Category Archives: strange divisions

Snapshots: Linda Nagata interviewed

What’s recently or soon out?
The Red: First Light by Linda NagataIn any other month, the big news would be the publication of my short story, “Through Your Eyes,” in the March/April double issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s a near-future story with a theme focused on technology and civil rights, and it’s the first story I’ve ever had in Asimov’s, so I’m pretty pleased about that. But the news that supersedes this is that I have a new novel also out this month, called The Red: First Light—and in a nice bit of synchronicity, “Through Your Eyes” was the direct inspiration for the novel.

Sometimes characters just walk on stage and demand attention. That was the case with James Shelley, the protagonist of “Through Your Eyes.” Though I was done with the short story, I was not done with the character, and within a week of sending the story off to Sheila Williams at Asimov’s, I was writing the novel. Like the story that precedes it, The Red: First Light is concerned with the impact of evolving technologies, but the novel takes a different approach. It’s a boots-on-the-ground military thriller that engages with warfare, politics, and other, stranger things.

Near-future fiction has its own special challenges. Given the ongoing, rapid rate of technological change in the world it’s easy to imagine a near-future novel becoming obsolete almost overnight—or perhaps reclassified as an alternate history. Despite the risk, I like the immediacy of the subgenre. I’ve written in the near-future before, in particular with my novel Tech-Heaven, but also with the more recent Limit of Vision. I’ve also written about armed conflict on occasion, but The Red: First Light is my first true foray into military science fiction. That was pretty intimidating for me, but I really wanted to write this book—for the adventure, for the tech, for the politics.

What are you working on now?
Mostly I’ve been working on promotion for the new book. The Red: First Light is an indie book, published under my own imprint, so the responsibility for getting the word out is all mine—and of course I’m finding that publicity is even more challenging than writing a novel. But I’m also well begun on the follow up to First Light. No publication date yet for The Red: Trials, but the goal is to have it out within a year, and sooner if possible.

I also have several short story ideas brewing. In my early career I was never very interested in short stories, but over the past year and a half all that has changed and I’ve really come to enjoy reading and writing them.

Tell us about your experiences with publishing – both traditional and the new e-publishing environment that’s emerging.
Looking back, my experience with traditional publishing seems like a psychological experiment designed to test my sanity, with each incident of sublime luck countered by disaster. On the plus side, my first four books sold to Bantam Spectra, where I had terrific editors. The books had great covers by Bruce Jensen, most were picked up by the Science Fiction Book Club, one won an award. On the downside, I had three different editors for the first two books. All were published as mass-market originals, and despite good reviews, they were out of print in short order. At Tor I was better paid and I had hardcover editions, but a failure of communication made it a tough ride.

As far back as the nineties, though, I was interested in being a publisher. At some point I decided to learn the page layout program InDesign, thinking I would do a new print version of my novel, Vast. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how to make that work economically, but circa 2010, the technology arrived. I’d spent nine years working in web development, and ebooks are just HTML (web) pages wrapped up in zip files. So it wasn’t a big leap for me to start putting out my backlist in electronic format. I remember being shocked when some of my books sold in the first week they were available. I put out everything in ebook editions as quickly as I could, and by early 2011 I released my first print book, using the print-on-demand services at Lightning Source. Bruce Jensen, the original cover artist for the Nanotech Succession books, very generously let me re-use the cover paintings, even putting together new front covers for me. Now almost all my books have print editions.

Sales are modest, but I’m happy with this new approach. With traditional publishing, my work was in someone else’s hands. I had no real input on the production of the books, and simply had to accept the result, whether it turned out good or ill. Now I’m in control and I like it a lot. If I mess something up I’m in a position to fix it, which is also grand. Book covers that don’t work out can be changed, book descriptions can be revised. It’s wonderful. I would like to find a solution to the distribution issue—right now you will not, to my knowledge, find any of my print books in bookstores—but new options may be emerging. We’ll see. For now, I intend to stick with indie publishing.

Describe your typical writing day.
Up very early, regardless of when I went to sleep. Consume coffee and squander time on the Internet. Note in shock that a large portion of the morning has slipped away with nothing accomplished. Force myself away from the big, beautiful Mac desktop and plant myself in front of the aging Toshiba laptop that I use for writing. Try to get into the zone. On good days this happens very quickly. I become completely involved in what I’m doing and it’s hard to pry myself away to fulfill other obligations. On bad days every word is a struggle. When I’m working regularly on a draft I do try to produce some minimal word count. A thousand words is the goal, but sometimes I have to be happy with five hundred. Much of the time I don’t know what will happen in the next scene. It takes time to work that out.

At any rate, if it’s a good day I’ll generally keep writing well past my goal, taking advantage of the zone while I can. If it’s a bad day, I’ll struggle along until I get my thousand words. If it’s a really bad day, I’ll quit early and go mow the lawn.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
For those new to my work, the first back-list book I point to is The Bohr Maker, which won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and is the first book of The Nanotech Succession story world. As an alternative, and especially for those new to science fiction, I recommend Memory, a far-future, coming-of-age tale. Or for something completely different, the Puzzle Lands books, starting with The Dread Hammer—my experiment with fast-paced, scoundrel-lit fantasy.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Chaz Brenchley recently re-released his novel Dispossession through the writer’s cooperative Book View Café, of which I’m a member. Mildly curious, I started reading it, was immediately hooked, and enjoyed it immensely.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Flee! Run away while you still can! …but if it’s too late for that and writing is already in your blood, then don’t stop. I more-or-less stopped writing for roughly ten years. It’s true I was intermittently working on a fantasy novel during this time (The Wild, now being serialized on my blog), but I wasn’t publishing anything, I wasn’t diversifying, I wasn’t learning anything new about writing, I wasn’t even following the genre, and I fell way behind. What readers I had must have assumed I’d given up and gone away. So don’t stop. Keep pushing yourself to try new things.

