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Spotlight on: Rovina Cai, Artist

Rovina Cai is a freelance illustrator from Melbourne, Australia. She creates intriguing images that make you linger, hungry to know the story behind them. Her work is often inspired by the past; from fairy tales to gothic novels, these stories resonate with her because they bring a little bit of magic and wonder to the present day. Rovina has worked with an eclectic range of clients, including The Folio Society, Riot Games, and Tor.com. In her spare time, she can be found poring over old books trying to find stories to illustrate, or working on eccentric craft projects.

What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? Who were your influences; was there a particular artist or artists who drew you in?

I read a lot of fantasy novels growing up, and it was mostly because I was drawn to the covers! Something that is particularly vivid in my memory is John Howe’s cover art for the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I loved the way the main illustration was framed with smaller vignettes around the border; the cover wasn’t just an image, but told a story and made me want to open the book. This is something I now try to do with my own work, I’m always trying to convey a story or emotion and to create something that will make people want to find out more.

Are you excited or concerned about the impact digital media and digital books might have on traditional crafts and the role of the cover artist? How do you use digital media in your own workflow?

I’m really excited to see how digital me­dia will change the way people interact with stories and artwork. For example, there’s so much potential in interactive or animated e-books. It’s a unique way of telling a story, and I’d love to see more of it both as an illustrator and as a reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I do love physical books, and actually still prefer them when it comes to my own reading. It seems like the popularity of e-books has encouraged the production of more ‘‘special’’ printed books (as an incentive for readers to buy them). There are now so many deluxe editions out there that are beautifully designed and illustrated, and I love those just as much as all the new forms of digital media.

Is there something about what you do as an artist working in the SF field, or an upcoming project, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I’ve just wrapped up illustrating a picture book! It’s called Tintinnabula, and is written by Australian SF/F writer Margo Lanagan. One of my favourite things about illustration is getting to delve into a writer’s ‘‘world,’’ and it has been a delight to explore Margo’s. Her work has a haunting, melancholic quality to it, which is quite similar to what I aim to evoke with my own work, so it felt like the perfect project from the start. The most satisfying projects for me are those that truly feel like a collaboration: where the author and artist are both able to contribute their own ideas, so that the words and images play off of each other. This was very much the case with this picture book, and I can’t wait to share it with people when it is re­leased later this year.


Kinuko Y. Craft: Light & Shadow

Kinuko Yamabe Craft was born January 3, 1940 in Kanazawa, Japan, and began painting and drawing at an early age. She received her BFA from the Kanazawa Municipal College of Fine and Industrial Art in 1962, and decided to continue her studies in the US. She studied for a year and a half at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1964-65), and then took the first of two jobs with Chicago-area commercial art studios. In 1970 she hired an agent and began working as a freelance commercial artist, producing work for publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Newsweek, Playboy Maga­zine, Time, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. She also worked on packaging as well as book cover art and advertising art for book publishers and ad agencies.

Craft’s paintings have adorned the covers of work by countless authors, including Isabel Allende, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Patricia A. McKillip, Tanith Lee, Andre Norton, Isabel Glass, Juliet Marillier, and many more. For the past two decades she has focused more on illustrating picture books and working on more personal projects, including books retold by Marianna Mayer, among them The Twelve Dancing Princesses (1989) and Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave (1999), and two books authored by her daughter, M. Charlotte Craft: Cupid and Psyche (1996) and King Midas and the Golden Touch (1999). She has also done fairytale books: Cinderella (2000), Sleeping Beauty (2002), and Beauty & the Beast (2016), the latter two with husband Mahlon Craft (married 1965). Her work has been licensed on posters, journals, greeting cards, calendars, and other merchandise. Some of her art was collected in Drawings and Paintings (2007), and her first adult coloring book is Myth & Magic: An Enchanted Fantasy Coloring Book (2016).

Craft is the recipient of many awards of excellence. She has been honored by The Society of Illustrators in New York with a one-woman show, three Gold Medals, two Silver Medals and their Hamilton King Award (1987). She won the ASFA Spectrum 9 Grand Master Award in 2002, and has multiple Gold awards from the Spectrum anthologies. She won Chesley Awards in 2000 and 2001, and ‘‘Best in Show’’ from the Renaissance 2001 show at the Franklin Mint in Pennsylvania.

Her paintings appear in several permanent collections, including the National Geographic Society in Washington DC and The Museum of American Illustration in New York City.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘One of the benefits I get from doing covers is, I get to read. The main thing I like about what I do is that I’m away from reality and the real world where I live, in a make believe one – a land of someone else’s imagina­tion – as long as the project lasts. I need that to survive.

‘‘I read manuscripts at night before I go to bed. I take them into the bathtub with me to read at the end of the day, marking out places in the story to see if I can find something that sparks an idea. At the end I have several marked pages pulled out that have given me images for the cover. Sometimes, I do hundreds of sketches until I can see the image and its basic composition in my mind. Often it doesn’t work as well as I imagined. It might be imperfect, but I should feel that it will be perfect and my best work ever in my mind. The process is very much like a jigsaw puzzle. I start to sketch out the idea, often only to find it’s not working out. Then I have to look at the whole story again, but from a different angle to reconstruct it into something that works.”

*

‘‘When I’m ready to do the final drawing, lots of times I hire models. My favorite model is a dancer. No matter what she does, it’s always a grace­ful, classical pose. I ask her to pose like my rough sketch. Sometimes she does a better pose than my drawing. I take lots of digital photos. If I can do the human body well, and understand it well, I can also understand a table, doors, windows, a cloud – all those things. For me, draftsmanship is very important.

‘‘Every painting I’ve produced falls short of my expectations. They are my children, but they’re all juvenile delinquents. I’m not proud of them. There’s an expectation in my head when I look at the empty space, and then I start to do the drawing. That’s fine. In the drawing stage, I still have the perfect image in my mind. At around 75 percent completion, I start to notice the perfect painting I had in my mind turns to disappointment. I just have to quit, and move on to the next one. There’s a certain voice telling me, move on, the next one will be better.”

*

‘‘My studio is a mess. The bottoms of some piles haven’t seen the light of day since the early ’80s, but I like it this way. It’s full of reference material, piles of books and magazines that haven’t moved in decades, cast off sketches and half-finished preliminary drawings for work I want to do. There’s only space for me and my German Shephard Wolfgang. Only a small number of people are allowed in there.

‘‘There are lots of projects I intend to do: images from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a series of ghost stories, images from mythologies. I think I must hurry up before my time runs out. If I had a time machine, I would like to go back 20,000 years to see what the inhabitants of the Grotto of Lascaux looked like and what the landscape looked like then. I would like to see what Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, looked like and what truly happened in the Trojan War. Was that just a gifted blind poet’s imagination?”

