Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008/7/31 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Every Thursday, I post links to various podcasts that deals with tabletop RPGs.

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Special Feature: Interview with Ian Casocot

Every Wednesday until August, I'll have a special feature on the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards.

Ian Casocot is a writer based in Dumaguete where he teaches English and Literature. His fiction has appeared in numerous publications such as The Philippines Free Press and The Philippine Daily Inquirer as well as winning several local literary awards. He tied for 1st-place in the 1st Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards and tied again for 2nd place in last year's competition.

Tell us something about yourself.

Things about me you can easily Google. Let me talk about writing instead. Writing has become my life and my sanity—but, truth to tell, my writing first started out as a convenient tool for revenge. I never wanted to become a writing teacher, or a writer. True, I've been writing since I was a kid—but I never thought I'd be making it my strongest vocation in life. But people in my life prodded me to certain directions I never thought possible for myself. People told me to apply for the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete, for example. 'What is that?' I asked, and they said, "You'll see." I did apply in 2000, and I got in, and I got to meet these really nice [older] people who seemed passionate about the craft. "Who are they?" I asked, and people said, "Why, that is so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so…" And I got to know them and most became great friends who later on would support my fledgling goal to become a "writer." Still, I thought this was just a post-collegiate phase, and that writing would never amount to anything with me. But there were other people in my circle in Dumaguete then who utterly dismissed me, and would talk about me behind my back. When I soon got wind of what they were saying about me, I told myself, "Maybe I should write a story, and submit it to the Palanca, just to show them and piss them off." I did. And it won second prize. I won second prize again the very next year—and I've never stopped writing since. Oh, they still dismiss me, but I think I'm at a point in my writing life when I've simply stopped caring about what these people have to say. Because nobody reads them anyway, so there you go. And so yes, there are stories and there are awards and there are friends and there are "frenemies." In the long run, when you find yourself aching to tell a story, it no longer matters what made you write in the first place. What matters is that you write at all.

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I just came off winning, together with Michael Co, the first prize in the first-ever Neil Gaiman contest, and so writing the second story for the second year of the same contest proved daunting, and even more challenging. But I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing a "tale." And I wanted to showcase the history of where I came from, as I had previously with "A Strange Map of Time". I was armed with the writing philosophy of Chari Lucero which had stuck to me ever since I heard her speak in Iligan in 2002 (in a wonderful speech titled "The Music of Mortar-and-Pestle," which won the Palanca for essay in 2004): she said that we owed it to ourselves to tell the untold tales about where we came from, to fight what she called "historical amnesia" in our creative writing. And I realized that much of the ancient history of Negros actually narrates like magical tales full of treachery and mayhem and heartbreak and so on and so forth. Around that time, I was interviewing my mother's sister, my Aunt Fannie (old name: Epefania), about her childhood in my hometown of Bayawan (formerly Tolong) in southern Negros Oriental. The image she conjured of herself as a young girl who fell in love with the handsome son of one of the town's prominent families struck me. When I began writing the story, I also told myself I wanted to write a love story that was not your run-of-the-mill romance where all tropes would be explored like a checklist. I've always loved the way Dean Francis Alfar writes his love stories where love is always denied and unrequited—but still manages to evoke a romance that makes us sigh. And so I read and reread "L'Aquilone du Estrellas," and when I felt I have consumed the essence of that tale, I began mine. And so there were really three people who helped me come up with that story, my aunt Fannie Rosales-Moncal, Rosario Cruz Lucero, and Dean Francis Alfar.

What was the most challenging part of the competition?

Waiting for the result during Awards night. The writing is the easy part, because you do that in the privacy of your own writing room. But the Gaiman contest is like the Oscars. The finalists are told they've made the cut, and instructed to show up during awarding. And only then do you get to know whether you've won or lost. So you really don't know what to expect. In my case, it's even a bigger challenge because I live in Dumaguete and I have to fly in to Manila for the contest—and traveling and staying in the metropolis can be quite expensive. What if I show up and don't win anything at all? That's P15,000 down the drain, just like that.

What was the coolest moment you experienced when you won the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards?

In the first year, it was arriving in the NBC tent to find a beautiful installation inspired by my story. Also the fact that Dean actually read an excerpt from my story in an earlier event. It was like being anointed by the Master. In the second year, it was having dinner with Neil Gaiman himself and talking at length with him. And he signed all my Gaiman books, too!

What advice can you give to those participating in this year's competition?

Write the story you are compelled to write about, and that only you can tell. I think that's an old advice from Francisco Arcellana himself.

Essay: The Philippines, Pro-Rates, and Word Count

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

One of the most satisfying experiences for a writer is having your work read and acknowledged. And in many ways, that's one of the biggest changes the Internet has wrought: the ability to put your work out there and receive immediate feedback. I've heard authors describe this phenomena as "instant gratification" because it provides just that (of course if you're a horrible writer, there's no guarantee that this will actually be a "gratifying" experience). As important as acknowledgments and praises are, another reward professional authors seek is getting paid for their work. It's a reasonable demand: one of the best things in life is to get paid doing something you love. Unfortunately, the reality is that many fiction writers can't support themselves by their fiction alone. That's not to say there are no authors who survive (or become wealthy) with royalties alone, or that you can't become rich by writing (and if it's just the craft of writing, there are other fields that pay writers a lot: technical writing, corporate writing, marketing writing, etc.). But I know a lot of writers who "write on the side" and have a day job to pay the bills (in the Philippines, many such writers find work in the academia while other, more entrepreneurial-savvy writers run a business or two). So when it comes to the subject of getting paid for your work, I think it's important to pay attention (especially how much you actually get paid--factors like taxes and the like can be a nasty thing).

