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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Authors Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

Probably best known for their bestselling Liaden Universe®  series, husband and wife writing team Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are the co-authors of 21 novels and numerous short stories as well as authoring work independently. Together, they’ve garnered a number of awards, the latest being the Skylark Award this year, as well as invitations as Guests of Honor and Special Guests at science fiction conventions from coast to coast in the U.S. and Canada. Steve’s fiction began appearing in the small press before he broke into Ted White’s Amazing in the mid-1970s. He was Vice Chair of the Baltimore in 80 WorldCon bid while he was editor of the science fiction tabloid Star Swarm News. When the News folded, Steve and partner Sharon Lee started Bookcastle & Dreamsgarth, Inc., a genre bookstore with a traveling convention SF art agency component.  Steve’s solo work includes Timerags, Timerags II, and Chariot to the Stars.  By day, a mild-mannered — not to say quiet to the point of invisibility — secretary, at night Sharon wrote.  She didn’t write well, but she did write a lot, and along about 1976, she entered a story in the Balticon X short story contest.  The story took first prize, thereby convincing Sharon that she was indeed on the right road. Four years later, in very close order, she made her first fiction sale, to Amazing, quit her day-job, and founded a genre bookstore with Steve. Her solo books include Barnburner, Gunshy and Endeavor of Will.  Sharon’s most recent solo book is Carousel Tides, published in November 2010 by Baen Books. Their joint novels include Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Balance of Trade, Sword of Orion, Duainfey, Longeye, Mouse and Dragon, and Ghost Ship. They can be found on Facebook and through their website at http://korval.com.


SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Sharon Lee: From a bookstore on Loch Raven Boulevard in Hillendale, Maryland, called Greetings and Readings.  I spent a *fortune* in that store.

Steve Miller: I’m probably going to romanticize this a little, but I’d have to say it came from my parents and from some young men I never met — several of them soldiers who either didn’t survive WW II or who survived a few years and died young. I was born not long after the war; many of the people my parents knew had been involved in one way or another in the war effort. My grandmother the poet, for example, had been a riveter working inside the tail sections of aircraft at Glenn L. Martin in Middle River, near Baltimore.

Particularly the interest came from my father’s side of the family. My father read SF, and his mother — my grandmother — was an award winning poet later and always supplied her grandkids with books — general science books, astronomy, you name it. At the same time my grandmother was giving us (my brothers and I) books, we inherited books, comics, and other stuff from my uncle and from friends of the family — chemistry sets, Erector sets, crystal radio sets, telescopes etc. The thing is that I read from an early age — before I went to school — and since I’d had a series of medical issues when I was young when we visited I was often expected to entertain myself indoors while my older brother and cousins played outside — my adventure came from books, and was informed by the science books I read and by the fairy tales and poetry my mother read to us from other books we’d been given before i was school age. With a wealth of science fiction books available to me early, a background including fun kids books and fairy tales, and it all came together.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up?

SL:  Growing up, growing up?  Rudyard Kipling/How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, Helen Bannerman/Little Black Sambo, Oliver Butterworth/The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear, Ruth Stiles Gannett/My Father’s Dragon.  All the colors of the fairy tale books. Louisa May Alcott/Little Women, Charlotte Bronte/Jane Eyre, Johanna Spyri/Heidi, anything Elswyth Thane wrote, ditto Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Anne McCaffrey, CJ Cherryh. I read the Peter Wimsy mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, and most of Georgette Heyer’s regencies. I read Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Gwen Bristow, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Earle Stanley Gardner. . .y’know? This is getting silly. I read all over the map. It’s a good thing to do, whether or not you intend to be a writer.

SM: How far back do you want to go? I loved Green Eyes by A. Birnbaum — read it a couple times a year from first grade to sixth and I just got a copy for me and gave several copies to libraries and friends since it is back in print! I think the first “novel” I read on my own was by Eleanor Cameron — one of the Mushroom Planet books — so that fixed my interest with SF books early. I also read all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley (some of which were SF!) and the Jim Kjelgaard books adventure books… and then I found Norton, Verne, and Heinlein within a few weeks of each other. I inherited a copy of Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, when I was ten or so, along with the Boucher short story collection, IIRC, and by then was also reading Bradbury and whatever else I could find. I did read whatever I could get my hands on and as a result lots of books came my way.

