Last Updated on Saturday, 24 September 2011 19:43 Written by David A. Hill Friday, 23 September 2011 01:37
Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.
In your seminar, The Write Stuff, we get to find out why you started writing. Can you identify the point where you truly felt that you conquered those goals? The point at which you felt you "had arrived?"
There have been several times when I felt I had arrived: When I sold my first story to George Scithers at Asimov's in 1978, when I became the first writer to win the Nebula, Hugo, and John W. Campbell Awards in the same year, when I first saw books of mine on the shelves at a local bookstore, and just about every time someone writes in to tell me what something I've written has meant to them. Then there are all the times when I beat myself up as a failure, not making the big bucks, not getting the book sales and placements I think I deserve, and so on. This is the kind of stuff that can give you a heart attack. I finally had to settle on writing as the goal because writing is what I love doing, whether it sells or not, and that no one really "arrives" until they drop you in that box and throw dirt on you. As it has been said many times before, "The joy is in the journey."
Your narrative voice is an easy one to become immersed in. Were there any writers who you had to distance yourself from to find that voice, or has it been all you from the start? Do you see any writers now that remind you of you?
When I began writing science fiction I had to stop reading other SF authors altogether. If I read some science fiction one of two things would happen: (1) If I didn't like the way the guy was telling his story, I'd get in a war with the tale; (2) If I did like the way the guy was telling the story, suddenly his stuff (word choices, pacing, structure) would come out of my fingers in my own writing. So, I had to turn to cop stories and mysteries for my reading pleasure. Of course, now that I have begun writing mysteries, beginning with my Joe Torio mysteries (The Hangman's Son and Just Enough Rope) and my experimental Read-it-as-it-is-being-written TwitMystery stories at http://www.twitter.com/BarryLongyear, I may have to get into reading cookbooks.
About the voice, I made a point simply of writing my own stories my own way. The voice evolved; I never looked for it.
Do I see any writers now that remind me of myself? Every time I run into one of these fragile, defensive creatures who compensate by becoming big mouthed blowhards, I am reminded of my baby steps at this business. The only thing that saved me was to drop the business and concentrate on the art. That I get to be a writer, making up marvelously complex and beautiful lies that point at truths that can be gotten to no other way, that is the great gift. That's the cake. Should I actually make a sale now and then, that's the icing.
What makes Alten Kamaraden so special for you?
First, one of my German fans has pointed out to me that the proper spelling of the title should have been "Die Alte Kamaraden." Useful information delivered late.
What makes the story so special? I have done forensic research for years, preparing to write mysteries. So when I read a description of the scene when Hitler's associates witnessed the aftermath of the double suicide, the crime scene was all wrong. I did extensive research on the story, costing perhaps three or four times what I was paid for it, but every step, every wall, every odor, bullet, and crumb of chocolate cake is exactly where it was during the real event. Are you kidding? I worked my ass off writing that story. That's what makes it and every other story I write so special, to me.
When beginning a story, is it always clear whether you're embarking on a novel, novella, short story, or other form?
No. When I began "Enemy Mine," I had set out to write a short story of less than 5,000 words. But story characters frequently take over and do the writing while all that is left for me is to do the typing. The reason I have no control over word length is because I don't plan much of anything out in advance. If I knew what happens next, the story would bore me and wouldn't finish it. Without planning, you have to take what you get. That's one reason that most of my awards are for longer pieces.
As Enemy Mine is considered by some to be a sci-fi reworking of Hell in the Pacific, and considering your works of historical fiction, I have to ask: Are you familiar with Joss Whedon's Firefly series and the Serenity film that both draw significantly from Civil War events and personalities? I'd love to see that review in your Movie Quick Shots.
We've dropped the Quick Shot reviews because I simply couldn't keep up with the demands of such a feature and write stories, too. But here's the review: The mysterious Regina loves the Firefly Series. I think it's lame. The premise is idiotic. So the outlying planets had a rebellion and were brought under the heel of the central authority? I can buy that. Why that would require post Civil War dress and weapons, and why this would lead to the remaining settlers looking, dressing, talking, and smelling like they'd been flushed out of the Ozarks in 1896 I can't buy.
If we were to accept that premise, then, by the same token, the Civil War should have been fought by the Redcoats and Butternuts in shakos, tri-cornered hats, using Brown Bess and Kentucky long rifle flintlocks. Personally, I can't see U.S. Grant in a powdered wig, can you?
But, the Mysterious Regina loves the series. What can you do?
About "Enemy Mine" being a reworking of "Hell In The Pacific," was that Toshiro Mifune or Lee Marvin who gave birth to the baby alien?
With your new Confessions of a Confederate Vampire series, you obviously feel there is much more to explore from that period in history. Did you have an existing affinity for the Civil War era, or did you use this as impetus to study the period?