*

‘‘Many years ago I used unprepared Strathmore illustration board be­cause it takes watercolors, which I use for laying in broad areas of color. Occasionally I had problems with it depending on the painting medium I was using so I switched to Ampersand gesso board. It is very smooth and takes my watercolor underpainting easily. I do a rough sketch on tracing paper, a title sketch, and then transfer everything to gesso board, and do the final drawing there. Then I apply an under painting, mainly in Windsor Newton watercolors. The board is sealed and then I finish the painting in oil color. I have always used Windsor Newton Series 7 watercolor sable brushes. It used to be that one brush would last me three paintings. My work is usually not that huge, maybe 16″ by 20″ or 18″ by 24″, and I could complete three paintings before the brush wore out. But these days, they don’t seem to last as long. Mahlon got in touch with the Windsor Newton people in England, and asked, ‘Why is this brush not lasting as long?’ They said they use the same number of sable hairs they always did, but the sable hair itself is thinner and more brittle now because of global warming. Now I need three brushes to complete one painting.”

 

Spotlight on: Jeffrey Alan Love, Artist

Jeffrey Alan Love is an award-winning artist and writer whose clients have included The New York Times, TIME, The New Yorker, Tor, Gollancz, Scholastic, HarperCollins, and others. Nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Chesley Award, and the Spectrum Fantastic Art Award, he has won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators and two Academy of British Cover Design Awards.

What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? Who were your influences; was there a particular artist or artists who drew you in?

My first job in SF/F, I think, was working for Irene Gallo for Tor.com, an absolutely wonderful website which has revolutionized short fiction and art in the SF/F field. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job. Irene sets the standard, in my opinion. My first book covers in the field were for Gollancz, for Simon Ings’s novel Wolves and for a reissue of his back catalog. Growing up, I would buy any book that had a John Harris cover, and Michael Whelan was also a favorite. Victor Ambrus’s il­lustrated books of King Arthur were what made me want to become a writer and artist as a child.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

I think there are aspects of both in art. As an il­lustrator it is definitely a craft, a job, but to stand out I think you need some of that ‘‘higher call­ing,’’ that personal voice that speaks in a way that only you can. But the only way to get that voice is through perspiration. Like almost every other artist I’ve met who makes a living at art, I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration – inspiration comes to those who sit down and do the work every day. It is like a meditation practice: no one day’s work matters that much in the grand scheme, but it is the building up of those days over time, year after year, where you learn to trust that if you just sit down and get to work the muse will show up and sit down with you.

Is there something about what you do as an artist working in the SF field, or an upcoming project, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I wrote and illustrated my first book, Notes from the Shadowed City, which is out now from Flesk Publications. Later this year an illustrated book of Norse Myths written by Kevin Crossley-Holland will be released, for which I did around 150 paint­ings. I’m also in the process of writing a novel. If you’d like to learn more about any of those things please visit www.jeffreyalanlove.com or twit­ter.com/jeffreyalanlove or instagram.com/jeffreyalanlove.


Spotlight on: Paul Lewin, Artist

Paul Lewin was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973 and moved to the US in 1977. He spent most of his years growing up in Miami FL and now lives in Oakland CA. Initially, pencil and paper were his medium of choice, but he was also into graffiti, and soon moved into colorful pieces using markers and pens. In 1994 he picked up a paint brush for the first time and began painting in acrylics. This opened up a whole new world that he’s been exploring ever since. In 1998 he had his first art show in Miami. In 2004 he moved to the Bay Area to pursue his art further.

What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling or a craft like any other?

That’s a tough question for me, but I think I would have to go with perspira­tion. In my early days of painting before I decided to take my work in a more professional direction, all I needed was inspiration. Nowadays with expenses, deadlines, and goals to meet, perspiration has become my best friend. I manage to stay inspired through most of my pieces, but there are always those days when it’s just not showing up. Sometimes working a day job puts constraints on your time and can zap your energy significantly. Having the ability to push through when this is a factor is essential to doing the work you need to do on a daily basis.

I think most artists who inspired me did have a higher calling. I’m moved by works that have something profound to add to the greater conversation of art, either with imagery or content. My work has moved more in this direction over the years. My early works were mainly about experimentation and learning about myself. Once I’d reached a comfortable place with my craft and technique, then I wanted to expand it to something bigger. Growing up as a person of color who was all about sci-fi and fantasy art, I never noticed the lack of black and brown characters in my younger years. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I could not fully relate to these images. If my work today can in any minute way have an effect on this conversation, then I would feel much closer to where I want to be.

Talk a bit about one of your most interesting cover projects. What’s it like to illustrate an author’s work? How do you engage with the work and make it your own, while still honoring the source material?

Coming from the perspective of a fine artist, there are only a handful of cover projects that I’ve been involved with over the years. Without a doubt, though, the most interesting one has been with Seven Stories Press and the reissuing of Octavia Butler’s books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. They were looking for new cover art for each book and wanted to use some of my work for this project. I was very honored they chose my work for this. Ten years ago a friend loaned me Parable of the Sower and it completely changed my life. It caused me to view art, sci-fi, and literature in com­pletely new ways. I was very moved by the way Butler was able to seamlessly weave in heavy subject matters such as race, gender, and class without ever compromising the integrity of the sci-fi. My work at that time began to shift in a new direction. I owe a lot of what I’m working on today to the inspiration of her profound visions of the future. So to have it come back full circle to the original books that started me down this road of art that I’m on today, I honestly don’t have the words to describe it.


Kameron Hurley: How to Write a Book in a Month

We all want to learn how to write books faster. The pace of the news cycle today has heated up to such an extent that for those of us who aren’t in the 1% of writers, if we don’t come out with a book a year, it feels like the world has forgotten us amid the buzz of ever more intensifying world horror. I’m not immune to this pressure. Juggling a day job, a book a year (writing), a book a year (promot­ing), and completing various freelance articles like this one takes its toll. Stuff goes out late. It’s pushed out. It squeezes in just under the wire (like this column). At some point when you’re on the writing treadmill, it feels like you’ve gotten so behind that you’ll never catch up again.

There are, roughly, two paths you can follow when you feel the hot breath of deadline failure coming your way. You can cancel or push out all of your work in order to just get yourself out from under it (and I know several writers who recently cancelled their contracts because the pressure to deliver became too much. Really), or you can pour a drink, book a cabin in the woods or a hotel room away from your regular life, and buckle down and do what you were born to do. You write your way out.

I’ve been relying on a combination of these two approaches for the last two years. Sneak­ing one book into my already full writing schedule in 2015 or so ended up being disastrous for everything that came afterward. Here I am, two years later, nursing a whisky and wondering how I’m going to finish the last book in my fantasy trilogy in exactly three weeks. And as far as career writer problems go, this is not an uncommon place for me to be.

I wrote the last half of my last book, The Stars are Legion, in four days in a cold cabin in the woods up in the Hocking Hills outside Columbus OH. There was no wi-fi and no heat, which meant it was just me and a lot of firewood to keep me warm, because there was still snow on the ground. I completed that book because I sat down with my agent the week before and figured out exactly what the book was about and what had to happen next. I had it all written up in a nice, neat outline, and I did nothing but eat and write and feed firewood into the fireplace for four days.

It was heavenly.

When I dreamed of being a writer in my teens, it was this cabin-in-the-woods part I dreamed about. I wanted to spend my days alone, chopping firewood, and throwing a ball for a couple of dogs, and writing. Everything else that I have since learned comes with the job – the appearances, the blog tours, the interviews, the podcasts, the news bites, the reviews, the conventions – wasn’t even on my radar. What I always wanted was the cabin in the woods.

