Monthly Archives: August 2012

Twenty-five years

So… almost to the day, I’ve been twenty-five years a professional writer (the editing, publishing, book-designing, etc, were added a bit later).

The tally so far:

  • 73 short stories, the first published two years after I started writing professionally (I count August 1987 as the start of my pro career because that’s when I started to write full-time, albeit with no income to start with, and the first story I wrote that month was ‘Adrenotropic Man’, my first sale to Interzone) and several featured in recommended lists and Year’s Bests
  • 8 novels under my own name
  • 4 young adult novels as Nick Gifford
  • a collection of short stories written with Eric Brown (is this one book or two? The first edition in 2000 included a couple of solo stories; the 2008 edition dropped those two and added a new collaborative novella, and so is quite substantially different)
  • 6 collections of my own short fiction
  • getting on for 200 book reviews for a range of publications, including the Guardian, Interzone, Foundation and many more
  • 2 or perhaps 3 anthologies co-edited with Nick Gevers (see why I have trouble counting up how many books I’m responsible for? There’s the difficulty with how to count my collaborative collection written with Eric Brown, and here there’s the question of how to add up two separate anthologies which were later published by a different publisher in a single, fat volume – two books, or three?); we also co-edited an issue of Interzone
  • editor of a non-fiction, kind of academic book about SF
  • 10 years of editing the online genre fiction showcase infinity plus, featuring over 2 million words of fiction, more than 1,000 book reviews, more than 100 interviews and much more
  • a fair number of non-fiction essays, interviews and journalistic pieces
  • and a few things under various other pen-names

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve kept myself busy for the last twenty-five years.

So where does this leave me?

Quite frustrated, as it happens. All this work, all those fantastic reviews, and yet still I seem to be the kind of writer very much admired by a smallish number but unknown to most; I’ve published regularly, but have rarely had a regular publisher for more than a few years; I’ve had at least one pretty big bestseller, but that was nearly ten years ago now; I think I have a reputation as someone who works away and achieves a lot; and I think my last four novels are among the best things I’ve written.

Is that enough?

I don’t know. It’s not that I’m craving awards and media attention (although it’d be nice not to feel that each book is published into a vacuum), but I really do wonder if all the personal sacrifice is worth it.

Twenty-five years in the business and yet again I’m faced with slogging away at a book that I’ll care passionately about but may never be published.

Twenty-five years, and this year I’ve had two books published by fantastic publishers (Solaris and Palgrave Macmillan) and am I really thinking that now might be the time to go into semi-retirement? By this I mean that I love to write, and want to continue, but I’m just bone-tired of slogging away writing on spec when my editing and pseudonymous writing bring more regular and guaranteed response and reward, even when what I regard as ‘my own’ writing is what I really love to do.

If anyone likes my work enough to ask me to write a story for their publication then I’d love to hear, but right now, well… right now, other than for those invitations, I think it’s time to dig out those slippers and take a break from working on spec.

Note: tomorrow I might feel entirely different. We’ll see.


Snapshots: Roz Kaveney interviewed

Rituals by Roz KaveneyAugust 2012 saw publication of your first novel, Rituals (Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One), a dark and eclectic romp through history and myth which opens very appropriately with quotes from Nietszche and Cyndi Lauper. Tell us a bit more about this novel.
One of my characters says that people talk of magic as a technology of will, as if that were a good thing. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that regarded magic as pervasive and wonderful, but probably quite a bad and corrupting thing. Both my heroines are caught up in it – and compromised by that. Mara has spent millennia tracking down those who use torture and murder rituals to acquire power – which makes her both Justice and top predator. She pre-emptively bullies Aleister Crowley telling him tales of Aztecs and Atlantis, and her complicated alliance against Evil with the untrustworthy Jehovah, her former apprentice, and about her search for her occasionally incarnate dead sisters/lovers. In the early 80s, she casually saves Emma, my other heroine – who finds herself hired by a mysterious boss who talks through her dead lover Caroline. She sorts out various threats – elves, vampires, angels, Brit Artists, and a particularly dangerous invasion. Later volumes deal with the French Revolution, the Crucifixion and the end of the world.

