Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview with Edmund Schubert on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Edmund Schubert, an editor of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show and author of the recently released Dreaming Creek.

You recently had your first novel, Dreaming Creek, published. Could you tell us a little about it? If I were to ask you for one reason that I should buy this book over any other, what would you say?

Dreaming Creekis a bit of a mutt. I would say it’s primarily a mystery/suspense novel, 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 occurred. 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.

The main reason I would cite as to why you should read this book is that I have a great pair of legs. I’m talking traffic-stopping legs here. Seriously, if you ever saw me in a miniskirt, you would say, Oh my God, I have to buy his book!

Before your first novel was published, you sold more than thirty short stories. What are the similarities and differences between writing short stories and writing books? Is it difficult switching between them? Or do you only write one style at a time?

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 that both have for strong characters. Whether you are writing short or long, having interesting, believable, motivated characters is vital the success of the story.

While I was writing Dreaming Creek I would often get an idea for a story and set the novel aside to write the short story. Once the short was done, it sometimes took me a little while to get back into ‘novel mode,’ but generally speaking, switching back forth was not a problem for me.

What inspires you about the genres of science fiction and fantasy? The existing stories, the creative potential, the community? Something else?

I think the creative potential is definitely the primary thing that draws me to speculative fiction. I read a lot outside of the genre, but when it comes time to write I can’t seem to help incorporating some fantastical element into my stories. Part of the reason is simply because there are enough mysteries and romances and thrillers and whatever other genre of stories you want to cite to be found in real life that making another one up isn’t usually as appealing to me (I say ‘usually’ because I have published about a half dozen of mystery short stories). But with spec fic, there are no limits and no boundaries, and I find that immensely appealing.

I generally don’t write fantasy stories about elves or dragons, nor do I generally write about far-flung futures filled with space ships and ray guns -- and even when I do, the point of the story is still to get at the heart of an individual character. To what degree I succeed or fail at that I will leave to the reader to decide, but as the writer that is always my goal.

The kinds of stories I find myself most interested in writing are stories that remind some folks of the old Twilight Zone episodes. Take ordinary people, put them in an extraordinary situation, shake vigorously, and see what happens. To me that’s just more fun, and the stories that have received the best are usually the ones I had the most fun writing.

What catches your eye first when you're looking for a new author to publish in InterGalactic Medicine Show? An unusual character, an interesting plot, or perhaps a new way of using language? Or none of the above?

In the end I’m looking for two main things. The first is readability; there are a lot of people who have interesting ideas and interesting characters, but not all of them have the writing skills to make their prose so smooth that I forget I’m reading. I want to get lost in a story, and anything that jars me out of the world they’ve created is a problem. The other thing I’m looking for is the same thing you hear from editors all the time: that perfect combination of compelling characters doing compelling things in compelling situations and settings. Blah blah blah…

Frankly, the more work I do on the editing side of the equation, the more convinced I become that good stories are not about any one, big ‘ah-ha-this-is it’ kind of moment; they’re about a million little things all coming together just right. That’s why it’s so hard to quantify. The problem is that while the big picture is not that hard to see –great writing, great characters, and compelling situations -- the big picture is actually a jigsaw puzzle, made up of hundreds of unique but interlocking pieces that all have to fit together. That’s hard to describe, and even harder to do well.

Do you have any tips for an emerging author just starting on the path to publication? Either things you've learned from the editor side, or things you've learned from the author side?

1) Write, write, write
2) Read, read, read.
3) Write, write, write.
4) Lather, rinse, repeat.

I read an excellent story by you, called “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight” I only have one question: is the 48 yard line the one close to the goal, or the one far away? (I admit, I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to football!)

Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

I’m hardly an expert on football myself; when Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight was first published I got an email form a reader who pointed out that under current NFL rules, the scenario I portrayed at the end of the game in the story isn't possible. He suggested I change the team from an NFL team to a college team, because it was possible under college rules. I didn't change the team (the Washington Redskins), mainly because I am a Giants fan and don't like the Redskins; I wanted to make the ‘Skins the losing team in this story and what's the point in being a writer if you can indiscriminately punish teams you don't like...?

However, to answer your actual question (what a novel concept), there are two 48-yard lines. There are two versions of every yard line except the 50, which is right smack in the middle of the field. The yard lines are usually referred to as the Giants’ 48 or the Redskins’ 48 (or whichever teams are playing) depending on which goal the ball is closer to -- the Giants’ ‘goal’ being the one they are defending, and vice versa.

For the record, I had to re-read the story because it’s been a very long time since I wrote it, but it turns out that the 48-yard line referred to in this story is the Redskins 48, because there is a line in the story that mentions the ‘Skins having to go 52 yards to get the touchdown.

I picked “Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight" as the title because, 1) while it is technically possible that a team could find themselves in that situation, it is just about the most improbable scenario you’ll encounter on a football field, and 2) I liked the sound of the alliteration; it just rolled nicely off the tongue.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor, publisher etc. who's doing great things right now, and why?

Two writers who I would say are worth watching are James Maxey and Eric James Stone.

James’ name may be familiar to some folks because he’s got three novels out now (Nobody Gets the Girl, Bitterwood, and Dragonforge: A Novel of the Dragon Age), as well as having multiple short stories in anthologies, Asimov’s and InterGalactic Medicine Show. In fact, I would say that James’ story in issue 7 of IGMS (“Silent As Dust”) may be one of the best stories we’ve ever published and deserves to be in several of the Year’s Best anthologies for 2008. He’s got a great writing style and a great sense of ‘story.’ Those two things are not commonly found in one package, but James has them both in spades.

The other writer I would be negligent in not pointing out is Eric James Stone. Eric is a Writer’s of the Future winner, has sold several short stories to Analog, several anthologies, and has sold so many stories to IGMS that some people half-jokingly say we should change the full name of the magazine from Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show to Eric James Stone’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Eric is working on a novel right now that sounds so interesting that I told him back at DragonCon (last August) that if he needed an early reader to make comments that I would gladly do so, and to be completely honest I primarily made that offer so I wouldn’t have to wait until it was published before I could read it.

About the Author

Visit Edmund Schubert's website and his blog for more information. And don't forget to stop by InterGalactic Medicine Show, where Issue 10 has just been released!

© Emma Larkins and Edmund Schubert


Jean Henry Mead said...


You have the most interesting guests. I have to buy this book.

Maryann Miller said...

Wonderful interview. There was so much to like, that it is hard to pinpoint one thing. Loved what Edmund said about crafting the work so it is so smooth one is never pulled out of the story. That is what good editors help good writers achieve.

Laughed at the Redskins bit. Glad he found a way to make them losers. :-)

Anonymous said...

I like this guy! Edmund sound like a really cool down to earth kind of fellow. The three tips for writing was hysterical yet with a flat out pragmatic sagacity to it - ha.

Good stuff. Love all the variety and interesting people you interview on these friday posts, Ems.

Emma Larkins said...

Edmund IS a cool guy. I met him at the Capclave convention in Rockville back in October, and he was very helpful during the writer's workshop.

I never realized that Community Fridays would take off like this. I'm lucky to have met so many great people who will submit to being interviewed :)