Maybe that’s why it’s easier to write there, now, because it’s exactly what I want to be doing with my life. As I buckle down and prepare to spend a full week out there this time in an attempt to finish my latest work, I can’t help but look forward to the quiet. Silence. No cars. No trains. No people. No incessant email. No twitter DM’s. No more Facebook mentions. Just me and the words, the way it’s meant to be.

Why does a career as a writer now involve so very much that isn’t writing the work? Why must we not only write a great book, but be able to yell about it, and then head off to a day job that subsidizes it? Balancing these two parts of ourselves – the promotion brain and the writing brain – is like being two entirely different people. When I am out in the woods, I know which one I am. When I’m back here at home, I have to somehow be both, and perhaps that’s the part that I find most maddening, this dis­sonance I must live with for the majority of my days, weeks, months, years; the dissonance of being a writer, knowing who I am, but knowing that who I am is not enough to thrive in this world. I have to learn all of these other skills. I need to learn to be loud and decisive. I must be a designer and a marketer, a theatric extrovert and entertainer, a business person, a record keeper, and above all, be all of this and pretend I’m a normal functioning adult who can take care of myself. That’s a hard ask. Always has been, in every age. Always will be.

But you came here because of this article’s title, of course. You came here because you, too, like me, want to know how to write a book in a month, which is the primary activity I am about to engage upon and will hopefully have completed by the time you read this. When I answer tough questions from new writers, they all want to know the tricks: ‘‘How do you know if this should be first person or third?’’ or ‘‘How do you know when you’ve done enough research?’’ or ‘‘How do you know where to start?’’ and the cold, hard truth of that is that you very often don’t know. You write it and you figure it out as you go. You write dozens or hundreds of pages of nonsense, and you hope that you figure it out there on your journey. Then you throw all that stuff out once you’ve figured it out, and you start again.

The panic that wells up in me when I know I have to deliver a title or watch the release date roll back is often sufficient enough to get the words to pour out of me. I outline my work ruthlessly before I begin, and I book my cabin, and I turn off the world, and I teach myself how to listen to the woods again. I give myself the time to become who I wanted to be, who I really am, under all the hustle and liquor and corporate hobnobbing and content marketing. Scraping away all of those things I have acquired – like a crab who has collected junk on its shell – helps me feel the freedom I need to do what I was born to do, what feels right to do, what I have wanted to make of my life since I knew it was a possibility, and that’s just… writing. I find the freedom to be a writer.

Increasingly, those periods in which I’m free to be ‘‘just’’ a writer come less and less often. I’ve had to start manufacturing them. They are no longer organic to how I live my life. There’s a sadness in that. It’s the sadness that comes when you are about to get to the top of the mountain where you can rest, and then you see the next peak in the distance, and you realize how far, still, you have to travel.

You write a book in a month because you need to write another book in four months, and a book after that in 12. You write a book in a month because it’s what you’ve always wanted to do. You write a book in a month because it’s who you are, and it’s the only way to keep climbing.


Jane Yolen: Accidental Novelist

Jane Hyatt Yolen was born February 11, 1939 in New York City. She received a BA from Smith College in 1960 and a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1978. She married David W. Stemple in 1962 (he died in 2006), and has a daughter, two sons, and six grandchildren. She has collaborated on works with all three of her children, fantasy most extensively with Adam Stemple.

During the ’60s, she worked in New York at various magazines and publishers, holding editorial positions at Gold Medal Books, Routledge Books, and Alfred A. Knopf Juvenile Books. From 1990-96 she ran her own YA imprint, Jane Yolen Books, at Harcourt Brace.

Yolen is the author or editor of over 350 books, with most of her writing for children or young adults, though she has also written adult novels, poetry, and non-fiction. Her first book, non-fiction Pirates in Petticoats, appeared in 1963 (and was revised and updated as Sea Queens in 2013), followed by a children’s picture book, See This Little Line (1963). Her first novel was the co-authored realistic fiction Trust A City Kid (1966). The short middle grade fantasy novel The Magic Three of Solatia (1974) mingled children’s and adult fantasy.

Among her many works of genre interest, standouts include time-travel Holocaust novel The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988) and ‘‘Sleeping Beauty’’ Holocaust tale Briar Rose (1992); a third Holocaust book, A Shudder Between the Hills, inspired by ‘‘Hansel and Gretel’’, is forthcoming in 2018. Her adult fantasy Great Alta series began in 1988 with Sister Light, Sister Dark and continued with White Jenna (1989) and The One-Armed Queen (1998). With son Adam Stemple, she wrote the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fairy Tale novels Pay the Piper (2005) and Troll Bridge (2006).

Notable works of short fiction include Nebula Award winners ‘‘Sister Emily’s Lightship’’ (1997) and ‘‘Lost Girls’’ (1998). As an editor, Yolen has worked on many books of SF, fantasy, folktales, and retold fairy tales. Her non-fiction includes Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood (1981).

Yolen is the most recent recipient of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from SFWA. She won a World Fantasy Award for life achievement in 2009, and was named a grand master poet by the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 2010. She has also received the Society of Children’s Book Writers’ Golden Kite Award (1974), the Christopher Medal (1978), the Garden State Children’s Book Award (1981), a Mythopoeic Society Award (1984), the University of Minnesota Kerlan Award (1988), the Skylark Award (1990), and a World Fantasy Special Award for her editorial work (1986). From 1986-88 she served as president of SFWA, and holds honorary doctorates from six colleges and universities.

Yolen lives in Western Massachusetts, and spends a few months each year in Scotland.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My father’s family came to the US early in the 20th century from the Ukraine, long before the Nazi era. The family joke has always been if they hadn’t gotten out when they did, they would have been killed by the Cossacks. If they hadn’t been killed by the Cossacks, they would have been killed by Hitler. If they hadn’t been killed by Hitler, they would have been killed by Chernobyl. Good thing they left.

‘‘Eight years before Harry Potter came out, I wrote a novel called Wizard’s Hall, about a boy named Henry. His mother doesn’t think he has any magic in him, but he goes to magic school, and the first thing that happens is that he sees pictures on the wall that move and change. He makes friends with a redheaded boy and a very smart girl, and there’s a wicked wizard who used to teach there who’s trying to destroy the school. (There is no Quidditch.) J.K. Rowling never read my book, but clearly we must have read the same fantasy stories! Those are fantasy tropes, just as writing about interesting candies are English children’s book tropes (see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang).

‘‘Of course, nothing was as successful as Harry Potter. I love that a children’s book writer made more money than the queen. After Rowling’s groundbreaking success, more kids and adults began reading fantasy, although most of them only wanted to read Harry Potter. Unfortunately, most of the follow-on came from publishers saying, ‘We want you to write a trilogy, or a seven-book narrative like Harry Potter,’ instead of saying, ‘I want your fantasy novel.’ I would get letters from kids who would say, ‘I was very angry with you, I thought you were copying Harry Potter, and my teacher showed me that your book was published eight years earlier. Are you going to sue her?’ No, because we’re all using fantasy tropes. I’ve written a few series, though, like the Great Alta saga – it all started with one book, and then there was more to tell.

