There are some writers whose stories don’t work for me. The writing just doesn’t work, and I assume that’s true for you too.’’

TW: ‘‘I don’t think either of us has a rigid list, though. It’s not, ‘You have to hit this, this, this, and this for us to like the story.’ Each writer has different strengths.’’

ED: ‘‘Each story is different. There are different things about stories that attract you, also. Sometimes, for me, it’s the setting. The rest is good, but it’s the setting that gets me. Or the tone, or the voice.’’

TW: ‘‘Yeah, the voice and the language. Sometimes, frankly, the language is not that strong, but the storytelling is strong, and the actual heart of the story is there. Gordon Van Gelder said something to me once that has stuck in my mind. He was trying to figure out, with the Year’s Best in particular, what it was that linked my choices. He didn’t always agree with my choices; he would’ve chosen different stories, but he could see there was something them – it always made sense to him on a visceral level why I had chosen them. Not just personal taste, but why I would consider them to be among the best of the year. What he finally decided was (and Gordon, forgive me if I’m not saying this quite right): each piece was a story that the writer really had to write. I love that, because it rings very true for me. I like stories where you can tell the writer is really invested in it. It’s not just a clever idea they are toying with or think will sell; it’s a story they need to tell. I really like stories that have depth and heart to them. Not necessarily positive stories; they can be very dark, but always multi-layered, with something going on beyond surface cleverness.’’

*

TW: ‘‘For the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, however, we never did the story ordering. Jim Frenkel did it, and he did a wonderful job.’’

ED: ‘‘We never read each other’s stories, usu­ally.’’

TW: ‘‘He loved doing the ordering. Jim isn’t the golden-haired boy of the field at the moment, but there were things he did that were brilliant, and in talking about Year’s Best that should be acknowledged.’’

ED: ‘‘And things that were important to the field. Like getting us together.’’

TW: ‘‘I don’t know if you know how Jim got me involved. I was out in Minneapolis, visiting Emma Bull and Will Shetterly and the other writers of the ‘Scribblies’ group, and I was staying at Emma and Will’s house. I got this call from Jim late at night saying, ‘Would you edit this book?’ I don’t know how he tracked me down out there, and he didn’t have a publisher lined up or anything – it was so speculative, and he was just rattling on, and it was late, and I was tired. I think I may have said ‘Yes’ just to get off the phone!! I’m not sure I believed it was really going to happen. I’m glad, of course, that it did. Year’s Bests do shape the field. Plus I got to work with you for the first time, which I discovered I loved. We work so well together.’’

ED: ‘‘It’s fun.’’

TW: ‘‘When you find a good partner, they’re worth their weight in gold. I have no desire to go back to solo editing. My best work has been with you, through the synergy that comes from a long partnership, and an equally long friendship.’’


Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling: Depth and Heart (part 1)

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling are two of the most renowned and celebrated short fiction editors in our field, and have a working relationship dating back almost 30 years. The two have collaborated on dozens of projects, including 16 volumes of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series, which they co-edited from 1988-2003, with Windling choosing the fantasy half and Datlow the horror. (Datlow continued editing the horror side until the series ended in 2008; Gavin Grant & Kelly Link took over fantasy.) Their fairytale anthology series began with Snow White, Blood Red (1993) and continued with Black Thorn, White Rose (1994); Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (1995); Black Swan, White Raven (1997); Silver Birch, Blood Moon (1999); and Black Heart, Ivory Bones (2000). They did a series of middle-grade fairytale anthologies as well: A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales (2000), Swan Sister: Fairy Tales Retold (2003), and Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales (2009).

Their mythic fiction YA anthologies are The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2002), The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm (2004), The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (2007), and The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People (2010). Standalone anthologies the two co-edited include Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers (1998), Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy (2006), Teeth: Vampire Tales (2011), After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia (2012), and Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (2013).

Both are accomplished solo practitioners as well. Ellen Sue Datlow was born December 31, 1949 in Manhattan, and studied English literature and philosophy at the State University of New York at Albany. She worked a variety of positions in publishing before being hired as associate fiction editor at Omni in 1979, working under editor Ben Bova and fiction editor Robert Sheckley. When Sheckley left in 1981, she took over his position and worked for Omni and Omni Online until 1998, then edited early online magazine Event Horizon for 18 months. She edited Sci Fiction from 2000 to 2005. She has also edited scores of anthologies, mostly horror, on her own, most recently The Doll Collection (2015) and The Monstrous (2015). Since 2009 she has edited The Best Horror of the Year series, and she also acquires short fiction for Tor.com. Datlow has been nominated for 43 World Fantasy Awards, and has won 10 times, giving her the lead in both the most nominations and the most wins. She has received multiple Hugo Award nominations for Best Professional Editor, winning five times, most recently in 2014. She won a Stoker Award for Life Achievement in 2011, and a Life Achievement World Fantasy Award in 2014. She lives in New York.

[ Further excerpts next week will focus on Terri Windling. ]


Excerpts from the interview:

Terri Windling: ‘‘So we were on parallel tracks, but I was very focused on fantasy, and you were focused on horror and science fiction.’’

Ellen Datlow: ‘‘Mostly science fiction then. The reason I got into horror was so it wouldn’t conflict with Omni. I was supposed to be buying science fiction and some fantasy for Omni, but I was not supposed to buy horror. My first original horror anthology was Blood Is Not Enough. Someone I worked with at Penthouse was talking to some publishers and they wanted to com­mission a bunch of anthologies. He approached me and said, ‘Hey, do you have five ideas for anthologies?’ I thought about the stories I couldn’t buy for Omni. All these horror stories at the time that Ben Bova would not let me buy, like ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ by Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, which has been reprinted a lot, about a vampire in a concentration camp. There were several stories that I couldn’t buy for whatever reason at the time. Some would have been too controversial. That was how Alien Sex and Blood Is Not Enough came about. The stories were submitted to me for Omni but I turned them down and they were published elsewhere. So I used those plus new stories, creating anthologies that were half original and half reprints. I created these anthology ideas with themes like vampir­ism and alien sex. I wanted to edit a book of monkey tales, because I had to turn down ‘The Monkey Treatment’ by George R.R. Martin and ‘Pope of the Chimps’ by Robert Silverberg, but I never did that one. I’d always loved reading horror, but the reason I started editing it was to not conflict with my job at Omni – I was afraid they’d get pissed off if I did science fiction anthologies.’’

*

ED: ‘‘Horror is much more likely to be superficial, and I hate superficial horror. I hate the kind of horror that’s just a ‘boo’ and that’s it, unless it’s re­ally, really short and effective. When I take a story for a year’s best, by the time the book comes out, I’ve read it at least five times, because I’m eliminat­ing. When you’re doing a year’s best, it’s a process of elimination by the end, because you only get a certain amount of wordage. Towards the end I’d count up the stories I had starred and I’d say, ‘I have 300,000 words. I have to get it down to 125,000.’ I’d have to reread, reread, reread, and start eliminating. The ones that are left, to me, really affect me after reading them four times. Once in a while, on a first read I know I’m going to take a story immediately. It doesn’t happen often. I have a story coming out in an original anthology that I know I’m going to take for my year’s best, because I really love it.’’

*

ED: ‘‘I love doing the Year’s Best. Maybe I’ll say it’s the best, but for me, it’s the stories I love this year; my favorite stories. There are some writers in horror who are prolific and doing wonderful work. Paula Guran and I actually do compare what we’re taking for our year’s best anthologies. If a writer has more than one story out that we really like, we try not to repeat. This year we have four overlaps, I think, but we try to avoid that. If there are overlaps it just means there’s a consensus on that story. There are two stories in the last few years that I did not take in the Year’s Best for deliberate reasons. Even though I love them. One was ‘The Things’ by Peter Watts, which is the movie The Thing from the point of view of the alien. Everyone took it. Every science fiction year’s best took it. I really loved the story, but I had two problems. Number one, everyone was taking it, and number two, it’s from the Thing’s doing! I loved the story, though. The other one was ‘The Deepwater Bride’ by Tamsyn Muir. I loved that story, but I found out that Paula Guran was going to take it for her anthology, and I think Jonathan Strahan was going to take it too. Tam­syn had another story that was not as popular as ‘Deepwater Bride’, called ‘The Woman in the Hill’, so I ended up taking that instead.’’

