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Nancy Kress: Tomorrow’s Kin

Nancy Anne Kress (née Koningisor) was born January 20, 1948 in Buffalo NY. She received a BS degree (summa cum laude) from the State University of New York – Plattsburgh (1969), taught fourth grade from 1969-73, then returned to college for a Master’s in Education (1978) and an MA in English (1979) from SUNY – Brockport, where she went on to teach English from 1981-83. From 1984-89 she was a copywriter at a Rochester NY firm. She has also taught at various workshops, including Clarion, and for 16 years she wrote a how-to column, Fiction, for Writer’s Digest.

Her first published work was SF story ‘‘The Earth Dwellers’’ in Galaxy (1976), but her first few novels were fantasy: The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), The Golden Grove (1984), and The White Pipes (1985). She’s best known for her science fiction, especially the Beggars series, about humans who are modified to eliminate the need for sleep: Hugo and Nebula Award finalists Beggars in Spain (1993) and Beggars and Choosers (1994), and concluding volume Beggars Ride (1996). Other series include thrillers Oaths and Miracles (1996) and Stinger (1998); the Probability trilogy: Probability Moon (2000), Probability Sun (2001), and Campbell Memorial Award winner Probability Space (2002); and the Crossfire books: Crossfire (2003) and Crucible (2004). Most of her novels are standalones, including An Alien Light (1987), Brain Rose (1990), Maximum Light (1998), Nothing Human (2003), Dogs (2008), Steal Across the Sky (2009), and Flash Point (2012). She also wrote YA Yanked! (1999).

Kress is a celebrated writer of short fiction, and notable stories include Hugo and Nebula Award Winner ‘‘Beggars in Spain’’ (1991); Hugo winner ‘‘The Erdmann Nexus’’ (2008); Nebula Award winners ‘‘Out of All Them Bright Stars’’ (1985), ‘‘The Flowers of Aulit Prison’’ (1996), and Yesterday’s Kin (2015); Nebula Award winners and Hugo finalists ‘‘Fountain of Age’’ (2007) and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall (2012); and numerous other awards finalists. Her short fiction has been collected in Trinity and Other Stories (1985), The Aliens of Earth (1993), Beaker’s Dozen (1998), Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (2008), and Philip K. Dick Award finalist Fountain of Age (2012). Retrospective The Best of Nancy Kress appeared in 2015.

Her non-fiction includes writing books Beginnings, Middles & Ends (1986), Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated (1986), and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint (2005). She also edited Nebula Awards Showcase 2003.

She lives in Seattle WA with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, married 2011. She has two adult sons from a prior marriage.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I started writing because I had kids. I didn’t plan on being a writer, unlike all these other people who knew they wanted to write when they were seven. I started writing when I was pregnant with my second child. I had a toddler running around, and we lived way out in the country. My then-husband took our only car to work, and he was taking an MBA, so he frequently stayed downtown to take his classes. There were no other women my age around. I was going nuts. I had a difficult pregnancy, I had a toddler running around, and I was alone most of the time. When my kids were sleeping, I started writing to have something to do that involved words with more than one syllable. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere. After a year, a story sold, and after another year, a second story sold. I began to get very interested in it. I had planned on going back to being a fourth-grade teacher when my kids were old enough but I started publishing, and I never ended up going back to teaching.

‘‘I used to come up with amazing stratagems to find time to write when I had children. I had very little money, but every time I sold a story and got a couple hundred dollars, I would spend it on babysitters so I could write more stories. Finally, another woman with small kids moved to this country road, and we would trade babysitting, so we could each have time. If she had my kids, I would get a couple of hours. You fit it in wherever you can, if you’re really serious about it. Because I’m a morning person, I would get up at five, before the children, and I would write then.”

*

‘‘We live in the future. This really is the future. People don’t realize how much is already being done with genetic engineering. E. coli, which is one of the easiest bacteria to genetically engineer, already produces all the insulin that used to be produced much more expensively in other ways. Another genetically altered E. coli produces carpet fibers for DuPont. It produces a biodegradable plastic glass that’s in use at the Kennedy Center, that isn’t going to clog up the landfills with a lot of plastic that won’t go away. A lot of medicines are made from genetically engineered bacteria, along with food. In the United States soy, which is in everything, is genetically engineered. Canola oil, from Canada, is all genetically engineered. Much of the corn in the United States is genetically engineered. Whatever you had for breakfast, you had some genetically engineered components in there, and you will have more.

‘‘The interesting thing to me is that not one person has ever been harmed by genetically engi­neered crops. The only illness that ever resulted was when somebody inserted a nut gene into something, and someone who had a nut allergy had a reaction. But if these things are labeled properly, and tested properly, they’re not dangerous.”

*

‘‘The TV reporter wanted to talk to a science fiction writer because although he’d talked to many scientists, scientists don’t like to speculate negatively about what could happen. For instance, the gene editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 is the most interesting advancement in genetic engineering of the last decade or so, because it makes gene editing much simpler. CRISPR/Cas9, an acronym, stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which means it’s a section of DNA with a certain structure, and Cas9 is the molecule that’s attached to it. That technology lets genes be cut and spliced and new genes put in more easily than previously. It makes genetic engineering more precise, much faster, and much easier. He wanted to do an article on this, as well as the CIA announcement, but when he talked to the scientists involved in it, including one at Berkeley who helped develop CRISPR/Cas9, they were leery of speculating about the consequences. Scientists have reputations and funding to protect, and can’t go out on a limb and make crazy predic­tions. I’m a science fiction writer. I can go out on all the limbs I want to, and make all the crazy predictions I want. I’ve written about genetically engineered bio weapons, in two novels and several short stories. That’s why he wanted to talk to me.

‘‘I’m turning ‘Yesterday’s Kin’, the novella that won the Nebula last year, into a trilogy. The first novel is done. The first third is the novella, and then it continues after aliens have left, and the spore cloud hits Earth. In the second book, which is also done, the United States has built a spaceship, and humans go to World. The third book, which I have to start writing next week, is about their coming back here, but there’s a time dilation, so they come back 28 years later. It has some of the same characters, and of course some new characters. My notes for book three say: ‘They return to Earth. Stuff happens. Microbes are involved.’ By the time this interview comes out I hope there will be more of it than that!”

*
‘‘I work out the science ahead of time because I’m not trained as a scientist, so even though I might not know all of the plot when I start writ­ing, I do know all the science. For a short story like ‘Pathways’ there will be a couple of pages of scientific notes. Then it’s a matter of turning my attention to the characters, which to me are the most important thing in fiction. I’ve talked about genetic engineering and science, but the characters are what matter. I try to make characters that are affected by and involved with the science, though I don’t usually write from the point of view of scientists themselves. I write more of characters affected by the science. It’s always good to write about the character who’s hurt the most by some­thing. That’s always a good viewpoint character because you get more conflict and emotion. Some handwaving is necessary because otherwise you’re writing a scientific monograph and you might as well go pick up your Nobel Prize.”

*

‘‘We can’t justify time travel, but time travel stories work. It’s a thing you have to accept. It’s a given. But don’t pile on top of the time travel a lot of other things you can’t accept. I regard a lot of time travel stories, including my own, as more fantasy than science fiction. What I wanted to do with the Anne Boleyn story in my collection, ‘And Wild For To Hold’, was to show that no matter how things change, human beings are the same. When they snatch Anne out of the past, she brings down the equivalent of a Pope and the equivalent of a King all over again, because that’s what she does. Human nature doesn’t change that much.”


David D. Levine: Everybody Loves Mars

David Daniel Levine was born February 21, 1961 in Minneapolis MN. He grew up in Milwaukee WI, attended college in St. Louis MO, and then relocated to Portland OR, where he’s lived ever since.

