Category Archives: Author Interviews

Interview with Jay Lake Winter 2006

Jay Lake’s story, The Black Back-Lands, appears in the Winter 2006 issue of Shimmer. Jay’s story Shedding Skin; Or How the World Came to Be also appears in The Clockwork Jungle Book (Issue #11), and you can hear him read it here! (12mb, mp3 format)  Jay’s website is at www.jaylake.com, or you can email him at jlake@jlake.com.

Questions about the story:

Where did the idea for The Black Back-Lands come from?
The writers’ group I work with, Wordos in Eugene, Oregon, has holiday readings every year for Halloween and Christmas. I wrote this story for Halloween, naturally. The title comes from a book of classic Irish fairy stories I was reading to my daughter at the time — in that English translation, ca. 1890 I think, what we might think of as “Elfland” or “Under the Hill” was called “the Black Back-Lands”. That must be a literal translation of an Irish Gaelic term, as I’ve never heard it before, but it’s evocative. I wrote to the title, basically, transposing the idea of “Under the Hill” into a post-apocalyptic setting. The pathway on which the story takes place would be on the east face of Rocky Butte, in the very eastern end of Portland.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?
Wordos, in Eugene, Oregon. I’ve been there since December of 2000.

How did the story change as you developed it?
It didn’t, actually. I wrote it to be read aloud, in one quick sitting (it is flash), and except for some minor line editing, it remains as it emerged from my fingertips.

Do you have any cut scenes/outtakes/etc that might be entertaining/informative? Any interesting anecdotes?
I don’t really have any cuts to share, since the story emerged pretty much organically from my keyboard. This is quite typical for me, by the way, especially with shorter work. I will comment that having carried water camping a time or two I was somewhat consumed with the idea of how much those buckets would weigh. That east face of Rocky Butte is mighty steep. Believe it or not, I spent time thinking about the economics and defense practices of clifftop village in hostile terrain.

Questions about writing:

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
I write for the story. That may sound pretentious, or even goofy, but it’s true. I don’t owe the audience anything, I owe the story everthing. Once I have released it into the wild, the story speaks for itself to the audience.

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Eleven years.

How did you celebrate your first sale?
I geeked out badly.

What writing projects are you presently working on?
I have a novel under contract to Night Shade Books which I need to finish soon. (Ahem.) It’s called Trial of Flowers and is a follow-on of sorts to my short story The Soul Bottles which appeared in Leviathan 4, ed. Forrest Aguirre. I’ve got another novel in progress called Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, a sort of magical alternate history of the Old West. I have to do some road-tripping this summer to Montana to do field research on the locations in that book.

Does popular culture/entertaiment influence your writing?
Not too much. I haven’t watched broadcast or cable TV since about 1994, and I get to the movies maybe five or six times a year. I don’t own a videogame system. I do pay a lot of attention to the news, via NPR, several dead tree magazines, and a number of Web sites, and I read a lot of fiction. So obviously those things filter in to me.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Any time works, but for reasons of my personal schedule early evening seems to be the most typical by far.

Favorite short story read this year?
It’s January 10th. What can I say?

Favorite book read when you were a child?
Lord of the Rings, of course.

Random Questions:

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And Why?
Are you nuts? I’m having the time of my life. Now, I wouldn’t mind trading bank balances with a few people…

Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
Do I believe? No. I am a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist. I would love to see evidence, or have a meaningful supernatural experience of my very own. I’ve had a couple of marginal supernatural experiences, but not enough to convince me. This of course in no way affects my ability to shamelessly exploit the noumenal world in my fiction.

If you have a day job, what is it?
I’m a marketing director for a Midwestern telecommunications company. Really. They all think I’m a total weirdo, but I do good work, so everybody’s happy.

Fast food: Yea or Nay?
Yeah baby. Junk food junkie.

Favourite food?
Pizza.

Favourite restaurant?
Nice restaurant: Castle Hill Cafe, Austin, TX
Pizza: Flying Pie, Portland, Oregon
BBQ (my other favorite): The Salt Lick, Driftwood, TX

Name one place in your hometown that you love to go to and would recommend to others to visit.
I don’t really have a hometown — born and raised overseas — but Forest Park in Portland, where I live now, is deeply awesome. Hundreds of acres of deep Northwest forests dark enough to put frost on your soul, right in the middle of town.

What are some of your hobbies?
Writing, writing, and, uh, writing.

Cat or dog person? (or something else, like birds, iguanas, or even evil robot monkeys?)
Cats. Dogs are ok, but not my thing. Cats are worthless parasites of course. Just ask mine.

Is there anything that you would “sell your soul” for?
More time in my life to write, both every day and on a lifetime basis.

All-time favourite movie?
Bladerunner.