‘‘For years I’ve been telling people, ‘I’m not a novelist.’ Yes, I’ve written novels, but I’m basically a poet. I love doing picture books. I write novels reluctantly. However, last year, I was invited to be on a panel for historical novelists in Northampton MA, and I decided the first thing I had to say was, ‘I’m really a short form writer.’ But I figured, before I said that, I’d better go count the novels, and when I got to 60, I stopped. I’m an accidental novelist. An accidental, overachieving novelist.”

*
‘‘The science fiction I read tends to be more anthropological SF, like Le Guin, or alternative science SF, or dystopian. Except for The Martian, which I quite enjoyed. I cheated – I saw the movie first and then I read the book. Much of the science goes over my head. My husband of 46 years was a scientist. When I wrote the Pit Dragon books, I went to him and said, ‘I have to build dragons that can get off the ground.’ Flying dinosaurs, they’re huge, how do we get them to fly? ‘Hollow bones,’ he said. A lot of science fiction, like a lot of fantasy, is hand-wavey – don’t look at the man behind the curtain, that sort of thing. Hard science is not in my wheelhouse. I write about natural science, both in poems and books: I’m fascinated by natural science. Once you get to the heavy lifting, the microscopic, or world-building in outer space, I can appreciate parts of it, but I can’t write it.”

*

‘‘Briar Rose was burned on the steps of the Board of Education in Kansas City. It’s funny. I live in Massachusetts, and Banned in Boston has always been a badge of honor. If you’ve had a book banned in Boston, the book has done really well. Even though it didn’t affect sales badly, I think when you write a story, you want everyone to love it, or be moved by it, or be changed by it, or be riveted by it, and when somebody actually burns it, you feel as though somehow you’re caught in Fahrenheit 451. It’s violent and ludicrous. They took three books out of the library and torched them on a barbecue because they all had gay characters. They didn’t do a bonfire. A bonfire I could get behind. Surpris­ingly, one part of me really was hurt. That’s my book. I thought, ‘You bastards. You took it out of the library. Why didn’t you go buy a book? Torch your own damn book.’ The idea that we still think, in this day and age, that if you don’t like a book, or a magazine article, or an album, or a person, that you can throw them on a fire, is really hard for me. So one part of me was hurt, and one part of me was horrified, and one part of me wanted to fight back.”
*

‘‘A lot of new writers – like Holly Black, Kelly Link – are doing crossover books, so that adults can read them with as much engagement as teenagers can. There’s also a new thing called New Adult, the step above YA, for 20- or 21-year-olds, that feels more to me like training wheels. When I was first writing back in the ’60s, and editing at Knopf, that’s when young adult became a genre. Before that they were all just children’s books. Young adult as a category was driven by librarians, because they were already doing it – they were separating out books for the young-adult room where the teenag­ers went. They weren’t going to sully the children’s room with those rowdy teens, but they weren’t going to have teens reading those sexy irreverent adult books. In those days, there were the Sweet 16 books, but once they started designating young adult as a category, they developed into something called problem novels – a little like ‘disease of the week,’ a story about the girl whose mother is a prostitute, or the boy whose father is a drunk. Those were the problem novels, more problem than novel. Like Afterschool Specials. But the great ones, such as The Outsiders, The Cheese Stands Alone, The Chocolate War, stuff like that, those are still read. Right now in children’s books, you’ve got board books, step-up books, concept books, clas­sic baby books, classic picture books, story books, poetry for children, poetry for teens, middle-grade books, upper-middle grade books, young-adult books, new-adult books, and then you get to adult books. When I was a six-year-old reading books in my parents’ extensive book collection, I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph in Egypt, or anything else I wanted. If I didn’t understand parts of it, I didn’t understand parts of it. If it’s in the house, you can read it. Of course, it’s one thing to have a particular parental unit say, ‘My kid is allowed to read anything,’ but for public libraries it’s different. If all children were let into the adult section, any parents who are unhappy about that would make a huge fuss, even shut down the library.”

*

‘‘Children’s books and young-adult books and fantasy have this in common: the best are writ­ten like poems. They have metaphor, they have astonishing lyrical prose, and they work on mul­tiple levels. They are a gateway drug to beautiful literature, and shouldn’t be dismissed. If I want to learn something new, I’ll start with a really good children’s book on the subject, and then move on to an adult book. Half the time I’ve learned most of what I need to know in the children’s book, or the adult book is not as well written, or it’s not as convincing, because it’s throwing stuff at you in order to convince you – but I’ve already been convinced by the poetry.”

 

John Joseph Adams: The Stars His Destination

John Joseph Adams was born July 31, 1976 and grew up in Perth Amboy NJ until moving to Florida at age nine. He dropped out of high school at 16, but got his GED and later attended Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce and then the University of Central Florida in Orlando. After graduation, he returned to New Jersey and got his first job in publishing. He began working at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2001, where he was assistant editor until December 2009. In January 2010 he left F&SF to edit Lightspeed for publisher Prime Books, and took over editing sister magazine Fantasy in 2011. In 2012 he bought both magazines, becoming publisher as well, and merged the two into Lightspeed. He is also publisher and editor-in-chief of horror magazine Nightmare, founded in 2012. He has been nominated for multiple Hugo and World Fantasy Awards for editing, and Lightspeed won Hugo Awards for Best Semiprozine in 2014 and 2015.

In 2008 he edited post-apocalyptic reprint anthology Wastelands, and followed it up with zombie anthology The Living Dead (2008). His first original anthology was Seeds of Change (2008), and he has since edited more than two dozen anthologies all together, including the Apocalypse Triptych series with Hugh Howey: The End Is Nigh (2014), The End Is Now (2014), and The End Has Come (2015). He is also the series editor for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, which published its second volume last year.

In 2016 he launched John Joseph Adams Books, his own imprint from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and has since acquired books by Hugh Howey, Molly Tanzer, Carrie Vaughn, and more.

Adams has also worked as a publicist and critic, and produces podcast The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy for Wired.com. In 2015 he was a judge for the National Book Award in the YA category. He lives on the Central Coast of California with his wife, editor and author Christie Yant, married 2011.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Things took a more dramatic turn for me when I stumbled across The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It had just come back into print after being out of print for a long time, and people kept coming into the bookstore and ordering it, so I got curious about it. I didn’t know Bester was a legend in the field. Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction, but at the time I didn’t know who he was, either. I just decided to try it…and it just blew my mind. I think of The Stars My Destination as my origin story: reading that book made me want to find more books that could blow my mind like that. Having read The Stars My Destination, I went on a quest to find more books like it, and ultimately that’s what led to me becoming an editor – to driving myself to find things that would challenge me as a reader and change the way I read. Before that, I’d pick up a book, and I’d like it or I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t striving to find that greatness.”

*
‘‘I was at F&SF about nine years. I was the slush reader, the only actual employee in the office day-to-day besides Gordon, working 20 hours a week or so. I would read all the slush except for whatever Gordon would cherry-pick. Obviously authors who were known quantities, he would pick them out of the slush to read himself, along with the occasional up-and-comers he wanted to keep an eye on. As time went on, I became more and more sure as an editor and felt more confident in my decisions. Though my primary job was slush reader, Gordon also started giving me everything he was going to buy to get a second opinion on those stories. So I literally read everything he bought before he bought it for most of my time at the magazine. That really helped me develop my editorial point of view because I got to read and comment on all of the stories under consideration – not just the stuff that got into the magazine but also the stuff that almost got into the magazine.”