*

ED: ‘‘Terri wrote all the intros for the origi­nal anthologies. She’s the expert. I hate writing introductions.’’

TW: ‘‘When you do it, Ellen, you do it well. But yeah, I generally write the intros. I enjoy writing. And you do parts of the job I hate.’’

ED: ‘‘You mean the contracts?’’

TW: ‘‘The organization, including contracts. You make the trains run on time.’’

ED: ‘‘But we always pick the table of contents together. Actually, you’re better at the table of contents than I am.’’

TW: ‘‘Yeah, I like that part. And you’re really good at the back-and-forth with the authors.’’

ED: ‘‘It depends on who’s worked more with the author. There were some writers I didn’t feel comfortable editing, or maybe I wasn’t wild about the story. I do most of the line editing. In terms of story order, for me the first story and the last story are the most important. You want to invite the reader in. The first story can’t be too dense. It has to be inviting, and it can’t be too weird. The last story should either be the strongest, or the next-to-last story should be the strongest – it depends. You don’t want something too long in the beginning. The rest of it, we kind of rearrange like cards.’’

TW: ‘‘I do it literally with cards. I have index cards. I write the name of every story on a card, and also whether it’s written in first person or third person. Sometimes I’ll mention the setting, or what kind of myth it’s based on, or female or male protagonist – I put down all of the identifying things. Then I spread all the cards out on the floor and move them around until the balance and flow from story to story feels right.’’

ED: ‘‘That’s a good way to do it. You can’t guarantee the reader will read it in order, but you have to assume they will, because there’s no other way to organize it. I did Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, with Tachyon, and I covered 2005-2015. I did those in the order they were published, but that’s not usually the way it’s organized.’’

TW: ‘‘You can take a weaker story and place it properly, and sometimes the conversations it has with the stories on either side are strengthen­ing. There’s a real art to putting an anthology together. There are some readers (a blessing on their houses) who actually read the stories in order, and reviewers who read it that way – and plenty who don’t. Thems the breaks. For the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, however, we never did the story ordering. Jim Frenkel did it, and he did a wonderful job.’’


Kameron Hurley: Hard Publishing Truths: Relationships Matter

One of my favorite publishing stories is from an established short story writer who tweeted that a story of his had been rejected from a magazine. Within a few minutes of sharing that, the editor of the publication e-mailed them and apologized for the rejection. ‘‘Our new slush reader didn’t rec­ognize your name,’’ the editor said, and promptly bought the story.

The myth of the meritocracy runs deep in publishing. ‘‘Just write a good book!’’ is of­fered up as the singular cure to all of a writer’s worries about the financial success of their title. But writing a good book is no more a magical recipe for success than ‘‘working hard’’ is a guarantee one will retain gainful employment. As in any industry, there are simply too many factors at play.

And yes, one of those factors is still who you know.

No one likes to hear this. I certainly hated hearing it when I was first starting out. Yet I asked myself the question, often, about how it was that what I saw as inferior stories by established writers were getting picked up when mine were about on par with some of them. The truth was that – all things being equal – they had name recognition.

And I didn’t.

There’s a reason I got into writing, a profession where 98% of the work is done in solitude. I believed firmly and passionately that all I had to do was ‘‘write a good book’’ and that ‘‘good book’’ would be picked off the slush pile and deliver me into the welcoming arms of the publishing industry. This is not how it works for everyone. It’s not how it works for most people.

Here’s how my first book was published:

1) Someone who worked in PR at a publisher was a frequent reader and commenter on my blog (which I’d had for three years at that point). She asked to read the book I had just announced that I’d finished. She liked the book, and recommended I send the manuscript to an editor she knew.

2) I queried that editor, who asked to see the book. While the book sat with the editor, I contacted agents, mentioning that the book was already on an editor’s desk.

3) I got an agent, in no small part, I’m sure, because the manuscript was already on an editor’s desk (I had tried to get an agent for two prior books, and none were interested). The editor who had requested the book asked for some rewrites, but ultimately declined.

4) My agent sent the book out to a bunch more places. Everyone de­clined.

5) An editor at a house that had already declined the book e-mailed my agent, saying something like, ‘‘I heard online that Kameron has a book on submission. Why didn’t you send it to me instead of my colleague (who had already rejected it)? I read a story of hers online awhile back and liked it.’’ We signed a 3-book deal twenty-four hours later.

6) My acquiring editor was laid off. My book contract was cancelled just after we got through copyediting.

7) I was invited by a writer I knew to write up a guest post on their blog about the experience of having a book contract cancelled (I’d written a review of their work on my blog years before, and we had started some e-mail correspondence, and met a couple times at cons).

8) That blog had lots of traffic from industry pros, and two small press editors contacted my agent asking to see the manuscript. We signed with one of them for a two-book deal.

9) Entire process from first editor’s desk to publication: four years.

That book that was almost not published was nominated for and won several awards.

I write books that blend science fiction and fantasy, and they tend to be full of women chopping up things, and there are few to no white people in them. The sorts of books that I write were an even tougher sell back there in 2007 before the We Need Diverse Books movement. The connections I made along the way helped me overcome those hurdles, and they can help people overcome them now. The trouble is that they can be very difficult for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to cultivate. These relationships aren’t necessary, but they are helpful, and not having them can certainly contribute to feeling isolated and burned out in this industry. The Internet has helped alleviate this somewhat, and has opened up access to networks. Cultivate them, please, in whatever way you are able. And if you are already established, hold a hand out to newer writers. It’s your turn now.

Writing is a business like any other, and our approach to the industry needs to be clear-headed. I love a good fairy tale just as much as anyone, but it’s the fairy tales that we tell about this business that sink so much new talent. I’ve been in the business long enough now to see new writers coming up behind me full of the same expectations about how just writing a good book (whatever a ‘‘good’’ book is) will guarantee success. When they don’t find the financial or critical success they expect within the first five years of their career, they figure they are doing something wrong, that their work isn’t good enough, and they give up. This breaks my heart.

Certainly, we should level up our craft, but poor craft alone does not sink books. Books don’t succeed commercially for all sorts of reasons. We spend so long getting writers to focus on craft that we don’t talk to them enough about business, and it’s running face first into the business-end of publishing and being ill-equipped to handle it that sinks some of the best and bright­est, toppling them from the mountain long before they approach the peak.

So, writers, after you have leveled up your skill enough to write a good book, here are some other things that can assist you in launching a writing career that makes you enough money to buy ramen:

1) Understand that you’re an entrepreneur now. Read up on small business ownership, LLCs, basic tax information for freelancers, and bud­geting. We aren’t taught these things in school. There’s no shame in that. You learned how to write. You can learn how to run your business.

2) Connect with other writers. I wanted to say ‘‘Make friends,’’ here, but the truth is that the people in this industry should probably be consid­ered work colleagues, and yes, you should get to know them in the same way. This is not about ‘‘schmoozing’’ or making a list of people to hit up for a favor at a con. That’s not how it works. Find people who enjoy the stuff you do, folks whose work you enjoy, whom you actually want to hang out with, and don’t be afraid to offer to buy them a drink at a conven­tion, interact with them on Twitter about a shared fandom, or whatever. Not only will you be more likely to come top of mind when they’re think­ing of people to invite to be on projects, but if you listen to their business talk with other writers, you will learn a lot of things about the industry.

3) Note that your agent’s and editor’s interests and yours are aligned, but not the same. It’s easy to get into a relationship with an agent or editor when you’re new in which you perceive them as having all the power and insight. And yes, they are more established in the com­munity and understand the business better and you should consider their advice. But keep in mind that what your career goals are may line up with what they want. Be forthright. Figure out what’s most important to you, and insist on it. No one is more invested in the outcome of your career than you. No one.

You are going to spend a lifetime perfecting your writing skill. I urge you to invest just a few hours every month in learning the business, too. Don’t spend all that time climbing the mountain only to realize you forgot the climbing gear just when you need it most.


