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Kameron Hurley: Horror & Glory

Kameron Hurley was born January 12, 1980 in Battleground WA. She attended college at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, then attended graduate school in Durban, South Africa, where she studied the history of resistance movements against Apartheid. After returning to the states, she lived in Chicago for four years before settling in Dayton OH. She did ‘‘all of the usual things that folks do as they’re struggling to get a real job,’’ including working at a movie theater, cleaning dog kennels, and working various admin positions. She began writing copy for a financial services company, moved into marketing copy, and is now senior copywriter at a software company. She attended the Clarion writer’s workshop in 2000.

First story ‘‘Brutal Women’’ appeared in 1998, and she has published a handful of stories since, including British Science Fiction Association finalist ‘‘Afterbirth’’ (2012). Gritty debut SF novel God’s War appeared in 2011, and was nominated for Clarke, Tiptree, BSFA, and Nebula Awards, and won a Golden Tentacle for best debut novel in the Kitschies as well as a Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. God’s War began the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, which continued in Infidel (2011) and Rapture (2012). Her new Worldbreaker Saga, a weird epic fantasy, began with The Mirror Empire (2014) and will continue in Empire Ascendant (2015).

Hurley is also well known for her essays, which appear in numerous venues, including Locus. ‘‘We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative’’ (2013) recently won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work, and Hurley won the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award this year on the strength of her essays.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘All writing is practice. There’s this funny thing that ends up happening once you get published: a lot of editors and publishers will tell their authors, ‘You should blog, it’s great for your career and it’s good visibility.’ What people don’t realize is these are very different types of writing. Novel writing, blog writing, corporate copy writing. Writing a website is very different from writing a marketing e-mail. They’re specific types of writing done for specific purposes and they have their unique formulas. A lot of people think, ‘I’m a writer, I can write everything!’ Well, no, you gotta sit down and do the work. I wrote 800 marketing e-mails before I thought, ‘I’ve got this down!’ I’ve been writing novels since I was very young, for 20 years. I’m finally like, ‘Okay, I think I’ve got this down.’ ”

*

‘‘Bantam originally bought God’s War in early 2008, and then there was the whole publishing meltdown. A lot of contracts got canceled and God’s War was one of those. It’s cool, we got paid, I’m not going to knock it. We went out to sell it again and got an offer from Night Shade Books. There were some rumblings about problems at the time – they were selling e-books when they didn’t have the rights to sell e-books, stuff like that. I remember when I posted publicly that I had made the sale, I had a writer friend e-mail me and say, ‘You know they’re not paying people?’ I was like, ‘What?’ This is why I’m a big champion of people speaking to each other in the genre. Because that problem snuck up on me. The situation got worse and worse. By the time I finished my draft of the third book, I said, ‘You need to pay me what you owe me or I’m not delivering this book.’”

*

‘‘My background is the history of resistance movements, particularly women in resistance movements. That really fascinates me – how do we build different cultures that remember to put women in these positions? In the Bel Dame books, there is a lot of toxic masculinity that you recognize as toxic because women are doing those things. When you put that ‘80s action-hero mantle onto a woman, you can see the damage it does more easily. A lot of science fiction takes you out of your normal experience, and says, ‘Look. Look at how this is different.’ Maybe not the best, maybe not the worst, depending on what it is they’re reflecting back.”

*

‘‘People were really upset about how I could call it science fiction without explaining things, like, ‘How does the mass work with those shapeshifters?’ I’m not going to write a glossary. It’s an adventure story. Someone else do the science, I’m busy. I’m writing a story. Genre wars are cool, people like them – it gives people on the Internet something to do. I want to tell a story. I want to be weird and crazy and far out. If I go into a story limiting myself in any way, saying, ‘I can’t have shapeshifters because where does the mass go?’ I’m not going to write as good a story. Mine is much more of a New Weird, anything is possible, who knows what it could be? sort of approach. We forget you can have a secondary world fantasy with aliens and spaceships. The problem is, people don’t understand the difference between a secondary world fantasy with magic and spaceships, and science fiction. Because they always want an explanation. ‘Oh, what happened in our world to bring about this future?’ It’s interesting to watch people do those contortions.”

*

‘‘There’s the architects vs. gardeners approach to writing novels. I’m certainly a gardener. Throw some seeds everywhere. Who knows what will grow? The architects, that would freak them out. They could not write that way. I’m the same if I’m constrained by an outline that says, and then this, and then this, and then this. I have finally gotten to the point where I can write more quickly when I sit down and think, ‘Here are the three things that need to happen in this scene.’ Even that seems like a constraint. But I have deadlines. I’ve got a day job. I need to find ways to hack my process and work faster. I work from home two days a week, which helps. That way I can make my own schedule, which is especially nice with book promotion, podcast interviews, and so on. I write from about 7:30-9:30 in the evening. Try to do that every night. Unfortunately what ends up happening is I have a 1,500 words a day goal. If I don’t hit that I need to sit down and write 4,500 words on Saturday. That sounds very difficult, but my great dream is just to sit down for six or eight hours and write. Having an hour and a half or two at night instead of having a big block of time is hard. You really just have to find ways to hack your own process, even if you’d rather be doing it in a different way.”


Paul Park: Metafictional Demons

Paul Claiborne Park was born October 1, 1954 in North Adams MA. He attended Hampshire College in Amherst and worked in New York at various jobs – aide to city council members, construction worker, doorman, manager of a health club, and at an ad agency – while he worked on writing fiction.

He then spent two years traveling, mostly in India, Indonesia, and the South Seas, finishing first novel Soldiers of Paradise (1987), a Clarke Award finalist and first in his Starbridge Chronicles, which also includes Sugar Rain (1991) and The Cult of Loving Kindness (1991). Tiptree and Nebula Award finalist Coelestis (as Celestis in the US) appeared in 1993, followed by The Gospel of Corax (1996) and Three Marys (2003). His White Tyger fantasy series began with World Fantasy Award finalist A Princess of Roumania (2005) and continued with The Tourmaline (2006), The White Tyger (2007), and The Hidden World (2008). Sturgeon and Nebula Award-nominated novella ‘‘Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance’’ (2010) became part of All Those Vanished Engines (2014), a metafictional SF novel made of three linked novellas. Under the name Paulina Claiborne he wrote Dungeons & Dragons novel The Rose of Sarifal (2012); Claiborne also appears as a character in All Those Vanished Engines.

Other notable stories include World Fantasy and Sturgeon Award finalist ‘‘Get a Grip’’ (1997), British SF Award nominee ‘‘If Lions Could Speak’’ (2002), World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘The Persistence of Memory, or This Space for Sale’’ (2009), and Shirley Jackson Award nominee ‘‘The Statue in the Garden’’ (2013). Some of his short fiction is collected in If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories (2002).

Park lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Deborah Brothers, married 1994; they have two children. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘A lot of things happen in my fiction through a process of accumulation rather than design. For example, I had loose characters wandering around in my stories and I hadn’t named them yet, so I gave them the name Paul Park as a placeholder. For me, naming characters is almost the most artificial thing you do in fiction. You have a character and you think, ‘Is this Joe Doakes? Is this Francesco Bellesandro? Who is this?’ At a certain point I just called a lot of them Paul Park. I didn’t think much about it. Maybe that contradicts the possibility that this is a post-modern ploy. Stupid me! When I started to publish those stories it was natural for people to make some connection between the character and the author because we had the same name. It was something that happened by accident and turned into a pattern. As soon as there was a critical mass of those ‘Paul Park’ stories I found a way of making it into a meta text, creating a collection of stories about a mythical character who has the same name as myself. I had this character Paul Park, and for a long time his life was not at all like mine. There was some convergence, especially in the character’s written work, but the details of the life itself were very different.

