2010 Snapshot Archive: Jonathan Strahan

First published at Alisa Krasnostein’s LiveJournal.

Jonathan Strahan is a Hugo-nominated, freelance editor. He is also Reviews Editor for Locusmagazine. He co-founded Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy and was co-publisher of Eidolon Books which published Robin Pen’s The Secret Life of Rubber-Suit Monsters, Howard Waldrop’s Going Home Again, Storm Constantine’s The Thorn Boy, and Terry Dowling’sBlackwater Days. He can be found to blog on occasion at News from Coode Street.

1. Congratulations on your recent success for your 2009 books! My favourite book of yours from last year was Eclipse 3, which I think was a standout for the year. What plans do you have for the Eclipse series? How is editing a series of anthologies different to standalone projects?

Thank you! I’m delighted that you enjoyed Eclipse Three, and have been extremely pleased with how it has been received. It was something of a bear of a book to edit and I think really marked something of a sea change in my approach to editing, so to see it be successful, to have it win awards like the Aurealis, is deeply gratifying.

As to plans: using the word ‘plans’ when it comes to Eclipse is somewhat over-generous. The series started out organically and was envisaged as a very free-form thing: a sort of combination of great stories I found/the kind of stuff I love. It opened the door to creating a very broad kind of book, something I enjoy. Looking back I realise, in retrospect, that this was greatly influenced by Michael Bishop’s lamentably underappreciated anthology Light Years and Dark.

Anyhow: plans. As much as I love the first three volumes of Eclipse I feel there’s probably a need to define the series a little more, to clarify what readers can expect. I’ve seen a number of readers foundering when they try to match what they expect from a book with a subtitle “new science fiction and fantasy” with what they find in the book. For that reason, I think I’ll spend some time talking to my publishers and seeing how we can nudge it to be clearer. These are changes that would come into place after Eclipse Four, which I’m working on now. The challenge will be to remain consistent with the books to date, especially Three.

I think this speaks to the main difference in editing a series of anthologies over singletons. You need to be aware of consistencies from volume-to-volume, look to build a character for the series so that readers know what to expect on a broad level from it, and writers know how to take it into account as a market. Beyond that, it’s about building relationships and reminding people that you want them involved over the long haul. One of the delights has been building relationships with writers like Peter Beagle, Jeff Ford, Margo Lanagan and others who I’ve published more than once. When you edit singletons you only focus on the book, and to some extent, the relationships at hand. It’s a great experience and real privilege to get to do.

2. What projects do you have on the horizon? What can we expect from you in the near future? What do you look for in projects? And how do you go about making them happen?

I apologise if my answer reads a bit like a checklist, but I’m forever going on about being busy and I think this year you’ll see a lot of the work I’ve been doing come to fruition. I think I’ll have as many as ten projects published this year, and I don’t know how to pick favourites. But let’s try! I’ll have three original anthologies published during 2010. Swords and Dark Magic, which I co-edited with my pal Lou Anders, is a big definitive new ‘sword and sorcery’ book that was a joy to do. The authors – Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Caitlin Kiernan and others – outdid themselves and we had a ball doing it, so we’re looking to do another if we can. I also just finishedLegends of Australian Fantasy, co-edited with Jack Dann, who is my blood brother. It’s a big book, eleven fantasy novellas by some of Australia’s most famous fantasists, which will be out at Aussiecon and is just wonderful. Garth Nix’s story for the book is one of my favourites of the past couple years. And there’ll be Eclipse Four. I have no idea what it will be like yet, but it’ll be out for World Fantasy in Columbus. I’ve also guest-edited an anthology-length special issue of Subterranean magazine for my pal Bill Shafer. It has stories by Peter Beagle, Daryl Gregory, Maureen McHugh and others. I have two reprint anthologies due out to: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Four (which is actually out) and Wings of Fire, a big dragon reprint anthology, both from Night Shade. Wings is huge fun and is co-edited with my wife, Marianne Jablon, and the “best” is an annual project I deeply love doing despite its many challenges. I’ve also done quite a bit of work lately editing single-author collections for Night Shade and Subterranean. I’m pretty sure six of these will come out in 2010: Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle; Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories; Walter Jon Williams’s The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories; Jack Vance’s Hard Luck Diggings (edited with Terry Dowling); and The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. I think that’s everything!