I'm hoping to one day penetrate the short fiction market so that's the field that I've been paying close attention to. Coming from the Philippines, my "culture shock" moment was in finding out that writers get paid by the word. That's not to say we don't practice such a model here in the Philippines but I'm more used to the policy of getting paid a flat fee for your writing (of course employers usually specify the recommended word-count beforehand). When it comes to fiction, as far as I know, publications like The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Story Philippines pay a fixed amount (even if they might publish stories of varying length). The only publication that I know that pays by the word for fiction (of course this might just be my ignorance) is Rogue Magazine. The other thing I noticed is actually how much you're getting paid. Now for US residents, $0.05 a word (the minimum professional rate) is a paltry amount. A 4,000-word story amounts to $200.00. I mean that's what, half a week's pay working for minimum wage? (Never having my work reprinted before, I don't know how much one could potentially earn for getting your story reprinted or translated.) Of course if you happen to be a writer residing in a third world country like the Philippines, $200.00 for a a 4,000-word story is a lot. Even against the de-valued dollar, $200.00 is more than the monthly minimum wage rate (our minimum wage is around $8.00 per day). If one can sell two 4,000-word stories as month (or find a market that pays $0.10 per word), that's a decent mid-entry profession. In contrast, local fiction rates don't pay as much. As far as I know, Story Philippines and Rogue Magazine pay the highest (especially the former when you consider that they pay a fixed rate) and will probably approach international semi-pro rates. Of course the caveat of both publications is their timetable and limited slots: Story Philippines theoretically comes out quarterly (in actuality, it falls short of four magazines a year) and while Rogue Magazine has a consistent release schedule, there's only one fiction story in each issue. The Philippines Free Press and Philippines Graphic pays a significantly lower rate (actually not bad as far as local freelance payments go) but both magazines are released weekly and getting published in either is a "literary prestige".

The next point I want to bring up is why word count? The metrics of novelists isn't measured by how many words they've written (although it might be specified in the contract the length of the book) but rather by how many books they release and in what quantities. There are two things which I find discomforting when it comes to word count. The first is abuse. I mean I remember the days back in grade school and high school when teachers would give us students minimum/maximum word/page counts for their essays and term papers. If it was page count, I remember me and my fellow classmates using various techniques to meet the requirements, everything from varying the margins, using a bigger/smaller font, or including redundant information (in the case of minimum word counts). (Maybe the Manuscript format should be implemented in schools?) In the case of fiction, I wonder if authors are ever tempted to add "padding" to their stories to earn more income from their story sale. This tactic of course is filled with risks: the editor might very well reject your story because of the padding. Or it might simply turn into an exercise in what you can get away with as most of the padded text gets edited out anyway by the editor (and all you've managed to do as an author is give the editor a headache). This isn't the case when it comes to short stories but epic fantasy authors like Terry Goodkind and the late Robert Jordan have been accused by some critics of padding their work to stretch out the series and sell more books. Other authors like Anne Rice, you're not sure whether it's unintentional padding or stylistic choice that they deliver too detailed descriptions that at times get in the way of the story (of course some readers do enjoy this part and this is arguably one of Rice's selling points).

The other discomforting item when it comes to per word payments is that it partially reinforces the idea that more words is better. I mean you're getting paid more if you write more, aren't you? Unfortunately, this measurement isn't perfect. Obviously, some stories are appropriate for a shorter length while others are more appropriate for longer narratives. I mean when I read a fiction magazine, as a reader, I never think that "the story that's the longest is the best fiction piece in this publication". Sometimes, it is the longest story. Sometimes, it's the shortest story. It's also possible that readers might enjoy the rest of the stories which don't fall under those two extremes. As a writer, I also know that word length varies from person to person. Some writers are more comfortable writing longer pieces while others shorter pieces. A polished 2,000-word story might take one author a few hours to write while another a month and the situation might reversed when it comes to a 6,000-word story. One writer might have trouble trimming his or her work while another developing the plot of the story. And then what happens when it comes to works of minimalist fiction? Amy Hempel for example puts a lot of thought into every word and every sentence and it'll probably take me much more time to conceive and write a 2,000-word minimalist story than a conventional 8,000-word story. I've also entertained the idea of the reverse word count: you get paid more for every word you go below the maximum. This I think is more appropriate for stories that want to emphasize tightness and precision, such as flash fiction (but again, that's not to say that the 1,000-word flash fiction piece is inferior to the 500-word flash fiction piece).

Unfortunately, one of the reasons we go for word count as a standard for payment is that we don't live in a perfect and/or omniscient world. First, there's the publisher's side of things. A 10,000-word story might not necessarily be superior to the 2,000-word story, but the publisher is definitely allocating more space to the former than the latter. At the very least, it's costing the publisher more to print the 10,000 word story (let's say 40 pages in an 80-page magazine) than the 2,000 word story and as a reader, 40 pages of an 80-page magazine will stick out. A writer might say "I'm half of your magazine so I deserve half of the revenue" and looking at it based on page count alone, that's true. (This mentality also works for ads; a publisher doesn't charge an advertiser on how "effective" their ad is but how much space it consumes in their publication. The exception to the rule is placement of cover ads and it's hard to deny that a back cover ad won't be more visible than an ad stuck somewhere in the middle.) This in my opinion, however, is a limitation of print publishing. If one publishes a piece online, space becomes less of an issue as bandwidth is relatively cheap. That's not to say bandwidth should be taken from granted. I think there's a significant difference in bandwidth when it comes to a novella vs. a short story, but not so much when it comes to a novelette vs. a short story which might be a bigger issue in print publications. The other limitation of print is that the publisher doesn't really know which stories sell* if he or she publishers multiple stories in each issue. They might conduct a survey to discover which story is popular but there's no guarantee that the survey will be accurate or represents their actual demographic. A website however with an online tracker can find out which specific stories (assuming each story is its own separate page) are popular among their readers and consume the most bandwidth. That's not to say such a method is going to be accurate in determining actual popularity (it could be the author hitting the reload button of his browser multiple times) but it accurately measures how much bandwidth each story consumes in a given time frame.

The other reason is the fact that we don't have an objective measurement of quality or that even editors/publishers know which stories will actually sell. They can only approximate and sometimes the results surprise them. I mean if editors/publishers could predict which authors and stories will be popular, they'd have done so decades ago and we'd be raving about them. But the fact is that writing--and publishing--is just like any other industry and while there are definitely trends, we can't really determine which work will be the next J.K. Rowling, or which works will catch the eye of editors (well, we can approximate, but there's obviously a disproportionate amount of stories that get submitted vs. those that get rejected and let us not forget the fact that writers are vying for limited slots). When faced with a particular story, an editor will think "this is publishable and appropriate for my publication" or "I like this story better than that one", not "this story is worth XX amount of dollars". And in the theory, an editor likes all the stories he or she publishes.: it should be rare that an editor will say "I didn't like this story but I'll publish it anyway."--at least not without other considerations**. A royalty-based fee (which is usually the case when it comes to books) and novels is theoretically possible if we want a meritocratic approach to getting paid but that's far from the norm when it comes to magazines and even if that was implemented, are you willing to wait for a year or two to get paid for your short story?