SFFWRTCHT: How’d you get interested/started in writing? Did you study it in school?

SL: I got interested in writing primarily because I had some early-life trouble with the whole talking out loud thing. I started speaking very late, and when I finally did get around to it, my sentences were pretty often a scrambled mess, and hardly anybody understood me.  I noticed that, if I wrote things down, people had less problems understanding what I was saying to them.  Also, I very much admired stories and had decided at a tender age — say five — that I wanted to make stories of my own.

For schooling. . .I did take a creative writing course in high school; and another in college, to fill out my credits.  I talked with my college adviser about becoming an English major, because of my interest in writing, but his advice was a horrified, “Ohmygod, no!  If you want to be a commercial writer, you absolutely *don’t* want to be an English major.”  It was probably the best advice I got in college, aside from the English professor who — I had given her a partial of a novel I was writing at the time, on the advice of one of my teachers.  At her request, I went to see her; she asked me some questions, I answered in my scrambled-sentence style, whereupon she thumped my manuscript on her desk and told me that nobody who talked like I did could possibly have written that story, and told me to get out.  So I did, though, in retrospect, she may only have meant that I was to leave her office, rather than college entirely.  In any case, it turns out that you don’t need a college degree to be a commercial writer.  I wish I remembered her name; I really owe her a debt.

SM: As I said above, my grandmother (Dorothea Neale) was a poet. I always thought I’d be a writer, from the time I started thinking about the grow-up someday stuff. I started writing poetry and stories regularly when I was in junior high I guess. By the time I hit high school I had several dozen notebooks full of stories and more of poetry. As for studying writing in school, I did (on several different iterations of going to college!), but it was probably going to Clarion West in 1973 that was the best writing instruction I had. I’d call the college fiction classes minor assists — they got me grades fro what I was already doing, which was good…. and also, I first got to work with Sharon (yes, my wife and co-author) in one of those college writing classes.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did it take until your first sale and what was it?

SL: How long from what?  *grin* I made my first sale in 1978; I was twenty-six years old.  The story was titled “A Matter of Ceremony” and it appeared in Amazing Stories.

SM: I started submitting stories in high school…First sale — hard question. I started getting published in literary ‘zines while I was in high school, and then when I went to college I joined the school newspaper and got paid for that writing, starting in my freshman year. First thing there was a story about the UMBC chess club (which was started the year before I got there and began intercollegiate competition the year I arrived — these days UMBC is one of the power houses of scholastic chess, and I was part of the start.). I started writing for SF fanzines — mostly book reviews for which I got paid in books and in copies of the ‘zines — in late 1968 or early 1969. I had a few poems published early, too — $3 or $5 a piece, I guess. I placed some fiction in semi-prozines pretty early, but didn’t sell anything pro in the fiction arena until 1975. It didn’t appear instantly, but that was “Charioteer” and it sold to Ted White at Amazing.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved early on with Cons or cosplay?

SL: My first experience with science fiction conventions was BaltiCon X.  I had entered, and won first place in, the convention’s writing contest.  My prize was a membership to the con, $25 cash, which I immediately spent in the then-called Hucksters Room, and a chance to meet Isaac Asimov, who was perfectly lovely and very patient. I’m afraid I pre-date cosplay.

SM: “Cosplay” is so late an arrival that I still think it’s new-fangled. I missed out on a chance to go to my first con while I was in college — I was paying my own way through school, so I worked a 30 hour week while I was taking a full credit load and didn’t have time/energy for it. My first DisClave in 1975; by then I’d been to Clarion and taught SF at the university, and had a job as Curator of SF at UMBC on the way. DisCon II, the worldcon, was my second SF con ever. Shortly thereafter I was pretty heavily involved in fanzines and cons, but that’s a long story, including being involved in programming, artshows, and as Vice Chair of the (unsuccessful, but not really failed) Baltimore in 80 worldcon bid which led to later Baltimore WorldCons. I ran convention artshows for awhile and then Sharon and I were traveling art agents and hucksters at cons from the late 70s into the mid-80s. Yep — had some con involvement from many angles.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing process like? Do you have planned time? Grab it when you can? Do you outline or pants it? Do you use music when you write? Word? Scrivener or other special software?