Levine’s first publication of genre interest was story ‘‘1992: The Worldcon that Wasn’t’’ (1996), but he began publishing regularly with ‘‘Wind from a Dying Star’’ (2001), and has produced more than 50 stories so far, including James White Award winner ‘‘Nucleon’’ (2001), Hugo and Sturgeon Award finalist ‘‘The Tale of the Golden Eagle’’ (2003), Hugo Award winner ‘‘Tk’tk’tk’’ (2005), Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Titanium Mike Saves the Day’’ (2007), and Sturgeon and Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Damage’’ (2015). Some of his short fiction was collected in Endeavour Award winner Space Magic (2008). Levine was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2003 and 2004. He co-edits fanzine Bento with his wife, Kate Yule, and has served as convention chair for Potlatch.

His debut novel Arabella of Mars, first in a science fantasy series set in an alternate Regency era, appeared in 2016. Mars is an ongoing interest: in 2010 he spent two weeks living in the simulated Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I’m happy in traditional publishing, though a lot of people say, ‘Oh, don’t do that to yourself, don’t saddle yourself with an agent, don’t do the traditional publishing thing – you would make so much more money and be so much happier with self-publishing.’ There’s no one offering advice on the question of traditional versus self-publishing who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. There’s nobody who can give you an unbiased opinion on which you should do. I am a traditional publishing partisan, but what I tell people is, you have to define your victory con­ditions. Your victory condition will control how you play. Do you want to make the most money? Do you want to have the most readers? Do you not care about money or readers, but want to be really well reviewed? Is having your paper book on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores something that is important to you? Is being able to control your career impor­tant to you? There are all sorts of things that will determine whether you consider yourself to be successful. I don’t think these desires are subject to conscious control. You have to look inside yourself and decide, what is really important to me? They may change over time.”

*

‘‘Arabella is the fourth novel I wrote, and the first novel I sold. Novel number three is a hard SF YA set on Mars – that one definitely came out of my simulated Mars experience in Utah. Just about the time I was finishing that one up, I was shopping my second novel, and looking for a new agent. The responses I was getting from agents as well as editors was, ‘Science fiction just isn’t selling.’ I was getting this from the editors of science fiction houses! So here I was with a completed hard SF manu­script, and I said, ‘I don’t need the heartbreak.’ So I set it aside. Nobody has ever seen it, and it’s never been critiqued. I have no idea if it’s any good. Then I started working on something that would be science fictional enough satisfy me, but in a more fantastical mode – something I thought would be more salable. That was Arabella, and it seems to have worked.”

*

‘‘My primary influence for Arabella was Patrick O’Brian, though his books are more Napoleonic than Regency. Patrick O’Brian was described as what the men were off doing during Jane Austen, and I’m more strongly influenced by O’Brian than Austen. Arabella is an O’Brian, Horatio Horn­blower kind of a thing, more than a Jane Austen thing. But you can’t escape the orbit of Jane Austen, especially after the trailblazing work of Mary Robi­nette Kowal, who has been a very helpful advisor to me. There’s a lot of information available about the Regency, especially for romance writers. There’s no end of research sources for me to get the details right, but getting the sailing tech right is much easier for me than getting the relationships and the societal mores right. I do need help on making sure that the other characters are not too 21st century in their worldviews. Science fiction readers really enjoy Patrick O’Brian. Apart from the fact that it’s well written and funny, it’s a viewpoint into a different universe. It’s painstakingly researched.”

*
‘‘I read an essay in a fanzine years ago called ‘The Science Fiction Archipelago’, and I’ve never been able to track it down since. It was predicated on the idea that science fiction grew out of a tradi­tion of sea stories that started in the 1700s and 1800s. Everything about the kind of default science fiction universe is based on the sea stories of the 1700s. The idea that you can travel from one planet to another in a matter of weeks or months rather than days or decades. The fact that the captain of the starship is the one who is in charge, that there is no effective communication between the captains and their bosses back home, the relationships of people within the ship, the relationships of the people on the ship to the places they arrive, the idea that each island has a single culture – a single climate, a single religion, a single language – all of these science-fiction tropes come directly from the sailing mechanics and realities of 1700. There is a literary tradition – you can actually see the connection starting with Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson, and growing through the sea stories that were popular literature in the 1800s and 1900s, leading up into the pulps of the ‘30s and the science fiction today. There is both a literary and technological connection between sea stories and science fiction stories.”

*

‘‘First novels can be so much better sometimes than what comes later. You put your focus on other things. I mean, look at The Time Machine. That was Wells’s first novel, and it’s still his best known and best beloved. I am still pushing myself. With Arabella book two, the thing I’m working on is an ensemble cast, because everything I’ve writ­ten so far has had very small casts, basically one protagonist, and I’m trying to give her a team. The individuals have to be people on their own, and have interactions with each other. It’s new and difficult for me. In book three, there’s gonna be a lot more politics. Literal politics as well as interpersonal politics. I’m definitely trying to keep stretching.’’


Spotlight on: Sam J. Miller, Writer

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons, and The Minnesota Review, among others. His first book, a young adult science fiction novel called The Art of Starving, will be published by HarperCollins in 2017. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, and he’s a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in New York City, and at www.samjmiller.com.

If you had to pick one of your stories to point our readers toward, which one would it be, and why?

HOW CAN YOU MAKE ME CHOOSE BETWEEN MY CHILDREN? OK, IF I MUST… my recent story ‘‘Things With Beards’’, in Clarkesworld, because it’s new and maybe a li’l controversial. When Peter Watts wrote ‘‘The Things’’, he got shit because he made Childs a Thing. But not only did I make MacReady and Childs BOTH Things, they’re also gay men. So I imagine someone somewhere is having an apoplectic fit over it. OR I’M NOT DOING MY JOB. All kidding aside, the fact is, when you’re not used to seeing your stories told in mainstream movies and books, because those are populated solely by straight, white, cis people, you get really good at re-constructing those stories, re-telling them, in ways that make room for you. That’s what’s so exciting about fanfic, especially in the hands of diverse and marginalized creators. We are fans, and we will lay claim to these works. Stories belong to everyone; no one controls how we fill in the blanks. If someone watches John Carpenter’s The Thing and sees MacReady has pin-ups of sexy ladies on his wall and says That dude is straight, their interpretation is no more or less valid than if I see it and say, That dude really wants people to think he’s straight.

Tell us about your work as an activist and organizer. On a related note: How does that work influence your fiction?

I work for an organization that was founded and is led by homeless people, and my job is to magnify and amplify the voices of people experiencing homelessness to fight for social change around the negative laws and polices that impact them. That means a lot of protesting the NYPD, who since the 1990s has made pushing law-abiding homeless people out of public space its prime directive, and a lot of fighting City Hall, which is in the pockets of big real estate and has no interest in creating housing for very poor people. I’ve been doing it for 12 years now, so I imagine it’s influenced my fiction in a million ways, but the two main ones are these: (1) It’s given me a ton of insight into the profound injustice that’s an inextricable part of how the world functions; how real and monstrous the consequences of gentrification are, for example – 96% of families in NYC homeless shelters are Black and/or Latino, so remember that the next time someone tries to tell you systemic racism is a thing of the past. (2) It’s given me the opportunity to meet and work closely with hundreds of incredible people, many of them in the middle of unthinkably stressful and painful situations, who are nevertheless strong and smart and funny people who still face each day with incredible dignity and resolve. This gives me hope for how the rest of us will fare, when the inevitable climate-induced Collapse reduces us all to refugees in the rubble.

Your debut novel Art of Starving is forthcoming. Tell us about it.

