Darrell Schweitzer is the author of over 300 published stories, many of which are collected in We are all Legends, Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out, Transients and Other Disquieting Tales, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, Nightscapes, The Great World and the Small, and Sekenre: The Book of the Sorcerer. His collaborations with Jason Van Hollander are collected in Necromancies and Netherworlds. He has twice been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for best collection (for Transients and for Necromancies and Netherworlds) and once for novella ("To Become a Sorcerer") and won it once (with George Scithers) for co-editing Weird Tales. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Amazing, Twilight Zone, Space & Time, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Postscripts, and numerous anthologies.
His three published novels are The White Isle, The Shattered Goddess, and The Mask of the Sorcerer (which contains the above-mentioned novella). He is also a non-fiction author, including book-length studies of HP Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany. He has conducted numerous author interviews, some of which are collected in SF Voices, and written reviews, essays etc. He has been a book review columnist in Aboriginal SF and in Science Fiction Review. A recent book of his essays is Windows of the Imagination (1998) which was a Locus "Notable" book.
As a poet, he is best known for having rhymed "Cthulhu" twice in a limerick and lived to tell about it. His light verse is collected (so far) in Non Compost Mentis, Poetica Dementia, and the aptly-entitled Stop me Before I do it Again! Recent collections of his "serious" poetry are Groping Toward the Light and Ghosts of Past and Future.
Q: Over your career you've worn many literary hats: author, editor, poet, and essayist amongst them. Would you consider any of these areas to be more rewarding than the others?
DS: I suppose my primary focus has always been fiction-writer, but as it works out the majority of pieces I have published have not been stories. I HAVE published rather a lot. According to my bibliography, "The Last Heretic," sold to Postscripts, is story #303. There is a 304, but I haven't sold it yet. This does not mean I am hugely prolific. I am 57. This count started when I was about 18. Included among those 304 stories are six novels, two of which were hack jobs and don't really count (See the essay, "My Career as a Hack Writer" in Windows of the Imagination.) But that is still less than ten stories a year.
All these activities have their satisfactions. Editing is very different from writing, and something you can do when the creative imagination isn't quite sparking. It is also a noble calling, because it involves making opportunities for other writers. If I had the opportunity, I could go on forever compiling reprint anthologies, but that opportunity doesn't seem to have come my way. But if I can merely outlive all the other experts in the field, it might.
Q: Most writers can name a few authors who have influenced their development in regard to craft and technique. How were you influenced, and by whom?
DS: Every writer is influenced by others. I may be more bookish than many, and, even in my "mature" years given to lifting something useful from another writer. For example, my recent novella Living with the Dead, which PS Publishing has brought out as a book, is very clearly influenced by Zoran Zivkovic's various story cycles. The influence is not so much the content as the form: a work of five episodes, all of which dovetail into one another, forming a larger whole.
Otherwise I see a massive, early influence of Lord Dunsany. I can still go back to Dunsany and be moved to "write like that." Fortunately the result is not at all like that. I have learned various things at various times. I think I learned a lot of Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and from Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun about how to write an imaginary-world story from the "inside," from the viewpoint of a native character. These are immersive fantasies. The story is told entirely from inside the world of the characters, with no reference to our own. Of course I had been writing this sort of thing all along, but both Le Guin and Wolfe showed me how to do it better.
I think I have pretty much avoided the stylistic influence of H.P. Lovecraft, and I made no attempt to write anything in the Cthulhu Mythos until I was at least 40, but he has always been an important presence in my life, more so than many people I have actually known in the flesh. In effect, we've all been his correspondents for years and years now, and as more books of his letters come out, it isn't over yet. I reread "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" not all that long ago and was surprised to realize how much of this had been absorbed into The Mask of the Sorcerer. The character of Sekenre might be described as a fusion of Huckleberry Finn and Joseph Curwen.
I have also been known to lift motifs, images, and ideas from writers as diverse as Jorge Luis Borges and John Mandeville. We all do this. It is what you do with the borrowings that matters.
Q: With being an editor you have probably seen many new writers and spec-fic poets enter the speculative fiction field. Are there many that really stand out, newcomers that you admire in the genre world? Any lesser known authors/poets come to mind deserving a shout-out?