‘‘From there, I got interested in the idea that you could see in somebody’s fiction, even in genre fiction or extremely mannered fiction, traces of that person’s actual life and experience. That someone could imagine they could see traces of my actual life and experience in my fiction. I found it interesting to invent another life, another experience that you could see in the same way, that you could see shadows of in the same text.

‘‘Some readers have already challenged the idea that All Those Vanished Engines is a science fiction novel, but I disagree. It’s not like every other Paul Park novel ever written, if that is even a sensible thing to say, but even so, certain elements are clearly genre elements. There are parts of it that are alternate history, parts set in the future, parts that partake of a diminished sense of the future that we’re familiar with through genre fiction. Even if, in some sense, those visions are qualified by the possibility that they’re made up, or they’re not real, or they’re constructs written by a character in the story, even so, they partake of the same tradition of science fiction. It’s more comfortable to read if you’re conversant with that tradition. I like the idea of it as a genre book. There should be a place in the genre that allows science fiction themes to express themselves in postmodern terms sometimes.”

*

‘‘Another example is the way I mixed in an actual text I wrote for an art installation in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, on the campus of an old mill building in North Adams. The heating system of the entire complex of maybe 20 buildings was all in this one building, which was open to the weather and contained a series of enormously evocative steam generators and condensers, now liberally encrusted with rust. Instead of tearing that all out and using it as gallery space, the museum said, ‘These are astonishingly beautiful machines in their own right – what can we do with them?’ They hired a guy named Stephen Vitiello, a well-known sound artist, to figure out a sound installation as you wandered through these machines. He suggested there be some kind of story to go with it. He said, ‘There’s a writer I really like who lives in this little town of yours. I’ll do this project if I can get Paul Park to write the text.’ One of the sound elements is the narrator telling the story, in this case a made-up story, of the genesis of this particular collection of beautiful engines and what they’re really for. The Sprague Electric Company, housed in the mill, was filled with actual secret projects, especially during the second world war, that were connected to the Manhattan Project.

*

‘‘I’ve always wanted to write a post-collapse story. I don’t like the way most of them are done – they’re just terrible cataclysms of disaster. We got used to this approach in The Road or The Parable of the Sower. I feel that’s a betrayal of the reality of the world and what human beings can do. In so many of these stories, within a few chapters you’ve got feral children roasting body parts by the side of the road. I’m trying to write a post-collapse story that feels more hopeful. When I was a kid I was struck by Engine Summer, which is far future but has a lovely lightness to it, even though you can see the character is living in the remnants of the modern world.

*

‘‘All Those Vanished Engines is very much a one-off for me. There were a number of formal things I wanted to do. I wanted to involve actual stories of my family’s life, and in some sense my own life, to incorporate characters from my own life in an artificial piece of fiction. I’ve always loved the interlocking three-novella design, but I don’t think I’m going in this direction again. The story I’m working on now is much more conventional science fiction. Even in the most bizarrely metafictional sections of All Those Vanished Engines, there’s praise for the idea of the simple story simply told. That really is a desire of mine. I feel maybe I’ve exorcised the metafictional demons here.

‘‘But even so, even in a more conventionally-plotted narrative, I can tell I’ll find some room for ambiguity. One of the ways in which science fiction tends to depart from our own experience of the world is that often in a science fiction world the facts are too clear. We go to some planet and there’s an expository section that tells about the history of the place and how it works, because we need a clear sense of it in order for the story to develop correctly and make sense. But that’s different from the way we perceive the real world. The worlds of any two different people don’t really resemble each other. This is the problem with politics too. The perception of causes and effects are entirely different, there’s no agreement on what causes the same events, what the ramifications are, there is no sort of narrative that we can depend on. A lot of science fiction feels like it’s missing a level simply because we’re supposed to be able to understand the world of the story as it truly is. But there’s room for readers who question that, readers who want to add a level of perception where the characters in the story perceive the world in a way the reader of the story does not. That becomes part of the way the story is written. Not all genre readers are going to be interested in that because it requires a bit of separation from the delights of the narrative. But there is a type of reader who will appreciate something that feels closer to the way they look at their own lives. If readers are looking to science fiction as escapism, they like it because it’s separate from the way they perceive the world, or the way the world is. If they’re looking at science fiction as a series of signs and symbols that intersect with the world they actually know, then they’re open to other approaches. They’re open to metafiction.’’


Kameron Hurley:
The Status Quo Is Not a Neutral Position: Fiction and Politics

I often find myself getting asked tricky questions from new writers, but the trickiest of all is this: they want to know how I’ve managed to have a career while speaking so publicly about my beliefs and values online.

I’ve been writing on the internet since 2004, and publishing in more traditional venues since 1996. And I have a distinct set of values and politics and opinions that I bring to both my fiction and nonfiction work, of course.

Doesn’t everyone?

I explore a variety of topics quite boldly on the page, and make good use of tactical swearing. I’ve had my non-fiction work recognized with two Hugo Awards, and garnered a solid online following for speaking honestly and publicly about both my values and the realities of the writing and publishing life.

Yet one of the things I’ll hear from newer writers, and even my colleagues, is that they avoid potentially polarizing topics when writing both online and in more traditional print magazines like this one. They fear turning off a certain subset of readers. What many don’t realize is that our values are quite apparent even in our fiction – it’s in whether or not we choose to portray the status quo as heroic and normal, or challenge it. It’s in how we treat our male and female characters, and whether or not we acknowledge that there are people living between those two binary boxes. It’s in how we build future and imaginary worlds, and who we choose to put in charge of them, and how they organize themselves. It’s in whether we believe, or not, in good and evil, in a creator(s), or not. It’s in who we say our heroes should be. It’s all there, everything we believe, painted right into our stories, whether we like it or not.

Truth be told, the readers you will lose by saying all that out loud are likely going to be the same ones you would lose simply because they were turned off by your fiction.

The newer writers who approach me tend to be people who believe passionately and fervently in their sets of values, folks who feel that their work, specifically, has been called out as ‘‘political’’ while the work of their peers seems to not ruffle any feathers. I always found this strange, when people told me that the only ‘‘political’’ fiction out there was written by folks at the far left or right of the spectrum, and that somehow, the work that maintained, presented, or celebrated the status quo was free of icky sticky politics.

Oddly enough, it seems many consider fiction that upholds the status quo, that supports current politically acceptable or traditional views, as apolitical. It is, somehow, ‘‘normal,’’ and it’s the rest of us working around the margins of that that are making all the fuss. We’re muddying the clear waters. All our science fiction and fantasy should be ‘‘fun’’ people tell me. Free from anything outside the accepted norm.

Which, you know, for writers in genres which are supposedly ‘‘fantastic’’ is a deeply amusing assertion.

I expect these folks who think pure genre fiction is free from politics think we should just write about a post-racial capitalist utopia, where men are men and women are women. Because writing such a thing is not a statement of politics or morals or values, but of cold, objective fact.

Right?

But all writing is political. All art is political. If we choose to write from the viewpoint of the status quo, of ‘‘accepted’’ views of history, of gender roles, of economics, of race relations and commerce, that does not make our work any less political. It’s simply that those politics are less visible to us from where we’re sitting, because those are the politics the media feeds us, the ones the talking heads prop up, the ones the schools that were raising good little factory workers told us were not political at all, but human, and normal. They told us these views, these positions, were fact, and anything that veered from that was disruptive.

And to be disruptive, to stand out, was a grave crime indeed.

That’s us. The disruptors.

What we choose to write about – violent matriarchies, benevolent patriarchies, anarchist utopias, capitalist dystopias – cannot help but take a political position. Hierarchy is good. Capitalism is bad. Binary gender is natural. Bisexuality is natural. Or not. Freedom of information is bad. Freedom of information leads to terrorism. The state is benevolent and should be trusted to protect its citizens. The state is corrupt and must be abolished.

