Normally I try to incorporate the interview subject’s latest project in the interview headlines, but Mike Resnick has so many books on the cusp of being released (or already released) that I did not want to focus upon only one. This email interview covers a wide range of books, including The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing (Set to be released on March 6); The Buntline Special (Pyr) and Blasphemy–as well as a variety of other topics. My thanks to Resnick for his time and to Kevin J. Anderson for putting me in contact with Resnick.
Tim O’Shea: When you and Barry Malzberg started collaborating on columns a number of years ago, did you ever envision it could grow into a full fledged book?
Mike Resnick: It wasn’t why we began the column, but once I saw that it was popular and continuing, yes, I always assumed there’d be a book.
O’Shea: Are there any central ways that you hope readers benefit from The Business of Science Fiction? Are there certain books that helped you when you were first starting out as a writer or were the lessons you learned something that had to be experienced firsthand–not in a book?
Resnick: We’ve got a combined 90 years in the field, we’ve each written or edited over 100 books, we’ve each edited science fiction magazines, I’ve been a publisher, Barry has worked for an agent…there’s simply nothing we haven’t seen, no scam we can’t describe, and we’re secure enough at this point in our careers that no one’s likely to blackball us for letting unpleasant truths out of the closet.
Most of the book for beginners were filled with idealistic misinformation. Still are, for that matter. This book isn’t quite for beginners; it appeared initially in the pages of the SFWA Bulletin, and its audience is the membership of SFWA, which means they know a little something about writing.
O’Shea: Unless I am mistaken, your upcoming Pyr book, The Buntline Special, marks your first foray into steampunk. What motivated you to tackle steampunk?
Resnick: Easy answer: Lou Anders, my editor at Pyr, asked for a “Weird Western”. I had to look up the term in Wikipedia before I knew what he was talking about. All my life I have wanted to do a novel about Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo. I own perhaps 50 books on them, and the Earps, and Tombstone circa 1880. This may not be the book I’d been envisioning all those years, but at least I get to write about Doc and Ringo.
O’Shea: What is it about Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo dynamics or history that has always made you want to write a novel about them?
Resnick: They were the only two college-educated gunfighters in the Old West; they could each read Greek and Latin. And they were purportedy the two best with their weapons. Doc was the Earps’ muscle, so of course Ringo was the Clantons’ muscle. I think whichever side one was on, the other would have fought on the other side, just to indulge in competition at the highest level.
O’Shea: In October, Golden Gryphon Press will release Blasphemy, which is partially described as five short stories–”all conversations elaborating the philosophies of God, Jesus, and the Wandering Jew, from the perspective of Resnick.” Are the stories inspired by current events, or do they reflect ideas you’ve been contemplating for a number of years?
Resnick: Blasphemy is actually an omnibus volume of stories and novels that could reasonably be considered blasphemous by the religious. It includes The Branch, a novel about the true Jewish Messiah who shows up about 50 years from now; Walpurgis III, about a planet populated by Satanists and covens which comes face-to-face with what it’s been worshipping; and 5 short stories, 4 of them humorous, in which God or Jesus have speaking lines. Don Maitz has produced a great cover painting, in which your blasphemous author (me) is the main focus.
O’Shea: You have worked with a number of different publishers over the years. When developing a new project, how do you and your agent decide which publisher to offer a book?
Resnick: I made up my mind a long time ago that I would only work with editors I liked, and I’ve stuck to it. Usually – not always, but usually – I choose the editor and pitch my book, and once we get to the point where he or she wants it, I turn the negotiations over to my agent. Doesn’t always work that way, but usually it does. And once I’ve dealt with an editor or publisher, it’s not unusual for them to request a certain type of book, as Pyr just did with The Buntline Special, or Watson-Guptill did with a trio of Young Adult novels I wrote for them a few years back about the creation of certain classic paintings.
O’Shea: Given your vast body of work, you have the ability to choose to only work with editors you liked. From your perspective what essential things does an editor need to do in order for you to like and want to work with them?
Resnick: It’s not that difficult. Throwing money at me instantly puts me in your corner. But I also want an editor who understands what I’m trying to do and is enthused about it. If they treat it as yard goods, we’re never going to do business.
O’Shea: In terms of Starship: Flagship, your book from late 2009, what inspired you to develop an alien character that thought he was Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield?
Resnick: Initially I just wanted it to be diverting, something to wake the reader up – but I quickly saw that this character had a lot of possibilities: he’s the biggest fence on the Inner Frontier, so he has tons of connections; his obsession with Dickens is amusing if not overdone; and he’s an arrant coward, which means that once in the series he gets to overcome his cowardice in a meaningful way. Useful secondary character. You know, until I heard the Audible.com audio version, I never pictured him with a British accent, but of course he has one.
O’Shea: When you hear one of your books in an Audible.com or audio book format,does it ever inspire you for other ideas to explore with your characters or settings in future adventures down the road?
Resnick: Sorry, but no. Never.
Resnick: Yes, I have. And it’s always a kick when someone is so inspired by your work that they create a filksong, or a masquerade costume, or anything like that. John did a fine job, and I hope he was properly rewarded.
O’Shea: You have frequently collaborated with other writers on short fiction, what attracts you to collaboration in that form of literature? What is it about Lezli Robyn‘s storytelling approach that makes you two such strong and frequent collaborators?
Resnick: I’ve had 42 collaborator, so yes, it’s obvious that I enjoy collaborating. It’s a way of bonding with a friend who is a few hundred or a few thousand miles away; it’s a way of seeing how other writers, writers you admire, attack their stories; and it’s a way of bringing more expertise and insights to any given story. Back in the early-to-mid-1990s I collaborated on eleven stories with Nick DiChario, but usually I collaborate on just a single story. Then I started collaborating with Lezli Robyn. I’ve never met anyone else who sees things exactly as I do, who words things precisely the way I do, whose insights are as much in tune with my own. She’s the only collaborator I’ve had where, when I proof the galleys, I truly can’t tell you who wrote which parts. We’ve done 6 stories together in the past year, and I think we have 3 or 4 more, plus a YA novel, on tap for 2010.
O’Shea: What were some of the writing insights that you gained from those 11 stories with Nick DiChario?
Resnick: Nick was a beginner back then, and the insights I got from him were artistic, not technical. Remember back in the 1960s when there were a bunch of books out introducing readers to science fiction, and there was always a chapter of comparisons: if you like Clement, try Asimov; if you like Sheckley, try Tenn. And then you’re come to R. A. Lafferty, and it would say, in essence: if you like Lafferty buy everything you can find of his, because no one else writes remotely like him. You could say the same then and now about Nick; his worldview is totally unique, and no one else sees things the way he does.
O’Shea: Over the years, you’ve constructed many characters and worlds. When developing a new character or plot, do you ever find yourself having to step away from the character or plot element and revising because they become too similar to a previously established work of yours?
Resnick: I go out of my way to avoid it. Tor asked for a sequel to Santiago for 17 years before I came up with one that I thought was sufficiently different that it wouldn’t seem like a replay. I waited eleven years to write Kilimanjaro, a companion piece to Kirinyaga, to make sure it wasn’t just more of the same. And cetera.