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?
Ha! Well, in my best scenario, droves of readers will be preordering the next Linda Nagata novel (FYI, preordering isn’t currently possible for indie print-on-demand books or ebooks). But I suspect the future of publishing will be a diversity of options, with more and more writers working both sides of the fence—indie and traditional—along with the ongoing development of some cool new trends like enhanced ebooks that include more art and maybe even music. As always the big question will be how to earn a living from our creative endeavors. That’s a question I’ve never managed to answer, but during my occasional bouts of optimism, I keep imagining it will work out.

More…
The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata

Linda Nagata is a Nebula-award-winning author of both science fiction and fantasy, with multiple novels and short stories. She grew up in Hawaii, in a rented beach house on the north shore of Oahu, and has been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately a publisher and book designer. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

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Snapshots: David D Levine interviewed

Space Magic by David D LevineWhat are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a YA Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure. (Yes, another one of those. Sorry.) It takes place during the English Regency in a world in which the solar system is full of air and it’s possible to travel to Mars and Venus by airship. Naturally both of those planets are inhabited. My main character, Arabella Ashby, is a young woman who was born and raised on Mars but was recently hauled back to Earth by her mother, who didn’t want her youngest daughters growing up surrounded by aliens and turning out as wild as Arabella. Arabella, child of the frontier, is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world; she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and culture and dearly misses her father and brother, who remain on Mars. When her father dies and she learns her evil cousin plans to travel to Mars to kill her brother and inherit the family fortune, she disguises herself as a boy and joins the crew of a fast merchant ship in hopes of beating him there. But pirates, mutiny, and rebellion intervene. Will she reach her brother in time?

This novel takes place in the same universe as my story “The Wreck of the Mars Adventure” in Old Mars, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, which will be published in October.

What have you recently finished?
My most recently completed short story, titled “Goat Eyes,” is based on a question that has been kicking around the back of my head for years. Suppose you — the actual you, in the real world — discovered that vampires actually exist. How would this affect your life going forward? How would it change your behavior and worldview? This story is currently under consideration at an anthology.

What’s recently or soon out?
My short story collection Space Magic will be out on January 15 from Book View Café. This collection of 15 science fiction and fantasy stories won the Endeavour Award, for the best SF or Fantasy book by a Pacific Northwest writer, when it came out in paperback a few years ago, and now it’s available as an ebook from all the major ebook stores as well as directly from bookviewcafe.com. This is my first venture into e-publishing, and if it is successful there will be more.

In addition to the collection itself, $5.99 for all 15 stories, I’m also making the stories available for 99¢ each, following the iTunes singles-and-album model. It turns out that creating and uploading a single-story ebook is almost exactly as much work as a full novel ebook, so the work involved in doing it this way was much greater than I’d anticipated. I hope it pays off. If nothing else, I think, having 16 titles in the bookstores will make it more likely that people will find me than if there were just one.

Describe your typical writing day.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot more time on what my friend Jay Lake calls “writing-related program activities” such as e-publishing, promotion, and submission than I have on the actual writing. This kind of stuff can take up a surprising amount of time. For example, when a short story is rejected (and yes, I get rejections all the time) I often find that it takes an hour or more to decide where to send it next. Even though I have a spreadsheet with a list of markets to submit each story to, a lot of the time when I go to submit I discover that a market is temporarily or permanently closed or I already have a story in submission there. So then I need to research markets, see if there are any new ones, and determine which of the currently-available markets is the best fit for this story. So just at the moment my typical “writing” day doesn’t involve any writing at all! I hope to change this in the new year.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
Although “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award and has been translated into seven languages, the story I am proudest of is “The Tale of the Golden Eagle.” That’s the only story I’ve ever written that made me cry. Both of them are now available as ebooks, as part of Space Magic and as individual stories.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Tobias Buckell is a fine writer who is doing excellent work straddling the divide between self-publishing and traditional publishing; Mary Robinette Kowal is an inspiration to me with her broad range of long and short fiction and her selfless work with SFWA; and Jay Lake is a good friend and extremely talented writer who doesn’t let his serious health issues get in his way.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Write. Finish what you write. Submit it to a paying market. Keep submitting until it sells.

In this modern world, “submit” may mean to self-publish and “until it sells” may mean “until it sells enough copies to make you happy,” but, at this point in the evolution of the industry, whether to self-publish or seek traditional publication is a personal decision. But the basic idea of continuing to write, finishing what you start, and putting it out there for people to buy has not changed.

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 anticipate that the current free-for-all will not last. We are in a period of chaos right now, with the former “Big Six” New York publishers losing control of the industry they used to dominate, and individual writers can make a big splash. But large corporations always win out in the end (look at the fate of small independent bookstores, video stores, coffee shops, and gas stations in the past decades). In five or ten years there will be a new Big Six of publishing, and I expect that four of them will be Amazon, Google, Apple, and Wal-Mart.

What will readers be reading? Same as today: most people will read bestsellers, based on recommendations from their friends and trusted media sources, but a significant minority will seek out quirky independent works that match their idiosyncratic tastes. The latter readers are the ones I’m writing for.

What are you most excited about?
I have been working on a video based on my story “Letter to the Editor” in the forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams. It will be going live on January 21 and I think people will like it a lot. I am also extremely excited by my new web page, www.daviddlevine.com, which looks fantastic.

More…
Space Magic by David D Levine

David D. Levine is the author of over fifty published science fiction and fantasy stories. His work has appeared in markets including Asimov’s, Analog,F&SF, and Realms of Fantasy and has won or been nominated for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Campbell. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule, with whom he co-edits the fanzine Bento. His web page is at www.daviddlevine.com.