Now the flat fee isn't any better as it espouses equality more than meritocracy. The problem with equality is that the real world doesn't work like that and there are some stories which catch our attention more than others. At best, equality is more of an acknowledgment "we don't know how to pay you appropriately so we're splitting the revenue equally". We're stuck with these two methods, per-word and flat-rates, simply because no better alternative has cropped up. The only unanimous conclusion we can come up with is that as a writer, it's better to get paid for your work than not (but again, there are other rewards aside from payment: it could be the pleasure of collaborating/working with other authors/editors/publishers, having your work accessible to a wider audience, etc.). My question to readers is what do you prefer: to get paid by the word or a flat rate? (Unfortunately, the question might be moot unless an actual amount is given in both alternatives.) For example, would you rather get paid $200.00 for a short story or $0.05 a word? Or is it simply a matter of which pays more (i.e. if your story is under 4,000 words, you'd go with the former but if it goes beyond, the latter)? Or is getting paid not as important as the other factors (i.e. prestige, first chance at getting published, etc.)?

*The most popular stories aren't necessarily the best-written ones but at least with the former, it can be measured and theoretically has tangible benefits (i.e. more sales) for the publisher.

**I hope that William Sanders is the exception rather than the norm when it comes to their explanations for accepting a story.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feature: Interview with Ted Kosmatka

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Ted Kosmatka's fiction has appeared in publications like Asimov's and Ideomancer. His stories have also been translated into Hebrew and Russian.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, as a relatively new writer in the field, how did go about starting your writing career? What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

I started mainly by procrastinating. Then came actual writing. Followed closely by rejection. Lots and lots of rejection. A truly inordinate amount of rejection. I finally reached a point where I came to terms with the fact that I’d never sell anything. But the strange thing was that even though I’d given up, I couldn't stop myself from writing. So the next story I began, I decided that since I was never going to sell it anyway, I might as well write it the way I wanted to write it—write it for myself. In a way, this was very liberating. Once I finished that story, I decided I might as well send it out and collect a rejection for it. That submission ended up being my first sale to Sheila Williams at Asimov's. Everything else that’s happened has grown out of that first sale.

Why science fiction in particular? Do you see yourself writing in other fields/genres/mediums?

I love science fiction. I’ve loved it since I was a small child. It’s hard to put my finger on the reasons exactly, but stories with a speculative element have always seemed more vital to me. As a writer now, I’ve found that science fiction allows you incredible freedom to tackle the big problems from oblique angles. If you want to write a story about racism, you can sit down and write a literary piece about the L.A. race riots, but then you run the risk of slamming your story right into your readers’ preconceptions, whatever those preconceptions might be. Another way to do it is to write a story about racism that takes place a thousand years from now on a different world. Both kinds of stories can have something meaningful to say about the human condition.

Although I love fiction, I’ve always had interest in other fields and other mediums. I enjoy comics, and movies and scripts; and I’ve even been experimenting lately with a video game concept. It’s all story to me. It’s all the same thing, when you get down to it. We’re all just cavemen telling stories around the fire. I’m very excited about the future of video games, and I think that medium is beginning to provide writers with amazing opportunities to tell new stories. Companies like Bungie and Bioware are leading the way.

What are some of your favorite books or who are some of your favorite authors?

I grew up reading Orson Scott Card, and Ben Bova and Stephen King. Some writers I’ve noticed in the last five years are Mathew Stover and Michael Swanwick. And even more recently, there’s Jack Skillingstead, Daryl Gregory and Jay Lake.

Some of your stories involve religion or faith, either as a theme or part of your characterization. Is this a conscious decision on your part and if so, why the interest in this particular subject? Is it something you'll consistently pursue in the future?

It’s completely unconscious. My stories have revealed to me how very little I understand about my own head. If ten years ago someone had asked me what kinds of stories I’d be writing, which themes I’d be taking on, I never would have predicted “The God Engine,” or “The Prophet of Flores,” or “Deadnauts”. My stories keep returning to that grey area between science and religion, to that place where their respective territories have not been so clearly mapped out. I’ve heard that some people write to discover their obsessions, and maybe in a way, that’s what I’m doing. I look at my body of work so far, and I think to myself, you have issues. As for the future, I’m not sure what it holds for me. I have several stories bouncing around my head right now that deal with similar themes, so I guess I’m not done with it yet. There’s still more for me to work out, I think.

Does your day job have any effect on your writing? Do you find it easier to write science fiction thanks to your science background?

It’s all grist for the mill. Work has always been a huge part of my life, so it’s only natural for me to put that in my writing. I don’t think you have to have a science background to write good science fiction—many of the greats, after all, have been teachers, or mailmen, or just genius writers who managed the trick of actually writing for a living—but if you do have that scientific background, I think it allows you to write closer-in to your subjects than you otherwise might. It becomes a question of how close you want to resolve the picture you’re creating, how much scientific detail do you want to illuminate? How much detail even matters? In some very rare and specific cases, a scientific background could be helpful. I work in a research lab now, so writing about a research lab like the one in “Divining Light” was very easy for me.

What's the weirdest/strangest experience you've had so far?

There have been so many. I look back on my life and I have these memories, these snippets of things I’ve experienced, and they seem like they couldn’t all be a part of the same life. I remember playing on freight trains as a kid, and I remember walking on river ice with my friends, daring each other to chance the thin spots. And I remember climbing trees all the way up to the tip-top—slender branches swaying in the breeze, and I could see out over the tops of houses in my neighborhood; and I remember distinctly being ten years old and thinking that if I fell and died then I’d have to go to heaven, because all children go to heaven. And other things, too.

Growing up, I had this classic ADHD brain. I couldn’t sit still, couldn’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time, couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. My second grade teacher made me sit on my hands because things had a way of breaking when I touched them. At the same time I was getting bad grades, I always aced my standardized tests, so the teachers really weren’t sure what to make of me. How do you put a kid with straight D’s into the gifted program? I was always creative, like this roaring engine in my head, but there was no outlet. I was suspended from my middle school more times than any other student. There were parent/ teacher meetings to decide what to do. And my parents. My poor parents. My mother should be sainted. I remember writing letters to Jackson Labs as an eleven-year old, trying to convince them I was a PhD student, so they would sell me hairless mice. I still have the letters they wrote back to me. I still have the price list they sent. The irony is that years later, I’d be sending my mice to them.

Sometimes it seems like I’ve lived two full lives already, and now I’m starting on my third. And this third one is the best, because this is the one where I get to be a writer.

How does it feel having your work translated into Hebrew and Russian? How did this come about?