It’s young-adult science fiction, about a bullied small-town gay boy with an eating disorder who believes that starving himself awakens a latent ability to read minds, control the behavior of others, and possibly bend the fabric of time and space itself. So, you know, light frothy stuff. Lots of F-bombs and gay sex. I was part of the Clarion class of 2012, and instructors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare told us there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA. Inadvertently, I think I ended up testing that proposition, and, yup, there’s essentially nothing you can’t do in YA.

Why do you write SF instead of, say, crime novels or mimetic fiction? What’s the appeal of the speculative for you?

I write speculative fiction because that’s how the world looks to me. Life is magic. Human society is horror. The world is science fiction. We carry tiny rectangles in our pockets that can access the sum total of human knowledge! Have you ever seen an ocean? THAT SHIT IS CRAZY AMAZING. And people do things to each other – with machetes, with policy decisions, with legislative pens – that are far more frightening than anything a shoggoth or werewolf could do. To me the world is so full of wonder and horror that speculative fiction is the only literature equal to the task of reflecting it. By telling the most ridiculous lies, we as speculative fiction writers can present the primal truths of human existence in ways that other genre and non-genre lit could never begin to do.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or the work you do?

Just that while we still have a long way to go, we live in exciting times as genre readers and writers. A ton of brilliant new work is coming from writers of color, queer & trans & nonbinary folks, women, folks from outside the English-speaking Western world, and more… and the public temper tantrums of people who feel threatened by these new voices should be ignored like any other temper tantrum. But we also live in horrific times, in the world at large, whether it’s police murders of civilians of color, or mass shootings, or rape culture, or any number of other atrocities. More and more, I think it’s the storyteller’s job to insert the idea of ‘‘justice’’ into a world where it is so profoundly lacking, to show people that what we yearn for, what we fight for, can come to pass. Empires will fall; our oppressors will be punished; our suffering will be redeemed. The world we actually live in is profoundly unfair and unjust and cruel, but stories can help us escape – and imagine better ones. Our privilege and our oppression will be inverted. Our good acts and our wicked ones will be returned upon us. The ending might not be happy, but it will be just.


Kameron Hurley: When to Quit Your Day Job

The best writing career advice I ever received wasn’t ‘‘write every day’’ (because I certainly don’t), but, ‘‘Don’t quit your day job.’’

Clearly, not all of us have a choice in this matter, as steady day jobs continue to be eradicated and the ‘‘gig economy’’ becomes the norm. I’ve been laid off from at least half a dozen jobs in my adult life, and I’m not even 40. Many of us are pushed into lives of freelancing and novel writing not by choice, but by chance and necessity.

But when weighing your options, consider that I can count the number of full-time nov­elists I know who make a living wage solely from their novels on one hand, sometimes two. What I have found in the decade plus that I’ve been running in writing circles is that the writing life is so uncertain that many rely more or less on freelancing gigs for corporations, speaking fees, health insurance and a steady paycheck provided by a spouse, or generous help from family, or savings from a prior career as a doctor, lawyer, or banker. There are very few mak­ing $40,000 or more a year writing novels alone. Fewer still making six figures, despite what TV shows like Castle and its ilk will have you believe.

Ask yourself how many debut novelists you heard about who got six-figure deals who are still writing full time five or ten years later. I’ve seen far more writers quit their day jobs after getting a big advance and go back to the job market three years later after the advance is spent and never earns out. Even if you live frugally on $20,000 a year with a roommate, no car, and no student loan payments, consider that your $100,000 advance, after taxes and your agent’s cut, looks more like $70,000. Worse, you don’t get paid that amount all at once. If you’re lucky, you get half up front, and the rest paid out as you turn in and publish manuscripts. Also note that publishers don’t always pay on time, and payments have to be first processed by your agency and then come to you. Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

If you have been writing for any amount of time, you no doubt have been longing for the day when you can confidently turn in your notice or throw out your corporate gigs and write books full time. So let’s get into the weeds, here. When should you quit your day job?

While this is a personal decision that everyone is going to need to make on their own, here are some guidelines I’ve put together for myself in watching how other authors have managed this over the years. Consider quitting your day job:

1) When you have enough money in contracted books and savings to last you for the next five years. Five years is my minimum threshold here, but I can see how three or four years could also work, as that’s about the length of the typical day job these days. It’s rare, of course, to sign a contract for more than three books at a go at any one publisher these days unless you have a project that got caught up in a bidding war or you’re a big name. This would likely end up being two different contracts (prefer­ably more) at two (or more) different houses.

2) When you have the financial ability to do so. Yes, this is a lot like the first one, but includes other things, like a spouse with a steady job who agrees to be breadwinner for a finite or infinite amount of time while you write, or a sudden financial windfall like the lottery or an inheritance. But, again, I’d note that the best thing you could do with windfall money is to pay off all your bills first and save it. The vast majority of writers don’t die rich. Far too many end up in poverty. If you get a windfall, I do encourage you to spend it wisely.

3) When your day job is killing you more than financial uncertainty would. There are hugely toxic work environments out there, and they are only getting worse as employers use the fact that steady jobs are hard to find to treat workers abysmally. In this case, lining up as many freelancing jobs as you can and going all-in trying to write for a living is going to be better for you than living in a toxic, abusive environment. If you’re making $20,000 at a crappy job you hate that steals your soul, swapping that out for $20,000 a year writing is an easy decision. Pay off as many bills as you can first with your dual writing/work income, and good luck.

4) When it becomes impossible to level up because you’re out of time. Our time is finite. We only have so much of it, and it’s never certain when we’ll be out of it. When you find that you are unable to level up your writing career because you are out of time to complete the projects that are vital to your career, it may be time to try for something part time or work out a more flexible arrangement with your employer.

5) When you have no other choice. Sometimes life quits your day job for you, and you have to make novel writing and freelancing gigs work for you. This is not a bad way to go. There’s hustle involved, but there’s hustle involved in keeping a day job, too. These days nothing is certain. On the one hand, Gene Wolfe and Isaac Asimov had day jobs throughout their careers. On the other hand, they were living in a com­pletely different economy. Few have the luxury of deciding to keep their day job or not. Often, the decision is made for you, so do the best you can.

6) Whenever you feel like it because I’m not the boss of you. Throw caution to the wind! Be bold! Screw corporate America! Go all in! Luck and chance do occasionally pan out. I’m sure I’ll receive many e-mails about anecdotal stories of people quitting on signing their first book con­tract and making it as a full time novelist for 30 years without freelancing income. I can name a couple off the top of my head, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. Sometimes being bold works. All I’m saying is: not usually. But you do you.

If you decide to quit, or you’re forced to quit, my only advice is this: please be sure to diversify your income streams. Don’t rely on a single publisher, or a single platform like Patreon, to provide 100% of your income. Ideally, a mix of freelancing gigs, work with several publishers, a Patreon, and the occasional Kickstarter will round out how you make money to pay for things like health insurance and student loans.

Professional freelancers know that relying on a single big client can spell disaster if that client slashes their budget or decides to hire some­one in house. Think of a publisher like a freelancing client: they could be sold, they could cancel your contracts, they could decide not to buy your next book. Publishers are running a business, and just like any busi­ness, personal relationships and spoken promises don’t count for much when a buyer swoops in and cleans house. Even having a contract with a publisher means nothing unless you have the ability to pay for the legal action necessary to enforce it. Trust me on this one.

We live in interesting times, and the sage advice from the writers be­fore us isn’t always going to work. There are few jobs with security and pensions. More and more, writing for a living can be just as financially fraught and uncertain as working a regular corporate gig. There are no guarantees.

This is why I encourage writers to hold onto their regular gigs if they’re lucky enough to get them, and combine writing income and day job income for as long as possible. If you are in a position where you enjoy what you do and it doesn’t eat your soul, hold on. Pay down your bills. Enjoy this time while you can.


Comments from the 2016 Locus Poll and Survey

Here are comments, presented anonymously, submitted by voters in this year’s Locus Poll and Survey. Results of the poll were published in the magazine’s July issue; survey results will appear in August issue.