 SL:  I use LibreOffice, an open source word processing program, and lots and lots of lined yellow pads. I find the idea of using “special software” to write a book. . .peculiar, but, then, I wrote a dozen stories and my first two novels on a typewriter, so I imagine it’s all in what you grow up with.

I’m a night writer. Real Life has dictated that I be less of a night writer than I actually *prefer*, else I’d never see that big yellow thing up in the sky.

We start with an idea and characters, and often work out the plot as we go along, by discussion and role playing. Formal outlines are. . .rare, though we will both outline a scene or two ahead — for me, personally, that’s what the yellow pads are for. Sadly, I find music a distraction when I’m writing.

SM: I’ve never understood what Scrivener is supposed to do for me or to me: give me a word processor or even a text editor and I can get by. I’m a very bad example of a writer — I tend to write in spurts, and since I was a newspaper writer I tend to write to deadline. “Pantsing it” is a silly way of putting it — I either write like fire’s coming out of my hands or like there’s drops of blood sweating out of my forehead. I generally have a good idea of where I’m going; I’ve read a lot so SF and fantasy so I don’t do much in the way of structured-by-classroom-taught-writing-rules kind of thing, I’m afraid. I’ve had to write to outline a few times, and can do it, but it isn’t how I prefer to do it since so much of what gets to the page is discovered by the characters as they work. I either need a lot of noise — like a bowling alley or some such — or fairly quiet. Music is hard because I was a music reviewer for awhile and if it is on I stop and listen to it. It helps for me to have a cat or two in the room.

SFFWRTCHT: I have dogs instead of cats, ironically. And I know what you both mean about music being a distraction. Also, it’s hard to find the right terms for things like “pantsing” because everyone has their own. So I try and pick one that at least people know what I mean. I write in Word myself but a lot of people do like music and writing software so I always ask, since this series focuses on craft and writing tips. How does your collaboration work? Do you split it up? One rewrites the other?

SL:  Well, it seems to be working OK so far. . .In short form, whoever brings the story to the table is that book’s advocate, and holds a second vote, in case of a creative difference of opinion. Back in our typewriter days, I usually did the first draft, because I typed faster. Nowadays, when we’re doing several projects simultaneously, it’s much more likely to be that the advocate for a certain book will also do the first draft, with the other partner available for brainstorming and support.

One of our habits is that today’s pages will be printed out and given to the partner who is not on-point with the particular project, so we’re both always up-to-date on where all the creative projects stand.

SM: Most of it happens by talking things out, but then generally one does the basic first run of typing, the other goes through for a second draft, and then the first does the polish draft.

SFFWRTCHT: Collaboration can be very hard on relationships. I’ve had many author couples tell me they have to be very selective about projects but you two write everything together. What’s your secret? 

SM: Our secret is that we both were working writers before we started writing together, and the areas we worked in involved collaboration, sometimes amazing amounts of it. I was a reporter for numerous community newspapers and a feature writer and an editor — it came down to having the story as the focus, and getting it right, rather than treasuring the part that was “mine.” Sharon’s background included PR and advertising copywriting — anything from single newspaper ads to magazine campaigns, to TV commercials — and those things also had to be done as group projects. I had a little TV background, she had some press support background… it fell in place. Another key for us is the “third vote” or floor boss approach. Each project has someone designated as the third vote in case we come up with a problem area; usually that’s the person who suggested or inaugurated the particular project, We’re careful to try to talk problems out, but if it comes down to deadline and an a decision needs to be made, the floor boss gets the third vote.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve done numerous books in the Liaden Universe®  series. Where’d the idea for that come from?

