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An Interview with Mike Resnick

by Sabina Theo

Mr. Resnick, someone told me that you don’t always accept interviews. Is it true?

I don’t remember ever refusing an interview, with this exception: if it’s an interview concerning a subject about which I know nothing (and there are many), I respectfully decline.

Being a former editor of men’s magazines, can you explain why such magazines often print science fiction stories?

I haven’t looked at a men’s magazine in 30 years, and I don’t know the current economics – but back when I was editing them, the men’s magazines paid far more than the science fiction magazines, and writers have bills to pay. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, Playboy was paying $5,000 a story and other men’s magazines were paying from $300 to $1,000, while the science fiction magazines were still paying about 3 cents a word.

A science fiction author who died recently, J. G. Ballard, wrote in his novel about hunger-stricken Africa, and a more-or-less insane emergency-aid worker’s dreams of helping Africa out of its misery. You have traveled a lot in Africa, so what is your point of view regarding this problem??

There’s a lot wrong with Africa: hunger, disease, poverty, continent-wide corruption of such a magnitude that most people can’t conceive of it. There are two schools of thought: one is that we must do everything we can to help them (which thus far has not worked). The other is that if you feed, for example, a million starving Sudanese, then after the next drought you’ll have to feed three million starving Sudanese and it’s better to turn your back on the continent and let it solve its own problems in a uniquely African way (which seems at least as heartless as it is practical). I don’t think there’s any easy solution, or we’d have found it by now.

Back in the 1950s, during Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion, Robert Ruark wrote an international bestseller titled Something of Value. The title was taken from a statement that when you take away a people’s culture, you must replace it with something of value. I think it’s pretty clear that we destroyed most of the African cultures, but we have yet to replace them with anything of value to Africans.

What is your attitude about awards? Do they mean anything, or are they mere expressions of popularity… or cheating?

Since I am the all-time leading award winner (according to Locus) for short fiction, and 4th on the list when you add in novels, I think I can be forgiven for thinking awards are meaningful. I know that awards make it much easier to sell the books and stories to other countries, and to the movies, and in truth they make it a little easier to sell whatever I’m writing next.

Now, does a Hugo (or other award) mean my story was the best of the year? Not necessarily. It just means a particular cross-section of voters thought so.

As far as I know, you are very interested in fables and legends. Would you tell me more about this interest of yours?

Probably it comes from watching a lot of cowboy movies and reading (or listening to) a lot of fairy tales when I was a kid. The late R. A. Lafferty once wrote (in his novella “Space Chanty”): “Will there be a mythology of the future, they used to ask, after all has become science? Will high deeds be told in epic, or only in computer code?” The day I read that sentence I knew I wanted to spend at least part of my career creating those future myths.

I am a moderator of the Bulgarian online club Vampires (we are interested in arts, history and mythology). One of your books is named Stalking the Vampire. I admit that unfortunately I haven’t read it… so I can only base my next question on the presumption that you are interested in the same issue? Would you, please, tell me details about this book?

I think the title may have misled you. In 1987 I wrote an urban fantasy set in an alternate New York, a New York filled with goblins and leprechauns and similar creatures, titled Stalking the Unicorn. It featured the adventures of a detective who found himself in this alternate New York, and it was actually a very funny book. In 2008 Pyr, one of my regular publishers, asked me to resurrect John Justin Mallory (the detective), who had appeared in 7 novelettes but no novels since 1987, and I wrote Stalking the Vampire. The vampire himself is quite a dangerous killer, but again, the book is funny. In 2009 I wrote a third novel in the series, Stalking the Dragon, which just came out in August. I’m not through with the series, but I’m going to put it aside for a couple of years to write other things I want to do.

You wrote some novels in the Battlestar Galactica, Tomb Raider, and The Widowmaker book series. How does it feel to work for television?

I hated writing Battlestar: Galactica. It was 1980, the show had already been cancelled, and the writer who had novelized the first few books was in a bad situation: his wife had cancer, and the publisher was demanding a fast delivery. Since I wasn’t doing anything important that month I said I’d do it. To this day I’ve never seen the series, and hope to go to my grave without knowing what a Cylon is. The script was just dreadful. I wrote the book in four days, and a week later I couldn’t have told you what was in it.

I wrote Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2003; I owed del Rey a book from a previous contract, and this was the one they insisted on. Again, to this day I have not played the game or seen the movie, but unlike Battlestar this was a lot of fun. I was told that the current game ended with her buried in the rubble of a temple in Edfu, Egypt (I’ve been there), and the next game began with her showing up, along and disillusioned, in Paris (where I’ve also been). All I had to do was get her – in an adventurous way – from one to the other. So her adventures took her all across Africa, into the Seychelles, and finally to Paris… and it became the Slightly Fictionalized Mike Resnick Travel Diary, because she went to all the places I’ve been. If she enjoys a meal, I’m recommending that restaurant; if they try to poison her, I’m saying to stay away from it. Same thing with hotels and safari camps: if she spends a peaceful night, I’m recommending it; if someone shoots at her or puts a poisonous snake in her bed, I’m suggesting that you find a different place to stay when touring Africa.