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A friend has a subscription and I read his copies.

All good.

Anybody who doesn’t read classic hard SF is not my kind; any convention that has many such people, or fatties, is something I want to avoid.

As a reader, I’m take great pleasure in the ever-increasing diversity of the writers of science fiction and fantasy. I’m always finding new writers that I enjoy. At the same time, I’m leaving behind older writers who no longer interest me.

Bravo and thank you, Locus!

Continue to love the magazine as one of my primary information conduits and connections to the field. It’s time for a grand new poll of the readership – ask a fun question or on fun and controversial subjects, and run with it.

Enjoyed last year’s Locus Awards Ceremony, but will miss this one, alas!!

Essential to someone working in the field; but the review selections are rather eccentric.

Glad I found this, really appreciate your mag!

Good stuff, folks!

Hello from France !

I actually read a couple of first novels I liked, which surprised me! I don’t read those very often these days, but these were strongly urged on me and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been reading e-books for about a year now and they’re starting to form a large chunk of my “book” buying in general, though I still buy more genre in print form than e-book. I’m buying a lot of the old classics in e-book (i.e., Ye Olde Deade Whyte Guys, like Twain, Shakespeare, Mary Shelley (;)) and some of the older sf/f/h titles as well. The “Great Distemper of 2015” left me with a dull ache behind my eyes and reminded me why I ducked out of the fannish aspects of SF 20 years ago or so. I fervently hope it goes away soon. I read more and liked more of what I read last year. There must be something wrong with me! (innocentlookicon) I’m trying very hard to work up my inner “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” attitude about the state of SF, but I can’t.

I am so glad that you are still publishing this magazine. I look forward to it.

I am surprised at how many popular authors, publishers and artists you do not include in your suggestion lists. I find that very odd.

I borrow many SF/F books and e-books from the library but that’s not reflected in any questions in the survey. Please sort stories by title, not author.

I buy a fair amount of my hard copy from crowdsourcing and also support a number of magazines through crowdfunding and Patreon. You might want to include those questions next year for where buy.

I could not be a reader without my library.

I didn’t read all of the selections but chose authors I normally enjoy, sorry –

I do almost all my reading in e-book form now, and I buy several e-books a week. I am also a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. The only print books I buy new these days, I buy directly from their authors; that has the bonus of letting me get signed copies.

I do not consent to my personal details to be used for any purposes other than vote gathering for this award, and definitely not to be sold, given or released to 3rd parties or other parts of your own company. All legal remedy will be sought if this occurs. I also find it disheartening how selective this poll was in the entries displayed. This poll is supposed to discover the interest of the community whatever it may be, not to shape it. A truly ethical data collector should not have a pre established preference, that they are attempting to confirm (or which causes them to recoil in shock when the general public fails to confirm it). I hope your organisation tries to be as truly inclusive as possible into the future, and not just ‘inclusive’ to your preferred in-group. Future actions to further marginalise fans who do not have officially sanctioned preferences/tastes would be especially disheartening. As a mixed race paraplegic who leans middle/right politically and is for individualism over collectivism, I feel heavily marginalised by your practices, because by your metrics I should not exist. Or I should be a card board cut out that graciously allows people like you to do all my speaking for me.

I don’t own a dedicated ebook reader, because I use my smart phone. Maybe you should revise those questions to try to capture how much people are reading ebooks versus paper copies.

I enjoy every issue of Locus. I especially enjoy the reviews and books to come.

I have enjoyed Locus magazine for over thirty years. I find it the best, most informative, and most impartial science fiction review magazine around, either in print or online. It is one of the best laid out also, it is not as confusing as others to find what I want.

I have macular degeneration and can’t read printed publications anymore. I get most of my audio SF from Braille Institute for free, but I do buy some very new stuff from audible.com.

I have read some really great sf in the last few years. I’ve been reading sf for 50 years (since I was 8-10 yr. old) and after my first decade’s burst of reading works from the field’s (then) present and past, it’s the past 20 years, including especially the past 2-3 years, that have provided to me the best sf reading (and tv!) of my life. (sorry for the run-on sentence, but I’ve been really surprised at this development) The enormous variety facilitated by the internet has finally (finally!) born a fruit of enormous variety and new authors that has made me read each issue of Locus to find out what’s out there with an energetic anticipation that I had lost. Bravo to the sf/f/h field for expanding its view of the future to include worlds of great fun and wonder grounded in history and mystery. (also, my local public library is great, and lets me read many works so that I can make informed decisions about what to buy)

I haven’t read any dead tree books since I got my first iPad. Which was the day they were 1st released. Best invention ever!

I look forward to each issue, read it, then pass it on to a friend who can’t afford his own copy. Since I bought an i-pad, I’ve started buying anthologies to read on it, but I still buy novels, etc, in paper. I’ll see you at world con.

I love LOCUS. It’s the best ever.

I love the digital edition.

I love the paper version of Locus, and I really hope that this magazine continues into the foreseeable future. Thank you for doing such a wonderful job with the magazine, and for keeping it alive and well. :)

I love you guys, but as you’re working toward, you need a bolder online presence. If you price it nicely, I think publishers can help support the growth.

I read about 60% SF and 40% history and historical biography.

I read Locus cover to cover monthly, maybe just skimming the horror reviews and more data-oriented sections (new books and such).

I read the reviews

I realize it looks odd for an avid reader to have so few votes tallied; I dislike short stories and often don’t hear about books until they’ve been out for a year or two, so a lot of what I read isn’t eligible.

I really like Locus but I’m a lingering victim of six-figure-advance envy…

I think Locus is awesome, and though I’m not a subscriber, I buy it from time to time when I’m in London and go to Forbidden Planet. Thanks for running the poll!

I used to buy millions of books–but then I started drowning in them, so now I use the library whenever possible. (Also I’m OLD so I don’t have the money to spend that I did when my husband was employed too. ALSO I can’t find my Locus number because I don’t have the mailer. Damn!

I wish someone at Locus was paying attention to Douglas Nicholas, has published 3 books in a wonderful historical fantasy series. I don’t understand why Martha Wells never gets listed in the Locus recommended list, she is writing at the top of the field. I love the plastic mailers/mailing service, haven’t missed an issue since you switched mailing services.

I wish you would change the interview format — stringing together decontextualized quotes from the subject does not work well, in my opinion.

I would love to subscribe to Locus digitally, but I don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of juggling epubs or pdfs – if you were just available as an iPad magazine subscription, like Wired, the New Yorker, MacLife and all the other magazines I subscribe to, you’d have my subscription immediately. No offence, but your currently digital delivery scheme is kludgy and old-school.

I’d be interested in seeing the drop-off rate for this survey.

I’d love to see the layout of the print magazine updated. I realize I’m in the minority, but I don’t particularly care about the photos and convention wrap-ups unless they cover actual news from cons (like analysis of who won and speculation on why).

I’m a book reviewer so the large majority of the books I receive and read are review copies sent by a review publisher or a book publisher, or fetched from Netgalley. Might add this to the “how many many books do you buy a year?” part of the survey.

i’m interested primarily in diverse sf. poc, queer, genderqueer, stories by and about women.

I’m very glad that publishing is becoming so decentralized that the SJWs are mostly unable to censor what we read.

I’ve probably said this before, but what the hey: it may seem like science fiction is in a period marked by turmoil and/or dullness, but who knows what it will look like when we review it twenty or thirty years from now? I maintain great hopes for our field. We’re going to see some incredible writing in the next few years — you can feel the tremors. Science fiction is going to save the world — again. It’s what we do.

I’ve really enjoyed reading these poll results, over the years, and seeing the changes. Great stuff!