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Snapshots: Robert Freeman Wexler interviewed

In Springdale TownWhat kind of writer are you?
Geologic. Words, thoughts, ideas materialize slowly and find their way to the page.

What are you working on now?
A novel, tentatively called Recollections of a Malleable Future, but I also call it New Springdale Novel, because it’s set in Springdale.  I’m around a third of the way through it, but I’ve put it on hold to work on a novella.  The novella is a historical/Western-ish thing set around the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1888.  It’s a crime/detective story with strangeness.  I’m about halfway through and still trying to think of a title.

What’s recently or soon out?
This is the longest period I’ve had without new things out.  I’m looking for a publisher for a short story collection.  The Western novella is supposed to come out from PS at World Fantasy in Brighton…assuming I finish in time.

In Springdale Town is one of those stories that plays with the boundaries between the weird and the very real. Tell us about the story’s origins and why it became something you had to write.
It really started when I went to a movie theater and no one was there (I describe that situation in the Afterword; that doesn’t mean it really happened—I fabricate many things—but in this case it’s true). I had been thinking about writing a Jonathan Carroll-type of story in which the people from a television drama are actually real. After writing a bit about a man who can’t find other people, I realized that I had found the television program story. And had hooked myself, so I had to finish it.

Describe your typical writing day.
I write for twenty to thirty minutes Monday through Thursday during lunch breaks at work, then longer on Fridays. Rarely on the weekends. I wish I had more time, but I’ve learned to be efficient with the time I have.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
Besides In Springdale Town, newly released in ebook from Infinity Plus…? I’m still (after all these years) looking for a U.S. publisher for The Painting and the City. It came out in 2009 from PS, in French translation from now-defunct Zanzibar Editions, audiobook from iambik audiobooks…but no U.S. publisher.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
I recently posted on my blog about a fine contemporary noir novel called Robbers, by Christopher Cook. Older writers, Robert Aickman and Arthur Machen, newer writers, Michael Cisco, Brendan Connell, Kaaron Warren, Sébastien Doubinsky, other writers available from Infinity Plus, Iain Rowan, Neil Williamson, Anna Tambour.

Who are the people who’ve made a real difference to your writing career?
Teachers from Clarion West: Lucius Shepard, Michael Bishop, Nicola Griffith, people who’ve published me, mainly Peter Crowther of PS—without him the world would be a sadder place of fewer books.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Don’t write what you think will sell. Write what comes from yourself, in a way that only you can write it. Otherwise you’ll sound like everyone else. There’s a market for people who sound like everyone else, so you’ll sell a lot more books than me, but that’s my advice.

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 can’t tell you. I figured it out, but it’s a secret. No one else has figured it out. Just me. All will be revealed at the proper moment. No sooner.

Any other questions you’d like to have been asked? Feel free to add and answer them, and I’ll pretend to have asked them.

I’d like to say thanks for putting this new Springdale ebook together. It’s great to give new life to the story, send it out to find new readers.

More…
In Springdale Town

Robert Freeman Wexler’s latest novel is The Painting And The City, PS Publishing 2009. His new infinity plus novella, In Springdale Town, originally came out in 2003 from PS Publishing and was reprinted in Best Short Novels 2004, SFBC, and in Modern Greats of Science Fiction, iBooks; his other work includes a novel, Circus Of The Grand Design (Prime Books 2004 and infinity plus ebooks, 2011), and a chapbook of short fiction, Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed (Spilt Milk Press/Electric Velocipede 2008). His stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including PolyphonyThe Third AlternativeElectric Velocipede, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He lives at Sanity Creek, Ohio with his wife, the writer Rebecca Kuder, and daughter Merida Kuder-Wexler.

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Snapshots: Jeff Noon interviewed

Just out as an ebook, Channel SK1N is your first novel in ten years or so. The novel has already been highly praised by William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Lauren Beukes, SFX and more, and it’s clear that your return to book-length fiction is long overdue. Tell us more about the novel.

Jeff Noon - Channel Sk1nChannel SK1N charts a few days in the life of a pop star called Nola Blue. She’s a manufactured entity, very much in the X-Factor, American Idol mould. I wanted to push that process to the extremes, to really have a good look at it as a subject matter. So Nola has lost her former identity, her name, many of her memories, and so on. She’s an artist who has given herself over completely to the pop machine. Now she’s starting to regret that decision. And her regret coincides with the appearance of a mysterious bruise on her stomach. This grows and starts to take on shape and colour and even sound; it turns out to be a TV broadcast. So Nola is picking up TV signals on her skin. That’s the basic theme: the body taken over by the media, for good and for ill. It’s a short novel, just a few days in the life of this incredibly troubled woman as she struggles to preserve her own identity. I follow her as closely as I can, like a handheld camera. I really wanted the book to have that “handheld” quality; so the prose is a bit jittery in places, and later on my word-camera gets infected with the same parasite signal.

Why the move to self-publish this novel, rather than take the traditional route? I believe there was at least one commercial publisher who wanted to publish this book.

We sent the book off to one publisher and they picked up on it, and wanted to publish it. So I really did almost go the traditional route. But they wanted to release it in 18 months’ time. Now, I’ve been out of the world of books for a long while – ten years since Falling Out of Cars was published – and I was really keen on connecting to a reading audience again. So I did a bit of research, and realised that the possibilities of self-publishing had changed a lot in those ten years. I made the decision to do it myself. This way, the book is already out, and reaching people, and that’s a really great feeling. Best of all, it allows a more or less continuous stream of creativity; I can write something and get it out a short time later. That whole waiting period between the creation and the publication can be very short now. This is brilliant: current thought and current work can move hand in hand.

Was it an easy decision to turn down conventional publishing and go it alone?

