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Interview with Edmund Schubert

I've mentioned Edmund Schubert in this space many times before.  Ed is the editor of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.  He also edits a couple of magaizines outside our genre.  He's written many short stories, and as of this month he is a published novelist.  He's a dad, a Mets fan, and the owner of several very loud shirts that he insists on wearing to conventions.  In addition to all of this, he's incredibly bright, outrageously funny, and as nice a person as you could every hope to meet.  He and I give each other a hard time whenever we're together, but the fact is he's one of my favorite people in the world.  With his first novel, Dreaming Creek, now in print and available from your favorite book dealers, I thought this was a good time to post an interview.  (I'm pretty clever that way.)  Enjoy

[Edited to correct unintended deletion of initial questions]


You have your first novel coming out in early November.  Tell us a bit about it.  What's it about?  Does it fit comfortably into a specific genre?



Dreaming Creek is a bit of a mutt. I would say it’s primarily a mystery/suspense novel, one where solving the current mystery also results in solving an older one. But the action is driven by a Twilight Zone kind of twist, without which none of the present-day action would have happened in the first place, and there is also humor (I think humor and drama are the perfect foils for each other), as well as some relationship issues. My two main protagonists are a couple, and they are tested both individually and as a couple.


On the subject of genres, I’ve had more than one agent say very complimentary things about my novel, but the challenge has always been in the difficulty in classifying it. One agent even called me at home to say that she liked Dreaming Creek, and that she wanted to make sure she was the first person to see my next novel. However, she said that because DC didn’t fit neatly into any single pigeon-hole, the New York publishers – or more precisely their marketing departments – weren’t going to know what to do with it. And when the marketing department doesn’t know what to do with something, they usually do nothing at all.


It’s one of the great ironies of publishing: when a book breaks out and does well, everyone usually comments on how ‘different’ it is, and how exciting it is to see something ‘unconventional.’ They throw those kinds of words around like confetti at a New Year’s Eve party. But everyone wants to be the second one to publish a book like that, after it’s proven itself and it’s deemed to be safe to follow in other’s footsteps. I hope I don’t sound bitter about that because I’m really not. I’m more amused than anything else. Fortunately for me, the same agent who called me on the phone, also suggested that a small press publisher would be willing (and able) to do things that the big guys in New York couldn’t, so I followed that route. The first small publisher I showed my book to jumped on it.





Writing that first novel can be both exhilarating and unbelievably challenging.  What was the hardest part about writing DREAMING CREEK?  What was the best part of the experience?



The best part about writing DC was finishing it. I started out as a short story writer and probably wrote about forty of them in the first two or three years. But even my short stories tend to run on the short side; a lot of writers I know struggle to stay under 7,000 words, yet for my first two years the longest story I wrote was just over 6,000. So knowing that I was able to complete a novel-length work was very satisfying.


The hardest part about writing the book? That would also be finishing the damn thing. For all of the reasons mentioned above.





You wear several hats in this business -- not just that of "writer", but also editor of a trade publication, editor of a sf/fantasy online magazine.  In what ways have those various professional activities shaped your writing?



In a lot of respects, I’m still finding my path, still finding that balancing point between writer and editor. In addition to editing the online sf magazine (IGMS), and the related anthology, I also work on a specialty women’s business magazine (Diversity Woman). Editing non-fiction is very different from editing fiction. In fact, aside from the fact that they both involve the English language, they are as different as different can be.


Even my roles with the two magazines – fiction editor and managing editor – are very different. As a fiction editor I get to slap authors around recreationally – oops, sorry, did I say that out loud…? As a fiction editor I have the very difficult but very gratifying task of helping authors fine-tune their work to make it the best it can possibly be. 


As a managing editor, in the other hand, I frequently find myself working more as a behind-the-scenes coordinators. In that role I do some actual writing and editing, but I also have to keep things moving smoothly between everyone else. In the case of DW, that involves working with the publisher (in Greensboro, NC), the executive editor (in Berkley, CA), the graphic designer (in San Francisco), two proofreaders (one in CA and one in Asheville, NC), a fact-checker (here in Greensboro with me and the publisher), an assistant editor (in Reidsville, NC), two copy editors, a slew of freelance writers (all over the damn place), the printing company (in Kentucky), and the fulfillment house (mailing lists, etc) (in Los Angeles). Editing the business magazine serves as a constant reminder that publishing is a business, something many writers forget at their peril.