*

‘‘Night Shade was very happy with Wastelands. Then they came to me and said, ‘Let’s do one on zombies.’ Unlike post-apocalyptic fiction, I didn’t have any background with zombies whatsoever. I hadn’t done any research. But I said, ‘Sure!’ So I did tons of zombie reading and research, assembled The Living Dead, and when it came out and did even better than Wastelands. Having those two books come out my first year as an anthologist – and hav­ing them do so well – really set the stage for me to keep editing anthologies.”

*

‘‘We launched Lightspeed in June 2010. Prime Books published it for about a year and a half, but then Sean Wallace decided to get out of the magazine business, and gave me the opportunity to buy it in lieu of him just shutting it down. By that time I’d taken over editing Fantasy as well. Lightspeed was breaking even and Fantasy was not, but since Sean was offering them both I decided to buy them both. With the success of my anthologies, I was in good enough financial position to buy them, but it was a difficult decision because it also meant I would have to do a lot more work day-to-day, because now I would be the publisher as well. But I went ahead and took the plunge.”

*

‘‘Though it sometimes makes things more dif­ficult, I ended up doing the same thing when I launched the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series, in that I said right up front that it was my intention to have fantasy and science fiction equally represented in each volume. Even though I don’t particularly care about the genre divisions, I want them to have equal representation, since both genres are in the title.

‘‘The way BASFF works is, as series editor I read everything that’s published during the year that meets our selection criteria, and I come up with a list of the top 80 stories. We bring on a different guest editor every year who then reads those top 80 stories and selects the top 20 that go into the book. Our first guest editor was Joe Hill, and then the second volume was guest edited by Karen Joy Fowler. I give the stories to the guest editor without any bylines or publica­tion information, so all they know is the title and the story; they can’t pick a story because it’s by a famous writer, or look favorably upon it because it appeared in a prestigious magazine – all they have to judge it on is the work itself, and that’s kind of a beautiful way to edit an anthology.”

*

‘‘I’ve always been a fairly fast reader, but lately I’ve had to really try to pick up my game. The good thing is, you can dismiss a lot of novels in the time it takes to dismiss a short story – because a lot of books, as soon as you start them you just know really quickly it’s not for you, that you don’t want to spend hours and hours reading it, let alone weeks editing it. With John Joseph Adams Books, I’m trying to apply the same kind of filter I do for BASFF – I only have ten slots a year, max, so I really have to be in love with every book I acquire.”

 

Cory Doctorow: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

In 1972, a group of researchers funded by the Volkswagen Foundation published a seismic book called Limits to Growth, which used the most sophisticated techniques of the day to model the planet Earth and project its future. The book’s authors were trying to figure out how rosy a future the world’s poor could count on: would they some day enjoy the cars and refrigerators and other benefits of the industrialized, devel­oped north? As the title suggests, the authors came to pessimistic conclusions.

The authors didn’t take obvious shortcuts in their models, either. A sloppy team might have added up the amount of steel in an average car, multiplied by the number of people who might want to own cars some day, and announce that this would require more steel that the planet Earth could provide. Smart researchers, though, would take note of the fact that technology is not static: competitive markets encourage companies to invest in R&D projects to reduce the material inputs to finished goods: in other words, the cars of the future will have less stuff in them. They’ll also take less energy and less labor to produce – not because companies care about environmental footprints, but because the less energy, labor, and material there is in a product, the less it costs to make, which means you can sell it for cheaper than your competitors’ products.

Even with optimistic projections of technological advances in material and labor efficiencies, the authors were pretty glum. Population grows geo­metrically, and technological efficiencies advance linearly, so technology won’t be able to keep up with population, and that meant that if all the world’s poor were to get an equal share in technological abundance, the resulting division would leave those of us in the rich world with a lot less.

(Let me note in passing that it’s not clear that populations grow geo­metrically – credible estimates have world population growth slowing and leveling off at nine billion people – nor that technology advances linearly, at least when we’re talking about computers, which have many curves that grow through doubling or even steeper exponents).

Limits to Growth had a profound impact on the world, one that’s felt still. The contemporary ‘‘de-growth’’ movement in the green left is a direct result of debate created by the book. If you’ve ever worried about how we were all going to get by with less, or railed at the waste of consumerism and the pursuit of stuff, or imagined a life of less – less meat, less air con­ditioning, less air travel – as a sad but necessary step we’d have to take to save our planet, you were likely feeling one of the aftershocks of Limits.

In his blazing 2015 book Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff, Leigh Phillips – a British Marxist science writer – blamed the de-growth move­ment for the political retreat of the left, which had historically sought to elevate peasants to the lifestyles of lords, rather than bringing lords down to live like peasants. When the left started telling people that they’d better get used to doing less with less, that flying to your holidays was an act of depraved environmental indifference, that the new normal meant flushing your toilet only when absolutely necessary, meant stooping to pick pests off of crops, meant foregoing the pleasure of blueberries in winter, the left transformed from the side that promised comfort for all to the side that insisted that comfort was the luxury we couldn’t afford.

Phillips is much rosier about a future of material abundance than the green left’s leading voices. He thinks that we can have the technol­ogy without the pollution, by removing profit motives – which insist that a company that pays a $1,000,000 pollution fine after saving itself $1,000,001 by dumping its waste in our drinking water has done the right thing, netting a dollar in profit for the shareholders it owes everything to. He thinks that, in the absence of market economics, we can harness technological developments to a common good that continues to enrich everyone on Earth. Rather than labor and land-intensive organic farming, he wants us to use technologically intensive, super-efficient farming crops and bioengineering techniques, to get the benefits of Monsanto without the abuses and shenanigans.

Phillips’s work overlaps science fiction in many places (I mean this as a compliment, of course). Bruce Sterling’s 2005 MIT Press pamphlet Shaping Things and his 1998 novel Distraction describe a future mate­rial culture populated by objects that exist as pure information, stored in a database, until the day when someone needs them, whereupon the objects are automatically fabricated. The materials in these objects are closely matched with their duty-cycles (the biggest problem with plastic bags being that they’re made of materi­als that last for millennia, but are intended to be used for hours), and the objects are designed so that when their use is complete, they gracefully degrade back into the material supply-chain. The objects produce a continuous stream of data about their use, and that data is constantly analyzed to improve the next version of the object that is conjured into existence (Sterling called these ‘‘spimes’’).

Both Phillips and Sterling envision a world in which all material comforts are available on demand, as a reliable, steady utility. That is the gold standard of technological civilization: you flip your light-switch and the lights turn on. Every time.

But technology hints at another model, one that hybridizes the pre-industrial rhythms of work and play and the super-modern ability to use computers to solve otherwise transcendentally hard logistics and coordi­nation problems.

Here’s the kind of thing I’m thinking of: in 2009, Google opened a data-center in a shady valley in Saint-Ghislain, Belgium where the weather is so naturally cool that two thirds of the time, the outside temperature is low enough that the data-center doesn’t need to run any kind of air conditioning. The biggest expense in data-center operation is the chillers that keep the computers from overheating. About one third of the time, the valley gets too warm to run an uncooled data-center. On those days, Google shuts off the data-center and farms requests for computing power and files to other data-centers around the world. It’s cheaper to run a data-center at two-thirds capacity than it is to run it around the clock with air-conditioning.