No. Not at all. But you know, I’ve always had an independent streak to me. I started out writing and producing fanzines in the punk era, and this feels very similar in many ways. And of course these days we see so many musicians going it alone; that was a major inspiration. It just seemed the right thing to do, at this particular time in my life. Of course, there are problems; for instance, the major print newspapers give very little review space to self-published eBooks. Thankfully, the world of the blog now exists. There are an amazing bunch of really well-informed writers out there, both at the centre and the edges of the SF genre. They bring a far greater individuality to their writing than a lot of professional journalists do, and they really get and support the independent spirit. They’re independent themselves, right? Publishing is changing in so many ways. We’re in transition, and I’m really happy to be part of that transition, that wave.

What lessons have you learnt along the way?

The initial set-up is time-consuming. You need some help along the way, even if it’s just a couple of well-informed friends. The biggest problem facing the independent author is visibility; how can I get people to notice my work? One approach is to place your work within the limits of a known genre pool, but it’s so easy to get lost that way. My personality forces me in the opposite direction: I like to write books that slip and slide between genres. But I knew that Channel SK1N was a simple, strong subject matter: a woman turns into a television set. There it is. A story. And I knew it would connect with the present-day world in various interesting ways. So I think I would advise people to really think about subject matter and style: make your work stand out from the crowd. At least then, you’ll have some chance of being noticed.

To many people, publication of Channel Sk1n will be seen as your return after a break of a decade or so. In reality, you’ve been working hard online, with a prolific output of new fiction, remixes, microfiction, poetry and much, much more. Not so long ago, it was easy to say that an author was someone who wrote novels, stories and/or poetry, for print, but now… what exactly is it that you do?

I’m a writer. That’s how I see myself, fundamentally. I manipulate words to create effects, stories, emotions and so on. But I’m not the kind of person who can just do one thing, forever; I need to change, to hit the REFRESH button on a weekly, if not daily basis. So I’m always experimenting, just trying to come up with new ideas for both subject and form. I do that every day. I have hundreds of little one or two page Word documents on my computer, that I’m constantly looking at, tweaking, remixing and so on. Eventually, one of these will grow into something larger, and maybe take on a public life. I’ve spent years perfecting things that nobody’s ever seen. It’s my nature. But now, with the self-publishing venture, I hope to get some of these works out, in front of people. For most of the ten years’ time I was hidden away in the world of screenwriting, which suited me at the time. I still love film, and hope to see some scripts given a visual life one day.

Jeff Noon - Pixel JuiceAs well as your online output, and the publication of Channel SK1N, your backlist is now being made available for the first time in ebook format. Are there any titles in particular that you would like to highlight?

I couldn’t get hold of good digital copies of the older books, so I had to pay for them to be professionally scanned. I then had to check the scans for errors. So, in effect, I’m currently in the process of reading my own back catalogue. Which is a mighty strange, and somewhat scary thing to do. But it hasn’t been too bad. I have a particular fondness for Pixel Juice, because I can remember my imagination running on overload when I wrote it, and also for Falling Out Of Cars, for its extension of the Alice in Wonderland myth into a near-future scenario.

What are you working on now?

I’m doing the spores on Twitter, just these little packets of story and image. Eventually, I will collect these into a volume called Pixel Dust. I’m also looking at ideas for apps, especially for the spores and Cobralingus. This is all about finding new ways of presenting story, new narrative processes. I love all that. Also, I’ve just started a new film script, an inter-dimensional romance. And the usual array of experiments. I always have a lot of works on the go.

Describe your typical writing day.

I work best at night. So I tend to go to bed very late, around 3 or 4 or even 5 in the morning. I get up at 10am, mess about for a bit, do any admin type work, get all that boring stuff out of the way, you know? And then start thinking about the day’s writing. I’m quite organised; I have a to-do list, and all that. But, as I said, after dark is when I really start to feel creative. I must have some Vampire blood!

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

I don’t really read contemporary novels. I love magazines (paper ones), which I devour cover to cover. I adore poetry. Whenever I go into a bookshop, I quite naturally head for the poetry section. That’s my compass point. I like contemporary poetry most of all, so I always try to keep up with the latest volumes. My favourite poet is Pauline Stainer. I find her work endlessly inspiring. She has a very powerful visual imagination, which I really respond to. I think I’m actually a frustrated poet, in many ways. (When I’m not being a frustrated musician, that is!)

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

Really concentrate on individual expression. Be bold. Take a chance on being strange. Of all the genres, science fiction will most readily reward you for this.

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 think paper books will still be around in five years. Beyond that, it’s difficult to predict. I imagine the big newspapers will go completely digital first, losing their paper editions. That will change people’s attitudes. We will see more and more digital books. I think the new media will change the nature of storytelling in some way, but as always, the novel will be at the back of the queue, desperately clinging onto its 19th Century status for as long as possible. At a certain point in history the novel and the story wedded themselves together. This never happened to the same degree in visual or musical arts, so those media have been free to progress at a far quicker rate than the novel. But there will be a number of writers exploring narrative on the new platforms. More power to them. Meanwhile, the publishing industry pats itself on the back because it successfully made money from the paper editions of Fifty Shades of Grey. I mean, what are the chances of that novel being taken up by a big publisher, just from scratch? Absolutely minimal. But what interests me the most is the growing number of “amateur” writers that the new media has brought to light. I read once that Britain has more creative people per square mile than any other country in the world. I think that figure will need to be seriously upgraded, because we’re just now starting to see the astonishing range of people who are taking advantage of digital culture to show their writing to the world. There is a terrible snobbery about this stratum of writers amongst the industry and the press (until of course one of them makes serious money). In fact, Shades of Grey is a perfect example; that was a seriously personal novel, emerging from the world of online fanfiction. It doesn’t get more grassroots than that! For myself, I welcome this new wave of writing. For sure, not all of it will operate at the “accepted” standards, but my God the people will speak out loud. We’ve all got a hilltop to shout from now. The question comes back to visibility. More than ever, artists of every stripe will have to really make themselves stand out in the market square. I think we’ll see an increasing number of highly individualised novels, stories with unique themes and styles. It’s survival of the strangest. And that can only be good. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I’m keen to see the future of books, in whatever form it takes.