Intentional or not, our work expresses a certain set of values. The more they tilt away from the accepted cultural ‘‘norm’’ of values, the more visible they will be, but they’re no more or less valid expressions.

It turns out that science fiction and fantasy writers have a long and glorious tradition of political rambling, political writing, and both challenging and propping up the status quo. Heinlein’s work was deeply political, as was the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, Joe Haldeman, Joanna Russ, Octavia E. Butler – throw a dart at a book in your library or swipe through your e-book selections and you’ll find a writer who expresses a certain view of the world, whether it’s in conversation with or directly challenging the society they’re writing from.

New writers tend to have a deep fear of saying something wrong on the internet, and I don’t blame them – things can escalate quickly. But it is not so much the flame wars or hater comments they seem to fear, but the idea that particular editors, or publishing professionals, or colleagues won’t work with them if they know what their politics are.

And to that, I say, well, you know, as long as your ‘‘politics’’ aren’t about kicking puppies and taking away women’s right to vote and stomping on all other races and countries but your own and stripping people of their human rights, you’ll probably do fine. There is a long history of writers who have done all those things, and still managed to have careers. So you’ll be all right.

It’s true that sharing certain values with the people you work with would be nice, but at the end of the day, if you write compelling stories that people want to read, folks will work with you, even if you’re a jerk online. I know quite a few jerks online who continue to do very well for themselves. Better, however, are those with strong political opinions who are still deeply gracious, thoughtful, and compassionate human beings whom I can respect despite our differing opinion on social services and tax law.

As writers, all we have is our unique voices, views of the world, and, importantly, our passion. I write with passion. It powers everything I write. If I fear to give voice to that passion because people disagree with me, then I’m finished before I’ve ever begun, because, let me tell you, new writers – if you cannot endure criticism of your opinions, you will not be able to stand up to the criticism of even one scathing review which calls you a gutless hack. And you will get those reviews. Again and again. No matter how many awards you win or copies you sell or how much or how little you speak honestly about your politics.

So speak up. Speak loudly. But recognize that when you choose your position, you must choose it wisely. Because there’s a very good chance that we’re all going to be listening.

What have you got to say?


Nicola Griffith: The Body & the World

Nicola Jane Griffith was born September 30, 1960 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. She went to college to study science but did not graduate, dropping out and moving to Hull, where she played in a band. She has also worked as a women’s self-defense instructor, and often teaches writing. She attended Clarion in 1988. At the workshop she met fellow writer Kelley Eskridge, and they were married in 1993, though the marriage wasn’t legally recognized at the time due to laws against same-sex unions. They were legally married in 2013, on the 20th anniversary of their original ceremony.

Griffith’s first story of SF interest was ‘‘An Other Winter’s Tale’’ in Network (1987), followed by ‘‘Mirrors and Burnstone’’ in Interzone (1988). Other notable stories include BSFA Award finalist and Tiptree Honor story ‘‘Touching Fire’’ (1993), Nebula Award nominee ‘‘Yaguara’’ (1995), and Hugo Award and Locus Award finalist ‘‘It Takes Two’’ (2009). Three of her stories were collected in With Her Body (2004).

Griffith’s debut novel Ammonite (1992) won the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award and a Lambda Literary Award, and was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke and British SF Association Awards. Slow River (1995) won a Nebula Award and another a Lambda Award. Literary crime novel The Blue Place (1998) began the Aud Torvingen series, which continued in Stay (2002) and Always (2007), all of which won awards. Her latest book Hild (2013) is a historical novel about Saint Hilda of Whitby, and was a Tiptree Honor Book, and finalist for the Nebula Award, John W. Campbell Memorial, Lambda Literary, and Bisexual Book Awards.

Griffith wrote a memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer’s Early Life (2007), another Lambda winner, and edited three award-winning anthologies with Stephen Pagel: Bending the Landscape: Fantasy (1997), Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction (1998), and Bending the Landscape: Horror (2001).

Griffith and Eskridge live in Seattle WA.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I like to write about women who are the subject, not objects. I like to write about women who do rather than have done to them. They might do bad things – a lot of my women do bad things – but they do them because they seem like efficient ways to deal with what’s going on. I’m very much a creature of the body. In my books, physical violence is not cartoon violence; it’s about what the body does and how it works, and sometimes how good it feels to use the power of your body. I don’t see too many people being relaxed and enjoying their bodies in that way, in real life or books. Which reminds me of one of the very first panels I was ever on, at a Worldcon in 1989. It was about sex in fiction. What happened was that everyone on the panel except me was saying, ‘Sex is embarrassing, it’s messy, and people never talk about that in fiction and we should talk about that.’ For the whole panel I sat there smiling benignly thinking, ‘You must be doing it wrong.’

‘‘A lot of my work is about the body, and how we feel, and how the world works on our bodies and our bodies work on the world. Setting is my primary joy as a writer: the world and the body in it. I think story comes from that interface, where body meets world. Sort of the way some people think mind is born at the interface of world and brain. Whether you want to call it the problem, or the circumstance, or the situation, or the setup, the place a story begins is the world.”

*

‘‘Hild was real, St. Hilda of Whitby. She founded Whitby Abbey. It wasn’t called Whitby back in the day, it was something unpronounceable in old English, Streanæshalch. Bede translates it as ‘Bay of the Beacon’ – there used to be a Roman beacon there, apparently. The more I discovered about the abbey and its role in history, the Synod of Whitby and so forth, the more I thought, ‘Who was this woman? How did she do that?’ There were no books about her, no non-fiction, no novel, fucking nothing. I couldn’t find anything much about her. So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll write an alternate history about the Synod of Whitby.’ The Synod of Whitby really did change the course of British history and therefore all our world history. I kept coming back to this woman, though. The more I found out about the meeting that she facilitated and basically hosted, presided over, the more important I realized that was. I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to have to write a book about her.’”

*

‘‘All religion is political. One’s belief is not necessarily political, but religion is. Religion is a group thing, people moving and acting, and so it has to be orchestrated. That’s politics. So all my priests, priestesses, seers, they operate politically. They have to. They’re all spin-meisters. That’s basically Hild’s job: she’s a political spin-meister. She’s really good at predicting the future because she watches how the world is, what direction people might move in when something happens. She can make well-informed guesses. Today I suppose it’s someone like Nate Silver with the blog Five Thirty Eight, who called all the election stuff, and did it by crunching the numbers. Essentially, that’s what Hild does. Instead of raw numbers she uses bits of information she pieces together from all over the place. A lot of it is such second nature to her, so instinctive – the way expertise always is – that she’s not always sure where she got the information. She sees this flight of birds and so she knows the weather must have been bad over there for them to be flocking here. She puts that together with a report she had from a spy about the crops somewhere else. She puts it all together and says, ‘Yep, there’s going to be war in about three months.’ In fact, she deliberately uses the notion of magic, people’s belief in it. She knows that to get what she wants, the results she needs, she has to use the tools at hand.”

*

‘‘I’m already working on the second book. I think there are going to be three volumes. Right now the plan is for them to fall neatly into the three parts of her life. So we have Hild until she’s 18 or 19. And then Hild from that age until she reappears in the historical record when she’s 32. The last book will be all about her life in the church and her official, recorded-as-history politics. Originally, though, this was meant to be all one book. But I got to 100,000 words and Hild was only 12, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s not going to work.’ So I’m hesitant about saying for sure. But I’m not going to go delta. I’m not going to spread the story thinner and thinner and wider and wider until it’s this vast shallow lake that doesn’t go anywhere. I’m going to keep it deep and fast-moving and cut right through the story until the end. I know what the last line is….”