Molly Tanzer: Ghosts ‘n’ Shit

Elizabeth Molly Tanzer was born October 29, 1981 in Marietta GA. When she was 12, she moved to West Palm Beach FL and lived there until her mid-twenties. She attended Rollins College in Winter Park FL and graduated with a bachelors in art history. She spent a year as a social worker, then went to Florida State University for a Master’s in humanities, with a focus on 18th-century literature. Afterward, she moved to Colorado and began writing fiction.

Tanzer began publishing with short story ‘‘In Sheep’s Clothing’’ (2010) and has published more than 30 pieces of short fiction, including several in her Ivybridge Twins series of Lovecraftian stories. Some of her work is collected in A Pretty Mouth (2012) and Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations (2013); a revised version of the title piece from the latter is being published in standalone form as Rumbullion: An Apostrophe later this year.

Her debut novel Vermilion, a weird Western about a psychopomp, appeared in 2015, and sequel Quicksilver is forthcoming. Historical crime novel The Pleasure Merchant also appeared in 2015.

Tanzer edited the ‘‘Bizarro Crime’’ special issue of The Big Click in July 2015, and co-edited forthcoming anthology Swords v. Cthulhu with Jesse Bullington. She is the editor of new ‘‘thoughtful erotica’’ online magazine Congress, launching this summer.

She lives in Colorado with her husband of ten years.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I started writing at a very young age. In 5th grade, I started keeping a journal that was about me and an entourage of invisible snarky dragons that hung out with me during my boring classes. Of course they were snarky – I’d just read The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy and thought it was great. The main dragon was named Éponene, after my favorite character from Les Miserables. So yeah, I was into musical theater and dragons, had no social skills, wore Phantom of the Opera T-shirts, and wondered, ‘Why don’t I have any friends?’ Well, no friends except for my friend Heather, who was into Star Trek: The Next Generation, and introduced me to AOL Instant Messenger (where we had some interesting experiences with boys online). She also kept a journal about snarky dragons, and they would interact. When we’d hang out, we’d write accounts of what happened, and read each other’s journals. I guess it was my first writerly collaboration…”

*

‘‘And yet, second-world fantasy isn’t at all what I’ve ended up writing. I write alternative-history horror and fantasy. In Vermilion, I wanted to create a sense of fantastical otherness, besides the ghosts and bears, but there’s no magic. There are alchemists, later in the book, but it’s all science based. My protagonist Lou Merriwether isn’t a magical girl who’s special because she can see ghosts. That’s not to insult that genre – I do like that kind of stuff. I grew up on Sailor Moon, and I’ll never not love magical girls. But I wanted Lou to be a technician. She has no special powers other than grit, determination, physical resilience, and an ability to distance herself from her work (which I never had when I was a social worker). I wanted those traits to be her defining characteristics, things she had to personally develop through discipline and practice, rather than anything that was naturally special about her. That was important to me in developing her character.”

*

‘‘In Vermilion, I wanted to at least try to en­gage with the glorious spectrum of who people are, what they feel and think. I’m so excited that I get to do a sequel. It will be called Quicksilver, which will come out next year. It’ll be a bit differ­ent. Vermilion is pretty solidly a Weird Western, but it’s also 18 other genres. (Yay, small press!) The next one is going to be more like a California crime novel, but with ghosts and shit. I want to keep playing with genre.

‘‘I’ve talked a lot about Shai, but Lou will again be the star of Quicksilver. I can’t wait to write her again. It’s not easy for her to be true to herself, in Vermilion; in Quicksilver, that will change a bit. I want to tap into that. If Vermillion is about Lou growing up, Quicksilver is going to be more her coming in to her confidence.”

*

‘‘Vermilion was inspired partly by my move to Colorado. I wanted to write a book about hiking through Colorado forests and finding out what might be lurking in them. I was also dealing with a lot of my feelings about America. Capitalism, the destruction of the environment, the way things could have been, how humans exist in the world, the way that we treat the outsider, the way we define what is and isn’t normal based on who has power – it’s a novel about power. Actually, every novel I write, and maybe every single short story I write, too, is about power exchange. Who has power, who doesn’t have it, and how does that af­fect them and their sense of self? What do people do with the power they get? Do they cling to it? Do they give it away? That’s Vermilion.”

*

‘‘For me, that’s the easy stuff about writ­ing – mining human dynamics. I fucking hate worldbuilding, it’s almost driven me away from writing genre fiction so many times. I don’t want to figure out a system of magic. I don’t want to figure out how things work. I have to do this with the project I’m currently working on, and it’s really been freaking me out. I few weeks back I was just sitting there, staring at my laptop, thinking, ‘I’m going to write a crime novel, because fuck this.’ I just want demons in this book! No one knows how demons work! They’re otherworldly. They’re uncanny. Why do people want to know how they work? But I know it needs to make sense in some way. And I really do love the book, and the demons in it! Really! It’s been haunting me for so long, and I’m so glad to be finishing it up and putting it out into the world soon. It’s called The Ginger Eaters, and I’ve described it as a feminist retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray with demons and sword fighting.”


Guy Gavriel Kay: Journeying

Guy Gavriel Kay was born November 7, 1954 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Winnipeg. He was influenced by Greek myths, fairy tales, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, E.R. Eddison, and Fritz Leiber, among others. He attended the University of Manitoba, earning a BA in philosophy in 1975. During Kay’s time at the University, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien asked him to help complete his father’s unfinished The Silmarillion. They worked on the book at Oxford from 1974-75, and it was published in 1977.

Kay studied at the University of Toronto, graduating with a LL.B in 1978. He was admitted to the bar, though he never practiced law, choosing to focus on writing instead. From 1982-89 he was associate producer and principal writer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio series The Scales of Justice, which dramatized real legal cases.

While working for the CBC, Kay began publishing novels set in invented worlds, starting with the Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree (1984); The Wandering Fire (1986), winner of the Casper Award (now known as the Aurora Award); and The Darkest Road (1986). His next books included fewer overt fantasy elements and drew more on actual history. Sailing to Sarantium (1998) and Lord of Emperors (2000) form the Sarantine Mosaic, set in an alternate version of ancient Byzantium; both were World Fantasy Award finalists. Aurora Award winner and World Fantasy Award finalist Tigana (1990) is a standalone set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. A Song for Arbonne (1992) is inspired by Medieval Provence, The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995) by Medieval Spain, and The Last Light of Sun (2004) is set during an analogue of the Viking invasions. World Fantasy Award winner Ysabel (2007) is related to the Fionavar Tapestry, but stands alone. World Fantasy Award finalist Under Heaven (2010) and River of Stars (2013) are set in a fantasy version of China. His new book, Children of Earth and Sky (2016), is inspired by Renaissance Europe. Some of Kay’s poetry has been collected in Beyond This Dark House (2003).

Kay married Laura Beth Cohen in 1984, and they have two sons. They live in Toronto.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I write big books. I did a panel once at Harvard with a few writers and editors, and the theme of the panel was, ‘You had me at Hello,’ or something like that. It was about hooking the reader on page one. I did my contrarian thing, and said that depending on the nature of the book, the idea of hooking on paragraph one, or page one, can have so many different ways of playing out. You don’t necessarily have to do the Dan Brown thing and kill someone in your first paragraph, with his blood coming down the wall at the museum. You don’t have to write that kind of hook. There’s a segment of the readership that has come to expect that, but my own sense is that the opening of a big book needs to reflect the fact that the author and the reader are going to be together for a long time. The rhythm of a long novel is different from the rhythm of a 150-page novel. When you mention not showing too much of a character the first time you see them, to me that seems obvious. I’ve got a lot of room. I want to keep you around for a while. I want you to discover, as I discovered, more about these people. Some of my characters surprise me. I’m learning about them as the plot sets up conversations, actions, deaths. All of these things teach me what these people want to be like, and what they become.”