More…Jeff Noon - Channel Sk1n

Jeff Noon was born in Manchester in 1957. He trained in the visual arts and was active on the post-punk music scene before becoming a playwright. His novels include Vurt (Arthur C. Clarke Award winner), Pollen, Automated Alice and Falling Out Of Cars. Pixel Juice was a collection of fifty avant-pulp stories. He also writes microfictional ‘spores’ via @jeffnoon on Twitter. His latest novel Channel SK1N is an experiment in independent digital publishing. He lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England. More information can be found at www.metamorphiction.com.Buy stuff:


Snapshots: Henry Gee interviewed

Siege of Stars by Henry GeeYour first novel, Siege of Stars, is just out, the opening instalment in a projected trilogy of Big Ideas SF. Tell us more about the novel.

Baldly, it’s about a young member of an alien space-faring species called the Drovers. Their historic charge is to guide the endless migrations of immense beasts – the Drove – as they criss-cross the Galaxy. The Drovers, like the Drove, exist in several dimensions. They can be best thought of as moving knots of space-time. The Drove beasts are of a similar order to the Drovers, but huge and unintelligent. They eat stars for breakfast and kick planets around like footballs – but the Drovers have to keep them away from stars hosting planets where life might be found. But lately they have been getting too much for the Drovers to handle.

The Drove Elders come up with the only solution – the Drove must be destroyed. The Drovers cannot do this themselves as it is against their creed (look, is this making any sense?) To do this, they choose a young Drover called Merlin, whose task is to find, and if necessary evolve, a species capable of destroying the Drove.

The book – and the series – is really all about Merlin’s various adventures over millions of years as she tries to carry out her task. She has to battle against her own feelings of inadequacy, and has to face up to her mistakes (even gods suffer from Imposter Syndrome). Many times she has to assume the shape of an ordinary material being, but in doing so she runs the risk of losing sight of her task. I asked myself a question – were a being we’d regard as divine to be made incarnate, would she be fully aware of her true nature?

But, well, there’s a lot more to it than that. Some might say that it’s really all about good Scotch.

What led you to writing this particular story, rather than pursuing other ideas and interests?

I’d been a professional writer for some years and had written quite a lot of non-fiction, but I felt I couldn’t really consider myself a writer unless I tried some fiction. The freedom fiction offers is quite scary – many science writers are deterred by the plethora of free parameters. Even if you have a story to tell, there are so many choices to be made about how to tell it. Perspective, characterisation, tense, mood, structure. Well, I was also a fan of SF, and was the founding editor of Futures, the long-running series of SF short-shorts in Nature, where I worked. I’d written a couple of vignettes for the series myself. They were rather different from each other, but I thought I’d put them together to see if they’d play together.

But there was a lot of other stuff there in the mix.

I wanted to write a story about a marriage, a love match, from its beginning to its very end, spanning more than half a century of life events. I was quite consciously influenced by Anthony Burgess’ book Earthly Powers, a fictionalised biography. One of the appealing features of that book is that the protagonist’s brother-in-law is a priest who becomes the Pope. I liked that idea. Through that I was able to use the novel to scratch some itches I’d had about religion and what it means for human beings – and other people. I was also influenced by a sketch on that old comedy show Not The Nine-O’Clock News in which an anthropologist is interviewed – along with the gorilla whom he has trained. I’m sure readers can have lots of fun influence-spotting, from Olaf Stapledon to Julian May.

And there are quite a lot of other SF tropes in there – all part of my teach-yourself-fiction home study course. There’s scientists, doing science of various kinds. There’s some fairly outrageous space opera. I adore space opera, which must be the only form of literature that it’s impossible to parody. There are parts where it gets very gothic, even steampunk. There are fight scenes. There is horror. There is graphic violence. Action scenes are hard to pull off, but I felt I had to give them a go. And sex. Lots and lots of sex. I found I liked writing sex scenes. The trick is to get the balance right, between prissy and coy on the one hand, and anatomically pornographic on the other. I think I succeeded. There’s one sex scene that’s fairly crucial to the whole thing, which I must have re-written dozens of times. When people have asked me to describe the novel succinctly I sum it up like this: sex, violence, aliens, violent sex, sex with aliens, and violent sex with aliens.

How long have you been working on this series, and how far through it are you?

I wrote the first draft of the whole thing in an adrenaline rush between Christmas 2005 and Easter 2006. I was up until two or three in the morning, night after night, writing, and would still turn up to work each day fresh as the proverbial daisy. The experience was wonderful, truly enjoyable and fulfilling. I remember the sense of achievement as I reached the final sentence.

I remember my characters coming alive on the page, so that I felt that I wasn’t really writing the story, but witnessing it as it played out before me. My characters evolved their own personalities, their own behaviour. There’s one scene where I’d planned for the central married couple to have a row, and the husband would walk out. Well, I wrote that, but I couldn’t write any further. The tale was killed stone dead. I discovered that the husband wouldn’t have done that – he stayed home and faced the music. Once I’d let the character tell me what to do, the story worked itself out. I’d heard authors describing such things, but before it happened to me I thought they were being pretentious.

That was the first draft, all 125,000 words of it. Of course, that was just the start. Most people who read it hated it. Some quite violently. But a few really liked it, so I took the constructive criticism and expanded it into a trilogy, adding lots of backstory, doubling it in length.

People still mostly hated it.

