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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author/Editor Mike Resnick

As of 2011, Mike Resnick 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. The author of sixty-two novels, including Santiago, the Widowmaker series, and the Starship series, twenty-two collections, and editor of forty anthologies, he’s also authored non-fiction books, including The Business of Science Fiction with Barry Malzberg, which is currently nominated for a Hugo. A former editor of Jim Baen’s Universe with Eric Flint, Mike has authored hundreds of short stories which have been published in magazines like Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction. His latest novel, The Buntline Special, is out from PYR, and the first sequel is forthcoming. Active on Facebook, you can also find Mike as @ResnickMike on Twitter or through his website He and his wife and collaborator, Carol, own and operate a large collie breeding and exhibition business near Cleveland, Ohio.

SFFWRTCHT: Mike, tell us a little about Buntline Special, a weird western with Thomas Edison fighting magic?

Mike Resnick: Lou Anders, my editor at Pyr, asked me to do a “Weird Western”, which would be both fantasy and steampunk. All my adult life I had wanted to write a novel about Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, the only two college-educated gunslingers. I set up a situation that required Thomas Edison to be in Tombstone a year before the Gunflight at the OK Corral. I used a lot of historical incidents, plus magic (an Indian medicine man turned Bat Masterson into a real bat) and Edison’s inventions supply the steampunk.

SFFWRTCHT: Does the followup Western for Pyr pick up where Buntline left off or is it stand alone?

MR: The Buntline sequel is The Doctor and The Kid. It begins about two months after the events in the previous book. You can doubtless figure out who the Doctor and the Kid are. If there’s a third, it’ll feature Doc and Theodore Roosevelt, and a fourth will feature Doc plus paleontologists Cope and Marsh.

SFFWRTCHT: Like,all these space-operas are in the end cowboys with rayguns. What about doing a straighforward space western?

MR: There are those who say the Santiago and Widowmaker books are space Westerns. I disagree, but I’m just the writer.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you tend to write well-educated characters, or working stiffs?

MR: I don’t know that my protagonists are educated. They’re smart and competent in their ways (not like Heinlein’s Competent Man). I use computers in my science fiction books because they’re a fact of life, but I personally hate and distrust them.

SFFWRTCHT: How important is science, really, in character-based sci-fi?

MR: In my stories science is unimportant. I don’t write hard science. I don’t write soft science. I write limp science.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about your craft and approach to writing. Do you outline first or write novels and stories without and let them unfold?

MR: I never make a formal point-by-point outline. I scribble some very informal notes for myself, and that’s it.

SFFWRTCHT: After 2001 A Space Odyssey, who doesn’t? Who are some of your favorite writers, people who inspire you?

MR: Some of my favorites? Bob Sheckley. C.L. Moore. Cliff Simak. Barry Malzberg. George Effinger. Jim White. I collaborated with three of them. I get a lot of my ideas from other writers stories and/or films/plays when I think they did it badly or missed a better idea. I also get a lot from songs, including my 2007 and 2008 Hugo nominees.

SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of Barry Malzberg, you’ve written the successful dialogues for the SFWA Bulletin for a while now and a book compiling them, The Business of Science Fiction, is now Hugo nominated. It’s a great read. Very helpful for writers. Any tricks to dealing with rejections? Any books to help us with writing you can recommend?

MR: The only reaction to rejection is to say, very softly, “[***] you. I’m selling to your rival, and when it wins the Hugo, he and I are going to get rich and be famous, and you’re going to feel like [***].”

SFFWRTCHT: You collaborate a lot with other, younger writers. Do you enjoy mentoring?

MR: I work with what Maureen McHugh calls “Mike’s Writer Children” one-on-one. I don’t think I can generalize about how to write better. When I do Clarion or workshops I mostly address the business, because anyone can learn that, whereas no two writers have the same strengths, the same weaknesses, or the same talent levels. I’m comfortable working with one or two a year on a one-on-one basis, but I don’t think you can teach Art to wildly diverse talents and skill levels.

SFFWRTCHT: Is there value in entry-level writers giving stories away?

MR: Money flows -to- writers, not from them. I oppose vanity presses, and giving away stories for free. Right now there are three digests, Realms of Fantasy, and fifteen e-zines paying pro rates. If you can’t crack one of nineteen markets, then you’re giving away stories no one wanted and that will only damage public perception of your talent.

