Catching up with . . . Bryan Thomas Schmidt

This week it’s my pleasure to chat with friend, writer, and editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Bryan and I first became acquainted through Mike Resnick in 2011, and we each have stories appearing in the Flying Pen Press anthology Space Battles, the sixth in the series of themed anthologies in the Full Throttle Space Tales series.

BIO: Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

QUESTION: How did you end up editing Space Battles, and do you have a relationship with any of the editors who have done the other books in the full-throttle series?

ANSWER: I had been shopping around an anthology now called Collisions: World Encounters, which I hope to have a deal on soon. I had chatted with Flying Pen Press publisher David Rozansky online and pitched it to him one day, but found out they are a small press and don’t have the budget I need, but he invited me to do something with the Full Throttle Space Tales line, so I pitched a bunch of ideas: Space Colonists, Space Farmers, Space Battles, etc. and Space Battles wound up being the one we liked the most. It also seemed the easiest, in many ways, to start with, this being my first anthology as editor. The first thing I did was recruit headliners and started with my friend and mentor of a sorts, Mike Resnick. (He gives lots of good advice and introductions, and help etc. but we have not written together at this point). Mike brought you [Brad] on board and then I began to invite others.

QUESTION: What’s the genesis of your own story in Space Battles? Any particular inspiration?

ANSWER: Well, the publisher wanted me to write a story but I was hesitant. I didn’t want people to think I was “one of those editors” because I included my own story. Yet we didn’t get as many submissions as expected, despite over-inviting. People had various issues and some just didn’t get their stories together. Others just forgot or who knows. I also noticed we had a gap in the area of space opera/space western style which is what I’ve had success with in my Davi Rhii series. I had just finished Book 2 of that (The Returning which releases June 19, 2012, and is the blog tour this post is for) and so I decided to try a story in that universe. But I couldn’t figure out how to do something between books 2 and 3 that wouldn’t be a spoiler. Book 2 has a lot of surprises and tension I just didn’t want to spoil. Then I came up with the idea that I could set it 20 years later. Mind you, I have not even written The Exodus yet, and, at that point, didn’t even have a basic story summary or anything. Finally I realized that if I focused on a supporting character, I could avoid most of the spoilers I was worried about and still tell an interesting, fun tale with lots of action and humor. And I wanted something with a kind of non-stop action tension to it. It ended up being one of David Rozansky’s favorite stories in the collection to my humble surprise. I’m grateful it worked out.

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QUESTION: If you could name three authors who most inspired you to become a writer/editor, who would they be and why?

ANSWER: Robert Silverberg, because Majipoor blows me away. His world-building and character-building are just amazing. And the story was the thing that made me appreciate fantasy and science fiction as a mix that reached beyond Tolkein in my sense of what fantasy could really be.

Timothy Zahn, because his action and space opera stuff is simple enough for most readers yet complex enough to garner respect. It’s well paced and interesting and yet it’s family friendly, always. And it’s reflective of the old fashioned stuff that I loved growing up which inspired me to love the genre, while still having a modern sensibility to it.

Mike Resnick, who also writes fairly clean and fairly simple words. He doesn’t make you have a dictionary next to his novels. But he goes places that are so interesting and unique — like his Africa stories, his trilogy of Distant Planets (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) — and he also is award winning, highly respected, yet humble and helpful. The kind of person I try to be when dealing with other people.

I’ve had the privilege of becoming friends with one of the three, and now editing him. It’s an honor.

QUESTION: Do you think motion pictures and movies help or hurt written science fiction, as a medium?

ANSWER: Well, I went to film school and I worked in TV and film for several years. So I have a bit of inside knowledge some might not have. First, film/TV and fiction are really very different mediums. Film and TV are visual. There is no internal dialogue and monologue. Everything has to be shown. So when you see changes, it often comes from trying to make things more visual in storytelling and less internal from the novel. In that sense, it doesn’t have to hurt science fiction. But where it does hurt is that Hollywood these days cares less about storytelling and more about special effects and the big bang at the box office. If they can get you in the seats, they don’t care if it’s tripe. The pride in craft is just not what it used to be. And that hurts all creative endeavors it’s associated with because it becomes about something more than the passion of a good story and the quality of telling the story well. Instead, it’s about money and the lowest common denominator, etc. Ironically, Hollywood sees sci-fi movies still become blockbusters even while the SF novel market has faded and been greatly overcome by Fantasy.

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QUESTION: Personally, what’s your take on the current science fiction landscape? What do you think needs to change?

ANSWER: Well, I think people are in the mood for some hopeful stories again. Dystopian fiction will always be around and so will antiheroes. Ironically, you can have dystopian concepts, worlds and tragic events and still have strong heroes who are admirable, and a sense of hope in your story. The recent submissions for the first issue of Center For The Study Of Science Fiction’s new magazine surprised the editors by being majority hopeful. They actually really liked that. And so I think we’re going to see this change coming down the pike in the next few years, and I think it’s a good thing. I also don’t buy the “I have to write my characters as who they are” argument when it comes to foul language and graphic content. I agree with Faith Hunter, who follows similar rules to myself, if you substitute “Xalivar cursed” for “Xalivar said #$%#^!” most people will fill in the blank automatically. To one guy, it might be “Xalivar said damn,” what a heathen! To another, “Xalivar said fuck,” yeah, he’s evil. But readers can do some of the work. It actually helps them get more involved in it.