I’m just going to be honest with you. It feels awesome. It is a mind blower for me to think of people on the other side of the world reading my stories. It’s surreal. The translations came about after foreign editors contacted me. They’d apparently read my work in U.S. magazines, and they wanted to reprint my stories in their own countries.

What's your writing process and writing schedule like?

The schedule is hit and miss. I have a family with one-year old daughter, so as far as writing goes, it’s catch as catch can. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time away from my family to write, so it’s certainly a balancing act for me. Maybe someday if I’m lucky enough to earn a living writing, I’ll be able to spend more time doing it. For now though, I squeeze writing in between a 40-hour work week, family time, and sleep. Usually, it’s the sleep that gets sacrificed.

My writing process starts with a single sheet of paper. I don’t do outlines, but I use the cluster method, starting with the central idea of the story written in the center of the page. Sometimes the central idea is just an image—or it’s a person, or a scientific concept I want to explore. Around that central idea, I write all the other things that I feel I might want to add. It starts nice and neat, but by the time I’m finished, it’s just this piece of paper where every square inch is filled, and there are all these lines connecting everything to everything else. At this point, the story is there, on the paper; I can see it from front to back like a number line, and it just becomes a question of how I want to tell it. What’s the angle, what’s the hook? Sometimes it has taken years for me to know the answer to that question.

Once I know the first line of a story, I write it all in a rush. I’m a rhythm writer; I’ll sacrifice almost anything for rhythm. Once the story is done, I print it out and lay each sheet of paper end to end along the distance of my front room. Sometimes, for the longer stories, the line of paper has extended all the way down my hallway to my bedroom. And then I read it. By doing that, I get a sense of proportion. How much time am I spending on this character, on that character, on this bit of dialogue? Two feet? Five feet? How long until I introduce the rising action? I walk the story, looking down as I read, trying to take the story in as a whole. I make changes until I think the story has the correct structural proportion, and then I do a final line edit. I blur my eyes and try to see each page as a physical pattern of words on paper. Does the pattern match the emotion I’m trying to convey?

Congrats in getting nominated by the British Science Fiction Association. How does it feel getting your stories acknowledged and recognized?

Thanks. It was an incredible honor. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, so it’s easy to question if what you’re doing is really worthwhile. That was a good day though. That was a day I didn’t have to wonder.

You've also had some literary fiction published. How different is this from your science fiction writing?

To me, in my own head, it’s not different at all. Story is story. Often it doesn’t even occur to me whether something is science fiction or literary fiction until after I’ve finished it and am faced with the challenge of selling it. I’ve had literary editors reject me for being too science fictional, and I’ve had spec-fic editors reject me for being too literary.

You've also written a play. Can you tell us more about it?

Where do I begin? I was originally a biology major in college, but I dropped out for several years and went to work in a steel mill. My father had worked in the mills until he died, so I think I saw it as a way to finally understand him. To walk a mile in his steel-toes. I never expected to love it, but I did. I loved shoveling sinter into glowing ovens. I loved the battle of it. I loved how dirty it was, how dangerous. I loved that it was difficult, and that not everyone could handle it. The play is about my experiences working at LTV Steel as it descended into bankruptcy—these steelworkers around me who were losing everything they’d worked their whole lives for. The play was originally performed in Chicago in front of an audience of maybe a hundred people. Later, it became part of Steel and Roses, which had two successful runs in Hammond before its grand finale in New York City.

In 2007 and 2008, your writing output seems to have increased. Is this a case of you catching your stride and improving as a writer or is there a huge backlog of never-been-published Kosmatka stories in your inventory?

I think it’s a matter of hitting my stride, really. The stories I’m writing now are better than the stories I used to write, so I wouldn’t want to go digging through my trunk. Right now the editors seem to like me; I don’t want to scare them off.

Can you tell us more about your novels and their current status?

Well, I’ve written two novels, and the most significant thing I can tell you is that neither have been published. The first is a trunk novel that reminds me of a fabled horse that I heard legend of at Purdue—a horse purchased by the biology department because it was the statistically improbable perfect example of a “bad” horse. In every way that one horse can vary from another, this horse had the more negative conformation—being sway-backed, and cow-hocked, and dish-faced, and wry-tailed, everything. That’s my trunk novel. Kind of like Danny Devito in the movie, Twins. (If I can get away with a reference from the late 80’s) Future generations may study this novel for its awfulness. But bad as it is, that’s the novel where I really taught myself how to put sentences together. The novel itself might be bad, but there are individual lines and even whole paragraphs that show some promise. Or at least that’s how I felt when I decided to try writing a better one. But the most important thing I learned from that first novel was that I had the horses to reach The End. No small feat for any new writer.

If I'm not mistaken (stalker sense tingling!), you also have a short story collection in the works. Anything you can tell us about it?

Your stalker sense is correct. I now have enough published stories for a collection, so the next step is to try to convince a publisher they won’t lose tons of money gambling on a new writer.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

That’s actually really tough. If I had any advice at all, it would be to keep writing no matter what, even when all the doors seem shut.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Book Review: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

John Joseph Adams assembles a wide variety of apocalypse-related fiction in Wastelands, some of which are older than me while others are more recent. What you end up with is a diverse anthology covering topics like religion, war, and exploration while containing elements of horror, comedy, and even sense of wonder. Majority of the stories are easy to get into but there are also some subtle pieces in this book. Overall it was an enjoyable read and the selection seems balanced. Having said that, here are my top three stories: "Bread and Bombs" by M. Rickert is one of the more horrifying stories in this anthology and this is achieved through her characterization and commentary on society. It's easy to jump into Rickert's text and there is a foreboding established early on which rewards the reader by the time they reach the end. "Artie's Angels" by Catherine Wells is another favorite and the author succeeds in using a first-person narrative to tell another character's story. Again, characterization is a key strength of this piece and the ending has that perfect combination of hope and complexity. "The End of the World as We Know It" by Dale Bailey is perhaps the post-modern apocalypse story as it's one-part meta-fictional commentary and one-part anti-thesis to the conventions of the sub-genre. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is an interesting ensemble and there are a lot of stories that I enjoyed in this anthology at the same time. Adams succeeds when it comes to diversity and subject matter despite the seemingly specific theme.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

Quick Plugs

Been busy the past few days, everything from uploading files to the printer for work (imagine uploading 2 GB worth of files...), erratic electricity at home due to the typhoon, and addicted to the GNU General Public Licensed game Battle for Wesnoth (site was down as of this blog entry).

