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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat with Author/Editor Jason Sanford

One of the more prolific and talented new writers in speculative fiction today, Jason Sanford is sometimes teasingly referred to as Interzone’s go to writer, since many of his stories have appeared in the magazine’s pages. They even did a special “Jason Sanford Issue” in 2010. But he’s also had stories appear in Daily Science Fiction, Analog: Science Fiction and Fact, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, Years Best SF 14 and Ocho, amongst others. His story “Sublimation Angels” was winner of the 2009 Interzone Readers’ Poll. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand for two years, he is a husband and father, living in Ohio. He can be followed on Twitter as @jasonsanford, found on Facebook or through his website

SFFWRTCHT: You recently had emergency surgery to repair a detached retina. Was it scary to have them operate on an eye?

Jason Sanford: Nope. That’s what the “knocking you unconscious” part is for. More scary was the thought of losing my vision. Right after the surgery that eye had less that 50%. But the docs said it looked good. As a writer, I was really worried about losing vision. If anyone gets a detached retina, don’t wait to see the docs. My eye is now 100%. A good as new, so to speak.

SFFWRTCHT: When will it return to full vision?

JS: Don’t know. The docs said it could be weeks or months.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you get into writing?

JS: I did start writing young. I’ve always loved stories. For some reason I resonate to stories. When I read or see a story, I automatically take it apart in my head. I like seeing what makes stories succeed / fail.

SFFWRTCHT: Is writing a full time gig for you or do you do it between dayjobbing?

JS: I have a day job to support the family. For some reason kids like having regular meals and a roof.

SFFWRTCHT: These kids today are so demanding. What’s a typical writing day look like for you? Do you write daily after work? Get up early?

JS: I tend to write in the evening after the kids go down.  I also tend to jump around a lot in my writing, working on multiple stories at the same time. The downside to working on multiple projects–it’s harder to finish any particular story. It’s a balancing act.

SFFWRTCHT: Which comes first, the characters or their world?

JS: Depends on the story. Sometimes a great character grabs me first. Other times it’s the world.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you outline? Do character sketches? Or let the story unfold?

JS: With short stories I rarely outline or sketch. But with longer works I have to do that.

SFFWRTCHT: Where do your ideas come from?

JS: Ideas constantly flow around me. I get too many of the damn things to write them all. Life inspires me, I guess.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there particular themes you find yourself revisiting time and again and why?

JS: Themes I return to include what makes us human and how culture, intellect, and technology influence our world.

SFFWRTCHT: Did the time you spent working with the Peace Corps influence your writing? Where did you serve?

JS: My Peace Corps time did influence my writing because it exposed me to a new outlook on the world. In Peace Corps, we call it the fishbowl effect. You’re outside your culture and everyone constantly watches you. My language ability as a Peace Corps Volunteer was poor, so I learned to understand people through other ways—like body language. I figured out which of my coworkers were having affairs before the rest of my Thai coworkers. I served two years in Thailand back in the mid 1990s—Amphur Sena, Ayuttaya, Central Thailand.

SFFWRTCHT: What are some cultural differences you discovered through your time there watching, interacting, living?

JS: I learned that at the core people are basically the same. But you overlook the non-core differences at your peril. My cross-cultural experience massively broadened my worldview. Everyone should spend time outside their culture.

SFFWRTCHT: Did reading and reviewing Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl evoke vivid memories?

JS: I felt The Windup Girl did a great job capturing a possible future Thai society and culture. And as Paolo says, hopefully not one we ever see!

SFFWRTCHT: Have your children allowed you to take your writing into a multi-verse, or do they influence you at all?

JS: Having kids made me more aware of how powerful parental emotions/needs can be, which helps me evoke them in characters.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you ever have them act out scenes for you?

JS: It never occurred to me to have them do that, but I like the idea.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you read a lot of world science fiction from outside the western worldview?

JS: I read as much non-western science fiction as I can find. It’s still tragically hard to find in the U.S. Most of the non-western science fiction I read or see does tend to come from Japan.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s a non-core difference between Thais and Americans which surprised you?

