Mike Resnick is the author of more than 70 novels, 25 story collections, 250 short stories, 9 non-fiction books, and 3 screenplays, as well as the editor of more than 40 anthologies. He has been nominated for 36 Hugo Awards (a record for writers) and has won the award 5 times. In addition, he has won many other awards from places such as France, Japan, Spain, Croatia, Catalonia, and Poland. He is first on the Locus list of all-time award winners, living or dead, for short fiction, and 4th on the Locus list of science fiction’s all-time top award winners in all fiction categories. In addition to all of this, Mike also produced a weekly column on horse racing for more than a decade, and for eleven years wrote a monthly column on purebred collies, which he and his wife bred and exhibited. Mike’s website: http://mikeresnick.com/
Iulian Ionesco : Everyone starts somewhere, and most writers begin their career in a dark place filled with rejection and self-doubt. Could you paint us your beginnings? Was there a defining moment, a point in time when you knew you were going to be a writer for the rest of your life?
Mike Resnick : I sold my first article at 15, my first poem at 16, my first story at 17, so in all honesty there was never a question of whether or not I could sell, but rather could I make a living at it. I took a job editing men’s magazines and tabloids, wrote literally a couple of hundred anonymous novels in the “adult” field (not as rare a start for writers in the 1950’s and 1960’s as you might think), and have been a full-time freelance writer since 1969. It wasn’t until I started selling science fiction regularly in 1981 that I knew I could concentrate on this field and ignore the others 95% of the time (though lately I’ve sold 3 mystery novels, just for a change of pace).
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment as a writer and, related to that, what is your all-time favorite work?
I think my greatest accomplishment as a writer, other than paying my way for 45 years, has been all those awards and nominations for so many different stories, which I hope implies that I have continued to write quality fiction over quite a long period of time. My best book is clearly Kirinyaga, which is up to 67 nominations and awards world-wide. My bestselling book is Santiago, and my favorite of my own science fiction novels is The Outpost, which sank like a stone.
You moved through your career to multiple-award-winning status and having more stories written than most people have read in their entire life — could you name some of your main influencers? I am talking about other writers, editors, maybe even people that are not related to writing in any way but had a mark on your career.
I just love what I’m doing and work at improving it every day. Some reporter once asked Pablo Picasso what he did for a hobby, and he replied, “I paint.” And the reporter said no, that was what he did for a living; what did he do for a hobby, to relax and enjoy himself. And Picasso said, “I paint.” Me, I write.
I had quite a few million words in print before starting my science fiction career, and of course I had my own style and my own methodology. I suppose if any science fiction writers had much of an influence on me, they’d be my two favorites: C. L. Moore and Robert Sheckley. Though no one ever has or ever will influence me more than Carol, my wife of 52 years. I bounce every idea off her, accept almost all of her many suggestions, and never send a story out until she’s approved it.
You’ve edited quite a number of anthologies over the years. What is your process and what do you love most about these anthologies?
All but one have been by invitation only. They don’t pay enough for me to read 600 submissions, 80% of them sub-literate. This doesn’t mean I don’t buy from new writers. I bought more first stories in the 1990’s than the 3 surviving digests combined. Anyway, I begin by inviting maybe a dozen established pros who I think will work well with the theme — all anthologies are created around themes these days — and whose names can go on the covers, and then I invite some newcomers whose work has either impressed me (in print, in workshops, online) or who have been recommended by some pro I trust.
You are also the editor of Galaxy’s Edge, a fairly new speculative fiction magazine that is available both online and in digital formats. How different is the process of editing a magazine versus editing anthologies. How do you find the time for it?
It’s actually a lot less work than an anthology, which will usually run about 20 new stories. Galaxy’s Edge runs 4 reprints by big names that can sell/hype the magazine by their presence, and serializes a novel by another. In addition, we run columns by Greg Benford and Barry Malzberg, and we’ve begun interviewing a major pro every issue. This frees most of my editing time for the real purpose of the magazine: buying 5 or 6 new stories from new or lesser-known writers. I agreed to edit it once the publisher agreed to the format, which permits half the fiction to be by new and newer writers.
For Galaxy’s Edge you elected to keep unsolicited submissions off and simply solicit work from writers directly. Is there an advantage to that model? Isn’t that reducing the possibility of discovering new talent?