*

‘‘When I finished Fionavar, my first three books, they were a moderate success. They weren’t a runaway success, but they sold in a great many countries, in a great many languages, and they did well. The pressure to do what I called a fourth volume of the trilogy, or something similar, was substantial. I can’t put together from looking back that far, to the late 1980s, why I was so confi­dently stubborn that I did not want to do another volume. I had an instinct that you are more easily typecast if you’ve done five or six books in the same world, than if you’ve moved on after one trilogy. Tigana was a massive changing of the game from Fionavar. I had written half of it, and my agent at the time was wildly in love with that half, and he said, ‘We’re going to hit a home run with this book, I want you to let me send it out now to your existing editors, and we’re going to ramp up the ante in a big way.’ I let him do it. Not only did he not get the ramped-up offer, he didn’t get any offer. He didn’t get an offer from editors who’d loved Fionavar. It was rejected. They said it was so different, and so ambitious, that at the halfway point the editors couldn’t convince their publishing houses that I would deliver. I was still a young writer, I’d boldly gone off in a different direction, and I’d been kicked in the teeth – by people who’d really liked my writing to that point. That was a bad few days. I had to suck it up and say, ‘I have to finish. I’m halfway through a very big book, and I’ve got to finish it. Then we’ll see.’ There was a lot of anxiety kicking in at that stage.

‘‘The happy ending to the story is that when it was finished, it was auctioned off in England, the States, and Canada, and it did wonderfully well. Once publishers read the finished book everybody went crazy for it, and that was my change of level, if you will. Tigana was the book that took me to another level, in terms of advances and recogni­tion. But at that halfway point, that shifting ground of trying to do something completely different, I got hammered. The end of the game was a happy result, but I had no idea at the time.”

*

Children of Earth and Sky is in the same world I used in The Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantine books and Last Light of the Sun. It is 900 years after the Sarantium books, so it’s in no way a sequel, but I’m inhabiting the same universe. I think what galva­nized me was when I read a passage by the great French historian Fernand Braudel, who wrote this massive two volume history of the Mediterranean world. It’s magisterial, just brilliant. He has a pas­sage about how we must not imagine that in times of great conflict between kingdoms, empires, and fates, that normal people went about their lives in awareness of those great conflicts. He’s saying essentially that people were caught up in, ‘How will I feed my kids?’ ‘How will I heat my house?’ ‘Will I get the harvest in?’ ‘How will I protect my village from brigands?’ ‘How will I marry my son or daughter to the person whose land is next to mine? Except I hate the person whose land is next to mine.’ It’s a wonderful passage about how the concerns of ordinary people are not those that we tend to see if we read the overarching histories of a given time. I copied that down, old-fashioned pen and a notebook stuff. In Children of Earth and Sky, there are many things I wanted to do, and a component of that was to create characters who embodied in varying ways either the truth of, or a refutation of, that thesis. One of them does think in terms of the war. She does it on a personal scale, but she’s caught up in this clash between fates and empires. Others just want to get on with their lives – in various ways. An artist. A woman escaping from what her father says is to be her destiny. A merchant who isn’t entirely happy with the future that seems laid out for him. A soldier with a conflict about how he wants to approach being a soldier, or whether he does. None of these are important people, and all of them are getting on with their lives. That’s what I kept coming back to as I was writing this novel.”

*

‘‘I’ll tell you a story. One of the things I’m re­ally interested in is memory. We make stories of our lives and we remember the same moments differently. The way you remember this conver­sation will not be identical to the way I do. Your recollection of how I said something might differ from my recollection of how I said it. That really interests me. So in several scenes in this book, I cut from one point of view to another person’s in the middle of a conversation or confrontation, and I also back up a bit so that some dialogue is repeated – and it’s a little bit different. Sometimes that’s inconsequential. You may say to me, ‘Come with me to the Casbah,’ and I may remember you saying, ‘The Casbah’s where we should go now.’ That’s not a consequential difference. But here’s the story. I did this very deliberately, five or six times I think, to underscore the way in which we remember and hear and respond differently to the same moments. My proofreader, quite cor­rectly, flagged every one of these as an error, and noted, each time, ‘‘Earlier in the scene he says, ‘Might as well have a drink’, but now she hears him saying, ‘Do you want a drink?’ Which do you prefer?’’ What I prefer is the change! The difference. It’s not a proofreader’s job to figure out the nuances of what a writer’s doing when they’re doing something like that. It’s a proofreader’s job to say, ‘It’s different.’ And she did that. This was not a central thing in the book, but it feeds into the larger idea of many characters and points of view circling around the edges of the war, seeing things differently. At one point some of them are journeying east, and their belief is that they are safe because the army is north of them, and they have documents that say they’re entitled to travel on the road, they make a calculated decision that they’re safe on that journey. They’re literally skirt­ing around the edges of the war. But metaphori­cally all of my characters are doing that. They’re circling the perimeter, except for some of them who end up dead center.”


Cory Doctorow: Peace In Our Time

E-books are game-changers, but not in the way we all thought they would be. Far from taking over print, e-book sales have stagnated at less than a quarter of print sales and show every sign of staying there or declining for the foreseeable future.

But e-books continue to be a source of bitter controversy that divides publishers from two of their most potentially useful allies: writers’ groups and libraries.

Below, I’ll present two thought experiments for how libraries and writers’ groups could find common cause with the Big Five publishers, using tech projects that would make a better world for writers, readers, literature, and culture.

First up, libraries. Libraries are understandably exercised about the high prices they’re expected to pay for their e-books – as much as 500% more than you and I pay on the major online services. To add insult to injury, HarperCollins makes libraries delete any e-book that has circulated 26 times, on the bizarre grounds that:

a) Its print books are allegedly so badly bound that they disintegrate after 26 readings (this is not actually true); and

b) This defect in the robustness of physical books is a feature, not a bug, and should be im­ported into the digital realm.

Libraries have tried to shame the publishers into offering better deals, through the Fair Pric­ing for Libraries campaign, fairpricingforlibraries.org. It’s had some limited success there, with Random Penguin, the largest of the Big Five, offering ‘‘flexible’’ prices that are a substantial improvement, but still far from perfect.

The libraries’ fight is hamstrung by their lack of leverage. Library patrons want e-books, publishers are the only source of the e-books patrons want, and libraries have to give their patrons what they want.

Libraries could have leverage. Publishers have a much bigger e-book problem than library pricing: Amazon’s dominance in e-book sales. Worse than that: Amazon is also a publisher, one that competes head to head with the Big Five, chasing the same authors to write the same books for the same readers.

Amazon knows, in realtime, how publishers’ books are performing. It knows who is buying them, where they’re buying them, where they’re reading them, what they searched for before buying them, what other books they buy at the same time, what books they buy before and after, whether they read them, how fast they read them, and whether they finish them.

Amazon discloses almost none of this to the publishers, and what information they do disclose to the publishers (the sales data for the publishers’ own books, atomized, without data-mineable associations) they disclose after 30 days, or 90 days, or 180 days. Publishers try to fill in the gaps by buying their own data back from the remaining print booksellers, through subscriptions to point-of-sale databases that have limited relevance to e-book performance.

There is only one database of e-book data that is remotely comparable to the data that Amazon mines to stay ahead of the publishers: e-book circulation data from public libraries. This data is not as deep as Ama­zon’s – thankfully, since it’s creepy and terrible that Amazon knows about your reading habits in all this depth, and it’s right and fitting that libraries have refused to turn on that kind of surveillance for their own e-book circulation.

Presently, that data is all locked up by Overdrive, the company the publishers insist on libraries using as a circulation platform for e-book lending.

Here’s my thought-experiment: what if libraries cloned Overdrive in free, open source code, which every library in the world could use, and which libraries could pay independent contractors to patch and improve. Rather than paying an annual fee for Overdrive that pays for the soft­ware and dividends to Overdrive’s investors, the libraries would adopt the model that has made Drupal and WordPress so successful: paying independent contractors for service and upkeep, and collectively shar­ing the benefits of the incremental improvements made through these transactions.

The openness of the platform is key, because that’s what lets the libraries assert that they are able to collect aggregated statistics on usage and circulation that are sufficiently zoomed-out as to not compromise patrons’ privacy, but are still full of the key insights publishers need to compete with Amazon, their best and biggest frenemy, publisher, and retailer rolled into one.

