The March 2006 issue of
To start, tell me a little
about yourself and how you got started in science fiction and fantasy,
and maybe a little of the history of the magazine.
Well, the history of the magazine
could fill a small book, so I'll leave that aside. My own history is
much shorter anyway. I got bitten by the SF bug when I was 12 or 13,
decided I wanted to be a writer. With good luck I sold a story to Terry
Carr when I was 14 or 15.
Went to college and majored in
English/creative writing. Sophomore year, Joan Vinge spoke on campus and
her husband, Jim Frenkel, came along. He was running Bluejay Books at
the time, he had an opening for a summer intern at the time and
eventually gave me the job.
And thus was I turned to the dark
side of the Force.
What sets The Magazine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction apart from other short fiction magazines of the
Well, the magazine was founded on the principle—which
I think was fairly radical at the time—that
it didn't much matter if a story was SF or fantasy as long as it was
good. Until then, most magazines were either chocolate or vanilla and
nobody really tried a chocovanilla swirl.
For decades, that was one of the big things that
set us apart, but in the past few years, it seems like some of the other
magazines have opted to go with the swirl also instead of the approach
of just one flavor. So I have that what sets us apart nowadays is
probably that we're the most "literary" of the SF magazines.
Who is reading F&SF? Has the
readership changed over time?
Well, some of our current readers have been with us
since issue #1, so parts of the readership haven't changed. But in terms
of overall demographics, we ran reader surveys in 1992 and in 2002 and
there wasn't much of a change. The percentage of female readers dropped
a bit when I took over from Kris Rusch, and the average reader age
increased by a few months, but basically our readership is still the
same: lovers of good fantasy and SF stories.
Where do you see SF/F short fiction going in the
future, both in its literary direction and its commercial survival?
The answer to both is really, "I don't know," but
I'll try to give you something a bit more constructive. Literary
direction first. I think I'm seeing signs of a backlash to the trend I
mentioned above, where all the magazines are publishing swirl fiction. I'm seeing indications that what lies ahead will be more
SF stories that
know they're SF and they're proud they're SF. But then I also see
indications that more writers want to mix the swirl up more, they're
happiest when you can't tell whether it's chocolate, vanilla, or
something else. So maybe we're going to see a rift grow in the next few
years between the genre hardliners and the genre-line fuzzifiers.
Commercial survival? To me, that question seems to
have in it some implicit suggestion that maybe the form won't survive. Which doesn't seem to me to be a danger. Short-form
SF is kudzu, it's
lichen, it's cockroaches: it's one of the toughest, fastest-adapting,
most malleable forms, and I don't see much danger of it dying out.
What forms will it take? Well, we're already
seeing that in addition to the fiction magazines, it's finding homes in
e-zines, in nonfiction magazines like Nature, and I suspect it has
already lodged in a few video games.
What do you see is the future of the grand old
pulp mags in the electronic age?
In 2001, after I first bought the magazine, I asked
myself this question a lot (although I didn't call F&SF a pulp—purists
will tell you that it was never a pulp magazine). And after wondering
about it, I decided to accept that the magazines are dinosaurs. But you
know what? Dinosaurs are cool. How many people do you know who feel any
kinship or even affection for those little scurrying egg-eating mammals
that supposedly supplanted the dinosaurs? A few (my father was a mammalogist, I'm pretty fond of mammals in most forms myself), but I
think more people are like Calvin and fantasize of being a dinosaur.
And as long as people harbor those sorts of
fantasies, I think the print magazines will have a niche.
Where are the new writers of SF/F coming from?
Are they changing the genre? If so, how?
From all over. Albert Cowdrey started writing in
the '90s after he retired from a government job that entailed writing
biographies of generals. Laird Barron came to the SF field from
poetry. M. Rickert set out to be a literary writer but her stories kept
veering into the fantastic. A lot of writers are learning their craft
in zines and indie magazines and anthologies. They seem to come from
all over the world (Canada and Australia seem to be particularly fecund
Are they changing the genre? If I've seen
anything, it goes back to the ice cream metaphor I mentioned before. A
lot of them want to mix up the flavors, and a lot of them want to keep
the flavors separate. Will any new flavors arise from the mix? I can't
Do you think stories with Canadian history or
cultural content have a hard time getting published in the U.S.? What
percentage of works going into F&SF are by Canadians and people of
color or other ethnic groups?
I'm going to answer question one with an example: I turned down a story about two years ago that was pretty good, but it
hinged on the notion that one person would alter all human relations
with aliens because he favored separating Quebec from the rest of
Canada. I found the concept too hard to believe. Would I have found it
more believable—or entertaining—if I were Quebecois? Possibly. Would I have found it more believable if the story had been about
someone who favored separating southern New Jersey from the rest of the
state? Definitely not.
So did that story have a hard time getting
published in the U.S.? Yes. A harder time? I don't think so.
