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Friday, October 19, 2012

Author Interview with Nathaniel Lee

 Short-story author Nathaniel Lee is a professional magazine editor and a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with over 18 publishing credits. I had the honor of reading some of his tales back when he was a member of critters.org, and let me tell you, you're in for a treat if you've never read his work. Check out his short-short fiction here at Mirrorshards (buy the collection here), and see his most recent dragon tale at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show!

Petre Pan: First off, in my opinion you're a short story fantasy and sci fi
  KING--and you've alredy racked up a fair number of short story writing creds
  to prove it. What's the key? In other words, what do you write, and why does
  it succeed? Share a few tips with us.

  Nathaniel Lee:

I think you have me confused with Tim Pratt.  :-D

What I write is basically whatever interests me.  Generally I get
either a striking image or brief scene, more rarely a really
interesting character who needs a plot, and rarest of all a premise
without plot or character to go in it (which I find most difficult to
flesh out into a proper story.)  The stories generally crystallize out
from there.  Genre-wise, I'm probably closest to magical realism, if
I'm allowed to pick snooty pretentious genres.

As to why something succeeds, I have no idea.  No, really.  I have
several stories that I think are the cat's pajamas, and a couple of
them are literally running out of places to even be submitted.  Other
times, I've sent in a submission more to get it out of my hair for a
while than out of any real thought that it would succeed and then been
stunned by an acceptance note (or at least a personal note from the
editor where I'd previously gotten only forms.)

I guess that's really the only "tip" I have that I feel is worth a
darn to anyone other than me: you gotta keep trucking.  Butt in chair,
words on screen, stories on submission.  If you don't have your
stories in someone's slushpile, then your chances of getting published
are zero.  Can't get worse than that, so might as well ship 'em out
the door, ne?

Petre Pan: Here's a curveball. What is the most important sound in the
 world--if you had to sum up the entire world in one sound, what would that
 sound be?

 Nathaniel Lee:

Flussssshhhhhh...ding!  Wobbity-wobbity-

 Petre Pan: What sound would describe your writing style?

 Nathaniel Lee:

A simmering saucepan.

 Petre Pan: What word do you overuse when you write?

Nathaniel Lee:

"A bit."  Also "rather."  I blame an overdose of Monty Python in my
formative years.

 Petre Pan: What's the most challenging part of the writing process for you?

  Nathaniel Lee:

Oh, god, the editing.  I hate hate hate reading my own work.  I have
stories that are months old because I have to retype them to get a
digital copy and I can't bring myself to do it.

Luckily, I tend to produce pretty polished first drafts, so I don't
usually have much heavy editing to get done.  (Honestly, if I have a
story that needs major structural revisions, I tend to just toss it in
the 'graveyard' folder and start over from scratch in a year or so;
that one clearly wasn't ready yet.)

Petre Pan: What's the hardest disappointment you've ever experienced in your
  writing/publishing journey?

 Nathaniel Lee:

"Weird Tales."  I looooved the 'zine under Mz. Vandermeer.  I was
willing to give it a shot even under the new management, but then that
whole kerfuffle with "Revealing Eden: Save the Pearls" happened (where
Marvin Kaye posted a glowing review and a chapter excerpt of that
heinous little book and followed up by claiming that everyone who
thought it was kind of really appallingly racist were all just
knee-jerk haters who didn't understand subtlety.  And then when the
Internet went "WTF?" he tried to fix it by deleting the original
editorial and culling comments and whatnot.)  I and a lot of other
writers I know withdrew submissions on the grounds that that was A)
super tasteless and B) showed really poor business/publicity sense.
He never did post his promised follow-up article talking about the
whole mess, either.

The worst part was that the submission I withdrew had been accepted
and was awaiting a contract.  :-(  :-(  :-(

Yeah, I know.  I did it to myself.  Quit whining.  But man, that still
upsets me.

  Petre Pan: What's the greatest achievement/happiest high you've reached on
  your writing journey?

  Nathaniel Lee:

Probably that first sale of "Concrete" after 18 months of nothing.
I'd started to think about just quitting entirely.

I will also note:
- Getting my third professional sale (Thanks, Daily Science Fiction!)
and thus becoming SFWA eligible.
- Getting into IGMS, which is probably the biggest-name magazine I've
been in to date
- Alasdair Stuart describing me as having "a sun for a brain."  Al
rocks.  Pseudopod 4 Life!  (I've sold three stories there so far, and
they're one of my favorite podcasts, bar none.)

  Petre Pan: What do you do outside of writing?

  Nathaniel Lee:

I am an enormous nerd.  Not in the watered-down sense of the word
where everyone who enjoyed Lord of the Rings or who plays Call of Duty
is now a "nerd."  I got beaten up, I was a complete weirdo as a kid;
I've got my street cred.  I do roleplaying games.  I do *indie*
roleplaying games, not just D&D (though I can tell D&D war stories for
hours, too).  I make a pilgrimage to GenCon.  I've got a closet full
of probably fifty or sixty board games.  (No, not Monopoly.)  My wife
and I spent thousands of dollar on "The Emissary" from Geek Chic, a
dining room table with fold-out drawers for character sheets and dice
and a six-inch recessed acrylic playing surface under the removable
leaves.  In fact, even as I type this we have a game of Stronghold set
up around turn five, waiting for us to have a chance to finish it.

So yeah.  Lots of gaming in the pencil-and-paper and board sense.  And
reading; I still go through two to four books per week (in addition to
my slushpile load.)  I've also got an 8-month-old son who has pretty
much expanded to consume all available free time.

  Petre Pan: What's the best writing advice you've received (that you

  Nathaniel Lee:

I am a giant Roger Zelazny fanboy.  In "Unicorn Variations," he
published a brief little essay called "The Parts That Are Only
Glimpsed: Three Reflexes."  What he suggests in there boils down to
leaving things unstated and subtly implying a larger world by giving
minor characters bits of depth and creating unspoken histories for
your protagonists.  I'm butchering it by summarizing; it's a great
essay, and I strongly endorse both it and Roger Zelazny in general.

Petre: Thanks so much Nathaniel! It's great hearing what goes on behind the scenes. I have to debate you on one point--I always saw CoD as a frat boy game, not a nerd game. But I definitely see you have my little Munchkin Fu, Fluxx, and Settlers of Catan thing beat with your Stronghold! 
And that's a wrap, folks! You might also check out Nathaniel's stories here at Escape Pod and Drabblecast.

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