The quid pro quo for this arrangement is that the publishers would have to stop shafting librar­ies on e-books. It’s a win-win, because the librar­ies will just use that extra money to buy more e-books, and the publishers will get actionable market intelligence they can use to sell more e-books and writers will get a publishing ecosystem that is less dependent on a single, remorseless, giant retailer.

It’s critical that we make sure these deals ben­efit writers, because e-books are also a hot potato in writer-publisher dynamics. The Author’s Guild has taken a public stand demanding that writers to get 50% of net proceeds from e-books as a standard deal – double the current rate. Publishers have not taken this call very seriously so far.

But there’s a way to triple the writer’s share of e-book royalties, with­out costing the publishers anything, and, in so doing, take away some of Amazon’s market dominance.

That way is to allow writers to retail their own books.

The standard deal looks like this: retailers get 30% of the gross book price, and writers get 25% of the net (17.5% of gross) as a royalty. If writers were the retailers, their royalty would jump from 17.5% of gross to 47.5% of gross, for the books that they sold.

How could this work? Groups like the Authors Guild, and even its rival Authors Alliance (a group that calls for more liberal copyright rules, on whose advisory board I sit), or even both together (this being one of the few areas in which they can both agree), could raise a grant from a foundation to create an e-book retail platform that writers could host themselves, plug into their WordPress of Drupal sites, or embed as a widget on Facebook and Tumblr. This platform would allow writers to retail their own e-books, and would have a central hub, ‘‘Fair Trade E-books,’’ where readers could, with one search, find the writer’s store for whatever books they were seeking.

Writers who sell their own e-books offer two things that Amazon can’t match. The first is the assurance to readers that when they buy from writers, they help the writers they love triple their earnings, while not spending a penny more. The second is the ability to buy books from a single store, regardless of geographic location.

Today, readers who try to buy English-language books from outside of English territories, or even in territories in which writers have not sold rights, are often simply turned away from Amazon and its competitors. Try to buy one of my English e-books books in Sweden (a country where most people speak better English than me), and chances are you’ll be told your kronor are no good. Amazon can’t figure out which publisher’s e-books are the right ones to sell there, and the cost of screwing it up are higher than the profit from that lost sale, so the customer is turned away.

But writers know exactly which publisher has rights to their books in every territory. By configuring a simple preferences screen, writers can divvy up the remittances from their books to the correct publisher for every sale, and thus serve every customer – even those buying in territories where there are no publishers – if you’ve sold US/Canadian rights, but not UK rights, you can serve UK customers and pocket 100% of the revenue, at least until you find a UK publisher. What’s more, you can use your sales figures from the UK as a convincer to close the deal with a UK publisher.

Like the libraries’ notional Open Overdrive, the writers’ Open Federated Amazon would benefit from collective action. If a writer hires a developer to add a feature to her store, all the writers in the world could use that feature.

The Big Five would have to come to the table, of course: they’d have to offer retail accounts to their own writers, which would incur some real accounting expense on their end. But as this service is born digital, the accounting tools could be built into the retailing software, developed in consultation with the Big Five, to plug right into their accounting systems.

The Big Five have hard-fought deals with Ama­zon that prevent them from allowing retailers to sell more cheaply than Amazon does, and any move to offer e-books direct from their own web­sites would cause serious troubles with Amazon and the other retailers. But it would be hard for any big e-book platform to object to writers serv­ing their own readers, from their own websites.

Most writers need publishers: the ability to write a book is not a good predictor of the ability to publish it. Libraries need publishers, too. The historical accident that put writers, libraries and publishers on opposing sides of the e-book wars is a bad deal all around.

There’s a catch to these solutions, though: they’re incompatible with DRM. The major operating expense of the e-book businesses that Overdrive and Amazon run is solving the insoluble headaches caused by their DRM. Cooperative platforms have no budget to supply that support.

In a rational world, this would be an easy argu­ment to win. All DRM is broken, all e-book DRM doubly so. Just get a copy of Calibre and follow a simple online recipe and you can remove the DRM from any e-book you’ve bought. All DRM does is punish honest readers. The crooked ones have no serious impediment to doing whatever they want with e-books.

However, the Big Five (with the notable excep­tion of Tor, the SF division of Macmillan, which is all DRM-free) require DRM as an unshakable article of faith.

Perhaps the prospect of a lasting peace with writers and libraries – and a competitive edge against Amazon – will win them over.


Tim Pratt: Closing Doors

Timothy Aaron Pratt was born December 12, 1976 in Goldsboro NC. He traveled with his mother as a child, living in Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia before settling back in Goldsboro. Pratt went to Appalachian State University in Boone NC, graduating with a BA in English in 1999, and attended the Clarion Writers Workshop that summer. He worked as an advertising copywriter briefly before moving to Santa Cruz CA in 2000, where he spent a year as a tech writer and office manager for a disability advocacy company. In 2001 he relocated to Oakland and began working as an editorial assistant at Locus, where he is now a senior editor and occasional reviewer.

Pratt began publishing genre material professionally with poem ‘‘Bacchanal’’ in Asimov’s (2001). ‘‘Soul Searching’’ won a Rhysling Award for best long poem in 2005. Some of his poetry was collected in If There Were Wolves (2006).

Pratt’s first professional story sale was ‘‘The Witch’s Bicycle’’ (2001). Other notable stories include Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Little Gods’’ (2002); Hugo Award winner ‘‘Impossible Dreams’’ (2006); Stoker Award finalist ‘‘The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft’’ (2008, with Nick Mamatas); and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist ‘‘Her Voice in a Bottle’’ (2009). ‘‘Hart and Boot’’ (2004) was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories: 2005. Some of his short fiction has been collected in Little Gods (2003), World Fantasy Award finalist Hart & Boot & Other Stories (2007), and Antiquities and Tangibles (2013). He publishes a new short story every month for subscribers to his Patreon at www.patreon.com/timpratt.

First novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl (2005) was a Mythopoeic Award finalist, and won the Emperor Norton Award for best Bay Area novel. His Marla Mason urban fantasy series began with Blood Engines (2007, as T.A. Pratt), and continued with Poison Sleep (2008), Dead Reign (2008), and Spell Games (2009). Pratt self-published additional series novels Bone Shop (2009), Broken Mirrors (2010), Grim Tides (2012), Bride of Death (2013), Lady of Misrule (2015), and Queen of Nothing (2015). Final volume Closing Doors is forthcoming.

Other books include science fantasy The Nex (2010), gonzo-historical The Constantine Affliction (2012, as T. Aaron Payton), standalone contemporary fantasies Briarpatch (2011) and Heirs of Grace (2014), and short novel The Deep Woods (2015). He has also written gaming tie-ins for Forgotten Realms, Pathfinder Tales, and others properties.

Pratt edited Star*Line, the magazine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, from 2002 to 2004. With his wife Heather Shaw, he co-edited ’zine Flytrap from 2003 to 2008, with a one-off revival issue in 2014. He edited reprint anthology Sympathy for the Devil (2010) and co-edited original anthology Rags and Bones with Melissa Marr (2013).

Pratt was a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer in 2004. He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and their son, River.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘There are so many authors doing what I do that we have a name now: hybrid authors. Hybrids combine different things, and hybrids are stronger and more robust. There are tons of people now who do traditional publish­ing and also self-publish, or crowdfund some projects through Kickstarter, or publish short stories through Patreon, or whatever. It’s no longer either/or. I’ve been doing the hybrid thing for years, but now it’s so widespread it’s almost weird when people don’t. I’ll talk to authors who have thriving careers with big publishers, and they’ll say, ‘I have this weird little passion project, or this niche thing I want to do.’ Or, ‘I had this outline I wrote that we sent around years ago and nobody wanted to buy it, but I still care about it.’ Now there are options for projects like that. Crowdfunding especially has changed the threshold for what makes a project viable, and it works best for writers that are somewhat established, because you need a crowd. If you already have a career in traditional publishing, it’s easier to reach an audience with weird things that might not make enough money for your big publisher to take them on. Maybe you want to do a book that’s too niche or different for your main publisher. Now you can.”