JS: The attitude toward life. Thais have a more laid-back outlook, summarized by the phrase “Mai pen rai.” Being in Thailand really made me realize how “type-A” we Americans can be about everything.

SFFWRTCHT: So true. My Brazilian and African friends and family are always amused and puzzled by my stress level.  Who are some favorite non-western science fiction writers you’ve read? Anyone you’d recommend who has work out in English?

JS: S.P. Somtow. Lavie Tidhar. Aliette de Bodard. Anything and everything by Hayao Miyazaki.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about Story South. What’s it all about?

JS: Story South is a literary journal focusing on Southern Literature. I founded it with poet Jake Adam York.

SFFWRTCHT: What story of yours are you most proud of?

JS: As a writer, the story I’m most proud of is “Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas,” which appeared, naturally in Interzone and is now out in my new collection Never Never Stories. Interzone has been very supportive of my fiction. I love them for that. They’re also a great magazine.

SFFWRTCHT: I see from your bio that you’ve done some archeological work. Do you think it impacts your writing?

JS: Definitely. Storytelling is much the same as archeology. You brush away the dirt bit by bit until the story emerges.

SFFWRTCHT: How long does it typically take you to write a short story?

JS: You can’t push a story faster than it needs to grow. Someone once told me the story you write will never be as good as the story you see in your head. So true.

SFFWRTCHT: You recently released your first collection ‘Never, Never Stories,” which has gotten picked up by trade paperback by a small press. How did the book and deal come about?

JS: After I self published Never Never Stories as an ebook, it caught the attention of Edmund Schubert, the editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show and the new acquisitions editor for Spotlight Publishing. Spotlight was relaunching with a focus on science fiction and fantasy books and Edmund thought my collection would fit in well with their lineup. The deal we have allows me to continue selling my ebook edition while Spotlight has the print rights.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the stories in Never, Never Stories. Are they the same in both tpb and ebook?

JS: No. The ebook edition contained 14 stories or almost 100,000 words of my fiction. However, the Spotlight edition will be a trade paperback and 100,000 words was simply too long, so I cut it back to my 10 strongest stories plus an introductory essay.

SFFWRTCHT: Does the book feature all of your story sales so far or are you saving some for future books?

JS: My most recent publications in Interzone and Daily Science Fiction aren’t included, so I’ll have to use them in a future collection. I also didn’t include “Plague Birds” because it’s the first in a sequence of stories, which will eventually be published in a novel format.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you go about choosing which stories to include?

JS: With the ebook edition I tried to include most of the stories I’ve published over the last three years, which is the time period when my fiction really began to click with me and readers. With the print edition, I focused on my 10 strongest stories from this same time period.

SFFWRTCHT: Where can we order the book?

JS: The print edition will be available through Spotlight Publishing along with being for sale on Amazon and through book stores. I include links to all the different editions at my website.

SFFWRTCHT: So besides Never Never Stories, what other projects are you working on? Any novels?

JS: I plan to release a novella as an ebook. I’m also working on a fantasy novel. It’s a fantasy set in the modern day along the Gulf Coast. But I hate the term “urban fantasy.” It’s way overused. Almost generic.

SFFWRTCHT: “Urban fantasy” drives me nuts too. Is there a better term for fantasy set in the modern world, do you think?  “Modern fantasy” perhaps?

JS: I don’t think there is. Part of the problem with using the term “modern” is it’s associated with 20th century movements. At least with “urban fantasy” people know what you mean.

SFFWRTCHT: How long have you been working on the novel?

JS: I refuse to reveal how long I’ve been working on the novel on the grounds that it may embarrass me. 

SFFWRTCHT: Is this novel part of a series or a standalone?

JS: It will be a standalone novel, but if readers like it I could easily turn the character and setting into a series.

SFFWRTCHT: Awesome. We’ll all be looking forward to that.

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 ofScience 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.