Here’s another example: I live in Burbank CA, in the drought-stricken San Fernando Valley, where months go by in which the sun blazes down pitilessly, without a single cloud in the sky, with daytime temperatures of 27C-35C or even hotter, day after day after day. Shortly after moving to Burbank in 2015, I was walking through my neighborhood when I came upon a man whose house had just been fitted with one of the photovoltaic roofs that you see dotted around the area. It was a remarkably hot day, and my neighbor was sitting on his porch with his doors flung open. Even from the sidewalk, I could feel the cool air wafting out of his house. He was running his air conditioner full blast, with all the windows and doors open. We struck up a conversation and he told me he was getting so much electricity from his rooftop solar cells that he couldn’t actually use it up. The pittance offered by the local utility for feeding back to the grid didn’t interest him. He preferred to use that surplus energy to keep an island of cool air around his porch and lawn that helped him enjoy the weather.

Both Google and my solar neighbor are up to something simultaneously high-tech and pre-industrial. In the pre-industrial era, goods were made by artisans, not industrial workers. Because the artisans worked to their own schedules, they were free to alter their production choices to suit their moods and environmental conditions. The carpenters could choose a warm day to sit outside and paint, and then retreat to their heated, enclosed workshops on rainy days to do fine detail work on their workbenches.

With industrialization came the need to coordinate your schedule and labor with other workers. Craft processes were decomposed into industrial processes, a series of simple steps that could be done quickly, with minimal training, by a series of workers who could be easily interchanged. Workers lost the ability to dictate their working rhythms. You can’t wander away from the assembly line to enjoy a sunny afternoon – the people up and down the line from you are counting on you. What workers lost in autonomy, they made up for in material abundance. Freed from the inefficiencies of one-off workshop production, goods plummeted in price and soared in reliability and quality. The material comforts available to the average worker surpassed those enjoyed by the aristocracy of the pre-industrial age.

Years, decades, centuries of this, and goods are unimaginably cheap, so cheap that we struggle as much with finding ways to do away with the things we’ve discarded as we do with acquiring those goods in the first place. The green left argues that these goods aren’t really cheap at all: they have hidden costs, externalities in the form of carbon and other pollutants. Factor the cost of cleaning up all the mess that companies have foisted on the rest of us, and those cheap goods become very expensive indeed.

Well, yes and no. The inputs – labor, energy, material – for goods are falling with no bottom in sight. Production of these goods still results in pollution, but the pollution is constant and the goods produced are rising. That is, refining a kilo of aluminum doesn’t get more polluting over time – if anything, it gets more efficient and thus less pollut­ing. If the pollution in refining the kilo of aluminum is constant, and the number of goods we can make with the kilo of aluminum is on the increase, then the pollution attributable by each object is decreas­ing (even if we’re buying so many cheap aluminum parts that overall pollution is increasing).

Cheapness and coordination go hand in hand. Trains gave us railroad time, the first system of timekeeping that synchronized clocks beyond ear­shot of the clocktower’s bells, so 11:00 a.m. in New York was also 11:00 a.m. in Toronto – and they also made it drastically cheaper to move goods from one place to another, both to bring them to market and to refine them further in multi-stage, distributed industrial processes. Spoke-and-hub aviation gave us flight transfers in 45 minutes, including baggage logistics, making it possible to go from small, out of the way places to large, centralized places without having to provide economically unsustainable point-to-point direct routes between every small town and every big city. Walmart’s supply chains stretch from China to Burbank with fantastic reli­ability, so that everything Walmart sells is always available, without having to wait for misshipments and misorders. A single McDonald’s hamburger can contain beef from 1,000 animals – the company isn’t a restaurant chain, it’s a logistics firm that solves problems involving fractional cows.

Your boss needs you to be at work on time because otherwise your co-workers can’t do their jobs. I have to turn this column in to Locus six weeks before publication or it won’t get printed and mailed to subscribers. We trade autonomy for efficiency, as individuals, as collectives, as companies, as nation-states (companies in the Far East get a lazy day when their American colleagues take Thanksgiving off and the company goes into station-keeping mode).

The result: the light-switch works every time. The thermostat regulates the air-conditioner with uncomplaining and perfect accuracy, whenever the house gets warm. We’ve got blueberries in February. These are the gold standards of indus­trialization.

Phillips and Sterling speculate that process ef­ficiency will continue to the point where we can deliver this gold standard to every corner of the world, so efficiently and transparently that we don’t melt the polar ice-caps and kill ourselves. That’s a hopeful bet.

It’s also science fiction, and good science fiction goes beyond simple scenarios like, ‘‘Here’s how we’ll solve our material production problems’’ and goes into more interesting ones like, ‘‘What if we had a different gold standard?’’

Think back to our artisans, arranging their days to their personal satisfaction rather than the demands of the system. How many times have we wished we could take a ‘‘mental health day’’ and skip work to play in the sun or huddle down in front of a winter fire with a good book? The light-switch doesn’t work every time for the artisan, but the arti­san doesn’t have to work when it’s dark, either. The farmer makes hay when the sun shines. Kids splash in summer rain-puddles and make snowballs in winter. When it’s raining soup, you fill your boots.

This variety doesn’t just confer the advantages of autonomy; it also serves as useful tonic against adaptation. Do anything over and over again, even something you enjoy, and you will adapt to it, and it becomes rote and joyless. Take a break from it, and when you return, it’s a fresh delight. Varying your routine makes the sweet parts of it sweeter.

(Not that artisans lived lives of comfort or good health or economic security: they were vulnerable to microbes, scarcity, war and famine, and locked out of social mobility, which confers a different kind of satisfying freedom of choice upon its beneficiaries.)

That brings me back to Google’s chiller-free Belgian data-center and my neighbor who’s air-conditioning all of Burbank with free energy from the sun. This is better than the gold standard of industrial comfort. The light-switch doesn’t work every time – don’t try to run the air-conditioner with the windows and doors open on a cloudy day or your next power-bill might send you into bank­ruptcy – but when it works, you get the light for free.

My neighbor can only enjoy his air-conditioned front lawn because he’s working in a flexible en­vironment (he’s almost certainly doing something in the movies, as most of my neighbors are, but I didn’t ask). He has a core of activities he has to do in concert with others, but he’s also got a large amount of unstructured time that’s his to fill as he sees fit.

Google’s data-center doesn’t work all the time, either, and it’s impossible to say with perfect confidence which days it will and won’t work. If it wasn’t for the heroic coordination work done by Google’s master computers, farming files and tasks redundantly around the globe, turning off the company’s computers for one day in three would be a nightmare. Add software to coordinate the labor of that data center with many others, and it’s a dream: a data-center housing thousands of cores with a carbon footprint not much bigger than the one generated by the laptop on which I type these words.

Networks and software solve coordination problems. Kickstarter helps you find people who’ll fund your novel; Twitter helps you find likeminded people with whom to elect a madman to the Ameri­can presidency. Private LGBTQ message boards help queer kids exchange survival strategies without having to figure out which other people are living in the closet in their physical worlds; free/open source software lets strangers cooperate to build operat­ing systems and wikis help strangers write entire encyclopedias.