Anyway, here's two contests:

Weird Tales Spam/Flash Fiction Contest.

Sword and Sorceress #23 Cover Image Contest (go cosplayers!).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Podcast Focus: The Bat Segundo Show

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

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Description: A show that I should be plugging before it goes away, Edward Champion interviews a wide variety of authors and while I enjoy his focus on speculative fiction authors, he goes beyond the genre (and even the medium as he tackles film makers, comic artists, etc.). I find his interviews to be critical and smart and Champion is not afraid to throw difficult questions.

Podcast Focus: Wandering Geek Podcast

Every Friday, I'll talk about a podcast or two that catches my fancy.

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Description: This podcast is currently nominated for an ENnie but aside from that fact, this is one of the gaming podcasts that caught my attention. Suffice to say, the show is very unique as we get gaming perspectives from a truck driver and in line with that theme, the host tackles his subject matter with comments and reviews based on portability and travel. The show has a rotating show segment, including an interviews show, an all-music show (featuring music that geeks everywhere can appreciate), a review show and the general episode. You don't have to listen to each of those shows but they each offer something different.

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2008/7/20

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):

  1. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  2. The Shack by William P. Young
  3. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer
  5. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  6. Tribute by Nora Roberts
  7. Someday Soon by Debbie Macomber
  8. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow
  9. Fast Track by Fern Michael
  10. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin

Thursday, July 24, 2008

2008/7/24 Tabletop RPG Podcasts

Tabletop RPG (Mostly)

General Discussions/Reviews/Everything Else

Actual Play Sessions
Video Podcasts

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Plug: Shira Lipkin’s blogathon to benefit Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

From Matt Staggs:

Author Shira Lipkin says:

“I’m doing a blogathon this Saturday, July 26 - posting to my LiveJournal every half hour for 24 hours to raise money for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. This is my sixth year blogathonning, and I write spontaneous short fiction every year. It usually tends to have an urban fantasy bent (as in fantasy in a city, not paranormal romance), but this year, I’m taking a distinctly SF angle on it. For 24 hours, I’ll be in character as a xenoarchaeologist, trying to make sense of precollapse Earth… with the help of over 50 artists who donated “artifacts” to this project, including a few SF/F authors themselves. All artifacts are being auctioned, with a story card.

It all goes down here:
And the auctions are here:

And there’s a lot more info on my LJ about why I do this, and why BARCC.”

3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Special Feature: Interview with Andrew Drilon

Every Wednesday until August, I'll have a special feature on the 3rd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards.

Andrew Drilon is the 2nd-place winner for the comics category in last year's Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. His fiction has appeared in publications like Bewildering Stories, Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, and Philippine Speculative Fiction while his comics work can be found at The Chemistry Set (Kare-Kare Komiks).

Tell us something about yourself.

My name's Andrew Drilon; I'm 22 years old with a Godzilla love for comics. I buy them, read them, make them and try my best to understand them, which is harder the more you get into it.

How did you come up with the idea for your story?

"Lines and Spaces" was conceived as an homage to Alex Niño, one of the best Filipino comic book artists ever. I've been a fan of his work for a long time, and part of the story came out of a fanboy wish to experience his psychedelic worlds and perhaps try to emulate them. So the idea was to make a story where an artist literally dives into a comic book that he's making (which is also a tribute to his favorite artist) in an effort to understand comics and perhaps himself. It's basically about how inspiration is passed on through generations of artists, and of how emotions like love and loss are intertwined with the creative process.

What was the most challenging part of the competition?

Making the comic! The hardest part of it was figuring out how to do a visual tribute to Alex Niño, when clearly there was no way I could draw like him short of copying his work. In the end, I decided to call the absent artist "Axel Nuñez", which freed me up to create characters and vistas that paid tribute to Niño's work without straight-out plagiarizing them. Then I struggled to conflate the story in 8 pages, because I tend to make narratively dense comics, and this one needed space to breathe. It worked out well in the end, because Niño's personal work tends to have a travelogue feel to it, and I think the comic managed to achieve that.

What was the coolest moment you experienced when you won the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards?

Lots of moments, really. Halfway through the program, I discovered, belatedly, that I was sitting next to Neil Gaiman's son, Michael, who's like 2 years older than me. That was funny, because I actually thought he was one of the contestants. And then when my name was called, I think I lost my head a bit, because I couldn't believe it. I ran up the stage thinking "Awesome Oh Shit I Can't Believe This It's Not Real" over and over, and when Neil Gaiman shook my hand, there were lots of people in the audience shouting "Kiss Him!" and I think impulse took over and I kissed him quickly on the cheek, to everyone's surprise. That was insane. The after-program dinner with Neil was also wonderful, even though I didn't get to talk much, because my brain was still on fire. It was my first time meeting Neil, and he was so pleasant and down-to-earth.

What advice can you give to those participating in this year's competition?

Do your stuff. Be yourself. I think it's clear, if you look at the previous winners of the competition, that the judges aren't necessarily looking for Neil Gaiman or Dave McKean-style comics. They're just looking for good comics. The thing I like about most of the winners is that they have a solid identity and style. Manix Abrera's stuff is Manix Abrera's stuff; it's not Sandman and it's its own brand of awesome. Have a good story and present it to the best of your ability; that's all you really have to do.

One more thing: competitions are always a crapshoot, but whether you win or you don't, keep making comics. I realize that a lot of people jump into this competition for the money, but I think it's a shame when they stop after that. The competition is there to inspire people to make comics, so we owe it to ourselves to keep at it. Keep writing, keep drawing, and share your talent with the world.

Essay: How PDFs Changed My Life and eBook Piracy

Every Wednesday, I have an essay on any topic that catches my fancy!

I'm a twenty-something science fiction/fantasy fan from the Philippines and a decade ago, I'd never imagine myself receiving free books to review (that's not to say I never wished that were the case). This year, through the innovation called the Internet and PDFs, I'm doing just that (of course to be fair, I'm not receiving books by the ton--I already feel fortunate if I get one or two books a month to review *hint* *hint*). In my opinion, one of the biggest hurdles is getting books from either the US or the UK to the Philippines. Aside from the time lag, there's also the shipping costs, which probably costs twice as much as the book itself. So PDFs have made it possible for a fan like me to receive books and review them.