Ironically, the best thing I’ve gotten out of editing IGMS actually comes from the stories that need work. I’m not being flippant when I say that I have learned so much from looking at what other authors do wrong. It’s no great challenge to read a great story, buy it, and publish it. But looking at the bad ones and understanding why they didn’t work? That’s educational. And the most educational part of all is working with those in the middle. The near-misses and the rewrites not only challenge me as an editor, but they help me personally as a writer. That doesn’t mean I don’t still make those same mistakes sometimes, but at least I can honestly claim to understand them.





While Dreaming Creek is your first novel, you've also published several short stories.  What can you tell us about your approach to each form -- in what ways is writing one different from writing the other ?  In what ways are they similar?



I think the biggest difference between writing short stories and writing a novel is their scope. A true short story (under 7,000 words) has to be really focused -- almost laser-like, if I may coin a new and clever way to describe it -- and I think it’s best to stick with one (or two at the most) point-of-view characters, and deal with one or two central events. A novel, on the other hand, has a lot more room for exploring a world and several of the characters who inhabit it. It ought to have multiple plot threads that eventually tie back together, and the author can show more of the backstory.


As to their similarities, I think the most obvious similarity is the need they both have for strong characters. Whether you are writing short or long, having interesting, believable, motivated characters is vital the success of the story.





Tell us a bit about what a typical work day is like for you.  How do you balance writing, editing, and family responsibilities?



I wish I could say otherwise, but the truth is that I don’t so much ‘balance’ those responsibilities as I pinball back and forth between them, depending on which area I am the farthest behind in. I’ve gotten to a point with my writing and editing where I am very deadline-driven – so much so that I often tell people that if they don’t give me a specific deadline to get a project done, they might not get it back from me at all. This makes things like writing my own short stories a challenge, because unless it’s for a specific anthology that an editor has invited me to, I don’t have anyone (external) to impose a deadline on me. And putting an internal deadline on myself is useless. I can never seem to take myself seriously when I do that; there are just too many other things that are calling for my attention.


Of course, all of my writing and editing projects have a daily deadline of three o’clock in the afternoon: that’s when the golden-yellow school bus pulls up in front of my house and spits out my youngest daughter. At that point writer-Edmund turns into a pumpkin and daddy-Edmund emerges to help with homework, do laundry, fix dinner, and attend to other domestic duties. Then, depending on how much I have on my plate, I often hand the kids back to my wife in the evening (after she’s home from work and we’ve all had dinner together) and put my nose back to the grindstone for a few more hours.





What three pieces of advice would you offer to a beginning writer looking to get started in the business today?



1)     Write, write, write

2)     Read, read, read.

3)     Write, write, write.

4)     Lather, rinse, repeat.

5)     Don’t worry about learning how to count to three, you’re a writer, not an accountant.





What are you working on now?



Besides the ongoing work with the two magazines I edit, I’m mainly working on promoting my new novel with events at bookstores and libraries, and getting ready to write my next book. I had four different possibilities in mind – three novel ideas and one non-fiction book (that I would really like to write someday (when the time is right)), but I’ve got it narrowed down to one idea and I’ve just started making some character sketches and plot outlines.





How do you envision your career looking ten years from now?



Ideally, I’d love it if I were making enough money with the novels that I could stop working on the business magazine, but I suppose a lot of people could say something similar. I know I’m lucky to have a job that I enjoy in a related field that I can do from home (and I truly enjoy what I do with the business magazine). But it would be a lot more fun if I were able to work on fiction full-time (writing and editing it) and not have to depend on the other stuff for income. I would keep editing IGMS, though, even if I didn’t need the money. I do enjoy editing and I think I have a pretty good eye for it, and working on OSC’s magazine has opened a lot of doors for me, making it possible for me to meet and, in some cases, become good friends with, some very interesting people.





What do you think the NY Mets have to do to make it into the postseason in 2009?



I’m sorry, the NY Who? I’m not speaking to them or about them until they apologize for teasing me and then breaking my heart like that. For two consecutive years, no less. Anytime the team wants to come to my house and apologize, I’ll be willing to listen (it would help if they brought a shiny new bullpen with them), but until then I have nothing to say to the NY $%^#&#@%$’s.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 6th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
A novel! Good for Ed!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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