*

‘‘I’m a short-story guy. Stories are what I’m good at, and occasionally great at. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m a pretty good novelist, but stories are where I excel, and I’ve written a few things I’ll go to my grave happy with. I’ve never written a novel I’m completely pleased with. After I started publishing novels regularly, I almost completely stopped writing short stories. I’d write them when I was solicited for an anthology, but writing for anthologies almost always means writing for a theme, or to a particular length, or with a particular tone. I rarely did the thing I used to love doing: getting an idea and just writing it, without worrying about how long it was going to be, or if it was going to be funny or scary or sad, or SF or fantasy or horror. I made my name (inasmuch as I have a name) from writing stories that way, but after novels took over my time, I stopped. ‘Write more stories’ was always on my mental to-do list, but it was way at the bottom, after the paying work, so I never prioritized it.”

*

‘‘It’s getting tricky for the midlisters. We’re going extinct. And the small press isn’t the same, either. It used to be that what a small press could offer was making a book. Well, now anyone can make a book. You can hire someone for not that much money to do your layout, buy some stock art or find an illustrator you like online and ask to use one of their pieces, and hire a cover designer who can turn that art into something attractive. You can hire developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders. You’re looking at an outlay of maybe hundreds of dollars, and that’s assuming you don’t have the skills to do any of it yourself, and you can get a nice-looking book, sell it, and keep all the money for yourself. The small presses used to have access to distribution channels that self-publishers don’t, but now anyone can publish with all the major online retailers. There are still good small presses with a lot to offer, ones with good relationships with bookstores, and dedicated bases of readers, and presences at conventions, and publicity skills, and good editing: those things all have great value. Subterranean Press is great, and I did a book with PS Publishing last year. Tachyon does fantastic books. Presses like that also offer a certain critical imprimatur: if they publish you, you’re probably worth reading. But there are other independent presses that don’t have that much prestige, or as many connections, and that don’t offer anything an author can’t simply do for themselves. We have more choices now.”

*

‘‘Most of my best friends who are writers write children’s books, if not exclusively, then at least in part. They’ve given me lots of advice. One of the things that made sense to me was that when you write young adult books, it’s very much about the inner life of the characters. Sometimes very little happens, externally, and it’s largely about processing emotions, figuring things out, deal­ing with your thoughts, and finding your place in the world. Middle grade is more about stuff happening. Younger kids don’t question things as much. You can have a magical thing happen to an eight- or ten-year-old, and they’ll roll with it. It allows you to avoid what I’ve always called the ‘blot of mustard problem.’ (You know, in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sees a ghost and tells himself it’s a hallucination brought on by indigestion from undigested beef or a blot of mus­tard.) I write a lot about magic intruding into the modern world, and when you do that, you have to deal with the protagonist’s natural disbelief. They have to say, ‘Is this a dream? Have I gone mad? Have I been drugged?’ Sometimes it’s important to have them wrestle with their belief… but more often you just want to get them to a point where they’ll plausibly accept the magic, so you can get on with the story. There are tricks to make that seem psychologically plausible, but in a middle grade, you don’t have to worry so much. You can just say: ‘Look, magic.’ And the child characters will accept it and act accordingly.”

*

‘‘I just like to try different things. I wrote a space opera proposal, which my agent is send­ing around now. If anybody bites on that, it will be my next project. There are a couple of other things I want to explore. There’s a character in my Marla Mason novels, a trickster figure, who’s very morally ambiguous. I have an idea for a novel about her, about revenge. I’ve wanted to do a big crazy revenge novel for a while. I love Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, and I like the Parker novels by Richard Stark, which are usually about someone being wronged and taking revenge. Right now I’m writing another Pathfinder Tales book, the fourth in a series about a con artist named Rodrick and his best friend, a magical sentient sword of living ice. I always liked Elric and Stormbringer, and I always liked Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. One day I thought, ‘What if, instead of all the tortured angst, Elric and Stormbringer had the same sort of relation­ship that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have?’ A boy and his sword, partners against the world, two halves of a sundered whole. My talking sword is curmudgeonly and mostly wants to sleep on piles of gold all day, because he has the soul of a dragon, and his wielder wants piles of gold too, for all the obvious reasons. The first one was called Liar’s Blade – they didn’t like my preferred title Bastard, Sword, but I used it for a story about the characters later – and the third one, Liar’s Bargain, is out later this year. I like quest novels, but I like quest novels where everybody in the party has a secret ulterior mo­tive and is planning to betray everybody else. Right now I’m writing the fourth book, Liar’s Destiny, which is about the dangers of relying on a prophecy. I love writing this series because it’s mostly banter and sword fighting, 80,000 words of jokes and derring-do and selfish people being forced to do heroic things, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.”


Paolo Bacigalupi: Broken World

Paolo Tadini Bacigalupi was born August 6, 1972 in Colorado Springs CO, moving with his hippie parents to western Colorado soon after. They lived in a commune briefly and remained in the area afterward; when his parents divorced he split his time between them, going to various schools, finishing high school at the private Colorado Rocky Mountain School, where he learned the basics of writing. He attended Oberlin College in OH, where he met his wife-to-be Anjula (they married in 1998) and majored in East Asian Studies, spending time in China for foreign-language immersion. After graduating in 1994 he worked in China as a consultant, helping foreign companies enter the Chinese market. He returned to the US, and in 1996 worked for an early web development company in Boston. He and Anjula lived in Denver before returning to the small town of Paonia ten years ago, where they live with their son. Bacigalupi worked as the online editor for High Country News, a bi-weekly environmental newspaper in print and online, before becoming a full-time fiction writer.

Bacigalupi is a frequent contributor to F&SF, publishing his first story there, ‘‘Pocketful of Dharma’’, in 1999, though he first came to wide attention with Sturgeon finalist ‘‘The Fluted Girl’’ (2003) and Hugo and Nebula Award nominee ‘‘The People of Sand and Slag’’ (2004). His work has also appeared in Asimov’s, various anthologies, and High Country News. Other stories include ‘‘The Pasho’’ (2004); Hugo nominee and Sturgeon Award winner ‘‘The Calorie Man’’ (2005); ‘‘The Tamarisk Hunter’’ (2006); Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist and Asimov’s Award winner ‘‘Yellow Card Man’’ (2006); ‘‘Small Offerings’’ (2007); ‘‘Softer’’ (2007); Hugo, Sturgeon, and Nebula Award nominee ‘‘The Gambler’’ (2008); and Nebula Award finalist novella The Alchemist (2011). Many of his stories were collected in Locus Award winner Pump Six and Other Stories (2008).

His first novel The Windup Girl (2009) was a huge critical and commercial success, named one of the top ten fiction books of the year by Time magazine, and won Hugo, Campbell Memorial, Compton Crook, Locus, and Nebula Awards.

First YA novel Ship Breaker (2010) won the Michael L. Printz Award, was nominated for the Andre Norton Award, was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and made the Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list, presented by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association. Sequel The Drowned Cities appeared in 2012, and a third volume in the series is forthcoming. He moved to middle-grade for Zombie Baseball Beatdown (2012), and back to YA for standalone SF The Doubt Factory (2014).

His latest adult novel is near-future thriller The Water Knife (2015).


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘We’re a species that reacts to visceral stimuli. Whatever those visceral stimuli are, we take that as being the general state of the world. If it’s raining, it’s wet. If it’s a drought, it’s dry. We don’t take in things like ‘statistically, every year Lake Mead has gotten lower and lower.’ That’s not something you experience viscerally.

‘‘A lot of our problems stem from the fact that we’re a global species, and in order for us to gather information about the state of ourselves as a global species, we need to rely on data, rather than visceral experiences, to inform us about whether we’re proceeding in a way we like or don’t like.

‘‘You see the same thing when people talk about global warming, and they’re like, ‘It’s freezing where I am!’ Yeah, but that’s because there’s a polar vortex that’s shoving all of the cold air down to the United States when it should have been up at the North Pole, which is burning right now.