SFFWRTCHT: How many hours a day do you spend writing new work as opposed to editing, etc.?

MR: I sit down to write at 10 PM, and knock off at 5 or 6 AM. Probably take a couple of half-hour breaks along the way. Editing and business (i.e., selling) I do in the afternoons.

SFFWRTCHT: Wow. When do you sleep?

MR: I go to sleep around 6:30 AM, get up between 2 and 3. Except at conventions.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you listen to music when you’re writing?

MR: I always have music on. Usually show music. My favorites are Steven Sondheim, Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, William Finn, and Michel Legrande. I also listen to the Andrews Sisters, Xavier Cogat’s band, Sinatra, and the Dorseys.

SFFWRTCHT: What do you find hardest to write well, humor, action, or emotive scenes?

MR: I find humor far and away the easiest to write. The hardest? You’re not gonna believe this, but  background and verisimilitude are the hardest for me. I’m the only writer I know whose first drafts are always his shortest.

SFFWRTCHT: Actually, we have that in common. My novel has grown through editing. How much research do you do for writing?

MR: The research depends on the book. If it’s an alternate history, I do whatever it takes to be accurate. If it’s one of my Inner Frontier myths, like Santiago or Soothsayer or Widowmaker or The Outpost, none.

SFFWRTCHT: Is it ever a challenge to switch between so many different settings from future to historical?

MR: It’s no trouble to switch from Tombstone to Betelgeuse to Manhattan. I love the stories I tell, so I’m enthused about settings.

SFFWRTCHT: If you had to name favorites of your own work, what would you choose?

MR: My favorite short story is “A Princess of Earth”, which lost the 2005 Hugo to my “Tracels with my Cats”. I prefer the loser. My two favorite novelettes are “For I Have Touched the Sky” and “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders.” My favorite novellas are “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” and “Shaka II.” My favorite novel, which sank like a stone, is The Outpost. My favorite of my characters is Lucifer Jones, followed in order by Harry The Book, John Justin Mallory, and Catastrophe Baker. Oops…forgot Teddy Roosevelt. Make him fourth among my favorite characters. And stick Thaddeus Flint in there somewhere.

SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to edit more anthologies? Do you get asked or do you pitch the ideas yourself?

MR: Fifty-fifty. Half the time Marty Greenberg and I will get together and decide on an anthology, and he’ll pitch it. Other times, I’ll pitch it, or the publisher will come to me and ask me to edit it. I’m too busy to edit any right now, but I’m sure I’ll edit more in the future.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any predictions on where the publishing industry is going with all the changes?

MR: I think the mass market paperback is extinct in a dozen years. And if mass market hardcover houses don’t change their ways, and Lord knows most of them are neither ethical or adaptable, I think half of them will be gone inside of fifteen years. You can sell your own e-books for seventy percent on Kindle and Barnes and Noble. What are your publishers doing for ninety percent of your money? I’ve put up thirty-four reverted titles and created five collections. If they sell one-sixth as well as paper books, I’m ahead of the game at seventy percent. I’ve been a fulltime freelancer since 1968. Kindle alone has given me the first dependable four-figure monthly income I’ve had, and, of course, you can sell from your own web page and get one hundred percent. You hear writers bitching about their treatment, but they’re still getting 19th Century abuses in the 21st Century. I don’t think publishers realize how much bitterness there is.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve done quite a few adaptations or tie-ins, as they’re often called, as well. What are those like to write?

MR: Adaptations? They make money and they’re totally unsatisfying. I did a Battlestar Galactica in 1980. To this day, I’ve never seen the show. I did a Lara Croft in 2003. To this day I’ve never played the game nor seen the movie. It was fun and lucrative but a time-waster. Still, steady work nonetheless.

SFFWRTCHT: What do you have coming out that we can look forward to?

MR: Actually, I sold seventeen this week, but they were all no-heavy-lifting sales, which is to say, reprints here and abroad. That includes several Catastrophe Baker stories to Ray Gun Revival. It’s a big world out there. Last year I had out three new books and fourteen new stories, and my no-heavy-lifting sales outearned them. Also, keep an eye out for “The Homecoming” in the April/May Asimov’s. My wife says it’s my best story this millennium.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog at