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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview with Lou Anders



Lou Anders biography: A 2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2007 Chesley Award nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008), Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008), Fast Forward 1(Pyr, February 2007), FutureShocks (Roc, January 2006), Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), and Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001). In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, Death Ray, Free Inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles and stories have been translated into Danish, Greek, German, Italian and French. Visit him online at www.louanders.com and www.pyrsf.com as well as on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Pyr_Books

INTRODUCTION: Fantasy Book Critic has been honored to interview Lou Anders; the questions have been asked by Liviu and were split in four parts roughly corresponding to some of the multiple roles Mr. Anders has been playing in the sff community over the years: short fiction editor, editor in chief of SFF imprint, vocal cheerleader of speculative fiction and engaged participant in the online sff scene. We are grateful for his detailed answers.


Short fiction:

Q1. What made you love, appreciate and edit short fiction and how is building an anthology different than other editing skills?

Lou: My first exposure to science fiction was in the short form. I discovered some much battered and worn paperback copies of the four Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes in my grandparents' basement. I read them over and over, and had my mind blown by stories like James Blish’s “Surface Tension,” Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands,” and Jack Vance’s “The Moon Moth.”

I still have two of the paperbacks, but it was the long-vanished Volume Four, that Asimov edited, that really rocked my world. It had stories like “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” by Samuel R. Delany, “Gonna Roll the Bones” by Fritz Leiber, “A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison, “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock, “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” again by Harlan Ellison and “Aye and Gomorrah” again by Samuel R. Delany. I didn’t read Dangerous Visions until I was much older, but looking at the list now, I’d say this was about as “dangerous” a collection as you could possibly hand a teenager growing up in a fundamentalist church-school in the Deep South.

That might be the best anthology ever in my book, and I hope they reprint it like they have the previous volumes. At any rate, those stories expanded my brain right when it needed expanding, and for that, I’ll always love the short form and think of science fiction as short form fiction first and foremost (though several of the above mentioned tales are novellas, so maybe not that short.)

Q1 Part 2 Answer

Lou: As to building an anthology, I related it to the lost art of making a perfect mix tape. Before the miracle of iTunes rendered the task obsolete, it could be the work of a whole weekend to create a perfect mix. You shut yourself in your dorm room or apartment with a turn table, a tape deck, and your LPs and 45s, and you worked with pen and paper figuring out the perfect order, but only when you got into the heart of it could you really know, so often you’d rewind and erase and reorder to get things right.

You never put two songs by the same artist side by side (“rookie move”) and you tried to vary the tone up and down too. You might follow the extended, discordant fade on Bowie’s “It’s No Game” with a clip from The Muppet Show. It was all about juxtaposition and mood. Only now the iTunes DJ and Genius Mix does it all for me. Hopefully we’ve still got a year or two before they’ll build our anthologies for us too :)


Q2. Is the current flourishing of sff short fiction in multiple anthologies and continuous new online zines offerings sustainable or is the future like the "once famous" print magazines that are sliding into irrelevance and dying a slow death?


Lou: I think it’s too early to say if the current rash of anthologies is a trend or a random fluctuation. Certainly the wonderful Solaris anthologies of science fiction and fantasy are on hold while that company is up for sale, their (the anthologies) future
uncertain, and I’m not moving ahead with a Fast Forward 3 at present, though that’s largely because I have my plate full with two other anthologies (both due to be delivered to their respective publishers this summer).

Strahan and Adams seem to be charging ahead with multiple anthologies out every year, and Ellen and Gardner aren’t going anywhere. I’d say that for the immediate future, anthologies will continue to proliferate. As to online outlets proliferating, well, duh. Now, can you make a living writing short fiction? No, of course not, but you haven’t been able to do that in decades. You can make a name for yourself though, with more opportunity than ever.


Editor of imprint:


Q1. How do you juggle your personal preferences with the responsibility of doing the "best" for Pyr? I read a lot of books, but I tend to mix them a lot in genres/styles, so I think I would soon burn out reading and judging "submissions". How do you manage it?

Lou: Well, without trying to sound disingenuous, my personal preferences are Pyr. I haven’t published a single book I haven’t loved, and, in fact, one of my criteria is that I have to love it, honest-to-god-can’t-shut-up-about-it love it, and not just merely think it’s good or commercial or dispassionately interesting.

My wife often knows before I do whether I’m interested in a submission or not. If I say to her, “I don’t know how I feel about x”, she’ll snap back, “You don’t like it. Put it down and pick up the next one.” Whereas if I am too busy trying to talk her ear off about it to finish reading it, she knows that’s the one I’m going to make an offer on. And honestly, if I can’t get myself excited about a book, how am I going to sell you on it? So it doesn’t pay for me to operate any other way.