I co-edited Jim Baen’s Universe and worked on/with other pro-zines, and it’s my experience that if you open them to submissions and pay pro rates, you’ll get an absolute minimum of 500 slush stories a month, probably more. I just haven’t got time for that, and the magazine doesn’t yet have the budget for slush readers. As for finding new writers, I judge Writers of the Future every year, which exposes me to their 12 annual finalists; I’ve taught Clarion, and have bought from Clarion “grads”; other workshop leaders that I trust have been encouraged to send their best students to me; and of course I meet dozens of hopeful writers online and at conventions.
A lot of writers aim to write things that can later be turned into TV Shows and movies. You’ve written screenplays before. Do you actively write for the screen and if you do, how is the process different? Which one of your books would you really like to see made into a blockbuster?
No, I absolutely don’t. I write for the market that’s commissioned my book or story, and that’s that. I’ve optioned maybe a dozen pieces to the movies over the years, but in every case they sought me out, I didn’t walk in cold and try to hawk my stuff to them. As for the screenplays, I never write them on speculation; that’s a fool’s game. I write them only on assignment.
In the second issue of our magazine, we’ve included your story “Winter Solstice,” a Hugo nominee from 1992. Tell us a bit about this story: how did it come to be and what does it mean to you?
I wrote that the day I found out that my mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s. I kept wondering what it must be like to know every night when you go to bed that you will wake up a little less intelligent/cognizant the next morning, and I decided to work it out fictionally. I remembered that Merlin, in T. H. White’s magnificent The Once and Future King, was said to be living backward in Time, though White never quite defined what that meant, and it seemed a perfect vehicle with which to explore the problem.
Now a couple of questions that might not be directly related to your writing, but their subjects find their way into your inspiration one way or another. First one is Africa — your writing often shows influences from the African culture, and you’ve travelled to Africa on several occasions. What is drawing you there and how has Africa affected your writing?
First, it’s a gorgeous and exotic continent, with societies that are totally unlike our own. (Example: none of the 43 languages spoken in Kenya had a word for “wheel” as recently as 1900 A.D.) More to the point, I think just about everyone will agree that if we can reach the stars we’re going to colonize them, and if we colonize enough of them sooner or later we’re going to come into contact with some sentient races. Africa offers 51 separate and distinct examples of the deleterious effects of colonization on both the colonized and the colonizers, and that makes it perfect raw material for a science fiction writer.
The second question is about horses. You’ve produced a horse racing column for more than a decade, but you do not bet on races. Why is that? Are horses a source of inspiration? Give us some detail as to how you got involved with this.
It seems to me that I have always loved horse racing. And I love it as a beautiful, colorful, exciting sport, not as a gambling proposition. I don’t know when I fell in love with it, but I know that when I was 12 I took the money I’d made from a summer of caddying and subscribed to The Blood-Horse, a weekly magazine devoted to the sport and the thoroughbred, and last week I renewed it for the 60th year. Back in the mid-to-late 1950’s when I lived in a northern Chicago suburb I used to cut high school classes to watch Swoon’s Son and Bardstown and Doubledogdare work out in the mornings, and I’ve been known to fly to New York just to watch Seattle Slew take on Affirmed or Dr. Fager go up against Damascus. I know the sport intimately, which means I know that while as a better you can very occasionally beat the race, you can’t beat the races. In fact, the one thing about the sport I dislike is that its primary support comes from the poor slobs who bet their unemployment and welfare checks on it.
A lot of our readers are also writers. Notwithstanding the fact that there is no universal advice that works for every writer, what would be your personal advice to young, aspiring writers trying to break into publishing?
A writer’s one irreplaceable commodity is Time, and you can’t afford to waste it. (I have not watched a single episode of any TV show since 1982. Not only do I not feel culturally deprived, but it’s enable me to write an extra 35 to 40 books.) Another thing is to consider enrolling in one of the better writing workshops — Clarion, Writers of the Future, the one Nancy Kress runs in Taos, a few others. And remember the adage that anyone who can be discouraged should be discouraged. This is a very tough field to break into — or to stay in, for that matter — and if you let rejections or harsh criticisms discourage you, maybe you should take up birdwatching instead.
Dear Mike, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us.
Iulian Ionescu is the Editor-in-Chief and publisher of Fantasy Scroll Mag. He is a science fiction and fantasy writer who enjoys blogging and technology. He runs the fiction writing blog Fantasy Scroll and if you want to know more about his works, check out his author page.
This article first appeared in fantasyscrollmag. It has been republished with permission from the author.