Now, what do I look for in projects?!? They need to have substance, real meat to them, I guess. That’s not the first thing, but I do need to feel they’re viable, that a theme will support a book, than an author has a collection to publish, that it gels in my mind as a book I can imagine. Almost every book I’ve worked on, I could see it in my mind’s eye before I ever started work. I also look for something that either people want to read or that I feel evangelical about. For example, I love Keith Roberts’ short fiction. I’m talking about editing a book of his stories, and I’ll probably do it for close to no money because I think it should be done. I want it to exist. I also need to be able to sell them to a publisher, to have the kind of idea that I can synopsise and deliver it to a publisher so they pick up my enthusiasm for it. There may be something else, but that’s what comes to mind.

As to how I go about making them happen? Wow. I don’t know how to synopsise this. It depends on the project. I want to shorten this answer to the old quote about 90% of success being showing up, but that doesn’t help. First, I get the bug for a project, work out that I think the project is there and that I want to do it. Second, I write it up. A page or two. Nothing fancy. Just enough to test it. Then I mention it to some publisher and editor friends. If they like it then I write up a proposal, get it to my agent so he can sell the book, then get writers on board. My witch book, Under My Hat, is a good example. I was reading one of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Tiffany Aching’ novels and really loving it . It crossed my mind that my daughters would love it when they were older. I realised I really wanted to do a book that they could enjoy, and something a little ‘Tiffany Aching’ would be right. I sketched out in my mind who could be involved, invited writers, wrote a proposal (in an hour after a year’s avoidance – I don’t like writing proposals), sold the book quickly and am now doing it for 2012.

All of which is methodical and dull. I did once sell three books to Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade over beer on Charles Brown’s back deck, mostly because it was sunny and we were having a good time. Sometimes it’s quick and spontaneous too.

3. As Locus Reviews Editor you have your finger on the pulse of the international scene. How do you think that informs your projects? How do you see the local scene fitting in with the broader specfic scene?

I started working at Locus back in 1997 as part of my ultimately successful plan to woo my wife (or for her to woo me if you listen to her tell it). Working for Locus has always intimately informed what I do. The first handful of books I edited were year’s bests, and they sat hand in glove with editing for and working on a magazine with a broad perspective. I think working for Locus keeps me aware of trends in publishing and makes me pay attention to what’s being written in the field at a very deep level.

There was a time when I would have had trouble answering this sort of question about the local scene, but I’ve had a chance to think about it over the years. I think the scene is a healthy and vibrant part of the Australian literary scene — there are some remarkable writers, editors, artists, and publishers working here – and it acts as a real feeder for the international scene. Publishers and editors around the world look to Australia for new talent, for writers who can take the field by storm, both critically and commercially. It’s probably the third largest English language SF scene in the world, and that’s impressive.

4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?

I have a lot of friends in Australia and I’d be delighted to see any of them appear on a Hugo shortlist. I think Greg Egan deserves to be on the ballot for his SF novella “Hot Rock”, which is one of the best stories published anywhere in the world this year. I also loved Margo Lanagan’s novella “Sea-wives” and short story “Ferryman”. Both deserve a place, were it up to me. I think Damien Broderick had a remarkable return to form this year, lamentably unnoticed here at home, and his “This Wind Blowing, and this Tide” deserves consideration. There’s also been a lot of talk about Paul Haines’s “Wives”, a striking novella from x6, and I’d be happy to see it shortlisted. I don’t know if Shaun Tan had any work out in 2009, but if he did, he too should be on the list. There’s a lot of great work out there. Although I didn’t read many novels, I did greatly enjoy Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, and would be happy to see it there too. I’d also put forward Jack Dann for Best Editor, Short Form. He’s easily one of the best editors living in this country – people get distracted by his writing and often seem to overlook this – and his The Dragon Book was excellent.

I think what makes me happiest, though, about the Hugos this year, is that there are so many Australians who seriously deserve to be discussed as viable nominees and winners. That alone makes Aussiecon a success for me.

5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?

I will indeed. For the first time ever, this will be a family affair. My wife and daughters will be there too, so there’ll be more of a family focus for me. Other than that though, seeing friends is always the best part of any convention. Getting to go to dinners and parties and bars and packing a year or two’s worth of conversation into five day is the best part of going to a WorldCon and I am looking forward to it. Oh, and I’ll get to be there with my new boss, which will be fun too. Liza Trombi, an almost-Aussie, will be coming down, so getting to spend time with her as a very small Locus ‘crew’ should be huge fun too.

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