Now, that being said, obviously there are works of deep brilliance with no commercial potential, and I’ve passed on a few manuscripts that I really liked because I know there were maybe 99 other people who would feel the same. (A couple of them sold elsewhere, and sadly, there were only about 99 other folks who bought them when they came out, sad confirmation that I knew what I was talking about.) So there are works that I pass on because they are wonderful but not commercial, but so far (knock on wood) there are no works in our list I felt were commercial but not wonderful.


Q1 Part 2

Lou: Now, as to genres and styles, we decided early on that we wouldn’t have a through line in terms of doing only one kind of thing – like military SF or paranormal romance – but that we’d shoot for a through line of quality, and I’m pleased to say that we hear regularly from readers, distributors, booksellers and critics that we’ve achieved this.

But, you know, I don’t watch one kind of television or only one kind of movie. I don’t read one kind of book. My favorite films are as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Casablanca, The World According to Garp, and Star Trek VI. I cried at The Joy Luck Club and I laughed at A Fish Called Wanda. The point is not to do one thing, but to make everything the best of its kind of thing there is. So, no one would argue that Ian McDonald is producing some of the finest science fiction literature of the 21st century with novels like River of Gods and Brasyl, while Joe Abercrombie is certainly one of the hottest of the new fantasy writers to come along in ages.

The audience for the one may not be the audience for the other (or it may!), but the point is that both are at the top of their game. So when we do something like urban fantasy, it isn’t run of the mill – it’s Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series, and it gets read by fans of both Laurell K. Hamilton and Charles Stross both – and how many urban fantasy series can claim that?

In short, I don’t burn out because these are the books I’d be reading anyway if somebody else published them!

Q2. I think that having molded Pyr in this image of a mix of high quality UK/Australian SFF showcased for the US market and truly original work from authors like David Louis Edelman, Theodore Judson, James Enge or Matthew Sturges which while clearly sff, may not fall exactly in one specific "niche" so may have had harder times finding a home somewhere else is great. What is your opinion on an imprint having an "image"? Is it mostly to the good as I find it, or is it sometimes limiting in a way or another?

Lou: I may have just answered this. Again, we’ve been told that our “brand” is that we produce “high quality, more-engrossing reads,” and, if I may, in really good looking books (a credit to the amazing artists we’ve worked with.)

And I’m not sure that I agree with the positioning above (though I appreciate the compliment). Someone like David Louis Edelman, for instance, is absolutely writing in the same space as Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, Vernor Vinge, and Charles Stross, just as James Enge reads very much to me like a midpoint between Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch (with, as Lynch, a strong Fritz Leiber influence). And that’s whose readers I’d point at Blood of Ambrose.

Just as I’d point Steven Erikson’s fans at Tom Lloyd’s The Stormcaller. Enge talked recently on Jon Armstrong’s If You’re Just Joining Us podcast about genre fiction that isn’t afraid to be what it is, what is being called “Deep Genre,” and I think that’s what I’m talking about. If anything, I think we are probably publishing less cross-genre or “interstitial” work than some, and that what we are publishing is what Asimov’s termed when they spoke of us as “pitched down the middle” science fiction and fantasy of “a consistently high level of literary quality.

State of the genre:

Q1. In short fiction there is a stark dichotomy for now: the traditional print markets are dying, but the online sphere and the original anthologies are flourishing. In novel length there is this perceived "sf is dying" cry, while actually quite a few novels are published every year. Why do you think this "sf is dying" meme - which to me is so patently *untrue* - got entrenched and how do we combat it?

Lou: SF is not dying and never will. To combat the meme I point out that it hasn’t been that long since both Sean WilliamsStar Wars: The Force Unleashed and Neal Stephenson’s Anathem both graced the New York Times Best Seller list at the number one spot. That’s hardly the condition of a genre that’s dying—and two more different novels you couldn’t hope to find – so it’s a good indication of the range of SF too! The Dune novels are frequently best sellers.

As are the Ender books. And what is Halo but Ringworld with marines? And so much, much more. Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi are household names to the net-savvy. Nor is everything SF published inside the genre walls. SF has transcended to the mainstream now, in television, film, music, comics, gaming, and mainstream literature.

You watch Battlestar Galactica or you watch Doctor Who or you watch Lost?. There’s also a hell of a lot of it being sold as YA or Teen fiction now. All the hot television shows and films are genre. And in our corner—the National Endowment for the Arts just reported the first rise in reading in 26 years, and the demographic that rose the most was the 18 to 24 year olds. And guess what they read? Genre! And no, it isn’t all fantasy. I can’t walk into a bookstore without seeing Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series on storefront displays.

Genre, including the science fiction genre, is the healthiest it’s ever been. But you know, it isn’t necessarily everyone’s brand of SF that is selling. One of the biggest shocks to my system when I first got on this side of the table was to learn that some of the venerable old masters that I worshiped in my childhood never sold that many books ever, even back in “the good old days.”