*

‘‘I think science fiction is changing. Again. There’s definitely fresh air sweeping in. I like it. It’s not a bunch of white men sitting around eating white bread and talking about Leave it to Beaver anymore. The clubhouse doors are open. Science fiction no longer belongs to the same people. Who does it belong to now? Science fiction, the culture, the genre, the marketing label, whatever, was created and it can be uncreated. It can be changed. I think that’s what’s happening. Look at the ballot for the Nebula Award. Eight novels and at least two of them are not science fiction or fantasy in any accepted sense. And there are six women out of eight. The next ten years are going to be incredibly interesting. When William Gibson was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, he said something which really resonated with me: ‘I’m a native of science fiction but no longer a resident.’ Science fiction is the first stuff I wrote as an adult. I’m a native, it’s my native language, I just don’t always live there. I’m of it, but I’m a citizen of the whole literary world. Just as I’m no longer just a UK citizen, I’m a dual US/UK citizen, I feel like science fiction is one of my identities, and not my only one. We’re all more than one thing.’’


Yoon Ha Lee: Axions & Theorems

Yoon Ha Lee was born January 26, 1979 in Houston TX. Her family moved back and forth between Texas and South Korea, where she attended high school at Seoul Foreign School, an English-language international school. She went to college at Cornell University, majoring in Mathematics, and earned a Master’s degree in secondary math education at Stanford. She has worked as an analyst for an energy market intelligence company, done web design, and taught math.

Lee began publishing SF with ‘‘The Hundredth Question’’ in F&SF (1999), and has since published more than 40 stories, including WSFA Small Press Award finalist ‘‘The Pirate Captain’s Daughter’’ (2009), Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award nominees ‘‘Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain’’ (2010) and ‘‘Ghostweight’’ (2012), and World Fantasy Award finalist ‘‘Effigy Nights’’ (2013). Many of her stories have appeared in Year’s Best anthologies, and several are gathered in debut collection Conservation of Shadows (2013), a finalist for the William L. Crawford Award. She also creates and writes games, most recently the browser-based game Winterstrike.

Lee lives in Louisiana with her husband and daughter.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I originally wanted to be a composer. Then, in third grade, my teacher Mr. McCracken would change into a superhero costume, Story Man, and pretend to be a completely different person. I would say, ‘This is not real,’ and he would say, ‘You’re ruining the illusion.’ He had us do creative writing. Before that, I knew that everyone obviously composed music, because I composed music (though I learned later that was not actually the case), but I didn’t realize stories came from somewhere. Stories were these things that came in books, and books magically dropped into the library. They didn’t come from anywhere. Nobody made them. Mr. McCracken made me realize people wrote stories, and I thought, if people wrote stories, maybe I could write a story. I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be a writer instead of a composer.

‘‘I sold ‘The Hundredth Question’ to F&SF when I was in college, but I’ve been writing since third grade. I started submitting in sixth grade. Marion Zimmer Bradley received many of my efforts. As you may imagine, some of the stories were really terrible. Some of them I still have. But my parents divorced, and my dad remarried a woman who threw out all my stuff. I think of it as cleansing the world of really bad stories. I kept everything my sister salvaged from that situation. I’m not going to throw it out now. Between sixth and eighth grades I wrote my first novel. It was terrible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fanfic. I took Leonardo’s name and wrote it backwards, and that was the name of one of the characters. I thought I was so clever. It was a terrible novel, but I only have a 5,000 word snippet of it, because all the rest of it got thrown out.

‘‘I was going to write fantasy – I was really into Dragonlance and the Anne McCaffrey’s Pern stories. I know they are technically science fiction but they had dragons in them. I wrote a total ripoff of Anne McCaffrey when I was in fifth grade, except it was unicorn riders instead of dragon riders. I know. Then I read Ender’s Game. I have lots of objections to Orson Scott Card’s political views, but at the time I didn’t know any of that. I was in a tiny school library in South Korea and we only had access to a limited pool of English-language books, let alone SF and fantasy books. I read Ender’s Game and realized I wanted to write about military ethics. I was always interested in military history. I would clean out the books in the library on trebuchets and claymores and siege engines.”

*

‘‘I approach writing like it’s an equation. What is the… moral is maybe too loaded a term… but what is the thing at the end that the reader should come away with? What is the final conclusion? What is the theorem that I am trying to prove, and what are the axioms that will get me there, and how do I show the steps? I often wonder if my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with what they taught me, because it’s something I learned as a math major, how to think in that manner. A lot of people think that math is about computation, or arithmetic. It’s not just arithmetic, it’s about argumentation. It’s about forming an argument. Certain kinds of stories, especially if you write didactic stories, are a kind of argument too. You can transfer the methods from math to fiction.”

*

‘‘For my collection Conservation of Shadows, my editor Sean Wallace at Prime said, ‘Send me your list of the stories you think will work best together.’ He made his own list, and when we compared them, they were almost the same. We went with his list, because I figured he is the experienced editor, so I would defer to his expertise. I’ve seen reviews of the collection. My favorite review was on Goodreads, where someone thought the first three stories were the first three chapters of a novel. They were all excited, thinking these characters would come together and interact. Then they figured out that it was a short story collection, and they were very disappointed.”

*

‘‘I sometimes feel like readers have certain expectations because I’m an Asian-American writer. I got one Amazon review where it said that the stories had an Oriental flavor of seeking harmony instead of more traditional Western style conflict resolution. I’m like, ‘Really?’ I have pretty much not read Korean literature. I grew up with the folktales. I wouldn’t say Korean folktales are hugely different from Western folktales. There is a Korean version of Cinderella that goes pretty much the same way. The tiger stories, the seductive fox ladies. But yeah, he was talking about how conflict resolution was toward something that’s harmonious rather than logical. That’s not what I was trying to do, but if you see it, you see it. I sometimes wonder if that reader had seen those stories but with a non-Asian name on them, would they have seen the same things?”

*

‘‘I have a couple of ideas for what’s next. I’m sure my agent wants to know. I want to write a combat system based on musicology and music theory. Given my usual difficulties in explaining things clearly, this may not be the best idea. I like to compose as a hobby. People will tell me they’re really impressed that I compose, but composing is not hard. It’s like anything else, you have to practice it. Composing well is hard, but it’s hard for everyone. You have to practice until you are good at it. Everyone has an opinion about music, as they know what kind of music they like. They can hum along to things, they can find the beat. They have a relationship to music but not necessary a technical vocabulary to go along with that. The interesting challenge would be to do the space combat system in a way that the language would be approachable without going into really technical musicology terminology. Even though I like musicology. It’s still in development. I haven’t done more than exploratory work. I get bored easily. People think I am being ambitious with all these weird ideas, but the truth is I get bored, so I want to do something different from what I did before. People will ask me, ‘Will you ever write a sequel to Story X?’ I’ll think, ‘Not on your life!’ I don’t want to go back because I said everything I wanted to say. I want to go on and do something new. The trilogy was odd because I had something I wanted to say after the first book. I broke the world and thought, well, there are consequences to doing that, so maybe I can break some different things.’’


Cory Doctorow:
Audible, Comixology, Amazon, and Doctorow’s First Law

It’s been half a decade since I coined ‘‘Doctorow’s first law of electronic publishing’’: ‘‘Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you, and won’t give you the key, you can be sure that the lock isn’t there for your benefit.’’

I’m talking, of course, about ‘‘digital rights management,’’ one of those immortal, terrible ideas that resurfaces under a new name every couple of years. You may know it in one of its other euphemistic guises, like ‘‘copy protection,’’ or ‘‘digital locks,’’ or ‘‘technical protection measures.’’ I’ll just call it ‘‘DRM,’’ because that can also stand for ‘‘digital restrictions management,’’ which is a much more apt name for it.