Just starting to read science fiction again. I gave up in the early 90s- and the occasional times I checked during that decade I found nothing worth reading all the way through. I only started getting interested in the genre again (beyond occasionally picking up a used copy of an older work) when I discovered Baen books. Now I tend to give anything released by Baen or smaller publishers such as Castalia House a try and only pay attention to a few authors published by other houses.

Keep up the great work! Frankly, of all the magazines I subscribe to, LOCUS is the only one that I read every month.

Keep up the great work. I especially appreciate Gary Wolfe’s reviews & the annual Recommended List. The interviews are fun too.

Less pushing and lionization of sexual disorders, and SF/F will be a good genre again.

LOCUS – excellent job with superb staff! Book business-shorter & more diverse genre fiction, certainly; I wish it was easier (& less expensive) to find/afford it – the small press prices are prohibitive. Constant excellent work by ‘newer’ authors: Langan, Barron, Hand, Valente, and the up-and-comers show much promise Keep up you good and necessary work!

Locus continues to maintain a high level of excellence, but as usual i am generally uninterested in forthcoming books, and feel the space could be put to better use such as more reviews. As to the state of SF and Fantasy in general: i feel it is continually lamentable that many new titles are stretched into trilogies. This trend has become the norm, and i find it just another way for the publisher to triple the bucks. It is so frustrating to have the continuity of a story stretched out. There should be an added circle in hell for the publishers that make a regular practice of this butchery. That said, i still love SF and continue to make it one of my primary reading choices.

LOCUS is great. I can’t imagine getting along without it, particularly with the current fragmentation/expansion of the sf field. When I was young–fifty years ago–it seemed possible to read everything significant in the genre; now that’s impossible. Locus, with its reviews, news, and even its ads, helps me to steer in the direction of the things I might like. Please, keep it up.

Locus is still an incredible magazine. Hats off to the locus staff.

Locus is wonderful!! This survey is not!! I have a lot to say about SF, but neither the room nor the patience to say it.

Locus rocks!! I look forward to the “Forthcoming Books” issues like extra Christmases – they help me plan my book purchases (and I buy about 140 of them each year, so there is a lot to plan).

Love how many areas Locus covers; forthcoming books is a wonderful resource as is the books received section, and the reviews are top-notch. Also, wd like to compliment you on staff when I have called to renew: friendly, helpful, knowledgeable. Above, I answered the convention question as “no” but if the NecronomiCon Providence is considered to be an SF con, please change my answer to “yes.”

Love Locus magazine. Love the news that Locus online provides.

Love Locus, keep up the good work!

More reportage of anime/manga, please!

Nice summary. Voting was difficult because I’d never seen a lot of the recommended novels/stories/etc.

Please consider adding a Middle Grade book category, distinct from YA. This year I would’ve nominated The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Please consider creating categories for speculative poetry and speculative poetry journals. They seem to get lost in the shuffle.

Please keep the magazine going. Thanks for good work.

Re the Science Fiction Book Club question : I’ve been a member for many years (when I joined I got ten books for ten cents) because I enjoyed getting hardback books at a very reasonable price, sometimes cheaper than the cost of a paperback. I haven’t purchased anything from SFBC in quite a few years. The cost of their books combined with the shipping and handling charges became ridiculously expensive. I buy mass-market paperbacks almost exclusively. I purchase perhaps one or two hardbacks a year. I never get trade paperbacks, the cost is excessive. And I deplore the trend toward “premium” mass-market paperbacks; they’re just taller paperbacks at a very inflated price. I’ve given up on authors whose work I enjoy, simply because their books are issued in premium paperbacks for two or three dollars more. Consider adding a section on future surveys about what people read or skip in Locus. Might be interesting.

Re.: “Locus” — I get & read it every month, but wholesale via a friend who manages the local comics shop. I order Diamond-distributed merchandise thru him, he orders Ingram-distributed books thru me… :-)

Read Locus forever, it seems; it’s one of a very few venues I regularly follow to obtain genre/author/fannish information. This is the first Locus Poll in which I’ve participated. As a retired [person],I can’t afford physical books or mags anymore. E-readers are my only vehicle for accessing the vast majority of my reading pleasure. My reading volume has actually grown through discovery of new authors through on-line sources.

Same as last year: In “Does SF form the major part of your pleasure reading?” does SF include all spec fic? I’m assuming Yes. “Do you consider yourself a book collector?” Define “collector” (someone who has accumulated thousands of books or someone who deliberately buys selected editions for their “collectible” value?). I answered Yes this year even though I’ve answered No in the past. The magazine: I still think your quantity of reviews (the main feature for which I subscribe to the magazine) has decreased in recent years. I would gladly see the second interview in each issue replaced by 3 or 4 more pages of short reviews. And I wish you could review novels from some of the small e-book-first publishers (on your website, maybe?). Otherwise, I love the magazine; keep up the great work.

Should Worldcon Hugo package count in e-fiction query? (Doesn’t really change the $0 answer, but might add $0 for e-books, that I don’t acquire at all otherwise.)

Sincere apologies. My reading in the field this past year was zero — or the books I read were neither memorable nor particularly good. I completed the survey portion in an effort to help your data collection. I understand if this half-completed ballot is not sufficient for the added issue. See you at LocusCon!

Still a great magazine, keep up the good work.

Still a great magazine. Love the reviews, news and interviews. I think most of the best writers are currently in science fiction – think Leckie, Corey, Stephenson. There are good fantasy writers – just not as many right now. YA fiction used to be cutting edge in fantasy but now is sunk in derivatives of Potterdom and Hunger Games.

Still wish first books of an author didn’t have to pass the write-in barrier to compete in the major categories as well.

Thank you for another great year of Locus

Thank you for honoring writers in a world that seldom pays them what they deserve!

Thank you for quality year after year.

Thanks for all your amazingly thorough and highly professional hard work!

Thanks for allowing non-subscribers to vote in the Locus poll, I would be interested in learning more about subscribing and the SF Book Club!

Thanks for putting this together, and for all your work on the magazine!

Thanks for your continued support for the SF community!

The list each year really needs to strive to include more work by writers of color, particularly women of color. Also, more indie/independent/self-published authors.

There’s no option for libraries; I get the vast majority of my books and movies from the library, including audiobooks. And after doing so much critting and slushing, it’s hard to read a book for fun unless its nonfiction, but I do listen to an awful lot of audiobooks, which is also not much of an option in this survey.

Thorough poll! But most of the stuff I got this year had appeared earlier, so not many votes cast.

Too many books, too little time

Used to subscribe, then used to buy the occasional issue (especially the February) when I could find it on the shelves at my two local Barnes & Noble locations. They haven’t carried it for almost two years now. My local library still maintains a subscription to it, and I check it out from them whenever I can find issues in stock that haven’t been stolen.

Very long poll. I am moving away from paper books and getting into e-books. An e-reader is easier to read from and to transport around. Plus it saves on storage space for paper books

Very much enjoy Laird Barron’s reviews of dark fiction / fantasy and hope your magazine continues to cover the Weird Fiction boom that is happening lately. Truly great work being produced in that field recently.

Would have liked a category for urban/modern fantasy.

Would like more on state of publishing & authors, loss of imprints, editor firings, etc.

You might wish to consider treating media tie-ins with more respect, and consider interviewing authors other than those based on the West coast.

You put together a nice little poll here. I respect basic competence.

You should allow voters to choose their top 10 in each category–at least in each fiction category. Secondly, maybe more practically, clumping original-story anthologies with reprint anthologies really doesn’t make any sense at all. Of course reprint anthologies by good editors will likely have a higher proportion of excellent reading–the privilege of hindsight. But original-story anthologies, which I find almost always much more uneven than a “Year’s Best”, are important to the field in a different way. One keeps stories in print or revives or enhances recognition, whereas the other takes a risk by hoping for the best from its authors in their response to a theme or set of tropes that the editor has asked them to explore. The originality of that often risky proposition is part of what should be rewarded in an original anthology–a criterion that’s virtually absent in a retrospective anthology.