If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?
Write more. Get serious sooner. (I made my first sale at 37.) And don’t eat that cheese whopper in the summer of 1986, cause that trip to the E.R. for food poisoning really sucked.

Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off? (i.e. ambidextrous writing, blood-curdling screams, double-jointed, badmitton champion…)
Only with very close friends.

How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
None. We’re always working in the dark.

Interview with Samantha Henderson

Samantha Henderson’s story, Route Nine, appears in the Winter 2006 issue of Shimmer.

Questions about Route Nine

Where did the idea for Route Nine come from?
For various reasons I’ve found myself driving up and down California’s Central Valley many times. Route Nine is my collective impression of many small towns along that route, taken a step further.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?
I work with a ten-member online critique group.

How did the story change as you developed it?
It became decidedly weirder.

Questions about writing:

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
I write for myself and hope that others will like it.

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Hmmm. I had a period of writing and submitting in my twenties, with a few sales to small markets and many rejection slips, and I really don’t remember the timelines. Then I took time out for kids and career. I started writing and submitting again seriously about three years ago, and almost immediately made a sale to Strange Horizons, which surprises me a lot more now than it did then. So you could say about 15 years or two months, depending on how you define it.

How did you celebrate your first sale?
That is between my husband and myself. (grins)

What writing projects are you presently working on?
I’m working on two young adult novels — one is a collaboration, and on the other I am the sole author.

Does popular culture or entertaiment influence your writing?
I’m sure it must.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Ideally, early afternoon. But I have to grab time as I can get it.

Favorite short story read this year?
Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald from the Shadows Over Baker Street anthology.

Favorite book read when you were a child?
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising

Random Questions

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And Why?
Oh no. That’s like wishing for a million dollars and losing your child and getting a million dollar cashout on an insurance policy. I’m not qualified to play that game.

Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
No — which leaves me conflicted, because my house is haunted.

What’s your day job?
I am a church secretary. No, really.

Fast food: Yea or Nay?
In moderation? Good Lord, yes.

Favourite food?
At the moment, I have to say sushi.

Favourite restaurant?
The Blue Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant in Berkeley, California. No idea if it’s still there.

What are some of your hobbies?
Horseback riding. Used to be embroidery, but my fingers have gotten rough and clumsy lately. Does reading count?

Cat or dog person? (or something else, like birds, iguanas, or even evil robot monkeys?)
I am hideously allergic to cats, so by default a dog person. All my current dogs are from Corgi rescue. I’m very fond of snakes, but I can’t keep them anymore because overnight, it seemed, I went from being indifferent to the plight of various feeder rodents to really being squicked at the sight of their little paws going down the gullet.

Is there anything that you would “sell your soul” for?
Nah. See the “trading places” answer above.

All-time favourite movie?
Favorite in terms of craft? The Third Man. Favorite in terms of gosh-wow fun? Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was recently given a run for its money by National Treasure.

If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?
Damn. Buy Amazon.com at $1 and sell at $100.

Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off? (i.e. ambidextrous writing, blood-curdling screams, double-jointed, badmitton champion…)
I can toss various food items into the air and catch them in my mouth.

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Depends on whether it’s an interstitial, slipstream, new weird or dark fantasy light bulb.

Interview with Edo Mor

Questions about the story


Where did the idea come from?

A few years ago I spent two summers selling along the Costa de Luz in southern Spain. It’s not as popular as the Costa Brava or the Costa del Sol, and if you arrived on a calm day you wouldn’t know the reason why. The wind can be ferocious. Levante, from the east, can last for weeks and reach 8 or 9 Beaufort (gale force).

For awhile I was actually stubborn enough to try getting around on a bicycle. I distinctly remember one day: pushing the bike up a hill against the wind, a sudden gust pulls a loose pack of envelopes out of my bike pouch and skywards, a riffling like wings, like a flock of paper birds.

I remember another day, sitting in my tent at the campgrounds after a day’s work and listening to chairs and tables falling over, watching trash and leaves blow by. When it got like this, there wasn’t much you could do except sit and watch and listen. I was then working with my girlfriend (now wife). That kind of wind could spoil our work for days at a time. That was mostly when we fought, or felt doubts about being with each other, or wondered about our future together (international relationships can be difficult — she’s Argentinian). It’s usually somewhere in the midst of these aching moments in a relationship that one becomes conscious of the extent of their love for the other, and just how much one is willing to sacrifice. Anyway, you can see how the story idea came out of all this.

Do you work with a critique or writers group?

Yes, since the ClarionWest workshop. There were 18 of us, and we’re all (more or les) online together these days.

How did the story change as you developed it?

The ending changed. I had the two leaf-bodies dying together in an early draft. It was too sappy, not as interesting.

Questions about writing

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
Myself and everyone else.

How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
About a year.