DRM attempts to accomplish the impossible. The idea of DRM is that I, the publisher, don’t trust you, my customer, with my products. However, I want your money, and you won’t part with it unless I give you the product. So I give you the product – an e-book – but hope that I can somehow control how you use it after I’ve given it to you.

In order to do this, I supply the e-book in a scrambled format. Then I supply you with a program that can descramble the e-book, but that won’t let you save it in a descrambled, share-able form. And I pray with all my might that you won’t figure out how to subvert this program, even though historically this has been a terrible bet, a task akin to keeping the bank vault in the robber’s living room and trusting the lock to keep her from opening it and walking away with the contents.

As silly as this idea sounds, it has gripped policy-makers and technology vendors with a kind of feverish zeal that has endured for decades. Back in the 1990s, the world’s governments started to enact laws to protect DRM. They had been sold on a story of how DRM could be used to sell rights to all digital goods in infinitely subdivided, variably priced slices (‘‘rent this movie for ten minutes on a Wednesday for half price!’’).

The laws they made started with a pair of UN treaties passed in 1996: the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performers and Phonographs Treaty, which were integrated into US law through the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Law, or DMCA (compliance with these treaties is also a condition of participating in the World Trade Organization).

Under the DMCA, removing DRM is against the law, even if you’re not otherwise violating copyright. For example, under copyright, you have the ‘‘fair use’’ right to publish brief excerpts from a movie as part of your critical analysis, but if that movie is locked up with DRM (as all DVDs are), you are not allowed to remove the DRM to accomplish this.

Likewise, your right to ‘‘format shift’’ your DVDs to files that can play on a tablet or phone is superseded by the prohibition on removing DRM to do this. That’s why Apple’s iTunes will helpfully rip your CDs and load them onto your tablet for you, but won’t do the same for your DVDs.

Critically, publishers, authors and other copyright holders cannot create or distribute DRM-breaking technology to unlock their own works, after those works have been locked up with a tech company’s DRM. Random House, with all its market might, cannot authorize you or enable you to break the Amazon DRM on its books.

And without this DRM removal, you can’t move Amazon e-books to competing ereaders – Kobo, Nook, etc – meaning that every dollar that Random House books generate in sales is a dollar that Random House’s customers will have to surrender if Amazon and Random House part ways and Random House hopes to tempt those readers to come along as it moves to one of Amazon’s rivals.

This isn’t a hypothetical, these days. As I write this, in July 2014, we’re into the second month of a serious dispute between Hachette (owner of Little, Brown; Orbit; and many other imprints) and Amazon over pricing, discounts and promotions, in which Amazon has simply stopped carrying Hachette e-books in its Kindle store. Hachette could fight back by offering a tool to convert all your Kindle books to run on rival platforms and offer 50 percent discounts on all its titles everywhere except Amazon until the dispute was resolved, sending tens of thousands of previously loyal Kindle customers into a rival’s clutches.

Or rather, Hachette can’t do that, because the company has a doctrinaire belief in DRM, and has insisted that every one of its e-books ever sold by Amazon had Amazon’s DRM on it. Only Amazon can remove Amazon’s DRM from Hachette books, and they’re in no hurry to release Hachette’s readers from their walled garden.

Amazon has a complicated relationship with its retail suppliers, customers, and DRM. The company made history in 2008 by launching a DRM-free store to compete with Apple’s Itunes, which required that all the labels who supplied it agree to its DRM. Apple later removed DRM from iTunes and insisted that it had hated DRM all along, but requires DRM for its apps, videos, audiobooks, and virtually every other digital product it sells.

Like Apple, Amazon eschews – and decries – DRM where there is a competitive reason to do so, but it insists on DRM in those categories where it dominates, requiring its suppliers to allow their copyrights to be locked up with a lock whose key only Amazon possess.

Take Amazon’s subsidiary Audible, a great favorite among science fiction writers and fans. The company has absolute dominance over the audiobook market, accounting for as much as 90 percent of sales for major audio publishers. Audible has a no-exceptions requirement for DRM, even where publishers and authors object (my own audiobooks are not available through Audible as a result). Audible is also the sole audiobook supplier for iTunes, meaning that authors and publishers who sell audiobooks through iTunes are likewise bound to lock these to Amazon’s platform and put them in Amazon’s perpetual control.

As John Scalzi wrote recently:

These businesses and corporations are not your friends. They will seek to extract the maximum benefit from you that they can, and from others with whom they engage in business, consistent with their current set of business goals. This does not make them evil – it makes them business entities (they might also be evil, or might not be, but that’s a different thing). If you’re treating these businesses as friends, you’re likely to get screwed.

Anyone who believes that Audible would hesitate to use its market power to extract additional profit at the expense of its suppliers – that is, writers and publishers – is delusional. Not because Audible is evil, but because it is a for-profit corporation that is seeking to maximize its gain. The lesson of Hachette is that Amazon plays hardball when it can, and the more leverage Amazon has over its suppliers, the more it will use that leverage to its suppliers’ detriment.

Even if you are a copyright True Believer who loves DRM, all of your alarm bells should go off when you learn that a tech company has decided that it, rather than copyright holders, should have the final say over whether or not DRM is used. The foundational belief of the copyright religion is that copyright is property owned by creators and publishers. If a retailer won’t let you sell your property in the manner of your choosing, you can bet that this isn’t a decision prompted by a charitable impulse to protect you from your thieving customers.

The good news is that Amazon is biddable. Its industry-dominating e-comics division, Comixology, announced in July 2014 that it would allow its publishers to sell their comics on a DRM-free basis. This means that comics publishers can sell through Amazon without selling out to Amazon. This is a remarkable turn of affairs, and quite laudable, because it means that comics readers who buy from Amazon can read, organize, and use those comics alongside all the other comics they buy, including comics bought from Amazon’s competitors.

There is no market demand for DRM. No comics fan, audiobook listener, or e-book reader woke up this morning and said, ‘‘You know what I want? Electronic media that lets me do less!’’

A July 2014 report by Author Earnings found that DRM-free independent e-books on Amazon outsold their DRM-encumbered rivals at a ratio of two to one. This finding jibes with Tor Books’ multi-year project of selling its entire catalog without DRM, and with Baen Books’s even longer-running practice of selling its electronic list without DRM.

But additional sales and readers’ manifest preferences are only the superficial reason to stay away from DRM. The real reason for authors and publishers to avoid DRM isn’t the short-term boost in sales: it’s the long-term control over their destiny.


Kameron Hurley: People Don’t Buy Books They Don’t Know About (Even Great Ones)

I get into perennial discussions with other authors about whether or not blog posts, or bookmarks, or reviews, or carrier pigeons, or flash mobs sell books. The cold reality is that any of these tactics, when done as a one-off, probably doesn’t sell more than a book or two, un­less the person convinced to buy a book during that breakdancing skit at SuperWowCon was a minor celebrity who ended up loving it and telling all their friends.

Ending up loving it is the key, there. If no­body loves the book, they aren’t going to talk about it.

But nobody can love a book they don’t know about.

So what happens after you write a good book?

You hope the market is ready for it.

And then what?

You get to work.

Sure, you might get lucky and have a big advance book, and your publisher does that amazing thing where they’re able to convince those key book buyers at the big chains to make massive orders, and you can just sit at home eating bonbons and updating Twitter. (OK, let’s be real: we all want our publishers to magically figure out how to do this, not so we can screw off, but so we can have more time to just… you know, write more books. That’s how a lot of us thought this business worked. Alas.)