Of course PDFs come with a caveat. Either you're accustomed to reading text on a computer screen or you've invested in a laser printer. I'm more of the former but then again, I've always considered myself "young" and "progressive". That's not to say I can stand staring on a computer screen for four hours straight but then again, I also can't imagine myself reading a book for four hours straight (I need to stretch my legs...). My willingness to receive PDF copies gives me a few advantages. First, I get to review a book as soon as the editor/publisher hits the "send" button. There's no need to wait for the post office to deliver the book, no need to wait until the review copies gets printed by the actual printer. In a few instances, this advantage makes me the first person to publicly review a book (which in itself has its own pros and cons). Second, I don't know how much this figures behind the scenes, but I'd like to think that due to the nature of PDFs, publishers and editors are more than willing to send a no-name reviewer like me copies of their books. After all, it's costing them less effort or money to do so (I'd like to use this time to thank the people who've sent me copies of their books, PDFs or otherwise). Third, on my part, I don't write long, comprehensive book reviews (there are a lot of other sites that do that) but if I were, it'd be a lot easier for me to reference and quote specific passages due to the ability to use the search function. Fourth, if I somehow end up with a hundred review copies, they're not taking up much shelf space (see Matt and other bookworm's dilemmas of finite shelves). At most, they're a few Megabyte in my hard drive and/or flash drive (which also makes them quasi-portable in the sense that I can have multiple copies of the book in various computers/storage devices).

On the side of publishers/editors, again, the biggest asset of PDF is its ease of archiving and distribution. Aside from sending out review copies to book reviewers, competitions and awards are also good publicity for your book and unfortunately, the requirements of some competitions can be too steep, especially if a book potentially fits several categories. Jonathan Strahan has an example of such a scenario. If worse come to worse, you can take comfort with the idea that no trees died in churning out this particular copy of the book and you can channel your dead-tree copies to actually earning a profit for you and your authors (i.e. selling the books at conventions!). That's not to say there are no disadvantages to sending out PDFs to people, especially people you don't trust. There's always the risk of piracy after all.

I'll now diverge and move on to the topic of book piracy. Larry at Of Blog of the Fallen has a blog entry on the subject matter. For me, if I were a publisher or an editor, one of the things I'd fear most is having my books pirated, especially if I'm rampant in sending out PDF copies. As a reviewer, I don't think it needs to be stated that one shouldn't distribute the PDFs one receives from publishers and editors. But I wonder, are there unethical book reviewers who distribute their review copies out on the Internet?

Scouring the sites, torrents, message boards, and chat rooms where pirated eBooks can be found, the most common format for such material actually isn't PDF. Based from a random file list, .html/htm and .txt seem to be the most pirated formats (although PDFs follow suit and is ahead of .lit, .rtf, and .doc files). The problem with PDFs is that they're relatively huge files (compared to other text-only documents) when most readers are only interested in the actual text rather than the layout and artwork (comics and illustrated books are another matter of course but .cbr or .cbz is the most common format for the former). And following the laws of bandwidth (which gave rise to photo formats like JPEG), the files that will likely get distributed are those with a smaller and compressed file size. Now as far as the logistics of pirating a book goes, I suspect the pirates use an OCR software and scanner rather than some evangelist fan typing the entire document. Theoretically you could copy/paste an entire novel from a PDF into a .txt or .html file but I doubt that's what pirates are actually doing.

What I have noticed however are the types of titles that get circulated by the pirates. And more often than not, the books that pirates circulate are those written by popular and mass-market authors: Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, etc. Occasionally, a mid-list or new author might develop a cult following but the titles that tend to be pirated are popular ones. (So for authors, it's a weird situation of being popular enough that you're pirated--you're just not earning a cent from it--while those that aren't pirated probably need the most exposure.) Incidentally, winning a big award such as the Nebula or the Hugo also lands you a place in the eBook pirate distribution. Perhaps the irony of piracy is that a lot of good books and stories are out there, available in the publisher's website for download, yet they're not being distributed by the pirates. I mean I'm looking at Night Shade Books's downloads section as well as that of Small Beer Press yet those are the same titles that aren't being carried by pirates. (Perhaps this reinforces the mass-market titles gets pirated theory?) Another thing that I observed is that some of the pirated short stories are readily available from the Internet (drawing from online magazines like Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld). Perhaps this appeals to the hoarding mentality of a pirate fan? I mean how difficult is it to simply visit Clarkesworld and read for yourself the story there? The site even has a ShareThis button and I'm sure the publishers appreciate the extra hits to the site instead of downloading a pirated copy of a text that's readily available.

Not to be hypocritical (it's hard to imagine that the Creative Commons license didn't exist until a few years ago), a few years ago, I did download some pirated eBooks. My reasoning back then was scarcity: I couldn't find those books here in the Philippines. Despite being reprinted (and going out of print) by White Wolf for example, I couldn't find any of Michael Moorcock's Elric stories so I settled for pirated files. Not that I actually got to read them, merely having that "hoarding" mentality that I'll one day read them. (I've acquired Del Rey's new reprints with the cool John Picacio covers since then but I've still yet to read them. Same goes for the UK Fantasy Masterworks series.) There was also a time when I was having trouble finding sets of Terry Pratchett's work (the bookstores are flooded with his work now) so I did download some of his work but never got to read them--except one time a few months later (which by then the bookstore had some Pratchett novels) and after reading it (oh the woes of reading a Pratchett Discsworld novel in HTML!), I felt guilty and bought the actual book. Last I checked, there are still some pirated files on my computer, mostly books that have gone out of print. For example, I bought in a library sale a few years ago an assortment of Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords and Book of Lost Swords. Unfortunately, I'm missing some of the middle books and these are books that as far as I know, are out of print, save for the digital files of eBook piracy. The other use I have of pirated eBooks is so that I don't have to transcribe copies of stories that I actually own. I'm part of a critiquing group that meets twice a month and we tackle various short stories. Our moderator requests copies of stories from authors and editors but there are times when we want to discuss stories from deceased authors and while one member in the group might own a copy of the book/magazine in which the story was published, disseminating that story to the other members before the actual session is difficult (once, our sessions were held and supported by a local bookstore so the bookstore would carry the books of the author we were discussing at the time and I remember emptying their stocks of Aimee Bender when we tackled her short stories).