To answer question #2, I don't really know. The
majority of our contributors are Caucasians from the U.S., but
percentages? I don't know.
What place do minorities and other ethnic
groups have in the future of the genre both in the novel form and short
A vital role, probably. But I've got to admit that
this question bugs me. Because ultimately, it's not the gender or race
of the author that counts, it's the vitality of the work. I'll tell
you, one of the highlights of my time as editor of F&SF went completely
unnoticed by the world at large. It was when Michelle West reviewed
books by Ted Chiang and Karin Lowachee in one column and there wasn't
one mention of gender or ethnicity except as it pertained to the
fiction. And nobody wrote in to say, "Why are you reviewing books by
those people?" All that mattered was the quality of the fiction.
If a writer wishes to have a piece published
in F&SF, what are the crucial dos and don'ts? How long does the process
take from acceptance to publication?
Do read the guidelines. Do read the magazine
itself. Don't do things that are discouraged by the guidelines. I know
that sounds obvious, but people still think the rules don't apply to
them. I tell everyone that nothing stands out more from the slush pile
than a manuscript that follows the standard rules, but people don't
believe me, they think there's gotta be some trick.
How long does the process from acceptance to
publication take? Seven to 10 months, on average. Sometimes it takes
as long as three years, but those instances are very rare nowadays.
I happen to have the paperwork handy for a story
called "iKlawa." It was submitted by the author on April 12. We sent
him a contract on July 15. And the story is set to run four issues from
now, so that means it will be out in February—about
10 months after
it was first submitted.
With the rise in public interest in books and
stories with a high sexual content, like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's
Dart, what is your feeling about publishing such material? Are there any
taboo subjects, things you won't publish?
Basically, I follow the MPAA guidelines and I try
to keep F&SF at a level where it would get a PG-13 rating for most of
its stories. You have to understand that in this regard, a magazine is
not like a book. If you buy a book and the sexuality in it offends you,
or the violence, you just put it aside and vow never to buy another book
by that writer. John Norman wrote books for years that many people
found offensive, but those offended people didn't stop the Gor fans from
buying and reading the books.
With a magazine, however, if people buy it looking
for general entertainment and they find sexuality that's too forthright
for them, they might cancel their subscription. And that means that
they'll be cut off from the stories they would like...and their
subscription won't go to encourage new writers. I knew a fan who told
me he stopped reading all the SF magazines because he read a story in
one of them in 1986 in which modern athletes were sacrificed like
Mayans. That's it. He didn't like the one story, so he stopped reading
all the magazines.
Now, it's his loss, but if a lot of people react
this way, then it's the magazine's loss. So a magazine can't afford to
run a lot of stories that will offend people.
Which leads me (in this roundabout way) to
answering your question. Are there taboos? Not that I know of. But
are there subjects we shy away from? You bet. Which means that if I'm
going to buy a story that has, say, graphic rape followed by
dismemberment of one of the characters, I have to like that story a
lot. In other words, the more dangerous the material, the better the
story has to be. A great story like Michael Blumlein's "Paul and Me,"
which had Paul Bunyan in a homosexual relationship, I'd buy again in a
second, even knowing that people would (and did) cancel their
subscriptions over it. But a mediocre story on the same subject, I'd
Where does Internet publishing fit in the
scheme of things, both today and in the future?
Um, sorry, this question's too broad to answer in
any meaningful way.
In general, where does the future of genre
publishing lie, with the small presses or the big companies?
Sorry, that answer isn't meant to be as obnoxious
as it sounds. But I think it's a mistake to look at things this way.
Here, let me give you an example. When I worked at
St. Martin's, I knew a pop culture writer who made a good living from
his books for a decade. But he felt like he was slaving away while his
publishers got rich, so he set up his own publishing firm. And within
two years, he was—no exaggeration—a millionaire. (I'd rather not
name him, but he had a national bestseller or maybe two.) So he
expanded his publishing firm. At one point, I think he had 12
employees and rented half a warehouse.
But the reason I'd rather not name him is that in
another two or three years, his staff was down to three and he told me
he thought he was a failure. Why? Because none of the big New York
publishing firms tried to buy out his company. His whole plan had been
to launch a new outfit and then cash in on it. I suspect that if he'd
stuck with it, his company would now be a big success—but he didn't
want to run a publishing house, he wanted to write books. So he
ultimately shut down the operation.
Now, here's the question: where does he fit in your
scheme? Was his firm a small press or a big company? At its height,
his company probably billed as much annually as some New York publishers
that have been in business 50 years. But his company was only in
business for eight years or so and the books are all out of print.
The way I see it, the large publishers are like
professional sports teams, and the smaller independent houses are like
the minor leagues and farm clubs. Both of them have their virtues and
their flaws, but I don't think many people are saying the future of,
say, baseball, rests entirely in the major league clubs or in the minor
league teams. They're all important, and the main thing is that they
all give you a good game for your money.