The Widowmaker is my own creation. I’ve done four novels — The Widowmaker (1996), The Widowmaker Reborn (1997), The Widowmaker Unleashed (1998), all of which were Locus bestsellers, and A Gathering of Widowmakers (2005), which wasn’t (but unlike the first three, it was a hardcover and never had an inexpensive paperback edition). The series has been optioned by Jupiter 9 projects, and the last time I heard about it they were trying to sell it as an animated TV series, but so far nothing has come of it.

If I am capable of counting, you must have edited… 32 anthologies? Right? Why so many? Do you like this job and why? It is something different than writing after all…

Actually, I’ve edited over 40. Why so many? Because I enjoy it, and primarily because it lets me buy from new writers. This is a very difficult field for newcomers. If you’re trying to sell to, say, Asimov’s, you’re competing against maybe 1,200 submissions a month for one of six or seven spots in the magazine. Not only that, but you can’t just be as good as Connie Willis or Michael Swanwick or Nancy Kress or me; you have to be better, because we’ve established fan followings who will buy the magazine solely because they see our names on the cover. That’s a difficult situation for any newcomer… but when I edit an anthology, I might buy 20 or 25 stories. I’ll need ten or fifteen “Names” for the cover and the sales staff, but that still lets me buy five or ten stories from newcomers and less-well-known authors. (Why do I care? Because this field has been so good to me that I feel an obligation “pay forward” and help the next generation enjoy what I’ve enjoyed.)

Most successful writers were rather unsuccessful at the beginning. They strived for many years, living in the shadows. What is your story, and weren’t you angry before you were finally recognized?

I sold my first article when I was 15, my first short story (not science fiction) at 17, and my first novel (also not science fiction) at 20. I knew I was good enough to sell, and I also knew I wasn’t good enough or mature enough to write good science fiction (a fact I proved with three novels in the late 1960s; I stayed away from the field for 11 years to give people time to forget them). I learned my craft and earned a handsome living writing under pseudonyms in the “adult” field until 1976. We had been breeding and exhibiting collies with considerable success, I couldn’t face another year of grinding out 20 or 30 “adult” novels, and I didn’t think the kind of science fiction I wanted to write would sell very well, so we bought the second-largest luxury boarding and grooming kennel in America. By 1980 the kennel was doing very well, we had a staff of 21, and I went back to writing science fiction… and when the science fiction out-earned the kennel five years in a row (1988-1993), we sold the kennel, and writing has been our sole source of income ever since.

I’ve never been bitter. I’ve never been angry. All I ever wanted to do was write science fiction, and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world that I’ve been able to so successfully for most of my adult life.

You are a legend in the SF world. I am sure that you receive numerous queries for help from aspiring writers. Doesn’t it burden you? And what’s your advice to them?

No, I’ve never considered it a burden. I always try to make time to answer their questions. My main advice is that writers write and people who will not become successful writers merely talk about writing.

During the 1990s, when I was doing most of my anthology editing, I bought more first stories that Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF combined, and my proudest achievement as an editor is not that I commissioned a bunch of Hugo nominees and a winner (which I did), but that eight of “my” discoveries were nominated for the Campbell Award (which goes to the best new writer), and one of them – my daughter – won it.

Over the years I’ve also collaborated with a number of new writers, mostly to help them get in print before they get discouraged and give up their dreams of becoming science fiction writers. I wrote so many with one of them, Nick DiChario, that we actually had a hardcover collection published containing our eleven stories. These days I’m collaborating a lot with another brilliant newcomer, Lezli Robyn from Australia; we sold four stories in 2009, and have six more assigned for 2010, and I expect we’ll be doing at least one novel in the next year.

So no, talking to and working with newcomers doesn’t bother me at all. I was a newcomer once, too, and I remember what it was like.

What makes you feel happy and relaxed in your everyday life? Your readers don’t know too much about the „human being“ Mike Resnick, I think… or am I mistaken? Do you like revealing yourself?

I write so much – more than 130 science fiction novels, anthologies and collections, and more than 230 stories, just since 1980 – that my entire life seems to revolve around writing. What makes me happy is when, at the end of the day, I read what I’ve written and it is pretty much what I hoped it would be when I sat down to work.

Beyond that, I enjoy the musical theatre, horse racing, traveling, reading (though since I went blind in one eye five years ago I read less; I have to save that vision for writing)… and I spend a lot of time interacting, in person and online, with my friends, almost all of whom are science fiction fans or professionals.

The last time we chatted you told me you were in a hurry to take your wife out for a lunch. You seem to be a happy person. What’s your recipe for a happy life with the beloved? 

Do what you enjoy, be happy with your own successes and never be bitter over someone else’s, and live each day as if it may be your last, because one day you’ll be right.

Copyright © 2012 by Sabina Theo

Sabina Theo began reading and writing at the age of three. She had her first horror story, “The Substitute”, published at the age of 17. Critics defined her as “original and talented”. Since then she has published thousands of articles on culture, medicine and social issues, and a number of short stories and poems – mainly in Bulgarian editions, but also in Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Russia, Turkey and Sweden. In 2008 her story „The Lover“ won award in the literary contest of Fantasticon 2008, Denmark.

Mike Resnick is, according to Locus, the all-time leading award winner for short science fiction, 4th when you add in novels and non-fiction. He has sold 68 sf novels, 250+ stories, 2 screenplays, and has edited 40+ anthologies. He has won five Hugos, a Nebula, and other major awards in the USA, France, Poland, Spain, Croatia and Japan. His work has been translated into 25 languages.

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