SL: *counts quickly on fingers* I think we just turned in our 16th Liaden novel, Necessity’s Child; our 20th collaborative novel.  The Liaden Universe® must be blamed on me.  I started making up stories at a very early age, as I said, and I suppose began telling myself the exiting adventures of Val Con yos’Phelium, Miri Robertson and the Green People (who were later formalized as the Clutch), back when I was 12 or 13.  This is not to say that the story-universe I was playing in was at all like the Liaden Universe® as it now stands, but by the time I brought the idea that became Agent of Change to the table to talk over with Steve, I knew the two main characters very well indeed.

SFFWRTCHT: How much of the world did you create first before writing a story?

SL: How much of the world? Not much. We knew that space travel existed, because, hey, space opera. We knew that there were three main Clans of Men, and that Terrans were not the premier presence in trade; they were in fact late-comers bursting upon the galactic trading stage only to find the Liadens there before them and doing quite well, thank you. We knew that there were mercenary soldiers and spies, and pilots, and Clutch Turtles. I remember that we made a conscious decision not to have ray guns be the common hand weapon. Everything else? Our characters told us as we went along. This is only fair and reasonable, since our characters live in the universe we’re writing about.

SM: Not all of our books are Liaden, and those that aren’t — The Sword of Orion, say, and The Tomorrow Log – most of the world building occurred by on-going character interaction. The Liaden series was informed by Sharon’s long-time knowledge of the characters but it also used remnants of several novels I’d written but never published as well as several novella that Sharon and I couldn’t sell.

SFFWRTCHT: Had you planned/sold it as a series or did that just come about after?

SL: I had, after a long day at the typewriter and many, many pieces of paper balled up and thrown in the general direction of the trashcan, produced a sentence, which I took to Steve with the explanation that I believed I had a novel, here. He considered the sentence — which happens to be the first sentence of Agent of Change — for a little while, poured us both a glass of wine, looked at the sentence some more, and finally said, “No, I think you have a series.”

We spent the rest of the night, and the bottle of wine, plotting out seven books from that one sentence, and what I told Steve about the characters.

It comes about that the Agent of Change Sequence is a series of five books (Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare), not seven, but, in the process of writing those books, we discovered other characters with interesting stories, and so we keep working in the universe. I don’t think either of us thought we’d be talking about having handed in our 16th Liaden Universe® book.

SM: Sharon came up with the first line; together we did a rough outline for seven books to start. Once those books got started we saw that there was more than needed explicating and discussion, so now we’re on book 16, pushing toward 20.

SFFWRTCHT: I’ve seen people debating online the best order for newcomers to read the books in order to appreciate the series well. What’s your take on the best order in which to jump into the Liaden Universe® ?

SM: There are lots of preferred reading orders out there, I’m afraid. Google on “reading order Liaden Universe®” and you find a few thousand … Sharon’s blog has a list, and so does, I think, Goodreads.com.

SL: I do think that the fans who have been with us for a long time are, some of them, a little *too* insistent that the books must be read in X order, and that all the books must be read before the new title be attempted. I do understand that this springs from a tenderness for new readers, and a desire that they not “miss” anything, but I think it scares new readers away, because, c’mon — sixteen books is a *big* commitment.

For myself, I read series out of order all the time — I got into the habit when I was a regular user of the public library, and just checked out the books that happened to be on the shelf. In retrospect, this probably taught me a lot about how stories work, because I did from time to time have to piece together back story. It wasn’t a problem, then or now; in fact, it’s fun. I do understand that not everybody shares my hobbies, though.

There are several doors into the Liaden Universe® available to new readers. If, for instance, Reader A prefers romance, they might start with Local Custom. If Reader B prefers action!, they might start with Agent of Change. Other portal books include Conflict of Honors, Scout’s Progress, Balance of Trade, Fledgling, and the soon-to-be-published Necessity’s Child. There’s more information about this issue here: http://sharonleewriter.com/bibliography-2012/correct-reading-order/

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have plans for more books in the series?