And SF is very definitely in transition now, and frankly, it’s a hard time to be a debut SF author. It’s very hard to sell me a debut SF novel now. Certain name science fiction authors are doing very well, but it is a hard time to try to break in if you are an unknown. That being said, there is more opportunity than ever before, and “a good story well told” will always find a home. If you are shopping something that is perfectly competent, by-the-numbers, good-not-great, you may have a hard time selling it, but if your work fires on all cylinders and then some, you’ll have editors fighting for it, I guarantee.

Q2. I feel that speculative fiction is "The" literature of our age of fast change, so I am not particularly worried that it will go away. Considering the unsettled situation of the traditional publishing models should I be worried?


Lou: No. As you say, the literature of the future can’t be hurt by the growing awareness of the future’s increasing speed of approach. Or, to quote Captain Kirk, “We haven’t run out of history yet.” And, actually, you think SF is mainstream now? Wait till the new Star Trek film is a blockbuster smash and James Cameron’s first film since Titanic comes out and rewrites all the rules. All it takes for mainstream love is one or two money-makers and the respect rolls in. I remember back in the early 90s where you either watched Melrose Place or TNG.

There were attractive young couples driving their kids to preschool in Japanese cars with “Star Fleet Academy” and “Picard and Riker in ‘92” stickers on their back windows and bumpers. The quality of writing and acting on TNG—lead from the top down by the dignity and excellent of Patrick Stewart—simply demanded, and got, respect. And, of course, they pissed it away by patronizing their audience in Voyager. But the point was, SF was perfectly mainstream and respectable then, just as it is now thanks to BSG and Lost and Doctor Who. And as this special effects age enables and demands more genre offerings, and the inevitable “more of everything” inevitably entails more quality as well, the old stigmas become increasingly tired and irrelevant and the people who persist in espousing them simply sad and out of touch.

Online sites:

Q1. I co-edit FBC mostly to show my appreciation of the great books I've been reading, of their authors, as well as the editors and publishers who make it possible. I want to do it in a way that both fulfills my goals/needs but also reaches as many people as possible since if say I post a review and nobody reads it, what's the point? What do you think helps promote a book online? Reviews on a site like FBC, reviews on Amazon and the like, original excerpts, giveaways, author interviews, cover spotlights, news, trailers. I know that every little bit helps, but how would you do it in my place so to speak, what would you focus on?

Lou: Yes, yes, and yes. In advertising they teach you that it’s “multiple impressions” that make a difference. Not seeing something once—even if presented in a compelling way—but seeing something over and over enough to get past the attention-filter and register. Someone recently blogged somewhere that they’d seen mention of James Enge’s Blood of Ambrose everywhere,” and that really cracked me up because I wondered if it was truly “everywhere” or just two or three key places. (Or even just me Tweeting about it every day!)

Now, for me, or for the hypothetical Lou who still has time to read books outside his own submission pile, it’s often author interviews that sway me. I tend to believe that articulate people make good writers, and if someone is funny, interesting, smart, and compelling in an interview, they are probably worth reading. Conversely, I’m often put off by authors who come across as inelegant in interviews. To borrow a metaphor from politics, I never understood the “vote for the guy you’d like to have a beer with,” mentality. I want the best candidate for the job.

And I don’t think I’d make a very good President myself, so I wouldn’t vote for the guy just like me. I mean, I don’t want a “regular guy” to be my heart surgeon, I want the best damn doctor I can get. In the same way, reading is a time commitment, so I want to know I’m in an expert storytellers hands. I’m not talking about purple prose here, or “literature,” I’m talking about master storytelling, which is sometimes literature and is sometimes not. (Were Charles Dickens and Mark Twain really literature when they were first published, or just now when we look back on it? They were damn good storytellers is what they were.)

Q2. How do you see online review/news site like ours in the "big picture" and what do you like/dislike about them? I think that "voice" while hard to define is something that separates the better ones, as well as continuous "own" content. News releases and similar stuff are ultimately fungible and unless you are an aggregator of links, they come and go, so my intention is to focus on adding value to the site with my reviews, opinions and such. What do you think about that?

Lou: I love your
site (Liviu's insert - Robert Thompson deserves all the credit for FBC) , and I’m glad that it’s continued after Robert’s departure in your capable hands. But in general, I think that our publicity director, Jill Maxick, gets a lot of credit for approaching blogs and online sites in the same way she treats print outlets. This is a no-brainer now, but when we were starting up in 2004, was not necessarily the obvious or done thing.