These days, I wonder why not delete the illegal files that I previously downloaded. I mean I never read them anyway and I don't think I'll ever read them: there are lots of new books that occupy my time (i.e. I buy more books than I have time to read). As a reviewer, I don't distribute the files that I receive although I'd like someone to tackle the ethics of putting up ARC copies up for auction on eBay (JM McDermott cites reasons why such actions draw his ire). And quite frankly, the books that I'm really interested in reading and promoting are the books that pirates aren't interested in (apparently my tastes aren't mass-market fare). When it comes to supporting your favorite authors, nothing beats actually purchasing their book but when it comes to evangelizing their works, good old book reviews and word-of-mouth (and when I say word-of-mouth, I really mean the various networking tools such as ShareThis or or Twitter or -insert favorite Internet tool here-) seems the most effective method. It doesn't matter if you're from a first-world country or a third-world country: it's an even playing field when it comes to the Internet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feature: Interview with Jeremy Lassen

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Jeremy Lassen is the editor-in-chief of
Night Shade Books.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get involved with Night Shade Books?

I met Jason Williams while he was just forming Night Shade and working on his first book. I was doing my own publishing company, called freak press. We became very good friends, and when he needed someone to partner up with, we joined forces... this was around the third or fourth book that Night Shade put out that I formally became a partner/owner of the business, but I did some production work on the early books.

As publisher of Night Shade Books, what is it exactly that you do? How different is your role from that of Jason Williams?

My technical title at Night Shade is Editor in Chief, and Jason's title is "Publisher." Originally, we split the editorial work 50/50, but I've moved into a more active role in the last couple of years. We still go back and forth, and pitch projects to each other... If one of us isn't feeling strongly about something, thats enough to stop the project, but at the same time, we've been working together for 10 years now, so we trust each others judgment.

Jason handles most of the financial side of the business, and I keep up with most the production side of the business, working with printers, and the wrangling of freelancers, be they copy editors or designers, or artists.

We've recently added two new people to the Night Shade team. John Joseph Adams is the Director of Marketing and Publicity, while Ross Lockhart is the "VP of Production & Shit" (I gave him that title as a joke, and he put it on his business card, so now it has stuck). There's really no way we could get by without Ross and John, at this point, given how many titles we do, and how much we have to do to promote them. 7 or 8 years ago, it was just Jason and I, doing it in the spare time, after our 40 hour a week day jobs. But that seems like a lifetime ago now.

Lately, when I look at blogs and listen to the various podcasts, Night Shade Books tends to be associated with you. Is it fair to say that you're the face of Night Shade Books?

Thats a fair assessment. Jason and I both were very active in the community when Night Shade started up, but Jason has been full time with Night Shade for about 4 years longer then I have... There was a conscious decision on his part to pull back. To not do so many conventions, and interviews. He doesn't like traveling, and doesn't like pictures taken of himself, for example, while I'm a total ham, and travel around to every convention I can, hoping people will take pictures of me. That's why MY face is on the night shade "Posse" shirts. It also allows him to focus on the business side of things. Its really tough when both of us are traveling -- Things just shut down completely, and thats not really good when you are wrangling 35 books a year.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced so far as a publisher?

Doing everything right, and having it still not work out, financially or otherwise. That's the tough part about publishing. There are so many variables that you can't control, and sometimes things just don't work out. For example, one of hour darkest hours happened in the wake of our first big success. We released The Ancient Track by H. P. Lovecraft, and pre-orders were great. We shipped everything out, and had 70K in receivables... that is, money owed to us. So we sent 50K worth of projects to the printer... the printer printed them, but before we got paid, September 11th happened, and none of our dealers or bookstores could pay us... we lost our credit with our printer... it took us 6 months to get them paid off, and another couple of months to get enough money together to print the next book, which had to be paid in advance.

We had done everything right... published the right book, promoted it right, sold it... our dealers and bookstores were selling strongly, but because of the shutdown of the economy that happened in September and October, nobody could pay us. We almost went broke.

On a non-financial side, publishing books that fail to find their audience is heart breaking. You fall in love with each of the books... its like they are your kids. And when readers just kind of ignore them, or never find them, its a real downer.

What's your criteria in choosing the authors that you publish? What's your selection process like, are you open to submissions or is it mostly determined by you and your editors?

#1 thing is it's gotta keep me interested from the first sentence to the last page. I read a lot of manuscripts while commuting on the train, or in coffee shops, or public spaces... just because I need to see how it reads when there's a lot of distractions going on. That's the first big test, because that's how books are read by readers.

After that, I've got to have an idea of who I'm going to sell it to. Sometimes being really good isn't enough.

Finally, right now, its got to fit comfortably on the sf/fantasy, or horror section of the bookstore. If it's mainstream, or mystery, or "unclassifiable" I have a much tougher time. I've spent a lot of time and effort getting to know the bookstore buyers of the genre sections of stores. I have personal relationships there, and they know they can trust me. But I don't have those kinds of relationships outside of the genre, so its a real limitation. It's frustrating sometimes, to say "this is really good but it doesn't have rocket ships or dragons in it so I can't publish it" but it's true. I've had to turn down mainstream books because Night Shade just couldn't reach the audience.

Which is frustrating. Enough so that eventually, we might open up a mainstream imprint someday. But we've got to get a lot better and a lot more stable before that happens.

Night Shade Books currently has a strong Internet presence, everything from your active forums to having some of your books and stories freely available for download. How has your company adapted to this technology and how different do you think Night Shade Books would have been without the Internet?

Modern communications make Night Shade possible. First and foremost, the kind of Internet presence and ability to let the genre community learn about your books, with a minimal amount of time and money, is invaluable. And the kind of marketing and branding that we've done, to make Night Shade itself known in the community is a lot easier with the Internet.

But also, on the production side of things, there's no way I could wrangle all the artist, and editors and other freelancers, without the kind of instantaneous communications that I take for granted. Passing around huge files, around the world... I have editors in Australia, and authors in England, and artists everywhere in between. And to top it off, I'm not based in New York, I'm in San Francisco. So having close contact with agents is also facilitated by the net. The Internet allows us to do as many books per year as we do.

What are your current plans for Night Shade Books? Will the company be branching out more in the future?

In the near future, we are going to stabilize at about 35 books a year, and try and maximize those books... get them to reach their largest audience possible.

As I said earlier, we'd love to open up a mainstream imprint, and have some very strong ideas about that, but we need to get our core business in order and working efficiently, before we branch out like that.

What are some of the titles that you will be publishing that you're looking forward to? How about books outside of your company?

We've got a new novel by Tim Lebbon coming out this fall, called Bar None. It's a sort of post apocalyptic rumination on loss and memory. Aside from it being a really incredible book, this one is really special, because we were Tim's first publisher in the US and I'm very happy to be working with him again.