The limits to labor/energy/material efficiency are speculative. We don’t know what the hard limits are on how little material can go into a car, how little fuel can propel an airplane, or how much of the labor embodied in your house could be performed by robots.

We don’t need to speculate to understand how sweet our lives could be if they were re-tuned to the rhythms of the natural world, if every time the sun shone we stopped having to worry about closing the door, if every time it rained we stopped worrying about whether the toilet really needs flushing, or whether it can mellow for one more yellow.

My next novel, Walkaway, includes an entire subculture called ‘‘the bumblers.’’ These are the survivors of a speculative investment bubble in zeppelins, a global phenomenon that left millions around the world with the knowledge and capacity to build airships, and networks of friends, fellow travellers, and potential couch-surfing hosts all over the world. These sky-hobos go aloft in their minimally steerable zeppelins and literally go wherever the wind blows them, knowing that they will almost certainly meet someone interesting, wherever the zeppelin happens to take them. It’s not jet travel. You can’t decide where you’re going. But if you don’t care where you end up – because all you want is to get somewhere – then bumbling is superior to conventional aviation on every metric.

Here is where the green left and the bright green left can meet: using bright green, high tech coordina­tion tools, we can restore the pastoral green, artisanal autonomy that privileges mindful play over mindless work. The motto of Magpie Killjoy’s Steampunk zine was ‘‘love the machine, hate the factory.’’ Love the dividends of coordinated labor, hate the loss of freedom we suffer when we have to coordinate with others. Have your cake and eat it too.


Alastair Reynolds: Expanding Universe

Alastair Preston Reynolds was born March 13, 1966 in Barry, South Wales, and spent his childhood in Cornwall and Wales. He earned degrees in astronomy from the University of Newcastle in England (1988) and a PhD from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland (1991). In 1991 he moved to The Netherlands to work for the European Space Agency, where he remained (apart from a break in 1994-96 to do a postdoc at Utrecht University) until becoming a full-time writer in 2004.

Reynolds began writing SF stories and novels in his teens, selling debut ‘‘Nunivak Snowflakes’’ to Interzone (1990). Notable short fiction includes ‘‘A Spy in Europa’’ (1997), ‘‘Galactic North’’ (1999), ‘‘Great Wall of Mars’’ (2000), ‘‘Diamond Dogs’’ (2001), ‘‘Zima Blue’’ (2005), Seiun Award-winner ‘‘Weather’’ (2006), Sidewise Award-winner ‘‘The Fixation’’ (2009), Hugo Award finalists ‘‘Troika’’ (2010) and Slow Bullets (2015). Some of his short work has been collected in Zima Blue and Other Stories (2006), Galactic North (2006), Deep Navigation (2010), and Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds (2016).

His first books were set in the Revelation Space universe: Revelation Space (2000), BSFA winner Chasm City (2001), Redemption Ark (2002), novella Turquoise days (2002), Absolution Gap (2003), and The Prefect (2007). Standalone novels include Century Rain (2004), Pushing Ice (2005), House of Suns (2008), Terminal World (2010), and Revenger (2016). He co-wrote The Medusa Chronicles (2016) with Stephen Baxter, an authorized sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘‘A Meeting with Medusa’’ (1971). His Doctor Who novel Harvest of Time appeared in 2013. The Poseidon’s Children trilogy began with Blue Remembered Earth (2011) and continued with On the Steel Breeze (2013) and Poseidon’s Wake (2015). In 2009, he signed a £1 million deal with Gollancz for ten books.

Reynolds returned to Wales in 2008, and lives there with wife Josette Sanchez, whom he met in The Netherlands in 1991.

 

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I signed a ten-book deal in 2009. It’s not been as smooth a process as it could have been. By rights I should be near the end of those ten books now, on book eight or so. I should be well into it, and I’m still only on book five at the moment. There have been a few speedbumps on the way, and a few delays. But it’s okay. It does give me that security of not im­mediately worrying about the next contract. I felt going into it that I had more or less written ten books in ten years before I started that contract, so it was more of the same, really. But life throws stuff at you that you didn’t see coming.”

*
‘‘Stephen Baxter and I are old friends. When I first started moving in science fiction circles, because I didn’t come up through fandom, I began to meet some of my peer group – people who were publishing in the maga­zines at the same time. I met Steve way back, probably about 25 years ago. We’ve been friends ever since. We don’t see each other that often – he lives at the other end of the country from me – but we do keep in touch. We like each other’s work. We were just e-mailing, talking about collaborations. I floated this idea that if ever Steve and I were to collaborate, we should do the authorised sequel to Clarke’s ‘A Meeting with Medusa’. I was half-serious. It had been at the back of my mind for a long time, that I would like to go back to that story. Steve liked the idea. At that point, we had no idea of the practicalities, legal permissions, or whether the publishers would like the idea or not. It’s not like a sequel to 2001. Unless you’re a Clarke aficionado, you probably haven’t read that story. But if you like Clarke, you probably will have read and liked it. We both felt it was worth pursuing the conversation. We had editors and agents involved, and then the Clarke estate. There was some understandable caution initially, but they did eventually agree to the idea. I don’t think there was any editorial approval. We told them what we were going to write, and we stuck to that. They didn’t want us to use the original novella. We wanted to put it in the book as a kind of giveaway for people who hadn’t read the original, but they weren’t keen on that. I think they felt it would detract from sales of The Best of Arthur C. Clarke. We had to accept that. It meant that right until the last minute, when we were writing the opening chapters of the book, we weren’t sure if we were addressing an audience who’d read the original story or not, because we weren’t sure it was going to be in the book. We had one version that sort of assumed you’d read it, and one that didn’t. We had to put the second version in. It kind of gives you a bit of an overview of what the story was about.”

*

‘‘That whole Beyond the Aquila Rift project was blessedly painless. I didn’t have time to sit and curate my own best-of collection. I don’t think writers should. You should hand that selection to a third party who can look at it with a more detached judgmental eye. Jonathan Strahan and Bill Schafer at Subterranean had a conversation about what was going to be in the book. I was involved in that conversation – I was allowed to chip in – but ulti­mately, their decision was going to be final. There were stories I liked that didn’t make the cut, stories Jonathan liked that didn’t make the cut, stories Bill liked that didn’t make the cut. There were stories that we all liked, but that didn’t make it for reasons of length, or there were some contractual hurdles to work around. You don’t want an entire book full of space opera, do you? You want a bit of variety in there as well. My most significant contribution was writing the introduction and the story notes for the collection. It was fun. I’ve done story notes for some of the other collections – you risk going over the same ground and repeating what you’ve done the last time. What I had in my favour was that I keep extensive records. For virtually every story, I have about ten iterations before I got to the final version, as well as all the notes I made for myself. I keep all that stuff. I can go back to a story that’s 15 years old, and I know the day I came up with that idea, so I could cut and paste those notes into my story comments. I used to think, ‘If it’s a good idea I won’t forget it.’ When I have the experience of going back to those notes, I think, ‘Bloody hell, that’s a good idea – I’d forgotten about it.’ So I do tend to make more extensive notes now.”