Writers normally have lots of ideas and inspirations to choose from. What made this the novel you just had to write?
I wanted a loose baggy structure into which I could fit all my obsessions, and a lot of snarky dialogue – I justified my years of writing fanfic in terms of the book it was preparation for, which turned out to be this. And there are the critical books – a decade of film and television studies left me with lots of cool things I wanted to see done and no-one was going to. So a vast queer blasphemous book that’s full of cinema and comic book ideas that no one else was ever going to do.

You have a background as critic, poet, literary and cultural commentator, activist and editor – how does this shape and inform your fiction?
Some people have seen this book as a logical outcome of my drift back to anarchism and my complicated relationship with religion. It is certainly a critique of power – it’s also a fairly intensely woman-centred book with a major trans character in later volumes. Like my poetry, it is all about putting in what the great tradition leaves out.

It takes a long time to build up a rich and convincing backdrop for a novel – a series – like this. How long have you been working on Rhapsody of Blood?
I’ve worked as a publisher’s reader for decades and for quite a long time was reading a lot of historical manuscripts – I accumulated a lot of interests and those fed into this. And it also – as I just said – came out of my other interests as they matured.

With your diverse interests and career to date, why fiction, and why now?
I first wrote a novel back in the 80s – a mainstream novel about trans hookers in Chicago in the years before the epidemic. It’s quite good – it nearly sold a couple of times but I got discouraged when it didn’t. Then Midnight Rose came along and my fellow editors bullied me into writing for our own anthologies. I started a big space opera on the back of those stories but it died on me and I got sidetracked into memoir and fanfic and critical studies, Why now? Same reason as the return to poetry – old and tired and in a hurry.

What’s the schedule for the rest of the series? Is it written yet? Do you have publication dates?
I’ve finished a draft of Book 2 – Reflections – and started 3 – Returns. No schedule – there are also a couple of linked short stories, one of which may become a section of a later volume. I am planning to wrap it up in four books, total. Honest.

What are you working on now?
Book 3, some poems, a critical book on fantasy film.

Describe your typical writing day, if there is such a thing.
I tend to spend much of the day on my actual job – reading manuscripts for publishers and reviewing. Poems come when they come. I do most of my actual writing late at night. Or not.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
I think Kari Sperring doesn’t get the praise she deserves – I’m a huge admirer of Nora Jemisin.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Consume all the art you can – not just books but paintings, music, film.

What else do you have out now?
I’ve two books of poetry out at the same time, more or less, as Rituals, from Midsummer Night’s Press – one selects my poems about love and sex Dialectic Of The Flesh and the other What If What’s Imagined Were All True collects some of my poems about robots, and gods, and sf writers. I was poet GOH at Eastercon 2011 – pretty good a mere two years after I came back to poetry after thirty some years away.

Rituals by Roz KaveneyMore…

Roz Kaveney has had a chequered career as writer and activist – she has had a bad attitude since her teens. She helped create Feminists against Censorship and was Deputy Chair of Liberty; she has worked tirelessly for trans rights and on broader LGBTIQ issues. She is probably best known for her books on popular culture Reading The Vampire SlayerFrom Alien To The MatrixTeen Dreams and so on, and for her involvement in the Midnight Rose anthologies.

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Snapshots: Lawrence Schimel interviewed

The Drag Queen of Elfland by Lawrence SchimelCirclet Press have just published the first electronic edition of your collection, The Drag Queen of Elfland. Tell us a bit about the stories in this book.