Now, sometimes, and I’m not talking about your site but actually thinking of a few specific examples elsewhere, I’m sort of shocked by people’s willingness to be rude. As if every single writer and artist in the business doesn’t have a Google Alert set to ping them. You can bet you type in “Lou Anders” on your blog and I’ll see it five minutes later (sad commentary, I know). So, every once in a while, when somebody is looking at a piece of cover art somewhere and going “that really sucks” or saying “such and such a writer is a dick”, I’m kind of amazed at the insensitivity. Like, would they say that to their face as well, because they are. But that’s what you get for living in this wired, peer-to-peer world.

And speaking from personal experience, those few cases are far outweighed by the benefit—and outright fun!—of being able to interact with so many readers. I find it very valuable to be able to communicate with Pyr readers on a daily basis, on our blog, on Facebook and Twitter, as well as at conventions, and it’s a really, really rewarding part of the job. Of course, that’s really because when you boil it all down, I’m a reader too, and talking about science fiction and fantasy is as much fun as science fiction and fantasy itself.

Now, about that “multiple impressions” thing: Blood of Ambrose, Blood of Ambrose, Blood of Ambrose, Blood of Ambrose, Blood of…okay, I can probably stop.



Note: Since reading the mind-blowing anthology Futureshocks some years ago, and then realising by the similarity of covers that it has been edited by the same person as the previously excellent Live Without a Net, Liviu has been a big fan of Mr. Anders' editing work and has been reading all his anthologies as well as quite a few Pyr novels.

13 comments:

ThRiNiDiR said...

I usually skip interviews...but maybe I shouldn't. Weighty questions and witty, insightful answers. How's that for 'willingness to be rude'? :)

I'm being honest with the compliment.

Liviu said...

I loved the answers too :)

I thought of the interview when I started co-editing here after Robert "retired" since I wanted (and want) input about how to improve FBC within the parameters we decided to work, so I asked the people "on the other side" so to speak, the publishing pros that I know (sadly very few) about what they think is useful.

Since I have known Lou Anders for a while online and had quite a few exchanges with him across the years, I decided to expand into an interview and while it took some time, it was worth all the effort since Lou is very knowledgeable about the genre and was very gracious to share with us his frank views.

The Mad Hatter said...

Very good interview.

The Reader said...

Hi Liviu

Very focussed interview, especially liked the part about "Multiple Impresions" .... I liked Fast Forward anthologies, looking forward to what PYR has to offer over the forthcoming time-period.

Mihir

onyxhawke said...

Excellent interview.

And I'd say that even if he weren't talking about my client so glowingly.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the kind words; leaving aside the quality of work Mr. Anders' put out both in short fiction and at Pyr, the one thing I admire most is his willingness to engage the online sff community in so many ways - he is a true "Net denizen" and that is not so common among the people who have the ability to shape sff by choosing what they publish.

raul said...

lou anders is a star among the editors working today and his singular talent for avoiding the cliche of the other publisher/imprints is remarkable. the type of talent and quality of the writing he promotes and assists in is second to none. Pyr is publishing books that have no home elsewhere only because of the sophistication and depth of writing involved.

thank you for this interview, liviu.

kyodnb said...

Great interview...Manny questions were well made and the answers too. I`m glad that i could read it because we can`t find so easy these kind of information about the world that editors live in.
I`m now very curios about the Ambrose book. I guess i will read a sample chapter to see how it is.

Anonymous said...

I loved the interview. But I must point something out that has NOTHING to do with this interview.

While Robert did get the site going, you are keeping it going. And I think constantly saying Robert deserves all the credit is a little belittling to you and the other people who work on FBC. I don't see anyone taking credit, so really stop trying to "appear" humble.

Cindy said...

I really enjoyed the interview Liviu. Thanks for coming up with different questions, and taking the time to interview someone "out of the box".

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; regarding giving Robert's credit, since I did the indexing of the site and trawled the archives, I was flabbergasted by the content he had:

- us editting FBC 1 1/2 months, Robert 2 years

- us 125 or so reviews, Robert 200 plus he edited and formatted all our reviews until recently

- us several interviews, Robert the rest to 50

- monthly spotlights, well everyone knows them and for June we will have another one prepared in substance by Robert with our help and formatted by me, with lots of books

So I do not see giving him credit as "belittling us", just credit where is due.

Regarding Mr. Anders, I want to add that once I let a famous unnamed editor know about some reviews running on FBC that had some relevance for him, and the answer was "nice, but most online reviews are unedited so I do not pay that much attention to them..."

This should be enough to let everyone know why I truly appreciate Lou Anders and I was honored to interview him.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Liviu, you are an amazing interviewer and I certainly have learned a lot about asking questions, since I am on the more interview vibe with authors, artists and recently bloggers, so it's kind of enlightening. This interview was a pleasure to read and I felt humbled that I had the chance to read it. It felt that good.

Liviu said...

Thank you for the kind words; Lou was great in providing frank answers and giving us some insight in what is going on behind the scenes

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