We just published A new novel by Walter Jon Williams (Implied Spaces), and he's an author who is so influential on me, as a reader of SF, that to be working with him is like a dream come true. The fact that the book kicks ass is a bonus.

Other stuff I'm currently looking forward to reading, that I'm not publishing is Steven Erikson's next Malazan novel, Toll of Hounds. Another one is Ysabeau S. Wilce's second novel Flora's Dare. Her First one, Flora Segunda was wonderful.

Also, I just finished up Whit's End by Karen Joy Fowler, and loved it.

Let's talk more about yourself. How did you initially get into science fiction/fantasy?

I was a ravenous reader as a child, and somewhere around third or fourth grade, I found the science fiction section of the library. From Robert E. Howard to Ursula Le Guin, to H.P. Lovecraft. All of it. By the time I hit High school I was reading pretty broadly in most of the fantastic genres, and was interested in the culture of science fiction... I read all the author's notes, and introductions and forewords and conventions reports and magazines and fanzines I could get my hand on. It was like looking at a world that existed somewhere else... and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Who were some of your favorite authors or what are some of your favorite books?

It always changes... depending on what and who I'm currently obsessing over. I can point to our entire classics line of fiction, and say "Those guys were the most influential" William Hope Hodgson, H. P. L, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Manly Wade Wellman, Karl Edward Wagner. I feel really lucky to have been able to publish the writers that were so influential and important to me.

Did you ever imagine yourself becoming a publisher? An editor? A bookseller?

I've been a bookseller since college, working in some of the best independent bookstores in the country. And that experience led to my hobby of publishing stuff. Sometime early in 2003 or so, it all started becoming real. The model was finally working. It took another three years or so for me to go full time with the business. But right around 2003, we realized that the light at the end of the tunnel didn't HAVE to be an onrushing train.

But yeah. I've been imagining it every day for the last 10 years, and wanting it more then anything else. I worked two jobs, and then came home and put in another 20-30 hours a week into Night Shade... because we didn't have money, or investors or anything, except our sweat and labor and our ability to imagine that we could be successful. And I did that for about 6 years... because I could imagine it. I sold off all my DVD's and my first edition collection, to fund Night Shade, because I could imagine it. I just wanted to do this more then anything else.

How did you first get involved in the industry as a professional?

I got a part time job working at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, while going to college. That was pretty much the start of all of it.

Have you ever considered pursuing a career in writing a fantasy/science fiction/horror novel?

When I was in college, I was a creative writing major, and I did some writing... some genre stuff, but it was never very good. I drifted into book selling, and got to know a lot of writers who did do it, and did it well... And during college I published a couple different zines, and found that I enjoyed the production end of publishing, as well as the editing side, and that was pretty much the end of my "writing" career.

Have you thought of returning to simply editing and creating an anthology like After Shocks?

Nope. Aftershocks was my first book. My first project. It was a business card, so to speak. Back before POD publishing, having an honest-to-goodness hard cover anthology published was a relatively big deal. I worked hard to pull the best that I could out of the slush pile and make a good book. Because I wanted to be taken seriously, by authors and bookstores and agents, etc. But it was never a very commercial project, and now, when I want do do an anthology, I can call up some of the best editors in the field, and they can put one together for me. My time and energy probably isn't going to be spent like that again. I have to tend to a 35 book a year schedule. Keeping 35 different balls in the air prevents me from focusing on one book, like I did then.

You're someone who's been through a wide variety of experiences when it comes to the publishing industry. What's been the most rewarding experience so far? The weirdest?

Publishing authors who otherwise wouldn't have been published. Frankly, its a no-brainer to publish Iain M. Banks, or Greg Egan. But I'm the first guy who published Tim Lebbon, or Alex Bledsoe, or Paolo Bacigalupi, or Laird Barron. That's the best. Another high is taken forgotten writers, and making them available to a new generation. The Wellman books were very rewarding for that reason.

The weirdest thing is getting up in the morning, every morning. I've been a full time publisher for a while now, and there's nothing else I'd rather be doing. Being that blessed is pretty weird. There's plenty of genuinely weird stuff that goes on during the sleep deprivation sessions known as conventions. But... well... thats not the kind of weirdness I can share with a general audience. You have to be there.

What in your opinion is one of the biggest changes happening right now? Is it politics? The policies of eBooks? Distribution?

The big changes are the ones that have been ongoing for a long time. The conglomeratization... the industry focus on best sellers, at the expense of the rest of the list. THIS is what makes businesses like Night Shade Possible. Even 10 years ago, there's no way I would have been able to be Walter Jon Williams publisher, or Greg Egan's or Iain M. Bank's for example. Smaller more focused publishers and publishing houses are going to change the face of publishing. It may be Night Shade, or it may be someone else. Back in the 20's and thirties, revolutionaries Like Alfred Knopf, and Cerf, and a host of other young turks re-invented they way publishing books happened. Similar changes are afoot. E-books, amazon, all these things are changes to the eco-system that make evolution and growth possible. Night shade is a small furry mammal, and the media conglomerates are the dinosaurs.

What advice can you give to aspiring authors?

Write a novel... Finish it. Put it in a trunk. Write another. Repeat process about five times. GO back and read your first book. If your fifth book isn't better then your first, stop writing or figure out why it isn't any better. If its better, repeat the process. You need to master the craftsmanship of writing first, and you can only do that by writing.

The selling part of it is pure dumb luck. Right manuscript at the right place at the right time, on the right agent or editors desk. You have no control over that. The only thing you can control is the quality of your writing. Focus on that. Figure out why things work, and how. Deconstruct other popular, successful writers, and figure out why people keep coming back. Saying "Dean Koontz isn't a very good writer" is just sour grapes. People like his work. Figure out why. You don't have to write like him, but you're a better writer if can add his tools to your toolchest.

How about advice to aspiring publishers?

Don't. And if you do, start out small. You will always make mistakes. Better to make a mistake and learn your lesson on a project that costs 5K, instead of 20K. Ask questions with everyone. Me, and everyone else out there. We're all happy to help. You will still make mistakes, but hopefully you can avoid the obvious ones, if you talk to enough people. Never do it as a "hobby." It's a business. Have a working business plan. If you lose money every time you sell a book, you will NOT make it up in volume. If you treat it as a hobby, you will eventually fail and when you do so, you will end up screwing customers, and screwing writers who trusted you with their work. Do it right, or don't bother.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Snake Agent, LIz Williams

Light Breaker by Mark Teppo -

Majestrum by Matt Hughes