It’s a collection of fantasy stories with lesbian and gay characters, first published as a collection fifteen years ago, back when queer genre material wasn’t as prevalent as it is in today’s (digital) world, although many of the stories had originally seen print earlier in anthologies and magazines. It was my first collection of my own work, and I was very lucky in that it managed to “cross-over” and find an audience in both the SF field and the LGBT literary scene; often books that straddle two separate genres or niches wind up falling between the cracks and not finding a home in either. Despite short story collections being notoriously poor sellers, it went into a second printing a few months after it was first published. Of course, this was a very different publishing (and especially bookselling) climate than the present, when a vibrant network of independent specialty stores still existed in the US: SF specialty bookshops, LGBT bookshops, feminist bookshops, etc. The book was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, the Firecracker Alternative Book Award, the Spectrum Award, and the Small Press Book Award, and was translated into Spanish and published a year later in Spain.

Sexuality, and gay sexuality in particular, is a recurring subject for your fiction and editing. What’s the relationship between this and SF/fantasy? What kinds of things can you do with SF/F that you couldn’t do in contemporary fiction? Is it fiction with an agenda, or simply fiction about subjects that interest you?

There are four different ways to write queer SF:

  • you can write for an SF audience and explain the queer cultural references,
  • you can write for a queer audience and explain the SF-nal references,
  • you can write for an audience of queer SF fans and explain nothing,
  • or you can write for a “neutral” (or perhaps “alien”) audience and explain everything.

The stories in TDQoE were sometimes published in SF collections and sometimes in gay and lesbian venues. Sometimes I was a gay man trying to find myself reflected in the SF world, and sometimes I was an SF fan looking to make sure my geekdoms were represented in queer literature.

But often we have an audience in mind when we write, and one of the things I’ve liked most about writing erotica–or perhaps I should say, publishing erotica–especially in the gay erotica magazines, is that one could presume that the audience reading me was also an audience of my fellow gay men, in other words, my tribe. This is different from erotica that is published in a book, or online, where it falls under the “heterosexual gaze”, by appearing in bookstores (or the internet) where heteronormative criteria continue to hold sway. So when I was writing many of the stories that appear in my second collection, titled His Tongue in English, I was often writing as a gay man for a gay audience, even if the stories were later reprinted in other venues (Best Of The Year collections, etc.).

You have a very eclectic involvement in publishing: writing fiction, poetry and non-fiction, editing, criticism, translation, and probably far more. How would you describe this? How do you decide what to work on next?

I am and have always been a reader, first and foremost, and one with omnivorous interests and tastes. But it has usually been my reading interests which have led to my various other involvements in publishing.

As for deciding what to work on next, I am inherently lazy, so I work by crises: the most immediate deadline (or the one that has just passed) is what gets the focus of my attention. I am a binger, so I work in a flurry of activity, and then I collapse.

In addition to the above, I have in the past sold foreign rights for various presses, and I also run a small poetry press, A Midsummer Night’s Press, which primarily focuses on two imprints: Fabula Rasa, publishing mythic poetry, and Body Language, devoted to queer voices (two areas of interest that are also reflected in my own writing, as well as audiences I know how to try and reach as a publisher).

What are you working on now and what have you recently finished?

For the past handful of years, I’ve been writing very little adult fiction. I’ve published around 40 children’s books over the past decade, most of them in Spanish. The most recent one to appear in English was Let’s Go See Papá, published by Groundwood, in a translation by Elisa Amado. This was a curious experience since it was the first time I’d been translated into English by someone else. But it was a good learning experience in letting go and letting the translator have her say, create her version, of my text. (Even though I did ask them to keep Papá in the title, instead of daddy, and I’m glad they did.)

Lately, I’m mostly writing poetry in Spanish, part of a manuscript in progress called Los Cuerpos Del Lenguaje (The Bodies of Language).

I’ve also been translating various Spanish authors into English, both poetry and prose, and some of those pieces are beginning to find homes in magazines and anthologies.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Later this fall will see the publication of a new children’s book written in Spanish, titled Volando Cometas (Flying Kites), which features an HIV positive woman as a character.

And I also have a Spanish early-reader coming out from Panamericana in Colombia, titled La Casa De Los Espejos (The House of Mirrors), which is a fantasy adventure about two sisters who come to accept themselves for who they are, after a visit to a funhouse.