The reality is that when the buyers aren’t convinced the market is ready for your book, your push is going to need to start from the ground up. You will be out here in the trenches with authors like me, firing up the marketing machine with every release, even if you some­times resent it. The truth is that there never really were ‘‘good old days’’ where an author didn’t promote their work. The advent of the ‘‘reading’’ was a purely promotional activity. If you’re from a tradi­tionally overlooked group that’s had a tougher time getting reviews and shelf space, promotion is especially vital. We’ve all seen the statistics on how often women and writers of color are reviewed in mainstream publications, compared to their white male counterparts.

Where I see a lot of authors falling down in this is that they’ll write a blog post, or make a book trailer, and call that it. When they do the book trailer and it doesn’t magically ‘‘make’’ their book a bestseller, they declare that book trailers and blog posts don’t sell books. And that’s true – your chances of connecting with readers who have big followings that can start the word-of-mouth machine going are incred­ibly low when you just throw a couple bookmarks on a table at Super­WowCon.

Placing all your book’s hopes on a book trailer is a heavy burden for one book trailer. Or one postcard. It’s hoping that just that one effort and nothing else will connect with the right people, who love the book and share it. Because the truth is, if you’re a low-advance mid-lister like me, not necessarily beloved by book buyers, your best shot is to try and reach as many readers as directly as possible, through as many different venues as you can in the weeks leading up to and directly adjacent to your book release.

No, the postcard won’t sell the book. But when they read a review on their favorite book blog, read a blog post from you on their favorite site, see a Facebook ad, listen to an interview with you on their favorite podcast and pick up a postcard at a con – all in the same week – all those touches reinforce one another. They say to somebody: ‘‘This is a project folks are investing in and talking about. This is a project worth taking a look at.’’

So let’s pretend a couple of amazing things, first: you wrote an excel­lent book (the talent part). The market is ready for it (the gamble part). Now what?

I tend to point folks toward author Saundra Mitchell’s simple, in­expensive and practical marketing plan (). It gives you the bare minimum to get started, and encourages a mixed approach: personal postcards, ARCs, giveaways, website, appearances, signings. Wash and repeat. Easy.

What if there’s stuff in that plan you don’t like? Well, find something else you do like.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned in this part of the business is to only do the things I enjoy. Author Tobias Buckell advised me on this one early. If you don’t like read­ings, don’t do them. Signings? Scrub them out. Focus on what you enjoy. For me, that’s meant a lot of guest blogging, giveaways, postcards, some convention appearances, and free swag of the postcard and sampler variety. I also get a kick out of making book trailers, and have learned how to update my own website, which is a constantly evolving entity.

Jeff VanderMeer offers another great re­source for writers struggling to balance writ­ing and the business of promotion, called Booklife. I’ve been using strategies from that book about dividing writing, networking, and promotion time since my first novel came out, and it’s been a great sanity-saver.

I suspect that what makes marketing talk among writers such a con­tentious activity is that one can do none of these things and have a massive bestseller, or do all of it and sell 600 copies. Why is that? Well, remember what I started out this conversation with: first, write a good book. Second, the market has to be ready for what your good book has to say. If those things aren’t in place, there will be less return. But will you still get some return? Yes.

At the end of the day, I sleep better knowing that when a book goes off into the wild – the way I’m about to send off The Mirror Empire, my new epic fantasy – that I’ve done all I could to help it out into the big bad world. My marketing work – blog tours, convention appear­ances, interviews, and the like – takes up six weeks of my writing time.

Isn’t six weeks of my life worth it, for a book I’ve been working on for ten years?

Writing is a largely solitary business, and what makes many of us perfectly suited for writing makes us terrible at promotion. Today’s noisy world, though, will often require us to push out into areas where we’ve not been as traditionally comfortable. Many were raised to speak softly, to not talk about themselves, to believe that if you did anything of worth, it would be spoken about without you raising a hand.

In the sea of books and films and games and other entertainment op­tions we have today, we must look for ways to cut through the noise in the hopes of getting our work into the right hands.

It’s a magical thing, when readers get caught up in a book so com­pletely they press it on all their friends, they cosplay as their favorite characters, they dabble in imagining their own, and completely fan-out when they meet their favorite creators. They – and me! – are super passionate about books, and love to speak about the ones that connect with us.

Yet I can’t read and share what I don’t know about… and neither can our readers.


Ian McDonald: On Xenoforming

Ian Neil McDonald was born March 31, 1960 in Manchester England. He moved to Northern Ireland at age five and has lived there ever since. He attended Bangor Grammar School and worked as head of development for a TV production company.

McDonald began publishing SF with ‘‘The Island of the Dead’’ (1982), and his stories soon began to appear regularly in Asimov’s, Interzone, and other magazines. His novels include Locus Award-winning debut Desolation Road (1988) and related book Ares Express (2001); Out on Blue Six (1989); Philip K. Dick Award-winning King of Morning, Queen of Day (1991); Hearts, Hands and Voices (1992; as The Broken Land in the US); Necroville (1994; as Terminal Cafe in the US); The Chaga series: Chaga (1995; as Evolution’s Shore in the US), Kirinya (1998), and Sturgeon Award winning novella Tendeléo’s Story (2000); Sacrifice of Fools (1996); BSFA Award winner and Clarke and Hugo Award finalist River of Gods (2004); Hugo and Nebula Award finalist and BSFA winner Brasyl (2007); and Hugo and Clarke Award nominee and BSFA and Campbell Memorial Award winner The Dervish House (2010). He began his YA Everness series with Planesrunner (2010), and it continues with Be My Enemy (2013) and Empress of the Sun (2014). Adult novels Hopeland and Luna (first in a duology) are forthcoming.

Notable short fiction includes Nebula Award nominee ‘‘Unfinished Portrait of the King of Pain by Van Gogh’’ (1988); BSFA Award winner ‘‘Innocents’’ (1993); Hugo Award finalists ‘‘The Little Goddess’’ (2005), ‘‘The Tear’’ (2008), and ‘‘Vishnu at the Cat Circus’’ (2009); and Hugo Award winner ‘‘The Djinn’s Wife’’ (2006). Some of his short fiction is collected in Empire Dreams (1988), Speaking in Tongues (1992), and Cyberadad Days (2009), a British Fantasy Award finalist and recipient of a Philip K. Dick Award special citation. He wrote graphic novel Kling Klang Klatch (1992, illustrated by David Lyttleton).

McDonald lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland with his partner, Enid Crowe.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘For the Everness books, I came up with the image of an airship that can travel between parallel universes, which is probably something every writer’s thought of at some point, and I just followed it through. It was a nice break to do something different. Steampunk without steam. Teslapunk. Steampunk without the messed-around Victorian values. Real Victorians would be completely alien! I didn’t want to get stuck doing the same SF books over and over, successful though they may be. I didn’t want to keep writing books about the developing economy of the year – India, Brazil. I could feel myself getting trapped in that.

‘‘There’s the whole Northern Ireland thing, living in a marginal country, which doesn’t seem that science fictional – I’m drawn to other marginal places. When I write about a place, I always go there. (I’m doing a book about the moon, which is problematic. You should see the flyer miles I get with that.) I try to be honest about my experience of the place, though one can lob grenades of appropriation around and back again. If I haven’t gone there, and I haven’t seen stuff and noticed little details, and put some money into the economy as well, I don’t feel I can write about it with any kind of degree of honesty, for myself. Of course I get things wrong – but I can write about what happens at the bottom of my street and get things wrong, too.

‘‘Colonialism is a kind of reverse terraforming in a sense – the southern hemisphere being terraformed into somebody else’s terra. Xenoforming, that’s the word. There was a display in our local museum and it was a little diorama of the seabed in the Permian epoch. That was truly bizarre – it looked like an alien world. What if that alien world was part of our world? What if the alien invasion wasn’t UFOs arriving over the White House, but foreigners arriving in the southern hemisphere at Kilimanjaro?”

