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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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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