And for adults, I’m finishing an anthology titled Flamboyant: A Celebration Of Jewish Gay Poetry that I’ll publish with A Midsummer Night’s Press.

Describe your typical working day.

As I mentioned, these days I’m translating more than anything else. I’ve published over 100 books, and while I’ve not given up writing altogether, right now I’m enjoying the intellectual stimulation of recreating other people’s words in English, which is creative without the exhaustion that creation itself. Translation is both my day job (mostly institutional text for museums and the like) and also what I do on my own personal time (where I’ve lately been translating the work of various poets, even on days I’ve been engaged in paying translation work, after I’ve finished my day’s allotment of translation, as a way of cleansing the palate so to speak, or keeping the act of playing with words something I still love).

One of the nice things about being a freelancer, though, is that I have a large degree of flexibility in terms of when I work, deadlines notwithstanding. Madrid is, in general, a late-night town, something that suits my night owl tendencies. I can translate in either the morning or evening, although I tend not to do my own writing until the day is somewhat advanced. For prose, I write directly on the computer, although with poetry, I generally take a notebook and a pen and go off to a café in the afternoon, leaving the computer behind, and write longhand first drafts or snippets of verses or idea brainstorming.

While the writing (or translating) itself is a very solitary act, the writing life, especially here in Madrid, is a very social one. With lots of presentations of books or poetry readings or other events going on in the evenings, and meeting with editors or other writers for a drink or a meal. There’s often that human element in working together, less about being taken out on an expense account than simply treating the people you’re working with as people and not simply their function (writer/editor/reviewer/etc).

How does living in Spain influence your work?

Well, not only do I spend a lot of time translating between Spanish and English, but I write in both Spanish and English, especially the children’s books, which is most of what my last 40 or so books have been.

I also write poetry in Spanish, and it’s been interesting how my work in Spanish is often considered to be “European” (when I am being invited to take part in a poetry festival, say) whereas all my work written in English, even what I’ve written from Spain, is “American”.

Life in Spain is also more laid-back than the time-is-money attitude of my native New York City, where if you’re not earning money you’re wasting time, and as such it offers me the luxury of free time to read, which is very important to me (as an individual as well as a writer).

Living in a country with socialized medicine is definitely a boon for anyone involved in creative endeavors (with the general concurrent low-ish income these tend to provide).

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?

Probably the second book I published with Circlet Press, the anthology Things Invisible To See: Lesbian And Gay Tales Of Magic Realism, which never quite found an audience, in any community, but which I think is a very solid book.

Probably after that might be my poetry chapbook Fairy Tales For Writers which offers cautionary tales for those of us looking for a path through the deep, dark woods of the publishing world…

What are the attractions of editing anthologies, for you? Is it just a matter of picking stories you like, or is there more to it than that?

Almost all of my anthology projects have been all (or primarily) originals, which is a different process than putting together a reprint anthology (where you already have the material available and it’s just a matter of clearing the rights and paying the permissions fees). Also, even when I have an open call for an anthology, I still also solicit work directly from authors I admire or find interesting or think will be able to add or contribute something to the subject of the collection. In almost all of my collections, rather than trying to force a single issue or theme, I’ve tried to show diversity and complexity, shades of nuance, and I actively encourage or architect a blend of authors, genres, etc.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult novels lately. I especially admire Ellen Wittlinger, who often includes queer characters integrally in her work, in addition to tackling many other social issues, always from a very human perspective. Her novel Love And Lies is a wonderful book for anyone who writes. And Parrotfish is such a smart and fun and moving book, featuring a transgendered character.

In the “guilty pleasures” category, I love Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series; great voice, perfectly balancing James Bond spy thrillers and teen girl boarding school drama.

In terms of adult books, I think Chris Moriarty’s Spin State and Spin Cycle are brilliant and very underrated.

Likewise, Nancy Springer’s feminist fairy tale retellings, like Plumage and Fair Peril (sadly out of print).