‘‘Again and again we take our localized, visceral experience of the data set and try to extrapolate that outward, and in reality we need to gather all of this general data from all over and use that, instead. It’s not what we’re built to do as a species. naturally.

‘‘Of course it would help if a bunch of corporations weren’t trying to muddy the waters by telling us the data isn’t true. The whole #ExxonKnew thing is a smoking gun. This major oil company decided it wasn’t profit­able for us to believe in global warming, and so they decided to muddy up the science as much as they could, so that we’d all sit around being confused for a while, while they made billions and billions per year in profit. This company basically decided to put a stake in the heart of our children’s future. And we’ve pretty much accepted that – which is amazing in itself.”

*

‘‘In any universe where we as human beings were focused on being rational and effective, Trump would not be as successful as he is. Maybe what’s happen­ing is we’re seeing how dumb we are. Society needs expert technocrats to run everything, because clearly we as a mass are just a mob.

‘‘I think a lot about mobs, and the excitement people get from being a part of mobs, across the political spectrum. I’m struck by our need to cre­ate mobs to reinforce our own values, so we feel extremely virtuous as we rip the fuck out of whoever we define as being outside of our in-group. I’m fascinated by that, and I feel like it’s getting uglier.

‘‘I think there’s something about social media that’s acting as gasoline for these big mob gatherings. The anonymity and the distancing that happens with the Internet is lubrication for viciousness. People like being able to look to their left and their right and say, ‘I’ve linked arms with others! I am part of something!’ Then everybody goes charging off to rip the fuck out of whoever doesn’t march down their particular moral corridor.

Anybody who’s outside of their moral structure must be the enemy. I’m fascinated by that. Again and again I see it.”

*

‘‘For The Water Knife, I just looked around at my local politics. I spent time immersed in the politics of water when I worked at High Country News. There’s stuff I was experienced with, with local water issues, and then there’s larger state-by-state issues, so I was aware of the general dynamics.

‘‘There are other things I specifically dragged in because I wanted those dynamics in the story. Rick Perry is a kind of a shit about immigration himself, so it was nice to make all Texans the new despised immigrants trying to get into other states. Here’s your rhetoric, let’s shove it back at you. Now you get to be that person.

‘‘A lot of things in the book are based on things I’ve noticed happening, and one of them is this huge push for state’s rights, this idea that the federal government is too powerful. These are the Cliven Bundys of the world: ‘I don’t even recognize the sovereignty of America! It’s never existed!’ That idea is rife throughout the western United States. That at­titude and those crazypants ideas are common here, and they’re often coupled with the idea of states’ rights, the interior states especially.”

*

‘‘Talking about business is funny. There’s this thing authors do where they sort of flip their hair and say, ‘I’m just an artist. Business is hard.’ I hear it from authors all the time.

‘‘The interesting thing about that is everyone else in this industry is in business, so they’re going to fuck you up. I’m getting a little intolerant hearing author after author, or artist after artist, say, ‘Busi­ness is hard.’

‘‘Armor up, because bad people are out there, and they will fuck you in many different ways, and some of those will be career-ending ways. You won’t even see it happening until your career is just destroyed. Look around and see how many predators there are in the water around authors. It’s really important that authors start being aware of those things.

‘‘It’s weird because the tools we have and the information we trade are so limited. So many authors have saved my ass by telling me about things they learned in the business world. It’s been valuable to have so many people who were kind enough to share their experience with me, or give me a warning flag when they saw something going off the rails.

‘‘I want to emphasize that to authors. Make friends. Be kind to others. Ask questions. Share information. Always be willing to ask for guidance or another perspective. Be generous to others.”


Kameron Hurley: Cultivating Inspiration on Deadline

Like most people trying to stay above water in this tricky economy, I’ve been looking into ways to use my time more effectively. I have a bushel of novel and short story deadlines, a busy day job, and I’m feeling increasing pressure to sell more work now while the getting is good.

To get even this far, I’ve given up a lot of things. It’s been my policy to play video games rarely; I use them as a reward for work completed, like my ‘‘30 days of World of Warcraft after I turn in a novel’’ treat. When I watch television, it’s either some junk show I turn on while copyediting or something more substantial I watch at dinner while spending time with my spouse. Saturdays are completely dedi­cated to creating new words. That gives me Sundays off, technically, but I often spend them writing articles like this one or creating digital rewards for my monthly Patreon backers, who pay a per-story fee in exchange for new work from me. I’ve been hustling to find reprint markets for my Patreon work as well, and all that takes… time. To help me retain my sanity, I try to allow myself to just take the holidays off now, as most of the publishing world shuts down from Thanksgiving until New Year’s anyway.

What I’ve found in trying to work this quickly, however, is that I’ve started to recycle a lot of themes and tropes in my fiction. The same thing happened to me when I went to the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and had to churn out a story a week. When you write that fast, you can’t cover up your trouble spots anymore. You don’t have the time to weave pretty passages that make up for lackluster plots. Your characters can’t hide the fact that they’re all pursuing some object of power in every single story. You lose the ability to convince yourself that a pretty ending sentence necessarily equals a good ending. All your story problems are laid bare.

If I’m not actively engaged in refilling my idea bucket, I start to reuse characters, settings, tropes, and set pieces. I have drowning-in-cistern scenes that play a key role in two stories I’ve written over the last year. I’ve got three more stories written in the same time frame that follow elite teams of people (generally duos) who hunt down rogue sorcerers/mercenaries/war criminals. Once you get used to writing a particular style of story and you’re asked to produce work very quickly, it’s easy to lean back on your most comfortable tropes. I had always wanted to write as fast as Robert E. Howard, and now I understand why phrases like ‘‘his mighty thews’’ got recycled over and over in his work. When you’re writing this fast, you lean hard on what you do best.

In order to go forward, I’ve had to go back. When I started a story for an anthology recently, my first inclination was to write one about two people who are hunting down looters of old-world relics. Once again, it was an elite team hunting somebody down. Sure, I work hard to create new worlds and characters around this tried-and-true plot, but the fact remains that I’ve used this plot so often it’s starting to bore me. The worst thing you can tell a writer is that they’re suf­fering from a failure of imagination, and yet here I am, failing away.

So I stopped writing the story, went through some old story drafts, and pulled out a story I’d started some time back. It’s about a village priestess who captures an enemy combatant and leaves her village with him in order to find a way to exact revenge on his people. Sure, it’s a duo, but they aren’t an elite team, and they’re not seeking a particular object. This was a little more interesting and different than what I’d been doing recently. In order to go forward, I had to go back. I can’t just rifle through trunk stories every time I need to launch my career forward, though, or I’m just going to continue going back and back until I’ve dug myself into a big hole.

This leaves me in the uncomfortable position of having to do what I don’t want to do when I’m on deadline. I have started to do things other than writing.

Shocker, I know.

I’ve started reading more, not just new work that I’ve been asked to blurb, but older work that’s been sitting in a huge pile by my bed for years. Hemingway has a reputation for writing manly men, but I’d argue Hemingway’s work is often a bold critique of masculinity. It’s about men who are cowardly, men who screw up, men who can’t have real relationships. I’ll go from reading Hemingway to reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, then hop over into reading United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas, and what my brain spits back at me after it shakes all that around for a while is pretty interesting.

I’ve also started working through the backlog of films that I meant to see but that always looked like huge time investments, films like Inception and Ex Machina and Interstellar. I started replaying Bioshock Infinite, because though it is a hot mess in many problematic ways, it does some extraordinary things with worldbuld­ing and narrative that I can get some inspiration from.

It was my spouse who pointed out that I was sitting around worrying about all the writing I wasn’t doing more than I was actually writing. Instead of spending all that time feeling guilty about what I wasn’t doing and scrolling through Twitter, I needed to release myself from the ‘‘I should be writing’’ mentality and let my brain start connect­ing things on its own. I found that the more I actively thought about plot problems, the less my brain wanted to fix them. It kept trying to avoid the problems I’d put to it. For instance, instead of fixing a plot problem on my current book, my brain recently offered up a solution to a subplot problem in the next book I’ll be working on. At some point I have to give in and let my brain make the connections it needs to make, without getting in its way. More and more, I have to let my brain go more than I’m used to, or it just retreads the same old story paths.