I challenged all of the writers in Space Battles to write family friendly stories with no extreme bad language and no sex. All of them succeeded, and many of their past stories have used that content. No one complained and the stories have been well received. And I think we need to be thinking about that because there’s a whole generation of parents and kids who are shut out by content that’s age inappropriate. Where’s the stuff that made 7 year old me fall in love with the genre? Are Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins really all we’re going to offer? I like some of those books, don’t get me wrong, but science fiction can be so much more! I think people should write books with all ages in mind in addition to their adult stuff. I think it will open our work to a broader base and it’s something missing from the genre right now.

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QUESTION: As editor, what were your biggest challenges working on the book? What were your biggest rewards?

ANSWER: Well, it’s intimidating to edit when you feel you’re so new that people might not give you credibility. You don’t want to hurt their feelings and you also don’t want to be seen as some cocky know-it-all. Plus, working with a Mike Resnick, you really wonder if he’ll respect you enough to listen to what you say. (He did — although I was very thoughtful and careful before making suggestions about anything). So that was a challenge. There’s also the challenge of coordinating creative people, who, in case you might not be aware, are not always the most time conscious and organized bunch administratively. They tend to need some handholding.

Being a new editor, I think some of them also felt less pressure about the deadline and trying to get something to me. They kind of thought “well, it’s just him, so I don’t know, only if I feel inspired.” That’s the sense I got anyway, who knows if it’s just paranoia. But those things challenged me. Biggest reward is that people are enjoying it. The book looks good. It has some enjoyable stories with a lot of variety. And I had a positive experience with all my writers, whom I count amongst my friends. To top it off, there are first stories from several writers, which have gotten them notice. That’s a good feeling, helping them out.

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QUESTION: Do you have any future editing projects coming up that you’d like to talk about?

ANSWER: Well, I am pitching Collisions: World Encounters, which I mentioned earlier and have some amazing award winning writers attached but need a publisher. Hopefully I will have an announcement soon on that. I am developing an anthology tentatively called Inspirations which will feature classic stories which inspired modern writers with commentary from those writers and then stories in that modern author’s universe which was inspired by that classic story. I think it can be educational and revive knowledge of genre history while at the same time showing the connectedness and bringing great new stories in some of our favorite universes, from some of our favorite writers. I’ve got a couple of more in the works as well, including an SFFWRTCHT anthology but those are the two I’ve made the most progress with. I am also editing books for Grail Quest Books and Delabarre Publishing regularly as well and look forward to continuing that work.

QUESTION: Do you have any future books or stories you’ve written coming out and which you’d like to talk about?

ANSWER: I am polishing the second draft of Duneman, Book 1 of my Dawning Age epic fantasy trilogy. This was something I finished the first draft of in January 2011 and put aside to work on other things and to get distance. That will be done and off to betas this month and then polished for querying agents, I hope by July or August, in time for WorldCon. I also have started a noir SF detective series involving time travel called Falcone Files and have a partial first draft. I have Belsuk The Half-Orc sword and sorcery novel half done as well, but both got put aside for some research and other deadlines and won’t be picked back up until maybe Fall because first, I have to write The Exodus, the third Davi Rhii book which is due to the publisher by year’s end, and I need to finish my North Star Serial space opera shorts which are supposed to run monthly on Digital Dragon Magazine¸ but I didn’t get one done last month due to being overwhelmed.

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QUESTION: Quick answer: Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer? And why?

ANSWER: Kirk. Because he’s a man of action and he’s smarter than he often gets credit for. Sure, he doesn’t like rules. But his solutions are often quite inventive and come out in interesting ways. Thinking outside the box is something I admire as a creative, and disdain for rules isn’t so hard to understand either…but don’t tell my future submitting writers, okay?

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QUESTION: Are there any bits of wisdom you want to pass on to aspiring writers or prospective editors? Tricks? Tips? Warnings?

ANSWER: Best advice I got was from my friend John A. Pitts, who has a great urban fantasy series, by the way. He said, “At the height of their fame, concert pianists practice every day, so why shouldn’t you?” Self-explanatory, but the day we stop growing and learning as writers is a sign of the end of our creative life. I really believe that. So keep learning and growing. Meet people. Network. Take an interest in what they’re doing and how they do it. Don’t wait until you have a book to pitch. Start now and make it more about them than you. Then when the time comes that you have something to talk about, they might want to hear it because you’ve supported them and become a friend.

Lastly, rules are guidelines at best in the creative world but respect them when they are submissions guidelines or affect otherwise your professionalism and don’t ever think there’s only one right way. I get sick of self-publishing people bragging about how that’s the only way, but then traditional publishing people also sound silly saying that’s the only way.

The only way?

Write something good. Polish it until it pops. Then find the best path for that project. May be different for everyone. Nothing wrong with exploring all options. But any time you say “this is the only way,” you’re just playing the fool because you’re putting on blinders to possibilities you haven’t even seen yet. Really.

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