I wish Janet Kagan had written more novels, and regularly buy up copies of Hellspark whenever I find them to give to people.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?

Read widely.

Perseverance is also very important, so much of writing is just ass-in-chair dedication, and getting through a draft of something, to later go back and revise it.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years? What will readers be reading?

I’ve sort of been sitting on the sidelines as far as this is concerned. In recent years, my income stream has shifted from being primarily from my writing to being primarily from my translating, which has been very liberating in terms of letting me write less-commercial projects, or even not write for a while. I’ve not been involved in any of the crowdfunding or online self-publishing endeavors that many mid-list (not to mention bestselling and new) writers have turned to.

I don’t have an e-reader and am not a fan of digital content. (After all, I run a small press publishing poetry of all things, which started out on a letterpress even if we now use commercial printers, so you can tell I’m not motivated by either sales or money in my love of the physical book!)

It’s been interesting to see how, for instance, as a poet, I earn almost nothing for publishing the poetry itself, but can earn some (sometimes decent) money from giving readings or talks about poetry. (Although with the economic crisis in Europe a lot of those venues are without funding right now.)

So I don’t have any easy answers, I don’t think anyone does.

And meanwhile, I’m just muddling along, reading lots and writing some and translating lots and trying to be happy (and also somewhat happily oblivious) while all this flux is going on.

The Drag Queen of Elfland by Lawrence SchimelMore…

Lawrence Schimel writes in both Spanish and English and has published over 100 books as author or anthologist in many different genres. He has published one collection of poems written in Spanish, Desayuno en la cama (Egales), as well as a chapbook in English Fairy Tales for Writers (A Midsummer Night’s Press). His picture book No hay nada como el original (Destino) was selected by the Internationales Jugendbibliothek for the White Ravens 2005 and his picture book ¿Lees un libro conmigo? (Panamericana) was selected by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities 2007. He has won the Lambda Literary Award twice, for PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality (with Carol Queen; Cleis) and First Person Queer (with Richard Labonté; Arsenal Pulp), among other prizes and honors. In addition to his own writing, Schimel is a translator from Spanish into English. He has translated work by Juan Goytisolo, Vicente Molina Foix, Luis Antonio de Villena, Care Santos, Jordi Doce, Joan Fontcuberta, Sofía Rhei, Jesús Encinar, and others for magazines, anthologies, and festivals. He is also the publisher of A Midsummer Night’s Press. He lives in Madrid, Spain.

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The Long and Winding Road – a guest post by Colin Murray

No Hearts, No Roses by Colin MurrayThere are many roads to becoming a published author. This was mine.

A few years ago, I found myself with some time on my hands. This happens quite often when you’re freelance: it seems that it’s either feast or famine. You complain about both but you much prefer feast. On this occasion, I was feeling just a little bruised as a new number-crunching, pie-chart-eating CEO decided that the publishing company where I had been successfully running an imprint for about eight years could no longer afford me and had ended what had been a mutually beneficial arrangement. (They had a vastly experienced editor at a cut-rate and I had some element of stability in my income. For what it’s worth, I had the last laugh: the bookseller who replaced me lasted just five months. I’d told the CEO that it would be six, but I didn’t mind being wrong.) So, while I was looking for replacement work (which came in surprisingly quickly), I, for no good reason, sat down and started to write a novel.

Of course, I should have known better.

I’d worked in publishing for long enough to know that it was rarely the path to fame and fortune, and that, far more often, it ended in tears and recrimination. But I had an idea and time on my hands and I’d also heard that a major publishing house was actively looking for new crime writers.

The writing went surprisingly well but, by the time I’d written the first hundred pages, I had a living to make and work to do and so I sent that chunk of the book off to one of the editors at the publisher and got on with my life, while continuing to write whenever I could.

Some six months passed before I received a very pleasant letter from an assistant editor, apologizing for taking so long and asking if there was any more to be seen as she thought the novel was pretty good and was planning to talk to her boss about it. Which sounded promising. As I had, in fact, more or less finished the book. I duly sent it off.