SM: At least three. Trade Secrets is in progress…. and then there are the idea beyond that, but we don’t talk about books not under contract yet.

SFFWRTCHT: You’ve also written two Fey Duology fantasy books for Baen. Where’d that idea come from?

SL: It came from the idea that we ought to diversify. We had listened to our wise colleagues, many of whom write different series under other names — and thought that, yes, they were wise not to have all their eggs in one basket, and perhaps we ought to be wise, too. So, we wrote sample chapters and proposals for Duainfey and Longeye, and sent them to our agent to shop around, always believing that we would write those books, and perhaps more, under a different name. As it came about, Baen bought the books, but they wanted to publish them under the Lee and Miller byline. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea.

SM: The idea came from a challenge about what was…. umm .. not right … about a lot of fantasy stories.

SFFWRTCHT: On which tradition did you model your fey for the stories?

SL: Ours. We deliberately did not want Disneyland fey; we wanted the old, scary, seductive, alien fey.  In the old stories, the Queen of Fairies thought of humans as. . .toys at best, prey at worst, and hers to dispense with, without question. She would keep a man twenty years underhill, then throw him back without pity or remorse. Humans were lesser beings, to be used, and cast aside. Fairies were alien; they had their own lives and intrigues — and that’s very much how our fey are.

SM: The closest you’ll find is in the pre-Disney world, perhaps going back to the old Grimm fairy tales books and before.

SFFWRTCHT: Are there plans for more books in that series?

SL: No.

SM: There’s one way that would happen, and right now I have to say it isn’t likely that anyone’s going to drop a movie or TV contract for Duainfey with add-on books required into our laps.

SFFWRTCHT: Sharon, you’re the only person to have served as executive director, vice president, and president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA). How’d you decide with everything else you’re doing to make time to serve SFWA?

 SL: Well, see, time moves in a linear fashion.  At the time I was hired by SFWA to be the organization’s first full-time executive director, in 1997, I wasn’t doing “everything else.” I was working a couple of part-time jobs — woman of all work at a very small environmental services business, and reporter/photographer at a local weekly — and writing novels and short stories that nobody was buying.  We were washed-up writers in 1997; nobody had bought a word of our fiction in nearly 10 years.

That changed in early 1998, when we were contacted by Meisha Merlin with an offer to reprint our first three books and thus rose from the dead. Even then, there wasn’t much strain; we had a lot of books in our trunk and Meisha Merlin was only interested in publishing one book a year.  Things did get a little strained during my term as president, in 2002-2003, because we were traveling a lot for our writing career by then.  Happily, I didn’t win re-election.

SFFWRTCHT: What did you learn from that experience?

SL:  That people are quite dreadful; and quite marvelously kind.

SM: What I learned from it is Top Secret.

SFFWRTCHT: Steve was once curator of important collections at University of Maryland’s Kuhn Library Science Fiction Research Collection. Steve, how’d your founding of that collection come about?

SM: Oh, dragons help me! I’m happily the former Curator of SF, by dozens of years. The world of academe and I were not suited for a long-term relationship, I’m afraid, as much as I enjoyed some features of it. What did happen was a serendipitous series of strange events, starting with … Wally Shugg, or Dr. Wallace Shugg, who was a professor and later a mentor of mine at UMBC. Dr. Shugg made an off-hand comment in one of the classes I was taking with him, an offhand comment that was not very … flattering … to practitioner of the art of science fiction writing, nor of the genres they produced. It was, in fact, ignorant — for it displayed that he didn’t know much about the genre for all that he was a professor with a PhD. And so, the next day, I arrived at the classroom a little early with some short fiction stories for him: “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” was one of them, and there was “Casey Agonistes,” and there was something else — “The Darfsteller,” I think it was. In any case, I handed these over to him with a “You may be interested in these” … and sat down with the rest of my classmates to take a short pop quiz (generally a 10 minute or so affair.) He nodded his thanks, handed out the quiz, and after about 30 minutes looked up, startled by the low buzz of discreet talking, from his intent reading to say — “Class, Mr. Miller has delivered you from today’s lesson. Turn in your quizzes. See you on Friday!” He then said to me — “Do you know what’s in here? This is wonderful! I’m … thankful that you brought these to my attention ….” He asked me to his office where we discussed SF, where I suggested more reading for him … and then he asked me if I’d like to teach a course in the winter session, with his oversight.