*

‘‘My next books are Luna parts one and two, a duology set on a moon base – Game of Domes. In the Luna books, I’m still writing about developing economies, it’s just that this one happens to be on the moon, about 2089. It was basically Gary K. Wolfe who was responsible for it. On an ancient Coode Street podcast about invigorating stale subgenres in science fiction, he said he’d love to see a new take on the moonbase story. I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved moon stories. John Varley did one, Steel Beach. I thought about it, and Enid, my partner, was watching TV, the new version of Dallas. It wasn’t very good, but the old version was great. My book is Dallas on the moon, so it’s got five big industrial family corps on the moon, called the five dragons, and it’s about their intrigues and battles. It’s also developing in parallel as a TV project with a company I’ve worked with before. There’s a gap in the market for an SF series that doesn’t look like science fiction, if you know what I mean.

‘‘There are a couple of kickers that keep the story running along. On the moon there’s no criminal law, there’s only contract law. Everything is negotiable in some form or another. You can be married to three different people at the same time with three different contracts; they don’t have to live with you. Every part of life is negotiated. There’s also a ticking clock: if you’re on the moon for more than two years, your bone structure and musculature will degenerate to the point to where it’s not safe to go back to Earth again, so everyone who goes there to work has to decide, ‘Do I stay or do I go?’ And there’s corporate intrigue, with a family matriarch getting old but not ready to pass, because there will be a power vacuum. There are battling brothers, basically the Thor/Loki relationship, with the charismatic older brother and the clever younger one. It’s a lot of fun to do. I watched the hell out of The Godfather several times, parts one and two. It’s the same structure, really. There’s been a first look at the world of Luna already: Jonathan published a story ‘The Fifth Dragon’ in his Reach for Infinity anthology, which is part of this world.”

*

‘‘The kids’ books series gives me a chance to play off the leash a bit. Though I enjoy the discipline of more realistic science fiction, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s the little domestic bits I enjoy writing. The bits where you run around blowing things up I find a bit boring to write. I’ve had inquiries about adapting Planesrunner for television. It is aimed at the Dr. Who audience quite deliberately. The series has the go-anywhere machine, which is what the Tardis is, but I also wanted a crew like you have in Star Trek. That sounds awfully cynical. But it’s fun to do. I giggle when I write bits. It’s ‘parallel universe of the week,’ but there is a plot in the background.”

*

‘‘The other upcoming book I have is a project that’s been rolling around for about 15 years now, called Hopeland. This is the science fictional equivalent of the kind of thing Neil Gaiman does with fantasy. That’s the nearest I can describe it. He roots his work very firmly in this world, and does little bits of weird in the everyday. Or like Graham Joyce, the kind of thing he does. We almost sold it as a mainstream novel – it could pass as one. I’ve been writing about very big societies, and now I’m writing about very small societies. The lunar societies have maybe three, four million people. It’s not a very big world. Hopeland is even smaller. It takes place inside a family. The premise is that back in the 1920s this guy invented a new kind of family structure that isn’t the nuclear family. It’s the family you never need to leave or never have to leave, the constellation family, which constantly adds new members. The idea is, it’s a social unit that will last for 10,000 years. Simon Spanton, my editor at Gollancz, loved it. I sent him about six chapters, and he said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this three years ago? What’s your agent been doing? It’s great!’

‘‘Things brew, and if I don’t do something about them they’ll disappear. Hopeland came out of a magazine article I saw in 2000, so it’s been in there about 14 years, just waiting for me to have the courage to do something about it.”


Ann Leckie: Silhouettes

Ann Leckie was born March 2, 1966 in Toledo OH and grew up in St. Louis MO. She attended Washington University, graduating with a degree in music. She has ‘‘worked as a waitress, a receptionist, a rodman on a land-surveying crew, and a recording engineer.’’

Leckie attended Clarion West in 2005, where she wrote first published SF story ‘‘Hesperia and Glory’’ (2006). Over a dozen stories have appeared since, including two in collaboration with Rachel Swirsky.

Her debut novel Ancillary Justice is one of the most honored books in the field: it is a current Hugo Award finalist, won the Nebula Award, Clarke, BSFA, and Golden Tentacle awards, and was nominated for Tiptree, Campbell Memorial, Dick, and Compton Crook awards. The novel begins the Imperial Radch series, with Ancillary Sword forthcoming this fall and Ancillary Mercy planned to conclude the trilogy.

Leckie founded online magazine GigaNotoSaurus in 2010 and edited it until stepping down in 2014. She was an assistant editor at podcast magazine Podcastle until earlier this year, and served as vice president of SFWA from 2012-13.
She lives in St. Louis with her husband and two children.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘My parents were not interested in science fiction. They always thought I would grow out of it, and I didn’t. So they were like, ‘We’ll make sure she reads some good stuff,’ so they’d give me random books for Christmas, birthdays, or whatever. (Like Stanislaw Lem – that was when I first read him.) They were biochemists who worked at the Washington University Medical School, in different labs. They were big mystery readers, and they felt like science fiction wasn’t about human relationships, it was just about rocket ships and laser guns, and maybe some technical stuff. It’s Sturgeon’s Law: ‘99% of everything is crap.’ (You could say the same thing about mysteries, although I never actually said that to them.) My mom always felt I was going to be a writer someday, so when it became clear I was going to write SF, she told me, ‘OK, I totally support you.’ That was really nice. Everybody should have such parents!”

*

‘‘I joined two Internet critique groups, Critters and the Online Writing Workshop. I did my first NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month– in 2002, then again in 2003, and I took the novel to Critters. It’s free, anybody can join, and every week a packet of stories comes out and you have to critique a certain number to get points, and when you have enough points you can put your own story in for critique. It’s mostly short fiction, but they have a way to do novels – it’s called a ‘request for dedicated readers,’ and people sign on to just read your novel and it counts for X number of short story critique credits.

‘‘Some readers told me to go to Clarion, and I thought, ‘I wonder if I can swing it.’ I submitted the second and third short SF stories I ever wrote to both Clarions, got into both, and decided to go to Clarion West. Octavia E. Butler was there (that was the year before she died). Andy Duncan, L. Timmel Duchamp, Gordon Van Gelder, Connie Willis, and Michael Swanwick also taught us. There were a great bunch of people in my class, and I had a really wonderful experience. Before, I was like, ‘I think I’m going to try to write.’ I came home, and I was a writer!”

*

‘‘At first, I was just playing with the universe for fun. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a society that genuinely didn’t care about gender?’ During Clarion West, I wrote a story set in that universe, and I used ‘he’ for everybody. I was totally unhappy with that. Why is male the default? Let’s make female the default! Of course, there are problems with that – serious problems. Using ‘she’ for everybody doesn’t genuinely give the impression of a society where gender doesn’t matter. (But it worked.)

‘‘The way you can’t deal with somebody without putting them into that gender pigeonhole is so strong! When you take a baby to the supermarket, everybody wants to lean over and coo at your baby, because babies are adorable. But sometimes, people lean over to coo at the baby and they stop, because they don’t know how to coo if they don’t know what gender the baby is. That blew my mind, when I had babies. They’d assume that my daughter was a boy, or my son was a girl, and I wouldn’t say anything, but at some point the truth would come out, and they’d go ‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’, like they ran over my dog or something. The baby doesn’t care, and how can you tell? There’s no reason to gender a baby.