At that stage, having set things in motion, I thought it might not be a bad idea to contact an agent. I made a tentative enquiry and received a very positive response so I told him of the publisher’s interest and hoped that things might happen.

I guess I should have been even more wary than I was because in the publishing world, as in most areas of human activity, little is simple and straightforward. When my often elusive agent peered through the cloud cover on Olympus long enough to say, ‘Nothing would please me more than selling this for a hundred thousand pounds but that’s not going to happen,’ I understood him to be making a realistic judgement on the book’s worth. But I was wrong. What I didn’t hear was the suppressed clause, ‘and I don’t bother with anything that sells for less than that.’ My fault, of course, for not being cynical enough.

I knuckled down to some revisions and, after a while, my agent did arrange a meeting with an editor from the publishing house I had sent the novel to. He told me that my book was one of the most accomplished first novels he’d come across and I left the meeting with a warm glow, expecting my agent to hammer out a deal.

However, it turned out that the meeting was the one and only thing he did for me.

I rewrote again, sent the new draft off to him and the editor and then waited. And waited.  After five months of hearing nothing, I tried to contact the great man on the phone. I failed. I tried again. And failed again. In fact, I kept on trying for a month. And kept on failing. Eventually, I decided that maybe I wasn’t the client for him and that, ipso facto, made him not the agent for me. I wrote accordingly and, eventually, I received a gracious reply, admitting that he had not served me well.

Meanwhile, times had changed and the publishing house that had been interested in new crime novels was no longer looking for them.

However, this where the long story becomes a short one. I decided to represent myself and looked at lists I liked and sent the book off to Constable & Robinson. I received a very favourable reaction in weeks, an offer soon after and then a contract. Of course, I didn’t get a hundred thousand pounds but I was consulted on the cover and the blurb, the copy-editing was superb, everyone was enthusiastic and the rights people even placed the book with an American publisher.

And, no matter, how jaded and cynical one pretends to be, there is nothing like holding a copy of your first book.

What had I learned, apart from that? Not a lot that I didn’t know already. Agents and publishers can be very dilatory and can’t always be relied on, but there are some good guys out there.

Oh, and I now know that first-time novelists have long memories and nurture and cherish grudges. There’s one agent who won’t be getting any referrals from me, and British crime reviewers (who, for the most part, simply ignored the book) probably shouldn’t look to me for any favours for a decade or two.

But there are things that make it all worthwhile: a reviewer describing my book as ‘riveting and suspenseful’ and then exclaiming ‘What a terrific first novel!’; another saying that it was ‘brilliant’; and another talking about its ‘pounding suspense’. The fame and fortune are probably never going to happen, but I’d made a little money, I was a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, some people had read my novel and they hadn’t been disappointed. What more could I realistically have hoped for?

Summer Song by Colin MurrayColin Murray’s first novel, After a Dead Dog, a contemporary crime novel set in rural Scotland, was published in 2007. No Hearts, No Roses (‘quirky, engaging, Chandleresque’ Booklist), appeared in 2011, and September Song in 2012. Both are set in London in 1955 and feature the same main character.

September Song:

No Hearts, No Roses:

After a Dead Dog:


Philosophy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This is an interesting one that slipped past my radar, until a friend pointed it out to me last week. A new book from Palgrave Macmillan, Philosophy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, edited by Nicholas Joll.

It does exactly what it says in the title, providing an exploration of the philosophy underlying Douglas Adams’ iconic series. It’s written in a well-balanced intelligent and entertaining way: not too heavy, but also not too glib or superficial. There’s no reason why philosophy books should be dull, of course; and equally, there’s no reason why books on popular culture should be glib. Hell, there’s no reason why any books should be dull or glib. And thankfully, this is not a dull and/or glib book.

So there we are: fun and intelligent and not at all dull. What more could you want? Unless you were looking for something dumb and dull, of course.

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