So I taught at the university as an undergrad. Meanwhile, as a student, I’d found other SF fans at the school and uttered the fateful words: “We ought to have a club.” And so, there was an organizational meeting … where in I was elected provisional (and later regular) President of the organization (called the Infinity Circle). We decided, since the university provided us with a modest budget, to shoot high and ask Isaac Asimov to visit us — but he couldn’t on any of the days we’d be able to have a space. But, I’d discovered that Roger Zelazny lived not far from the school and ferreted out his phone number…. and we invited him to come talk. He refused a fee for this, and brought boxes and boxes of books to donate to the library. They accepted only the hardbacks, but there were hundreds of those and it was an impressive pile of books, and they were shelved together in the special collections area. Later, a U of M professor donated more SF books and the library Director realized he had a Science Fiction Collection in-the-making. By then I’d taught SF at several college as well as at UMBC, and I’d been to Clarion West … so Wally Shugg suggested the librarian get in touch with me and I was hired to pull the bits and pieces together and to make a cohesive research collection. We added thousands of fanzines, manuscripts, typescripts, paintings. Over time — several years — budget became a problem, though, and my hours at the collection went from full time as Curator to half-time as Curator and halftime overseeing students and when they sought to cut that to 10 hours a week at the collection I left to write.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you written short stories in the universes of your book series?

SL: Bunches and bunches of short stories.  We’re just now collecting them into two volumes for Baen to publish sometime in 2013 (we think).  We figure we have more than 300,000 words of Liaden short stories published. Many of the short stories are available electronically from www.pinbeambooks.com

SM: Dozens. The more novels we write, the more we want to illuminate the details of character or place that we discover, details that don’t easily fit into the novels. For years we issued one or two chapbooks of short stories each year. SRM Publisher had several collections, but those are out of print, so Baen is collecting them now into several larger books — title still not determined.

SFFWRTCHT: And you’re now Guests of Honor at the 40th Conquest in Kansas City. How did that invitation come about? Is this your first time at Conquest?

SL: I don’t pretend to be privy to the inner workings of any concom, though one imagines a space like the back room of the OJ Bar and Grill, a beat-up table with various hard-boiled persons disposed about it, a deck of cards, a handful of twelve-sided dice, a laptop, and a Ouija Board…We had been to one previous ConQuesT and had a blast.  Jim Morrow was writer GoH.  He had taken the train from Florida, as is his habit, and we had taken the train from Maine, as is ours. Quite by accident, we met in Chicago Union Station and went the rest of the way to Kansas City together — kind of a pre-con warm-up show.

SM: We were panelists some years back and enjoyed it very much. I assume we were invited the way most guests are — the convention committee has a list of writers the fans want to see. We’re not usually part of the process until after an invite.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the value for you as authors of attending Cons? Does being honored in this way benefit your career?

SL: It depends on what you mean by “benefit your career”.  If you mean, “does a cost-benefit analysis clearly show a significant increase to our profit line which is directly attributable to con-going” — no; I can’t point to any such thing. Going to conventions in general, and being honored guests in particular, gives us the opportunity to talk to our readers, many of whom aren’t con-goers, necessarily, but who may — and have — come to conventions local to them in order to see us.  This benefits us because we like to meet our readers; it’s good for writers to meet people, and to know that their work has actually been read. As GoHs those stakes go up, since we’re given the opportunity to meet the whole convention, and talk about our work to those who haven’t read us.  Some of those people will, yes, pick up one of our books, out of curiosity, and some will stick with the series — that’s cool, but not quantifiable.