*

‘‘The ideas for the novel Revenger go back ten years, and I also have the notes to prove it. I started thinking about the setting ten years ago. I went back to it five years ago. It’s an itch that’s got to be scratched. The idea is you have these little worlds you have to break into, and you have a limited time in which to break into them, so you have a kind of heist scenario. You have an unknown amount of time to break into these planetoids, get treasure, and get out. It’s a high-risk occupation. I started to write some stories using that premise ten years ago, and I was trying to fit them into other universes, and it just wasn’t working. The other seed of Revenger came from when I really fell in love with science fiction, around the time I was 16. That’s when I was absolutely besotted with Larry Niven and the Known Space stories. I really loved them, particularly the playfulness of the world: maverick characters, colourful technologies, exotic aliens, mysteries and adventure to be had in a crowded, colourful universe. I was 15 when I read Ringworld, and it was the first book I read that was more than 200 pages long, which says something, doesn’t it? The way books have gone these days. I wanted to come up with a collection of short stories that felt like an updating of the Known Space universe. What I wanted was that sense of humans that co-exist and trade with aliens, and use their technology, so the ships are built around a bit of alien tech here, a bit of alien tech there. I started creating notes for a set of stories that were going to be in a very far future, in a sort of Dyson set of worlds around the sun, populated by human characters, but with aliens figuring in the story as well. I had the notes, but I never could find the time to make anything of them. Then a year or two ago, I was casting around for an idea for the next novel, and I thought, ‘Hang on, I’ve got that set of notes, and I’ve got that earlier stuff about little worlds – maybe there’s enough there to get going.’ Another genesis of it goes back to the Doctor Who novel, because that was significantly shorter than any book I’d written at that point: it was 110,000 or 115,000 words, by necessity. The BBC didn’t want a long Doctor Who novel, and it was longer than they wanted anyway. All my other books have been 150,000 or 180,000, sometimes over 200,000 words. I really enjoyed writing the Doctor Who novel, and in particular I enjoyed editing it, because it was manageable. I’ve got a better chance of getting close to something I could be pleased with if it’s a shorter novel. My agent liked that as well. For a few years he’d been saying I could benefit from doing something at the shorter length. My editor was keen on it as well. I myself wanted to do something punchy, fast-paced, going back to what I read when I was 16. Nova was like 200 pages long, and it’s got a whole universe, a whole future history, crammed into this miracle of a book. That’s the gold standard. I haven’t got there, but that’s what I’m aiming for. Revenger is 140,000 words, but it’s still my shortest novel to date, other than the Doctor Who novel. I’d like to keep them short from now on, but knowing me the next one will be back to 180,000 words.”

 

Kameron Hurley:

If You Want to Level Up, Get Back to the Basics

There are few things, for me, that are as equally depressing and energiz­ing as reading a really great book. Great books are why I got into this business in the first place, which is why I’m often so shocked when I hear from other professional writers that they don’t read anymore. Try ask­ing a panel of professional writers at your next convention to name five books they read this year. The silence is often worrisome.

Oh sure, I know writers who purposefully avoid reading while they’re writing a book, because it can be so humbling. Some avoid reading while writing because they don’t want someone else’s work directly influencing their own writing (pssst… it’s nearly impossible to avoid this. Our work is the sum of our lives and our stories). Of course it’s tough to make time for reading if, like me, you’re juggling a lot of writing, freelancing, and a day job, but if you’re looking to level up your skill as a writer, it’s in your best interests to read more, not less. As pros, we love to tell new writers to read a lot, but at some point we stop taking our own advice!

I’m working on my eighth novel for publication, writing about a short story a month for Patreon, and contributing to the odd anthology. You’d think that after you get a few books under your belt, you’d have some confidence in what you’re doing. To some extent, this is true: I have the confidence that I can complete a book more or less in a year. Whether or not I feel what I’ve written is a good book is another matter. It doesn’t help that every book brings with it a new set of challenges. What helps me is reading books that overcame the same narrative challenges that I’m struggling with. I also find that reading the work of others inspires me to try new and different things with character, prose, style, and overall structure that I wouldn’t have thought about on my own.

If writing novels is your chosen profession, the fastest way to obsolescence is to cease learning and leveling up your craft. As every mid-career writer knows, selling one book never guarantees a second sale. We are all only as good as our next book. Nobody wants to see a writer who can’t reinvent themselves when sales start to flag. You must always be improving. It’s the only way to stay in the game. Maybe I should qualify that, before the hate mail starts: it’s the only way I feel I can stay in the game.

To do that I need to see what other people are doing. I need to stay on top of the field. I need to read the very best. I need to read what’s selling. And what’s not. I need to read what people love. And maybe, sometimes, take a peek at what people hate.

I got into writing for the same reason many readers did – I read bad books and thought, ‘‘I can write better than that!’’ And the truth is that yes, I can write better than some writers now, but I’m not where I want to be yet. I probably never will be. To be still is to lose interest. To be still is to die. I decided early on in my career that my goal was to be among the great, and when you set a high bar for yourself like that, it means you just don’t quit.

I read a ton of books as a child and teen because I had the time. I read three books a week while living in Chicago because I had 15 hours of commuting time every week. That was an exceptional time for getting through my to-read pile. I read, and I read, and I read, and then writing consumed all my reading time, and I found that my idea of my own work’s brilliance started to become skewed. When I stopped keeping up with what other people were writing, it became difficult to look objectively at my work.

One of the benefits of a media that has become increas­ingly bleak is that I’m spending less time on social media and more time with my nose in a book again. I recently read 14 books in ten weeks, captivated by Sue Grafton’s comfort­ing Alphabet series. I also sat down and studied the plots of some of my favorite thrillers. I was back to actively practice in the profession that I love. No more excuses.

I discovered that my reading time hadn’t been eaten by work, but by relentless engagement with media streams that now seem to be beaming in dispatches from a dystopic future. Now is a great time to turn to the field that captivated me from the start, and buckle down on becoming a better writer.

Reading is crucial in this profession. When I meet writers who tell me they don’t read it’s like talking to an architect who says they never look at other buildings. Certainly, you can build a career that way, but it sure is going to be a lot tougher. Our profession is difficult enough as it is, so I encourage you to give yourself the advantage wherever you can.

I’m often asked about work-life balance, since I am a novelist who also has a day job and a personal life to juggle. The reality is that there’s no such thing as work-life balance. Some days you are doing great with your books, but poorly at your day job. Some days you just want to crawl into bed and just start again tomorrow. But if something is important to you, you make time for it. This is the year that I re-invest my energy in reading and studying great work instead of just making words.

When I attended the Clarion West Writing Workshop, author Carol Emsh­willer told us, ‘‘Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent.’’ Writing the same book over and over, making the same mistakes over and over, without learning anything from it, might feel like progress because there are a lot of words on the page, but it’s just counting time. If we can make time to write novels, we can certainly make time to study the novels of others.

More importantly even than leveling up your own career is getting back in touch with what you loved about reading in the first place. Explore new worlds, travel to distant stars, meet rogues and pirates and scientists and settlers and space jockeys and terraformers. And when you come back from those distant shores and find yourself back in this reality, you will come back armed with the tools to make your own story. To pilot a way forward. To imagine how things could be really different, not just in the fiction you create, but in the reality we are all building together.

Reading teaches us empathy and fosters wonder, and we will be sorely in need of both in the years to come. Don’t just do it for you, do it for the world you want to live in.



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