How did you celebrate your first sale?
Pizza. If i remember correctly…

What writing projects are you presently working on?
Lots of short stories. A few false starts on novels. I read in and between a lot of genres, and what I’m working on reflects that.

Favorite short story read this year?
“Snow,” John Crowley

Favorite book read when you were a child?
“The Never Ending Story” , Michael Ende

Random Questions

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And Why?

This question is trickier than it sounds at first. If I traded places with Ghandi, for example, India might not have gained its independence so early, and something altogether wonderful might be happening this minute instead of me writing this at my desk.

I’m not sure I want to fiddle with history like that. Even in fiction, it’s a very tricky thing to fiddle with history. But the reason I mentioned Ghandi is because I’m intrigued by his ability to focus on people’s strengths and talents as opposed to their weaknesses. It’s said he had an extraordinary talent for this. I wonder what it would feel like, to have that kind of compassion.

Favourite food?
Falafel.

All-time favourite movie?
That’s a tough question, but my favorite movies this past year were “In the Mood For Love” and “2046”, by Directory Wong Kar Wei. They’re loosely related — see the first one first.

If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?

Give me another ten years or so to answer that question.

Interview with Philip J. Lees

Philip J. Lees’ short story, Duets, appears in the Winter 2007 issue of Shimmer. Check out his website.

Questions About The Story

Where did the idea come from?

From seeing the light reflecting off my guitar, maybe? From the Shakespearian line, “If music be the food of love, play on”? The truth is, I don’t remember.

How did the story change as you developed it?

I think this was one that came into my head pretty much fully formed, in terms of both plot and style. After all, it’s quite short. It was just a matter of writing it down (just!).

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger? May we reprint that scene or line? Or link to a very old version so that we may marvel at how much it changed?

The nice people at Shimmer asked me to cut the original introduction—about 100 words. I didn’t really want to do that, although I could understand the reason for it. Whether the story is stronger for the change is, I think, a matter of taste. As a reader, I have an old-fashioned preference for a slow opening to a story. I enjoy the sensation of a door opening on a different world and being drawn into it, immersed in it, before the action begins. The modern tendency is to hurl the readers directly onto the bobsleigh run and let them figure out where they are and what’s happening while they’re already hurtling down.

In the case of “Duets,” the short opening introduced the first person narrator and set the tone of the piece. Not strictly necessary, I admit. I think the story works fine without it. By all means print the deleted paragraphs if you like (though I have the feeling this answer is not what you were looking for).

As a rule, I feel pleased when I can cut something from a story. It means that I’m making an improvement, and that I’m close to getting it the way I want it. My early drafts tend to be underwritten, rather than overwritten, so the first revisions usually involve more adding than subtracting. Pruning away the dead wood is the final stage.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?

Duets is not typical of my work, but then, none of my stories are (insert smiley here). Really, though, my fiction is all over the place, from literary stories involving characters I’ve encountered while living in Greece, through crime and mystery (sometimes with a speculative element, sometimes not), magic realism, fake mythology, to straight science fiction with spaceships and aliens.

Duets was something of an experiment in a couple of ways. It was the first time I’d written anything that involved magic (although whether the reader interprets it in that way is a matter of choice: as Clarke’s Third Law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”). More importantly, I wanted to play around with a more formalized, but at the same time lyrical style of writing, aiming to use musical rhythms in the prose and musical metaphors in the storytelling.

Questions About Writing

What writing projects are you presently working on?

I just finished a short story that examines the intersection of TV game shows and euthanasia. I have two or three other stories half written and I will finish them very soon, really I will. I’m also working on my third novel, Triple Jeopardy, which is a cult religious futuristic ecological thriller detective mystery story set in multiple alternate quantum realities. So far, I have a complete outline and the opening chapters. Another work in progress is a non-fiction article about how the Internet will affect home computers and the software industry (I am, or was, a bona fide computer scientist, among other things, so I have some credentials for this kind of speculation).

On the business side, I’m seeking a publisher for my second novel, The Changelings, which is about space exploration, human cloning, planetary colonization, interracial relationships, and all that kind of thing. At some point, I hope, I’ll also need to find an agent to represent me. I try to keep the short story submissions going out on a steady basis, not letting them languish on my hard drive.

Are you satisfied with traditional labels for genre fiction? Do words like “speculative,” “slipstream,” and, for that matter, “genre” cover it? What would you suggest?

I don’t like putting labels on any kind of creative output or on the people who produce it. However, I recognize that publishers, booksellers and the reading public (if there is such a thing any more) need to have a way of categorizing fiction. There are serious problems, though. To start with, nobody can agree on standard definitions. I once put a story of mine through a critique group and at the end I asked the question: Is this a science fiction story or not? The answers ranged from “Definitely a science fiction story” to “Contains no science fiction elements at all.” I wasn’t surprised. Then there’s the lack of consistency. Much of Michael Crichton’s fiction, for example, fits my personal definition of science fiction (I think that Jurassic Park fits any reasonable definition of science fiction), yet most people don’t think of Crichton as a science fiction author.

