Interview by Ben Peek
Jonathan Strahan is the co-editor (with Charles N. Brown) of The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Fantasy and Science Fiction. He is also the reviews editor at Locus, and edits 3 kinds of Year’s Bestseries with Karen Haber.
1) You are, by no means, an unknown figure on the international scene of speculative fiction. It is a reputation that continues to grow with your own Year’s Best series (some co-edited with Karen Haber) and it now looks like you have a flow of original anthologies arriving under your own editor skill. Still, there’s a sense, from comments on your blog, that there isn’t much financial security offered by this work–and I’m curious to know how those realities and the desires to produce a project interact when your making choices on what to pursue?
I’m not sure whether Notes from Coode Street really gives you a clear insight into my decision-making processes when it comes to new projects. You’re certainly correct that freelance anthology work doesn’t give much financial security. While you can make money doing it, the only people I can think of who make a living are Marty Greenberg and the people at Tekno Books, so you really need other reasons for doing it.
What are mine? Well, it comes down to how much fun it seems, how excited I get about the book that could be done, and who I’ll get to work with. I’ll sometimes come up with an idea, think it seems okay, then begin to build it up in my mind. This could happen, there could be that kind of story, so-and-so would be perfect for the book (could I get them to write for it?), and then that would mean maybe someone else would get involved. And as this happens, I get more and more excited, more passionate about the book, it becomes more solid in my mind’s eye. When I know it could be a real book, a good one, and one that seems a lot of fun to work on, then I ask the killer question: would anyone publish it? If the answer is yes, then I’m almost certainly going to do it.
Although you don’t expressly ask it, another question implicit in your question is whether the money is a decisive factor. It’s not. I’ve published eight anthologies, am working actively on three more, and have other projects in development. Of the eight published, I didn’t get paid at all for two, made less money per hour on five others than I would have got working at McDonald’s, and did okay in the other one. Of the other three, two will pay ok, and one I’m doing for free. All of them, though, are books I love the idea of, that I really wanted or want to do. It’s a whimsical thing, but it’s fun.
2) In the ’90s you were a prominent figure on the Australian scene, but it does feel that by the end of those years, that you were making a conscious decision to step back from that to follow International options. Was it as conscious? And how much does growing a reputation for your work outside Australia rely upon your work leaving it (though not necessarily with you moving)?
It really wasn’t conscious at all. To be really honest, I haven’t planned anything that I’ve done in the science fiction field. I was almost completely unaware of the Australian SF scene back in 1990 when Eidolon started, didn’t know anyone and hadn’t heard of many Australian writers at all. What happened was I attended a convention with some friends, we got excited, and decided to do a ‘zine. Some of the others had a desire to make it about Australian SF, and I thought that was cool. Between 1990 and 1993 I was completely focussed on it, working on it all the time, and really loved it.
In 1993 three of us went to WorldCon in San Francisco, which changed my life. I met my future wife there, who was the managing editor for Locus. We corresponded, I travelled there, and eventually spent a year living in the Bay Area in 1997. During this time I was still working on Eidolon, and did the two volumes of The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy with Jeremy Byrne. In 1997, though, while living in the US, I became a reviewer for Locus, which I did for about a year. During 1997/1998 my energies were being split between Eidolon and the Australian SF scene and Locus and the international scene. I thought that would change when I came home in early 1998, but it didn’t. I’d spent all of my spare time for about eight years working on Eidolon, knew most everyone in the Australian SF scene, and had made some wonderful friends, but I was eager for new challenges, to work with some of the international writers whose work I loved too. That didn’t fit. I got married in the US in early 1999 and left Eidolon when I got home.
In terms of neat historical benchmarks, Aussiecon 3 in Melbourne was decisive. I’d left Eidolon six months earlier, and when I was in the US to get married I’d agreed to try reviewing for Locus from Australia and to do some editing work for them. That seemed the new focus for me. I worked pretty actively on Terry Dowling’s Antique Futures, which was published for Aussiecon and that was about it.
I spent 1999 — 2004 working for Locus and getting in a position where I could edit anthologies (though that was a pretty organic process too). What I find now is that, having been out of the scene for nearly six years, I’m really eager to do some Australian stuff. There are new writers whose work I don’t know so well and, at first glance, an energy to the scene that is exciting.
I don’t think I could have achieved what I have if I’d maintained a solely Australian focus, though. The scene is good, but it just doesn’t hold the world’s attention constantly. It was important to do other stuff, to work with other people. The nice thing now is that I can bring Australian writers into my projects, see them published in the US, and hopefully get a whole new audience. The way I feel about it now is that I’ve moved from being an Australian introducing Australian writers to Australia, to potentially being an Australian introducing Australian writers to the world. It sounds pretentious, I know, but I hope it works that way.
3) Short fiction wise, what is it that you would like to see more of?
It’s not really how I see things. I’m not looking for more of this, or less of that. I’m looking for something that excites me, even if I don’t really know why all the time, something with energy and vitality (the ‘juice’ as one friend always says). Perhaps more helpfully, something with strong narrative, solid endings, and something that shows the writer has an idea who they are. I don’t need more drippy derivative stuff. I want something that make the writer I’m reading interesting and individual. That’s what’s important to me.
4) You’re dead. Angry, angry jugglers. It wasn’t pretty. Anyhow, you go to Heaven (assuming there is, blah blah) and you see God. You Say?
George W. Bush. Please explain.
5) Favorite swear word?
Bugger. It’s a classic, it doesn’t get in me strife over the kids learning words they shouldn’t, and it covers every possible situation. It might even be the real answer to (4) above.