DS: I can mention some writers I more or less "discovered" in Weird Tales who are clearly getting places. I don't think I bought the first sales of any of them, but I had them as regular contributors early in their careers. There's Carrie Vaughn, who is best known for a series of books about Kitty Norquist, a talk-show host werewolf. Two short stories from WT formed part of the first book. I also saw an obvious, early promise in Kelly McCullough, who's "Webmage" series began in WT. (Actually, I think that was his first sale.) I also encountered John Fultz early on in his career. I think he shows great promise. Of course there were lots of other people who would sell us one or two great stories, and then disappear. That is one of the frustrations of editing. In the first issue of Asimov's SF (or IA'sfm, as it was called in those days, when edited by George Scithers; I was one of his minions) there is a splendid story by a woman named Sally Sellers. I can remember that she sent us a second story, which was supernatural horror, and I directed her to Charles Grant's SHADOWS series, but the story wasn't published there. I don't know if it was ever submitted. I don't know whatever happened to Sally Sellers either. I think she could have had a solid career if she'd stuck with it.
Q: As editor at Weird Tales you've doubtlessly seen many types of fiction pass through the slush. I am curious; is there a change in the style of "weird"? Is there a difference in classic weird fiction and what is being called, the "New Weird"? What do you think of the "New Weird"?
DS: I must point out that I have not been editor of Weird Tales since early 2007, and even when I was, I was almost always co-editor with someone. I am listed as sole editor around issue 300, but that is largely a fiction, because we had promoted George Scithers to publisher, and the editorial process went on as a balancing act between me, George, and others pretty much as before. Then we ran out of money, handed the magazine over to Warren Lapine, and he became publisher, so George was listed as co-editor again. I think that toward the end of this regime I was the dominant influence, but in any case the current fiction editor is Ann Vandermeer and the managing and non-fiction editor is Stephen Segal, and they are taking the magazine in a radically different direction. Obviously this has pleased someone because they just won a Hugo for it. Obviously, too, since John Betancourt of Wildside Press owns the magazine and it was his money that was being spent (and, for the most part, lost), he had every right to change direction and editors if he thought that would make the magazine more profitable. I am still involved as an occasional contributor of non-fiction, but I have no input into the magazine's design or content these days.
As for "New Weird," I think it is going to crash and burn, rather the way the New Wave in science fiction did, and for the same reason, which is that it has given rise to too much pretentious, unreadable writing and it will cause readers to flock elsewhere. In the sense that it's a marketing term, "New Weird" means "books we can sell to the same audience that buys China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, and Kelly Link." I am sure that when it's all over, Mieville, Vandermeer, and Link will be doing just fine, although their books may have to be reissued with new style covers to distance them from what no longer sells. It's the imitators who will come to grief. Remember Cyberpunk? The writers who actually invented it, like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, are still prospering. But any number of Gibson wanabes fell by the wayside, and a certain style of cover art perished with them.
The problem with a lot of what proclaims itself as "New Weird" or "slipstream" or just "literary fantasy" is that it's infected with lit-mag values, and lit-mag writers do not know how to tell stories. Readers want stories. This is rediscovered, at someone's expense, in every generation. "Experimental fiction," I have always insisted, is one of the most conservative of literary forms, a real fossil, incapable of evolution. Whenever I encounter a young, new writer who wants to write "experimental fiction" I encourage them to move beyond that, into something more innovative. I know art school teachers encounter the same phenomenon quite a lot. You know, "I can't draw, so I'll do abstracts." This shows -- if nothing else -- a poor understanding of the nature of abstracts. Picasso very definitely COULD draw. Then he was able to do innovative things with his work. The same applies to literature.
Q: There's been much talk about the loss of short fiction markets and a decline in interest in short fiction. How do you feel about the present state of the speculative short story? How is it different today than in the past? Any idea where we're headed creatively? What are your thoughts on electronic media vs. print? Is it a killer?