SM: For us attending cons gets us away from the house and brings us face to face with our peers — and our peers are not only the writers and editors we deal with, but also the fans who’ve been reading as long as we have and the artists who’ve been making the art — we’re fans at heart, so cons are important to us that way. Elsewise, getting out to conventions helped keep us sharp when our writing wasn’t selling, and it helped keep our fanbase active and supportive then, and it also put us in spots to be offered new writing opportunities. Along the way, meeting the readers and fans is great — we’ve had breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or partied with — hundreds if not thousand of our fans and readers. Benefit the career? I guess it must help — we’re able to sign books, to listen and respond to questions, to get some feedback on those hours of sitting in a room staring at a screen. We recently received the Skylark Award — the Edward E. Smith Award for Imaginative Fiction — and that award is partly about being recognized as part of the larger SF community. So yes, being at cons, being actively in the community, benefits our career.

SFFWRTCHT: Much congratulations on the Skylark Award. Looking at bios, I gather you’re both still working and writing on the side, correct?

SL: Who told you that being a full-timer writer wasn’t work? *g* But, in fact, we had been full-time writers from 2000 through 2006.  Then our long-term publisher folded, owing us a good bit of money.  At that point, I took a secretarial job at the local college, so we could continue to have things like health insurance, and a steady inflow of cash, which are, after all, what one expects of a day-job.  At the same time, we wrote a novel on the web, for reader donations, and we sold the Fey books to Baen — from proposal, which meant they had to be written.

When the dust cleared, we had written six novels in 18 months, while I was “working full time.”

I left the day-job last summer — not because we’re wealthy beyond our wildest dreams of avarice, though our writing is paying the bills — but because I had to choose. The day-job was interfering with my ability to write my best, and the writing was interfering with my ability to meet the growing demands of the day-job. It wasn’t a hard choice — after all, I didn’t spend thirty-four years growing a writing career so I could be a departmental secretary at a college — but it was the riskier choice. . . .It’s well here to stop and reflect that, of the two of us, I’m the one who is risk-averse.

SM: Actually, I’ve been full time as a freelance writer/editor/ and sometime publisher since 1995. We were both full time for years but Sharon went back to work a few years ago so we’d have health insurance after another publisher folded, owing us big bucks. We finally built back up though and she’s back to full time as well as of about a year ago.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best advice you have to offer up and coming writers?

SL: Advice?  “Be patient” is always good advice, I guess.

What else? There is no sentence so ugly that it cannot be revised into a thing of beauty.

Life is much easier if you focus on those things you have control over; envy saps your energy, and does bad things to your sense of humor. Do have a sense of humor.

Money flows toward the writer.

Exercise. Read and write, every day.

Remember to tell your loved ones that you do love them.

Take out the garbage.

Call your mother.

SM: Don’t pay people to publish your work, and don’t succumb to the urge to push your work out too soon. Go for traditional publishing before you try self-publishing; give a novel several years or more to sell once it is done.

Never get involved in a convention drinking contest with a British pro.

If you workshop, don’t polish so many edges off your work that it becomes a generic workshop piece instead of something uniquely yours.

Don’t quit, but don’t quit your day job until there’s real money coming in from the writing.

Always keep at least 5 reams of paper in the house, and toner enough to cover it with your words.

Celebrity and success are not the same: don’t confuse them.

SFFWRTCHT: What other projects are in the works which we can look forward to in the future?

SL: Dragon Ship, the sequel to Ghost Ship, will be out in September 2012. Necessity’s Child, a standalone Liaden novel, will be published in May 2013. We have one more Liaden novel under contract, Trade Secrets — the 17th Liaden novel and our 21st collaboration. I have two novels under contract, sequels to Carousel Tides.  We have two short story collections under contract, as I mentioned. And…we owe Toni at Baen three proposals, one of which really ought to be for the sequel to Dragon Ship.

SM: I’m working on Trade Secrets, the next Liaden novel for Baen, right now. Sharon gets it to go over when I’m done — due in July. After that Sharon has some books of her own to write, and we’re working on proposals for more. Also, we’re putting up odds-and-ends of stories and partials at HTTP://www.splinteruniverse.com — some of those bits may grow into books eventually.


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, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.