I am the product of a Southern military school education. The last Civil War veteran died while I was at that school. You go to class every day in the middle of history, and the Civil War did, for all practical purposes, reinvent the USA. I already had the interest, therefore. The Confessions of a Confederate Vampire came about thusly:
I was mired in research on a book I was going to do on Robert E. Lee. The project was going nowhere, and then I learned that MacKinlay Kantor took twenty-five years to research his novel Andersonville. And that's only about a crummy stockade! You do Lee, you're doing the whole damned war!
At the time I was in my mid-sixties. A twenty-five year project, given my health problems, wasn't in the cards. Then I went to Readercon in 2009. My Kaffeklatsch was against a vampires vs. werewolves panel, so I only got one attendee. I mentioned, re: the aforementioned panel, that I had never done any vampire stories. He said that he was a big vampire fan.
*Tum tee tum* I only had 58 minutes left to go, so for the hell of it I asked him in what kind of setting would he like to see a vampire story set? He said the post Civil War South always interested him---
And I don't know what else he said. I had another project that I had shelved, about the North Carolina soldier who shot Stonewall Jackson and takes on the responsibility for the South losing. I had wanted to bring him all the way until the first integration of schools—except that would make him incredibly old unless he was a vampire!
I went straight home from that convention, began writing, and had the book done by the next Readercon (still looking for a publisher). For irony fans, the fellow who suggested the setting and triggered off this event is named William Sherman.
How do you feel about where the science fiction market is today? Does any of it particularly excite you?
Science fiction authors and publishing always fall on hard times during a recession (and this one ain't over by a long shot). Science fiction books compete with beer, as one editor explained it to me, and when the choice is between beer and a book, it's no contest. Every time a new writer comes up to me and says, "What do I have to do to make sales?" my impulse is to say, "Beats the hell out of me, kid. If you ever find out, would you drop me a line?"
Of course, all I could do before was keep writing and try and outlast the economic turndown. But this recession isn't going anywhere until a whole new crowd that understands how capitalist economics works moves into DC, and I fear that is going to be a very long time from now, if ever.
However, publishing technology has come a long way since the publisher's purchasing agents had writers by the throat. Print-on-demand, CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook, Sony, iTunes, it has never been easier or cheaper to go into publication. Today's publishers don't get it yet, but a lot of the readers have, and so have a few writers.
My agent couldn't place my two mysteries, The Hangman's Son and Just Enough Rope. They are great stories, "well written and suspenseful" say the rejections, but book publishers, simply because of the base costs of old-fashioned book production, are looking for sure things. Big names, blockbusters.
What I did after three or four years collecting rejections was to withdraw the two manuscripts, form my own publishing company (Enchanteds), and put them out as reasonably-priced trade paperbacks and criminally cheap Kindles on Amazon. Of course, I don't have the publicity options of big publishers, but I have a website (The Webmansion), I'm on Facebook, and now I am doing aTwitMystery series on Twitter to draw folks into my website to learn about the Joe Torio mysteries, and buy a couple if they want.
No, I am not making millions. I am making enough, and as the TwitMysteries continue, the number of followers grows, and the number of those looking at my websites mystery page increases. It enables me to keep writing rather than go flip burgers or dig ditches. That excites me.
You have been a guest lecturer at events like Readercon, Marcon, and the Odyssey Workshop. Those who attend seem universally impressed with how insightful and generous you are. Was there anyone equally special to you that helped you along when you were a struggling writer?
George H. Scithers, editor of Asimov's, and Isaac Asimov himself. From George I got kick-ass, no nonsense "figure out how to fix this" rejections, and solid on-hands instruction on what makes the various elements of a story work, and work better. From Isaac I got a few suggestions and always much encouragement. If I can ever be half as much help to someone as those two were to me, it helps me pay back a little of the debt I feel I owe those two.
Seeing all of the other pursuits and interests you have, do you find that your success as an author opens doors for you into other areas you'd like to explore?
Not really. I do downhill skiing. When people who ski ask me what I do, I tell them, "I'm a writer." They want to know what I've written, and I tell them. I see them again five years later; they want to know what I do. I tell them again and again they want to know what I write, and again I'll tell them. Actually, the only thing that really impresses them is when I ski exceptionally well.
Gardeners want to talk about gardening, Civil War and movie buffs want to talk about the Civil War and movies. I guess the only door being a writer opens for me is complimentary memberships at SF conventions in which I work my ass off.
The big door it opens for me is the world of writing which brings me wherever I want to go, with whomever, doing whatever I want, as well as I want. When new writers want to know the ins and outs of doing that and I can tell them, I am in pig slop heaven.
Barry has just completed the first novel in his Confessions of a Confederate Vampire Series, The Night.
David A. Hill is an artistically-inclined word enthusiast from the Mid-Atlantic region. He has recently dropped almost everything to pursue the elusive literary grail of the published writer. In the meantime, he does what he can to bask in the radiance of those who have already achieved this goal in the hope of being somehow permeated by proximity. He is supported in this quest by his redheaded wife and two Maine Coon cats.