Joe Hill: All in the Cult

Joseph Hillstrom King was born June 4, 1972 in Bangor ME, son of writers Stephen & Tabitha King. He attended Vassar College, earning a degree in English in 1995. He married Leanora Legrand in 1998 (divorced 2010), and they have three children.

He chose to write under the pen name Joe Hill to obscure the connection to his famous parents and make it on his own merits. He began writing stories and novels after college, publishing a few mainstream and fantasy pieces starting in 1996, many of which are gathered in his debut collection 20th Century Ghosts (2005), a Crawford Award winner. A novella collection, Strange Weather, is forthcoming in 2017. Hill was guest editor for the first volume of The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology series in 2015.

Hill is also a comics writer, best known for his dark fantasy series Locke and Key, with artist Gabriel Rodriguez (2008-2013). Another collaboration with Rodriguez, Tales from the Darkside, is forthcoming.

Hill’s first novel, supernatural thriller Heart-Shaped Box (2007), was a commercial and critical success and launched him to prominence. Other novels include Horns (2008; adapted as a film in 2014) and N0S4A2 (2013; as N0S4R2 in the UK). His latest novel is The Fireman, released this month.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The crazy author archetype is bullshit. Leading up to Heart-Shaped Box I’d written four books I couldn’t sell. I’d made this decision to write as Joe Hill, to drop the last name King, and to fight into the publishing world on the merits of my own fiction, as opposed to letting my dad’s name open doors for me. That was a terrific time, and great fun. I wrote a lot of bad fiction that never got published. Three of the four novels were pretty terrible. The first novel you write is a tremendously important novel to you, but whether any reader will actually want to look at it is another story. The idea that you could write a bestselling novel your first time out is like imagining you could pick up a tennis racket and play at Wimble­don. It’s a ludicrous notion. You’ve got to lose a thousand games before you’re going to win at that level.”

*

‘‘The Fireman is a story about the planet catching on fire. It’s about a spore that infects human beings very easily. The spores grow on you, and it’s beautiful – like a black tattoo with gold speckling. People call it ‘dragonscale.’ But when you feel stress, you start to smolder, and if you can’t control your emotions, you burst into flames and die of spontaneous combustion. The spore is virulent, people don’t know why it’s spreading, and it’s impossible to treat – it’s hard to treat an illness when hospitals keep burning down. There’s a fire on every street corner, every hospital’s an inferno, and in the midst of this, one young woman named Harper contracts the illness at roughly the same time she discovers she’s pregnant. Because she’s done a fair amount of medical reading, she knows the baby will likely be born healthy. She determines to stay alive long enough to deliver her child safely. In the course of looking for a way to survive her own infection, she comes across an almost mythic figure called the Fireman, who is himself a carrier of dragonscale, but rather than being terrified by his own infection, he’s embraced it, and learned how to control it to a degree. The novel is about how Harper and the Fireman be­come friends and struggle to survive together in a world that’s burning down around them. That’s the elevator pitch, if the elevator ride was not real fast.”

*

‘‘My novel Horns is about a man who’s blamed for the murder of his girlfriend even though he didn’t actually commit the crime. Everyone in this small town believes he was the killer, so he is demonized by them. One night he gets drunk, and he goes out and curses God, and the next morning wakes up and discovers he’s growing a pair of horns, and he’s inherited all the powers of the devil. That book is the most different from all my other work of anything I’ve written. That’s the closest I’ve come to pure magical realism, like we’re familiar with from Borges and Calvino. We never find out why he grows the horns. He didn’t read some Satanic Book of the Dead and write his name in blood. I never explain it, and the truth is, I never cared. To me, the horns and his power are a manifestation of his inner feelings, how he felt about himself: demonized, hated, like the devil. A lot of people like the book, but one of the criticisms I heard, especially as it became a movie, was, ‘Why does he get the horns?’ I heard this from film pro­ducers over and over. ‘Why does he get the horns?’ When I talked to Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the lead, about it, he said the reason he wanted to do the movie was because it’s never explained how he gets the horns. He wanted to do it because it’s magical realism. Those are the words he used. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he gets it.’”

*

‘‘I’ve written for TV, short stories, novels, comic books, and of all of it, and what I like the best is comic books, by far. I love writing comics. I could give up all the rest of writing, if I could hold onto that. I’ve taken the last couple of years off of writing comics because it’s so much fun. It’s not hard like writing a novel. Novels are hard, but I think some­times this should be hard. You want to wrestle with those other literary forms and try to win. You want to come out with something that’s really satisfying and rich. Deciding to write a novel is accepting that you can’t have instant gratification. There’s so much instant gratification in the comic form. You write it, it’s drawn, and three months later it’s on the stands and people are responding. With a novel it’s more like four years of effort. Writing for comics is also like being in a band. There’s this harmony. Gabriel Rodriguez is one of my best friends in the world – he’s like a brother to me. I love Chris Ryall, our editor, and Jay Fotos the colorist, and Robby Robins who does the lettering – you feel like you’re in The Rolling Stones. I think I’m like the drummer, and Dave is the lead guitarist, and Robby is obvi­ously the lead vocalist. I just write something, and Gabe sends me a page of art which is better than I imagined. We feed off each other’s energy. Writing a novel is very isolating by comparison. There’s so much self doubt. Every day you have to fight your self doubt all over again. But if you just do comics, the danger is you will lose the skills necessary to write a short story or a novel. The knife will grow dull. I love comic books as a reader too, but I also love novels and short stories, and I read a lot more novels than I do comic books. (I talk this good talk about stepping away to do the hard work of novels, but I’m working on another issue of Locke & Key. It’s going to be a standalone story, probably out around October.)”

*

‘‘There’s going to be another book in 2017 called Strange Weather. It’s a collection of four novellas – in that way it’s a little bit like my dad’s Different Seasons. Three of the novellas are previ­ously unpublished. The fourth is called ‘Snapshot 1988’, and that’s being published in a special issue of Cemetery Dance this summer. That will be a sort of Fireman promotional issue, with an excerpt from the book and an interview. Usually it’s been three years between books, so it’ll be kind of cool to have another book out just a year or 18 months after The Fireman. Three of the novellas are in varying states of completion, and the fourth I’m still writing, but I know what it is. I’m also working on a screenplay for Locke & Key, because we’re going to take another stab at the TV thing. After that I think I’m going to write the rest of Gunpowder, a SF novel I started for PS Publishing. The Fireman is like Michael Crichton science fiction, but Gunpowder is like Arthur C. Clarke science fiction – it’s got spaceships and distant planets. I’m looking forward to getting back to that. I have a contract with William Morrow where I’m on the hook for a book of short stories. I like the idea of completing that contract, and then having some time to think about what I’m going to do next – to not have to write something under deadline to contract. For years I was always under the gun for the next deadline, and it’s refreshing to retire from that relentless pace and see what I feel like writing.”

*

‘‘For the longest time there has been this fight about what has more value, genre fiction or literary fiction. The truth is, we won the battle. We won it a decade ago, if not longer. There is mainstream ac­ceptance for Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, John Lethem – the list goes on and on. Salman Rushdie, for goodness’ sake. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements are all over mainstream literature and have been for years and years. The people who don’t like it are the Donald Trumps of genre fiction: they want to build a wall between us and the rest of the world. I can’t be in favor of some kind of walled city state where sci­ence fiction and fantasy meet. I don’t want it. After I read one of John Scalzi’s books I said, ‘Oh, he’s writing science fiction for the rest of us.’ It was fun. The pages flew. You liked the characters, and you understood the situation. The tech all made sense. It was full of laughs. There’s nothing wrong with writ­ing science fiction or fantasy or horror that doesn’t alienate the casual reader. I think in a world where The Walking Dead is the most popular thing on television, closely followed by Game of Thrones, and the biggest hit film of the last year was The Force Awakens, we’ve got the trifecta right there. We’ve got horror, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got sci­ence fiction. If only the cultists were watching those shows and movies, none of those productions would be successful in the way they are. The truth is we’re all in the cult now.’’