I would like to tell you that giving up everything to write is the only way to write. I enjoy spouting that whole ‘‘fall on your sword’’ advice time and time again. Giving up activities that waste your time while you should be writing is beneficial, but I can only burn hard like I have for so long before the flame gutters out. I don’t want to be that writer who just writes the same story over and over again. I want to punch through and level up and keep people guessing. To achieve that requires me to consider whether what I’m writing is actu­ally leveling me up, or whether it’s just me cranking out more of the same for a quick sale. Sales are good, money is good, being prolific is good, but I don’t just want to be good. I want to be great; I want to be the best at what I do, and that takes time, and patience, learning how to cultivate my own inspiration. And that means giving my brain a day off, if only to fool it into coming up with my next great novel.


Fran Wilde: Magical Engineering

Frances Ellen Wilde was born in 1972 in Philadelphia PA and spent many childhood summers traveling back and forth from Philadelphia to Hopkinsville KY. She studied art in high school and learned to design jewelry. At the University of Virginia she studied writing and literature, with an emphasis on poetry, graduating with an English degree focused on Milton and 18th-century literature. She received an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College, and later earned another master’s degree in Information Architecture and Interaction Design. She has worked as a sailing instructor, programmer, teacher, proofreader and copywriter, editor, jeweler’s assistant, web designer, and technology consultant, among other occupations.

A published poet since the late ‘90s, Wilde’s first publication of genre interest was story ‘‘Everlasting’’ (2011) in Daily Science Fiction, and she has published more than a dozen stories since then, with appearances in Asimov’s, Nature, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tor.com, and anthologies and small-press magazines. Debut novel Updraft, a fantasy set in a city of living bone above the clouds, appeared last year, with companion novels Cloudbound and Horizon (working title) forthcoming. Story ‘‘The Topaz Marquis’’ (2014) introduced her Gem Universe series, which will continue with novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary from Tor.com. Her ongoing series of interviews with other authors, Cooking the Books, explores the intersection of food and fiction at franwilde.wordpress.com/cooking-the-books.

Wilde is a graduate of Viable Paradise (2011) and attended Taos Toolbox (2012). She lives in Philadelphia with her family.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘When I was very young, I learned to read at the knees of some amazing storytellers. The tradition in both my mother’s and father’s families is to sit there and tell yarns. If you sit me next to Andy Dun­can, my voice will start to twang – it’s unconscious. If you’re from the northern US, and all of your cousins on your mother’s side are in the southern US, you might develop adaptive coloring very quickly. I did. I also spent a lot of time in libraries, reading, and I began to read and write very early. I was very serious about my diaries, too. Most of the time I camped out in the Tredyfrin-Easttown Public Library, which was a wonderful place with reading nooks. I read everything. I’d just go hide in the stories. Pretty soon, I realized that the books in the library were fantastic, but there was a bookstore near me that had even more: they had a great genre section. When they figured out I didn’t have as much access to science fiction as I had to fantasy, they started loaning me science fiction ARCs.

‘‘They gave me a lot of things. I read Jack Chalker and Orson Scott Card. I read stuff that wouldn’t have come into the house otherwise. It was an extraordinary education. I came from a household that prided itself on classics and hardbounds and things you were supposed to read, a lot of engineering texts, and a lot of non-fiction. I was lucky in that way, but I had to go find the science fiction on my own. I loved that stuff.”

*

‘‘I got into games programming because I was doing a lot of academic research on how games can be used to teach kids different things. I came out to San Francisco and was talking to a couple different companies because I knew enough languages by then, and I knew how to do database integration and dynamic websites and animation. This was before the dot-com meltdown, and people would get bonuses just for bringing someone like me in. It was very heady. I was staying on a couch at a friend’s during one of these things in San Francisco. He had a copy of Snow Crash. I read it in an hour and a half, and then got all of the other Stephenson I could. I just loaded up on cyberpunk. I had read The Diamond Age during my master’s and I loved it, but I wanted the heavier stuff, the coder stuff. I’d read Neuromancer but I hadn’t read Burning Chrome. I went out and got all of this stuff and just soaked it in. Pat Cadigan’s Synners. This was where I lived. Candas Jane Dorsey wrote a story, it was in the Penguin Book of Modern Fantasy By Women (which is rather incorrectly labeled because science fiction is all throughout this book, but: women, therefore, fantasy, I guess?). Dorsey wrote this story called ‘(Learning About) Machine Sex’. When I was working in the programming industry, I passed it around. It percolated through a lot of the women programmers I knew, though there were very few of us. Just reading that story gave me a feeling like, ‘I can stay in this industry a bit longer and not strangle someone.’”

*

‘‘I originally pitched Updraft as YA, but I did some work in the book that wasn’t standard YA. There’s no love triangle, true, but that is not a definition of YA – there are YA stories that are excellent that don’t have that. I had a choice of which viewpoint character to write, because there are layers of generations in the story. I chose Kirit as the point of view character because I could hear her voice the loudest. The narrator could just have easily been Nat. It could have been so many people. If it had been Nat, it wouldn’t have necessarily been pitched as YA. He and Kirit are the same age, but a 17-year-old male on an epic adventure is not always considered YA. I wanted to write a female version of that story, and Kirit wanted to be the protagonist. So when Updraft ended up as a crossover title, I was happy, even though crossover is a tough place to be sometimes.”

*

‘‘I realized that I was a worldbuilder, and that my game experience, all of the things I’d been doing with my life, all of the art background, the animation, the visual stuff – I could draw on that and build a world. I’m hoping that at different points in somebody’s life – young adult through adult – they can come back to Updraft and say, ‘There’s more here,’ and that an adult can read it and say, ‘That was really fun.’ Saying that about a dialectical examination of politics and socio­economic stuff? That’s kind of cool. There’s a lot about consequences and compromises and gray areas. That’s something that some people learn, for better or worse, when they’re very young. There’s a lot about family in the book: the family you make, but also the family you’re born with. Having those layers of family can complicate a story. I really wanted that.

‘‘I wrote a lot of engineering into the book, because that’s what I know. Some people say, ‘There’s no magic in this book. It’s all engineer­ing.’ I say, ‘There’s magic in this book. It’s all engineering.’ At the end of the day, if you ask me to describe a bridge, or a schematic for a pump, I can do it. I was a science writer at the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins for years. They were one of my main clients because I could translate big engineering principles into simple language. That’s where I learned the rule that if you’re introducing an entirely new idea, or a new world, you go for simple language instead of the more difficult language. It’s a lower barrier for entry. Still, there are linguistic effects in Updraft, very carefully built in. In Updraft, instead of ‘passing things down’ to your offspring, you pass up, because the whole city goes up. I had to flip the prepositions all over the place. Doing that with simple language made the world more accessible.”

*

‘‘Coming up next is Cloudbound, the com­panion novel to Updraft. Kirit is still present, but this is Nat’s book. And you meet or re-meet a lot of other characters. Updraft was a horizontal narrative: it operated above the clouds with an occasional unlucky dive. All I can say about Cloudbound is that it’s a vertical story. I had a lot of fun giving my characters nitrogen narcosis and the bends at the same time. I loved writing this book. All those people who’ve been asking for more history and more understanding of what the bone towers do, and the cloud dynamics – that all became really paramount in this one. I did a lot of research on cloud dynamics, and on other things, like reverse-altitude-sickness issues. I ended up talking with consultants at NOAA and elsewhere about exoplanet weather and solar and thermal structures as well. All of that needs to stack up to make a world work. And I’m a third of the way through Horizon, which is the working title for the third book, and which is also very different. There are new point-of-view characters as well as Kirit and Nat, because there are more experiences here. The current ending of Cloudbound ends a little more abruptly than Updraft does. It answers the dominant question of ‘What the heck is down there?’, so I felt OK attaching a ‘Holy heck what do we do now?’ to it as well.”



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