So I put it back into the bottom drawer and wrote some other stuff instead. I wrote another novel, a gothic horror mystery called By The Sea. in which I try to do for Cromer what Stephen King does for Maine. I self-published it (with my agent’s agreement I must add) and the few people who’ve read it seem to have enjoyed it. I wrote a children’s book, with my younger daughter. It’s called Defiant the Guinea-Pig – Firefighter! That’s also self-published but still in search of a proper home. And I wrote a serious pop-science book for the University of Chicago Press that should be coming out next year.

All the while, this sprawling SF trilogy was working its way back to the top of the pile. Just as I was about to embark on another edit earlier this year, Andrew Burt of ReAnimus Press asked me if he could publish it, if it was still available. Andrew had liked the novel, right from its tender and shy germ years before. He ‘got’ what I was trying to do. So I did another comprehensive edit, cutting here, adding material there, and delivered the trilogy. So, it’s all written. The plan is for all three novels to come out before the end of 2012.

You’re already well established as senior editor at Nature, and long-time editor of that journal’s Futures fiction slot. How did a science-fiction slot ever find its way into such a prestigious journal?

It’ll be no surprise to you that Nature editors are geeks. We don’t talk to one another in equations, and it’s not quite The Big Bang Theory, but many of us grew up with SF before we became scientists, and then editors.

I hope you won’t mind my telling a yarn about how the Futures thing got started, as I don’t think I have told it before (you may correct me if I’m wrong). Many years ago I wrote a review in Nature of a Roland Emmerich popcorn movie called Independence Day. I noted that it started with spaceships hovering ominously over the cities of Earth, and bemoaned the fact that nobody had filmed Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which starts the same way but is much more interesting and profound than the slush that so often passes for SF in Hollywood. Clarke read my review, and faxed me – for my information – a table showing all his books and the dates when they’d been optioned by film companies. The irony was that the only one of his works that hit the screen was 2001 – which started as a screenplay. As a result of this I got to correspond with Clarke.

Roll forward to 1999, and we geeks at Nature were wondering how we should commemorate the upcoming millennium. The idea of a series of SF stories seemed to be in the air, and I was chosen to run it. It was originally commission only. So I got to write to all my SF heroes and cadge stories from them, but I needed a really big name to kick it off. The only SF author I could think of whose name transcended the genre was Clarke. I asked him for a story – and he delivered by return, bless him. That first series ran from November 1999 to the end of 2000. It was resurrected for a run mid-decade, and then went into abeyance. There was enough good stuff to make an anthology, which I put together under the tutelage of David Hartwell at Tor. I learned that putting together an anthology is far more laborious than collecting some stories and putting them together in a book.

The Futures series restarted in 2007 and has been unbroken since. My agreement with the Chief Editor was that it would be open-ended, and we’d continue with it until we got bored or an asteroid hit the Earth, whichever came first. Neither has happened, and after twelve years and more than 300 tales on I have passed the baton to my colleague, the redoubtable Colin Sullivan.

Some way along I opened the door to all comers, and we still get about ten times more stories than we can publish. Some stories come from established professionals, others from scientists who’ve decided to venture into fiction, and yet others from young people just starting out. There is an awful lot of young talent out there. One is Shelly Li, who was just fifteen when she made her first sale – to me. She’d destined for greater things, and I’m more proud than I can say to have been there at the beginning.

Describe your typical working day.

Time was when I’d commute to London three days a week from Cromer. The long train rides gave me plenty of time to think, and to write. A lot of what became the SIgil trilogy started on my little Asus Eee, back in those long-ago days before St Steve of Jobs came down from Heaven on his fiery chariot bearing the iPad. These days, however, I work from home – and keep office hours. In my office. It’s an office job.

Really, though, my office is in my head. It is there that I think about the manuscripts submitted to Nature, and deciding which of the deluge might be a good bet for publication. It’s not rocket-science, mainly because it’s mostly done by instinct. The hardest part is rationalising your choices. The Chief Editor once characterised it as choosing a few drops of water from a firehose.

You live in a small seaside town in north Norfolk (one of my favourite places) – what are the attractions of that environment for you?

The main attraction is that I get to walk the dogs lunchtimes on the beach. Just fifteen minutes walk from my house is the most glorious beach that’s virtually deserted, even in the summer. When the sun shines it could be a tropical desert island. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine that often, so the days when it does are extra special. But even stormy winter days have a rugged grandeur. I find I much prefer small towns to large cities. Cromer is the right size – not so small that it effectively disappears outside the tourist season, not so large that it becomes anonymous. People know one another. It’s old-fashioned in a comforting way that cities aren’t.

As well as writing and editing, you’re a keen musician. What does that offer that writing doesn’t? Are the different forms of creativity part of a single spectrum for you, or very different things?

For many years I have been a keyboard player in rock and blues bands, specialising in Hammond Organ. I enjoy playing live, not having the patience to do much home recording – though lately I’ve been having lots of fun exploring GarageBand on my iMac. I was quite ill recently with depression – it gets me from time to time – but even in my darkest times I’d go to band rehearsals once a week. I can honestly say that these stopped me from going completely round the bend. Music seems to occupy a different part of my brain from writing. When I am stressed, I play music, and I can feel my brain reboot itself, getting rid of all those worries and niggles with which one is plagued

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

Gosh! There are so many. One thing I’ve discovered while editing Futures is that there are lots of authors out there, some with a sizeable canon of published books, many of whom I have never heard. I shall not embarrass you by mentioning anyone too close to (your) home. I’ve already mentioned Shelly Li, but there are other writers, many of whom have made sterling contributions to Futures and should really be better known – John Gilbey, Julian Tang, Sue Lanigan, Gareth Owens, Deborah Walker, Jeff Crook, Polenth Blake, Ken Liu (who’s just won a Hugo), Ian Whates, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, Martin Haynes – loads more. And there are some authors who’ve been at it for ages who deserve more recognition than they usually get. People such as the late Barrington Bayley. And Ian Watson, whose novels such as The Embedding and Chekhov’s Journey tend to remain in the mind long after you’ve read them.