Peter Straub: Interior Darkness

Peter Francis Straub was born March 2, 1943 in Milwaukee WI. He earned a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1965, an MA from Columbia University in 1966, then returned to Wisconsin to teach English at his former prep school for three years. In 1969 he moved to Ireland and began work on a PhD at University College in Dublin, but did not finish. He published two books of poetry in 1972, Ishmael and Open Air, and his first mainstream novel, Marriages, in 1973. At the suggestion of his agent, Straub decided to try ‘‘gothic fiction’’: first horror novel Julia appeared in 1975, and was later filmed as The Haunting of Julia. If You Could See Me Now (1977) followed, but his breakout novel was the bestselling Ghost Story (1979), later a film. His next supernatural novels were Shadowland (1980) and British Fantasy Award winner Floating Dragon (1983), followed by a few linked works that were mostly non-supernatural: novella Blue Rose (1985) and World Fantasy Award winner Koko (1988), Mystery (1990), and Stoker winner The Throat (1993). The Hellfire Club (1997) was a thriller, and Stoker winner Mr. X (1999) was a return to the supernatural. lost boy lost girl (2003) won a Stoker and a World Fantasy Award, and sequel In the Night Room (2004) won a Stoker. A Dark Matter (2010) won a Stoker, and novella A Special Place (2010) concerns some of the same characters. Straub collaborated with Stephen King on The Talisman (1984) and sequel Black House (2001).

His short fiction has been collected in Houses Without Doors (1990), Stoker winner Magic Terror (1997), 5 Stories (2007), The Juniper Tree and Other Stories (2010), and retrospective Interior Darkness (2016). Notable stories include World Fantasy Award-winning novella ‘‘The Ghost Village’’ (1992), Stoker and International Horror Guild Award winner ‘‘Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff’’ (1998), and Stoker winner ‘‘The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine’’ (2011). Some of his non-fiction was collected in Sides (2006).

He edited HWA anthology Peter Straub’s Ghosts (1995), Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists (2002), the Library of America volume H.P. Lovecraft: Tales (2005), Poe’s Children (2008), and two volumes of American Fantastic Tales for the Library of America; the latter won a World Fantasy Award. His work is discussed in At the Foot of the Story Tree by Bill Sheehan (2000). An occasional actor, he appeared on a few episodes of soap opera One Life to Live from 2006-2009.

Straub was named a World Horror Grandmaster in 1997, won a Stoker award for life achievement in 2006, was named an International Horror Guild living legend in 2008, and received a life achievement World Fantasy Award in 2010. He married Susan Bitker in 1966; they have two children (including writer Emma Straub) and live in New York.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘It had been an unusually long time since I’d published a book, and I thought I had better do one just to remind people I was still breathing. It also occurred to me that, at my age and stage, a ‘Collected Stories’ made sense. I proposed the idea to my agent, who instantly pointed out that a collected stories would be way too much book. He said, ‘I think you should do a Selected Stories.’ I thought that was every bit as good, especially when I looked at how much I had and how quickly those pages added up. My problem being that very often when I intend to write a story, it takes on some of the ambitions of a novel, and pretty soon I am describing the characters’ grandparents, the house they moved into before they moved into the house they lived in now, what their younger brothers are doing, and what goes through their minds on the way to the grocery store. In other words, I novelize by instinct. Or by reflex, which is no wonder, because I’ve been novelizing, day after bloody day, for most of my adult life.

‘‘It’s a funny instinct to have. For one thing, it means I have trouble writing short stories. I’ve had this problem, this limitation, most of my writing life. Take a look: I’ve almost never written any! To be painfully truthful, it’s even been a long time since I was in the habit of reading them. I’m the reverse of those brilliant students who come out of MFA programs after having written maybe a couple of dozen short stories. I did write one with my daughter, Emma, for a recent anthology based on figures from mythology. It’s called Orpheus XO, and it was edited by Kate Bernheimer. She did a great job. Emma and I took what I thought was something like the easy way out and wrote a story based on Demeter. Why I thought that was going to be easy I can now no longer quite reconstruct. Emma had graduated from the glorious short story factory at the University of Wisconsin, where she’d had the immense good fortune of working closely with Lorrie Moore, one of our great writers. Since earning her MFA, Emma had been doing really well, in fact, given the shapes and conditions of most young writers’ lives, spectacularly well. We were going to swap our terrific little story back and forth and proceed at the rate of six pages apiece at a time. This was, let me say, Emma’s scheme. So she wrote the first six pages, hey presto, and sent them to me. At this point, I should probably confess that I see all such programs as sugges­tions, the same way I take almost everything said to me by doctors. Therefore, I took 10 days and sent back 12 pages. Emma groaned, a little. We kept repeating, and I kept adding in new characters, adding new neighborhoods to the little town where the father lived in the Hell parts of the story, which turned out way better than the other parts. Emma’s groans grew louder and more heartfelt. Finally she said to my wife, ‘Dad doesn’t know how to write a short story. I have an MFA, and I know how to write a damn short story.’ Our so-called short story wound up being about 50 pages long, which I see as a very nice length. Ideally, probably, it would be 90 pages long, which would have given us plenty of room for all the cool stuff I wanted to insert. One day, if Emma and I are lucky enough to last this long, we shall collaborate and turn our lovely, 50-page ‘Lost Lake’ into the novel I wanted it to be all along.

‘‘In a short story, you’re writing about something that changes a person’s character, or changes a person’s mind, or brings about some sort of insight, a revelation. Now, the minute I utter a stupid dictum like that, I realize everybody and his brother is going to tell me the ways in which I’m wrong, but the point is that you don’t have much room in a story. The short stories I have written, most of which are collected in this book Interior Darkness, are a little odd and tend not to follow the game plan I just described Usually, I’m not usually trying to write ‘a story.’ I’m doing something else that seems interesting and maybe even more compelling to me.”

*

‘‘My ideas about narrative have certainly changed with time, and my whole stance toward it has changed, as would have to happen in any long en­gagement with a subject. I don’t want to write the same kind of books I did when I started. Really, I can’t. I like reading novels that go from the beginning to the end. I like reading novels that don’t break the frame. I like novels that have endings one cannot anticipate, novels with jolting revelations. I like crime stories. I like Victorian novels. Conventional fiction strikes me as one of the most beautiful things made by man. Generally speaking, novels engage our sense of history, our imaginations, our moral sense. I have thought since I was 16 that there’s something very beautiful when you open a book and your eyes fall on the page and you read something like, ‘At 4:15 that afternoon the Countess of P–– emerged through the palace door and remarked upon the unusual strength of the sunlight.’ Anything like that. ‘When George Withers fell down on the sidewalk, all of his loose change fell out of his pocket.’ ‘As Hector Feelgood held the reins of the horses, the steam from their nostrils washed over his hands.’ Anything like that awakens a little bit of the world and delivers it to you like a loaf of fresh bread. It’s stunning. The whole fictional enterprise strikes me as very beautiful. I used to take it way more for granted than I can do now.”