‘‘My concept of non-binary genders was very rudimentary, but that’s where I started. I learned a lot about gender as I was working on the book. ‘It’ has that not-a-person feel to it. Gender-neutral pronouns feel awkward and blunt, because we’re not used to them, so I think it’s important to do that. At the same time, you don’t get that kind of visceral impact currently. Some people have asked, ‘These other characters – what gender are they?’ I’d say, ‘Well, first of all, it doesn’t matter. But second, in my very first iteration of the book I was using he or she for everybody, but by the time I was done with the first draft, the genders had just kind of slipped around.’ Originally I wrote the novel just using ‘he’ and ‘she,’ but was not getting the effect I wanted. (It creates too many expectations. In a plot where your main character is a woman and a guy shows up – ‘Oh, here we go. That’s the romantic interest.’) In the final version of Ancillary Justice, the first chapter is completely unreliable about gender.

“I’ve seen some folks complain that they can’t visualize any of the characters. Part of that is because I don’t generally do heavy-duty physical description anyway. You start out with an ‘I,’ and it’s almost like Schrödinger’s cat. When I read a first-person story and the gender isn’t marked really soon, I settle on one or the other, because I live in this culture and I speak this language. But I think I prefer a blank silhouette to an overly described one.”

*

‘‘I don’t know what’s coming up after the trilogy. I’ll figure something out. I have an entire fantasy universe where most of my short fiction is set (because I couldn’t sell the short science fiction I wrote). I love world-building – love it a lot. I don’t mind reading quick, sketchy world-building, but I need that really heavy foundation to build the characters and hook everything together. Theoretically, I could do a novel in that fantasy world if I needed to.”


K.W. Jeter: Rockin’ in the Steampunk World

Kevin Wayne Jeter was born March 26, 1950 in Los Angeles. He attended California State University of Fullerton with classmates Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock, where he also met his wife Geri, and graduated with a degree in sociology. During the ’70s he became friends with his literary hero, Philip K. Dick. Since then he has led ‘‘the ramshackle writer life,’’ residing up and down the West Coast until moving to Ecuador a few years ago.

His first published novel was Seeklight (1976), followed by Dreamfields (1976), Morlock Night (1979), and Soul Eater (1983). The first novel he actually wrote, Dr. Adder, appeared in 1984, followed by sequels The Glass Hammer (1984), Dr. Adder in Death’s Arms (1987), and Alligator Alley (1989, co-written with Ferret). With Infernal Devices (1987) Jeter became a pioneer of the steampunk subgenre – a term Jeter coined in a letter to this very magazine that same year. Farewell Horizontal (1989), Madlands (1991), and Noir (1998) are SF thrillers, but he turned increasingly to horror with titles like Mantis (1987), Dark Seeker (1987), In the Land of the Dead (1989), The Night Man (1990), and Wolf Flow (1992). He wrote four-volume comic Mister E (1991), and wrote many novelizations in the ’90s, including Star Wars and Star Trek volumes, plus three novel sequels to the film Bladerunner, based on Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

After a hiatus of some years, Jeter has recently returned to the field with Fiendish Schemes (2013) from Tor, a sequel to Infernal Devices. He began self-publishing the Kim Oh thriller series with Real Dangerous Girl (2013), with four volumes out so far.


Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘Fiendish Schemes is the long-delayed (as they tell me) sequel to Infernal Devices, so I’m picking up the steampunk thread that so many others have done fabulous things with. I jumped back into that pool and am having a fine old time.

‘‘When I wrote Morlock Night I hadn’t traveled to England. Before I wrote Infernal Devices, I managed to get to London and I could see all the things I got wrong, of course, but gratifyingly there were at least a few things I got right. In terms of influence, I’ve always been a stodgy old person (even when I was young) and so I read a lot of Victorian literature. Not just the obvious stuff, Dickens and that sort of thing, but the more obscure people, like George Gissing. He was a literary writer, a friend of H. G. Wells. He’s just about the grimmest writer you could ever imagine. There are a bunch of his books I’m glad I read, but would never read again because they’re so depressing. There were also great Victorian thriller writers like Harrison Ainsworth, probably best known for his novel Rookwood. He was the Stephen King of his day in terms of writing pulse-pounding thrillers. I always recommend people read Harrison Ainsworth. I’m also a one-man anti-defamation league for Lord Bulwer-Lytton. A lot of people make fun of Bulwer-Lytton, but he was actually a good writer, except for his poetry, which is dreadful. His novels are quite good. I think he’s unfairly ridiculed, so I’m constantly recommending him. Of course, people just assume that means I’m as crazy as he was.”

*

‘‘The characters in Infernal Devices use a machine that gives them fragmentary glimpses of what will happen in the future; that’s something I return to in Fiendish Schemes, only now I have a lot more hindsight about what the future turned out to be, from the perspective of the Victorians. Infernal Devices was designed to be a lighthearted comedy, with a sad-sack central character who gets swept up in events. Fiendish Schemes turned out a little deeper and darker because of that additional hindsight I have now about what the future became. What I didn’t have a clear picture of when I wrote Infernal Devices so many years ago, but other writers have picked up on since, was the ability to use this crazy anarchic ahistorical approach that steampunk has become, and do some really interesting things with it. In a lot of ways, I’m influenced by the younger steampunk writers who came along after me and by what they’ve accomplished, taking this crazy notion and doing anarchic things with it. That’s been exciting.”

*

‘‘Being down in Ecuador, traveling is a little more involved for us. We were either going to go to Worldcon in San Antonio or to Brighton for World Fantasy Con. We decided, because we wanted to see all of our British friends, that we’d come to World Fantasy. Then I read a lot of people’s blog posts and things, friends of mine, when they came home from San Antonio. Of course they had a great time, but people were saying, ‘Gosh, it seems like everybody was so old.’ I said, ‘Go to a steampunk convention, because that skews way younger.’ A lot of the wildness makes some dismiss it as just people running around with goggles on their top hats and corsets on the outside of their dresses. But it’s also this anarchic approach to history. In steampunk, historical accuracy doesn’t matter. There’s a bunch of stuff happening in South America too, in Bogota, and in Brazil it’s huge.”

*

‘‘I’m making an effort not to shackle myself to steampunk. I’ve got a bunch of stuff sitting out with my agent and my editors now, which will be a continuation of the noir crime thriller orientation I had in books like Madlands, Farewell Horizontal, and some of my horror novels. I’m trying to keep the bifurcation going with the steampunk projects here and the crazy noir there. I’ve got a thriller series of short novels, as e-books, revolving around a young woman named Kim Oh. There are four of them so far. They’re not SF, they’re pretty larky. At one point I called them ‘absurdist comedies of violence.’ She does kill people, and she becomes quite good at it. A big part of the story is a Bildungsroman about her educating herself as a killer. She approaches it as a young businesswoman. Those are fun to write, and we’re still seeing what the ultimate home for them will be. Right now they’re solely available online, but we’re talking to some publishers.”

*

‘‘It ties back to the Victorian novelists like Mrs. Gaskell and Mrs. Humphrey Ward. They were concerned about the corrosive effect of the modern world on both men and women, worried that men would become harder and crueler because they wouldn’t have the civilizing effect of women anymore. The great instance of this that many people talk about is the British crusade against slavery that came out of a group of people usually referred to as the Clapham Common group. Everybody knows the names of William Wilberforce and the other men, they were leaders in the Baptist and Methodist churches. Nobody knows the names of their wives. But if you read the correspondence of Wilberforce and the other great anti-slavery crusaders, they were constantly referring to the influence of their wives. They were doing this abolitionist work because their wives said that it was how they would achieve personal salvation, by undertaking this great crusade against this terrible evil. There’s really moving correspondence that still survives between some of the Clapham Common group and their wives, where they say it was all because of the women: ‘People are giving me the credit, but it was all because of you. You made me a better man through your wise feminine influences. Because of you I have a chance at heaven.’ It’s absolutely true.”



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