There are also authors writing SF in English who come from far outside the usual Anglophone orbit, particularly in the Middle East and Asia – China, Singapore, Japan. I set up a Facebook page for Futures that now has more than 3,800 subscribers – many of whom come from the Arab world and India. It has more readers in Cairo than London; more in Tunis than Los Angeles. We recently published our first story from a writer in Iran.

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

Write every day. Writing, like any other skill – whether it’s playing football or the piano – improves with practice. It doesn’t have to be a chapter of the Great Novel. It could be a poem, a few random lines, or even a shopping list. Having a blog and maintaining it is good practice. Most writers I know keep office hours – they don’t sit around waiting for the muse to strike.

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?

Writers will make a living the way they have always done – by doing something else as a day job. As for the future of publishing – well, as someone once said, prediction is very hard, especially about the future.

I’ve been in the publishing industry as an editor and a writer for a quarter of a century and the changes have been immense. Back then hot metal still existed; ‘paste-ups’ involved paste; and we took ‘copy’ to people called ‘typesetters’ – who were among the first casualties of the digital revolution. The very term ‘typesetter’ now seems like some arcane and bucolic pastime of an earlier age, like grummet-nadgering or lummock-woggling. Now we work completely within the digital environment. Traditional publishers are having to diversify or die. Agents are becoming publishers. Heavens to Betsy, AUTHORS are becoming publishers. So what does the future hold?

It’s hard to say, but the music industry might be a model. Diversity will be the key. In music, there are still record companies and CDs, which survive next to downloads and do-it-yourself. In publishing, there will still be books, made of paper, for many, many years to come. Except that they’ll be printed on demand – doing without warehouses full of unsold stock is a no-brainer. And the eBook is here to stay. The ecology of publishing is already much more diverse than it once was. The main effect will be that people won’t concentrate on just one task, such as writing, marketing, printing, typesetting or being an agent. Everyone will have to be at least passable in more than one of these tasks to make a living.

Have you any more fiction in mind?

Not as yet. I’m simply basking in the utter amazement that some of my fiction has been published; that people seem to be buying it and enjoying it; and that it has cover art by someone other than me. (Which is itself interesting – seeing one’s own words translated into pictures by a mind other than one’s own is fascinating. Clay Hagebusch is doing a fine job with the Sigil trilogy.) Really, it’s all a matter of confidence. Now that I know people like my stuff I might try some more. Though I can’t imagine what. Perhaps, like Clarke’s Star Child, I’ll think of something.

Any other questions you’d like to have been asked? Feel free to add and answer them, and I’ll pretend to have asked them.

Who put the benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine?

I am often asked that – all I can say is that it wasn’t Mr Murphy, who was just as mystified by the nembutal that appeared in his overalls.

More…

Siege of Stars by Henry GeeHenry Gee got his first degree in Zoology and Genetics at the University of Leeds, and his PhD in Zoology at the University of Cambridge. In 1987 he joined the staff of Nature on a three-month contract. He is still there. He has written quite a few books, mostly non-fiction. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England with his family and numerous pets.

The Sigil trilogy is published by ReAnimus Press.

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Snapshots: TC McCarthy interviewed

What are you working on now?
Literary fiction. It seems to me that if one is going to claim that one writes, then one should try to write in as many different ways as possible. At least try. And if the attempt fails, chalk it up as a learning experience. But if a given writer is going to claim that he/she writes “literary” speculative fiction, then he/she needs to show me publications in peer reviewed, non-genre literary venues before I believe them – preferably venues from academia. I have a similar peeve when it comes to SFF ‘zine editors. Don’t give me the self-licking ice-cream cone argument that your magazine publishes literary speculative fiction because “I and my staff have MFAs and we say it’s literary.” Prove it; publish more stories from authors who have real literary credentials outside of genre, writers not from the same crowd we find lobbying one another at WorldCon every year for the next Nebula or Hugo or Campbell. Christ; take a chance for once and try something different. Maybe then your publication might not have to panhandle via PayPal to stay afloat.

But back to the question: right now a literary novella is in the works and there’s a specific market in my sights.

What have you recently finished?
I just finished a literary novel that my agent is sending out and it’s “absolutely fantastic” (someone else’s words, I swear). I don’t want to give too much away. But it’s about an adolescent genius who puts his intelligence to use in lawbreaking, and who is really confused about whether he’s gay or straight.

What’s recently or soon out?
The second book in my military science fiction series just came out, Exogene, and the third book, Chimera, is about to hit shelves in August. Also, I have a digital SF-horror novelette coming out from Orbit in the next month or two (Ellen Datlow, pay attention!), and will be releasing my own short story within the next couple of weeks. Look for “Sunshine” and “Somewhere it Snows” wherever e-books are sold.

What inspired the Subterrene War series?
This is a really good question but one I don’t want to answer. At least not truthfully, so I’ll be vague. Most people have to, at some point, experience a bit of hell because that comes with being alive. The Subterrene War series is semi-autobiographical; it finds its origin in my darkest years.

You’ve lived in lots of places but always end up back in the South – what is it that draws you back? How does it influence your writing: are you a Southern writer, or just a writer who lives in the South?
I’m a southern writer. Completely. Although I lived in California for a bit, I spent most of my life in the deep south, and it influences me in ways that are hard to describe. Last week I drove from Aiken, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia, and saw towns that I’d forgotten because the world also forgot them and they were left off the maps. These people clung to the textile trade for decades, hoping it would last; they made the wrong bet. Milliken & Company ran so fast in 2008 that it left its factory in the kudzu the same way a bank robber abandons getaway cars (by pushing them over cliffs) and all the barbed wire was rusty despite the fact that someone still mowed and weeded the factory lawn – like maybe if they kept the place neat the mill Gods would return. People stared. But nobody yelled or threw rocks at my car because I belonged there since we were all on the same sinking ship and I think they saw the same look in my eyes that they knew was in theirs: one that says you can’t escape fate. Much of my writing has fatalistic overtones and although I hesitate to say that this is a widespread feature of all southern writing, it is my reaction to having lived here for so long. Kudzu is a hell of a weed; it gets into one’s head and not much will stop it.