*

‘‘Lovecraft and the Gothic novels are in my DNA for sure. It’s almost like they’re a couple of guys who got in on tourist visas and outstayed their welcome, camped out and got jobs as hotel clerks and in laun­dries, and just never went home. The reason they’re there at all has to do with Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, one of the sacred books of my late childhood, which I toted around wherever I went. One summer, I took it to Boy Scout camp. I read Arthur Machen, I read Oliver Onions, and I read ‘The Dunwich Horror’, which has been my favorite Lovecraft story ever since, because I didn’t understand it when I first read it. I didn’t understand the resistance given to me by the language. I loved that it was so ornate. I loved that it resisted digestion. That was true of all those stories, the early stories. All this stuff is glamorous and ghastly, and completely exciting to the right 12-year-old boy.

‘‘One of the things that excited me was the un­precedented use of language. I’d never read stories that seemed directed at me yet that were written in a demanding, artifice-laden way. Machen’s ‘The Great God Pan’ was probably my favorite. I loved that story. I didn’t quite understand it, but I loved it. What I didn’t understand was concealed from me, deliberately, by the way it was written. Ever since, I have really liked narrative that’s chopped up and delivered in fragments. ‘The Great God Pan’ is prob­ably the first significant story I read that was written in that way. It strikes me now as modernist. I don’t believe Machen was a modernist, but the narrative method was really interesting. Back then, I would’ve said, ‘The way this is written is really cool.’ I liked the slight layer of difficulty the fragmentation of nar­rative presented. I also like the idea of this mysterious woman Helen Vaughan and the terror that strikes the overconfident, blandly superior scientists who are investigating her case. It struck me even then that the sublime was probably too much to handle. Every angel is terrifying. I read Rilke many years later, but I think that is something I always knew, for reasons of my own.”

*

‘‘I look forward to working again – it’s so satisfy­ing to work, to enjoy the act of writing. I love the act of making things up. I like creating things. It means an immense amount to me. In fact, sad to say, that’s the center of my being. All this time when I haven’t been able to do that, I have been separated from the center of my being, and in pure denial I have chosen not to think about that. I watch a lot of TV, because I don’t drink – there isn’t any alcohol involved and there are certainly no other toxic substances in the picture. It’s just a kind of mild boredom and a sense of working my way through a not very interesting day. There is none of the sense of the supercharged satisfaction, none of the inner glow, that comes from having worked well. I hope I can get back to that. I don’t see any reason why I can’t. I have a new office in our new apartment – it’s a pretty room, it has my old desk, I have floor to ceiling bookshelves, I have library ladders for the first time ever, and it’s cool. The only thing missing is the sound system, which is like a life-support system for me, and a good one is just about to be installed. The whole room is going to be filled up with books and music. Before we moved in, I went into the room and told it, ‘I’m going to fill you up. You don’t know it yet, but we’re going to have fun. You’re going to see things you’ve never seen before.’ Thereby proving, I guess, that I’m totally out of my mind. I’ve very much been looking forward to getting back to work.”


Cory Doctorow: Peak Indifference

Ever since the first days of public access to the Internet, activ­ists like me have been making dire warnings about the privacy implications of leaving data-trails behind you when you engage in everyday activity. We hoped that people would think forward to the potential risks of disclosures down the road – that the individually harmless crumbs of personal in­formation could be painstakingly, disastrously aggregated by crimi­nals, or repressive governments, or creepy stalkers, or overweening employers, or well-intentioned authority figures who nevertheless drew false conclusions from their peek into our lives.

We totally failed.

Every year, the Internet’s reach and popularity has grown. Every year, the extent to which Internet users’ privacy is compromised has also grown.

To be fair to privacy advocates, we have a good excuse. It’s really hard to get people to care about dangers that are far in the future, especially when the action that puts you in danger and the consequences of that action are separated by an unbridgeable gap of time and space. Privacy disclosures are a public health problem, like smoking. No one puff on a cigarette will definitely give you cancer, but take enough puffs and you’ll virtually guarantee cancer, eventually. No one act of disclosure of personal information will harm you, but once enough disclosures have taken place, over enough time, you’re going to get into serious privacy trouble.

For decades, public health advocates tried to get people to care about cancer, without much success. They, too, had a good excuse. Smoking gives a short term benefit (relief from addictive cravings) and its costs are way down the road. To make things worse, the companies that profited from smoking engaged in powerful, well-funded disinformation campaigns to make it harder for their customers to perceive the distant harms, let alone become anxious about them.

Smoking is now in decline (though vaping is proving to be a powerful gateway to smoking), but it was a long time getting there. Even when lifelong smokers got their cancer diagnoses, it was too late, and many became cancer nihilists, continuing to smoke even as they received treat­ment, or died slow and painful deaths. The combination of the short-term pleasure of smoking and the lack of any meaningful way to reverse the harms that had already occurred is a surefire recipe for nihilism: why deprive yourself of smoking’s joys if it isn’t going to make a difference?

However, smoking is in decline, because the evidence of smoking’s harms became undeniable over time. At a certain point, indifference to tobacco’s dangers peaked – long before actual tobacco use peaked. Peak indifference marks a turning point. Once the number of people who care about your issue begins to grow on its own, without your needing to wheedle them about confronting long-term harms, you can switch tactics for something much easier. Rather than trying to get people to care about the issue, now you need to get them to do something about it.

The anti-smoking movement made great strides with this. They made sure that people who had cancer – or whose loved ones did – understood that tobacco’s use wasn’t a blameless, emergent phenomenon. They named names and published documents, showing exactly who conspired to destroy lives with cancer in order to enrich themselves. They surfaced and highlighted the risks to non-smokers’ lives from smoking: not just second-hand smoke, but also the public health burdens and the terrible losses felt by survivors after their loved ones had perished. They de­manded architectural changes – bans on smoking – and legal ones, and market ones, and normative ones. Peak indifference let those activists move from convincing to fighting back.

That’s why it’s time for privacy activists to start thinking of new tac­tics. We are past peak indifference to online surveillance: that means that there will never be a moment after today in which fewer people are alarmed by the costs of sur­veillance. The bad news is that 20 years of failing to convince people of the risks of online privacy has built up a reservoir of inevitable harms: all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); they will be accused of terrorism or other life-destroying categories of crimes because an algorithm has mined their data to come to a conclusion they aren’t allowed to see or interrogate (this is already happening); they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening); they will have the sensitive information they disclosed to the government to attain security clearance breached and warehoused by blackmailing enemy states (this is already happening); their employers will fail when their personal information is used to commit industrial espionage (this is already happening).

Etc.

From Ashley Madison to Office of Personnel Management, the future is clear: every couple weeks, from now on and for the foreseeable, a couple million people whose lives were just destroyed by a data breach will sheepishly show up on privacy advocates’ doorsteps, ashen-faced like smokers who’ve just received cancer diagnoses, saying, ‘‘I guess you were right. What do we do?’’

Therein lies our opportunity. We can point to the specific people who told us privacy is dead while spending hundreds of millions of dollars protecting themselves from scrutiny – by buying up adjacent houses and keeping them empty (as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did); by threatening journalists who disclosed their personal information (as ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt did); by using offshore tax havens to disguise their financial crimes (as many of those named in the Panama Papers did). These are people who said, ‘‘Privacy is dead,’’ but meant: ‘‘If you believe your privacy is dead, I will be much, much richer.’’

We have to name names, make it clear that living people engineered a privacy denial movement whose template was Big Tobacco’s cancer denial movement.

We have to provide courses of action: privacy-protecting tools that let people fight back against the surveillance economy; political campaigns that hang cryptography-fighting politicians and spies up by their ankles and subject them to public ridicule; legal opportunities to seek redress from the surveillance profiteers.

If we can give privacy’s victims a course of action, a movement they can join, they will fight with us. If we can’t, they will become privacy nihilists, continuing to hemorrhage personal information for the short-term gain of social attention, making themselves into easy prey for spies, crooks, creeps, and voyeurs.

It’s up to us.


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.’’



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