Living in Crete has made me more aware of mythology, and when you think about those ancient tales it’s clear they were the science fiction and fantasy of their time. Take the story of Daedalus and Icarus, for example—a story that almost everyone knows. I would say that it is clearly science fiction, because technology plays such a pivotal role. The Minotaur was an animal-human hybrid—another science fiction trope. Hercules was the first superhero, and so on. So what we call ‘speculative fiction’ and think of as something cool and modern is in fact one of the oldest forms of storytelling.

If we absolutely must have a name for it, I suppose I prefer speculative fiction, which at least suggests that it includes some aspect of the unreal, be it magical or technological. Using a catchall word like ‘genre’ is just a way of dodging the problem.

In any case, I’m happy to leave the labeling to the professors and the literary critics. I don’t think it matters what you call it: there’s just good writing, and not.

Do you think living for so long in a different country from the one where you were born has contributed to your writing?

Definitely. Learning about another culture has been fascinating in itself, but has also given me a different perspective on the society I grew up in. People who spend their whole lives in a single cultural milieu inevitably come to believe that the values and codes of behavior they’re familiar with are simply “the way things are” and don’t realize how much of it is arbitrary. So what is seen as polite in one culture can come over as priggish and standoffish in another, for example. On a broader ethical level, a large part of what people consider as “right versus wrong” is not a matter of absolutes, but can change depending on the local conditions and the point of view. Being aware of that gives me more freedom as a writer, because I don’t have to be blinkered by presuppositions. Matters like this have always been grist to the writer’s mill, of course, and if you look at writers’ biographies you find that many have lived in more than one country or have traveled extensively.

In more practical terms, becoming fluent in modern Greek has made me more aware of the capabilities (and the limitations) of my native English. With languages, as with cultures, there’s a huge difference between knowing just one and knowing two.

Do you have a specific food or drink that you consider a writing staple?

No, though I do tend to treat myself to a bottle of good wine to celebrate good news on the writing front (like having Duets accepted by Shimmer).

Do you work with a critique or writers group?

I used to participate in the Critters on-line workshop and I learned a lot there. I exchange critiques with a number of other writers, some of whom are present or former members of that workshop, others not.

Does your work tend to explore any particular themes?

I’m interested in characters who learn something about themselves, through the way they respond to circumstances or the way they interact with other people. One of the grandest themes in fiction is when a character, through stupendous effort, transcends his or her own limitations and becomes more than before. Of course, you can’t do that all the time or it would become trite.

On the other hand, I think that speculative fiction is a wonderful way of carrying out thought experiments involving technological or social issues. It’s much better than plain philosophical discussion because it lets you ask the question, “What if . . .?”, while being free of any constraints whatsoever.

It’s been said that readers can be divided into two groups: those who like The Iliad and those who like The Odyssey. Which camp are you in?

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the former; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the latter. On Sundays I can’t remember the question. Really! Who comes up with this stuff?

Of course, the correct answer is that readers can be divided into two groups: those who believe that people can be divided into two groups, and those who reject such a ridiculously simplistic notion.

Random Questions

What is your darkest secret?

I’m sure there must be one, but it’s so horrendously awful it’s erased itself from my conscious memory.

Have you ever eaten a crayon? Tell us about it.

Not crayons, but as a child I used to chew on plasticine. That’s what we used to call it in England. I think in America it’s usually just called modeling clay. Lots of different, bright colors, for kids to play with. I can still remember the taste. Yum!

Fast food: Yea or Nay?

Neither. It’s an oxymoron.

All-time favorite movie?

Hard to say. Citizen Kane and The Third Man would be on the list. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is certainly a leading candidate. Several of Gilliam’s other movies, too. Richard Attenborough’s semi-biographical Gandhi was amazing. Kubrick’s 2001 is still my yardstick for science fiction movies.

What are some of your hobbies?

I play bridge on a fairly regular basis. In the cooler months of the year I like brisk walking for getting the blood and the creative juices flowing. I listen to a lot of music, mainly jazz. I enjoy web programming and sometimes I even get to do it for money.

Is there anything that you would sell your soul for?

No. Anybody who’s read any significant amount of fiction knows that it’s always a really bad idea.

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:

Certainly not more than two. More than two writers together as a group are incapable of accomplishing anything at all practical. Two writers might be able to collaborate long enough to do it, but by the time they finished they’d also have changed the socket, the light fitting, and the entire décor of the room.

So that leaves us with one writer. However, the correct answer is NONE: because writers like the dark.