Short fiction or novels – what are your preferences as writer and reader?
Novels. It is much harder to write short stories because you have to get every word right, and I love reading novels because they go on longer; there’s more to enjoy.

Describe your typical writing day.
Up at three AM. Write until six AM. Get the kids ready for school, go to work, come home and help with homework until the kids go to bed. Write from 9PM to 11PM. Sleep. Do it all again. Sigh.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
Many that didn’t make it to the Campbell, Hugo, Clarke, Philip K Dick, or Nebula short lists. Seriously; we see the same names on some of these lists year after year, and it’s not always because those authors are the best. But among those overlooked, there are some that I’m just flabbergasted didn’t get award nods. Here are my picks:

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (not nominated for any awards? REALLY?)

Miserere, by Teresa Frohock

Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

A lot of Camille Alexa’s work is great – who the hell is noticing this girl? Nobody?

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Ignore the snark from certain reviewers, editors and authors out there on twitter and in the blogosphere. Just write. Some of those people are the enemies of fiction and they’re too stupid to realize that advancing socio-political agendas at the expense of story is the same thing as firing a sawed off shotgun at Virginia Woolf. Write what’s in your gut.

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?
The future of publishing? Somewhere between what we have now and a total Amazon monopoly. Amazon is winning the war and its goal is to “eliminate the middleman,” which means getting rid of literary agents, distributors, and publishers. I see their argument. The downside, however, is that once this is done, they’ll be the only game in town, which the anti-trust people in government will never let happen (and which would be an author’s worst nightmare). So I can’t give a more clear answer than what I’ve already said, but in 5-10 years people will be reading a lot more stuff that’s going for 99 cents, and weeding through garbage to get to good books because there won’t be as many of the old-style publishers out there to filter out crap. So… I’m teaching myself how to self publish too.

More…
Exogene by TC McCarthy

TC McCarthy is a critically acclaimed southern author whose short fiction has appeared in Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas, in Story Quarterly and in Nature. His debut novel, Germline, and its sequel, Exogene are available worldwide and the final book of the trilogy, Chimera, will be released in August 2012. Visit him at www.tcmccarthy.com, or find out more about TC at The Big Idea.

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Snapshots: Catherine Asaro interviewed

What have you recently finished? What’s recently or soon out?
My most recent novel is Carnelians, which is in the Tales of the Ruby Dynasty (the Skolia books). That came out in October 2011 from Baen Books (Simon & Schuster). I also had an anthology come out, a limited collector’s edition from ISFic Press that accompanied my Guest of Honor appearance at Windycon this last November. It’s called Aurora in Four Voices. The anthology includes “The Spacetime Pool,” which won the Nebula, and several Ruby Dynasty works. It also has an essay about the mathematics that I use in my fiction called “A Poetry of Dreams and Angles.”

In eBooks, my most recent publications are The Spacetime Pool and The City of Cries,  both available on Kindle, Nook, and other formats (The Spacetime Pool also includes the novelette “Light and Shadow” and the essay from Aurora in Four Voices). My publisher in audio books is currently in the process of recording Carnelians.

Oh! I also have a brand new Ruby Dynasty novelette about Soz Valdoria (one of my most popular characters) coming out in the anthology The Mammoth Book of SF Wars, edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates. The release date for that anthology is May, 2012.

And of course, I recently had a chapter co-written with Kate Dolan in a great book called Strange Divisions and alien territories: the sub-genres of science fiction.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a near future thriller at the moment, and also on a CD that will go with it as a soundtrack.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
I have such a big backlist. The stand alone novels are mostly still available, near future thrillers like Alpha and The Phoenix Code. For my Ruby Dynasty books, a good one to start with is Diamond Star because it doesn’t depend on the others in the series (it was written first). In my fantasy, I’d say The Charmed Sphere or The Misted Cliffs. In my fantasy, I’d say The Charmed Sphere or The Misted Cliffs.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Never give up! No matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how hard it may seem to get your stories out there, never stop trying. And be polite. Don’t spam people about your books. Use courtesy. Read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog about writing and publishing.

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’d expect to see a lot more works available as eBooks. It’s the wave of the future. We’ll probably be seeing a lot more writers publishing themselves in electronic format.

More…

The author of more than twenty-five books, Catherine Asaro is acclaimed for her Ruby Dynasty series, which combines adventure, science, romance and fast-paced action. Among her many distinctions, she is a double winner of the Nebula®, a multiple winner of the Analog AnLab and a three time recipient of the RT BOOKClub Award for “Best SF Novel.” Her latest books are the novel Carnelians (Baen) and the anthology Aurora in Four Voices (ISFiC Press). Her award-winning novella “The City of Cries” recently came out as an eBook.

Catherine also has two music CD’s out and is working on her third. The first, Diamond Star, is the rock-opera soundtrack for her novel of the same name. She appears at cons and other venues, including as Guest of Honor at the Denmark and New Zealand National Conventions. In concert, her band performs a multimedia project mixing literature, dance, and music. She is also a physicist with a PhD from Harvard.

Visit Catherine and chat with her at www.facebook.com/Catherine.Asaro.

On Twitter, you can hang out with her at Catherine_Asaro.

With Kate Dolan, Catherine wrote the chapter ‘The Literature of Planetary Adventure’ in Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the sub-genres of science fiction (edited by Keith Brooke, published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2012).

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