DS: My feeling is that electronic publication is somewhere between newspaper writing and skywriting. It can be very widespread, but it is also very ephemeral. A well bound book, on acid free paper, if kept dry and out of the sun, could survive complete neglect for centuries. The oldest book I ever physically handled was an 11th century Bible. It was in great shape, but for a broken hinge. An electronic publication, if it falls into neglect for even ten years, and the standard format changes a few times, may disappear completely. If you had a story in F&SF last month, you have achieved "flea market immortality," which means that for well beyond your lifetime, used copies of that issue will not be hard to come by. A local (Philadelphia) fan named Hal Lynch had only two stories published in his lifetime, one in Astounding, one in F&SF, both in the early '50s. When someone asked for them, no problem. I had both issues.
Markets come and go. New magazines start as often as old ones collapse. I've always thought that the short story writer is like the heroine of The Perils of Pauline, in that scene where she is leaping from one ice floe to the next to avoid being swept over a waterfall. Of course some ice floes are bigger than others. I managed to become a regular in Fantastic for exactly one year (1980). I leapt from there to Fantasy Book, which published several stories of mine, then folded. I leapt from there to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which did me good service for about 5 years. Meanwhile I had been in every issue of Weirdbook for 23 years, and had actually first published in it as far back as 1971. (Weirdbook lasted for 30 years, 1968-98 and published 30 issues. I am in 3, 4, 6, 9-30.) But all of these markets are gone. My most steady market at the moment is Postscripts, which has only been in existence for a few years.
I think what's an endangered species is the completely professional fiction magazine, which is published by a large corporation, with an office in New York, where the editor and an assistant or two are paid a living wage to edit a fiction magazine. We are instead in the age of the little magazine, published by an editor-entrepreneur. If you want to see the way forward, look to Postscripts or Cemetery Dance. The way to go seems to be to start a little magazine which is used as an advertizing base for a line of books. Talebones was one of these too, and has lasted 39 issues, although now editor/publisher Patrick Swenson is calling it quits. But he is also talking about resuming as an anthology series. He has a book line, which is apparently quite successful. Postscripts is not, strictly speaking, a magazine anymore, but a series anthology, rather like Orbit. There are economic reasons for this, the most obvious of which is that if you take an object containing, say, 60,000 words of fiction, put it out in paper covers and call it a magazine, you can get, at maximum, about $8.00 a copy. But the same object, in the same covers, called a trade paperback, can easily sell for $15.00. Put a hard cover on it (which costs about a dollar more per copy) and you can get $20.00 or more.
Remember, too, that if a magazine sells one thousand copies, that's pretty marginal. But if the publisher also does books, and through his magazine now has a list of people who will likely buy a hardcover book he publishes, and he sells a thousand copies of the hardcover book, he's doing all right.
The problem with electronic publication -- i.e. websites as magazines -- is that nobody has really figured out how to make money off it. Clarkesworld has an interesting solution. They republish their entire contents as a series of anthologies, which CAN be sold for actual money. The internet is a powerful promotional tool, but I think it's a mistake to say that it is the product. Clarkesworld has the best of both worlds.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers trying to develop their craft?
DS: Keep on writing. Do not stop. There is a profound difference between talking about writing and DOING it. Once you are doing it, the rest is refinement. I have always pointed out that Jim Theis, the author of the infamous and much-ridiculed "The Eye of Argon," probably could have become a professional writer if he had kept at it. He was a kid, about 16. He had FINISHED a story of some 12,000 words. He knew what narrative was. The story has a beginning, middle, and end, and something is always happening. Of course it is a total mass of cliché and awful prose, but that's something that improves with practice. He was like a beginning violin student who was making sounds that more resembled the disemboweling of a live cat than music. But at least he had picked up the instrument and begun the learning process.
Q: What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future? Aspirations? Goals? And for those rare few who might not have encountered your work, where would someone find a good source to sample some Darrell Schweitzer?
DS: I suppose my aspiration is to have temples to my fame all over the world ... but failing that, I would like to be read and would like to keep on producing something that people want to read. Whenever I seem to slow down and wonder if my best creative years might be behind me, I look at Gene Wolfe, who is 79 or thereabouts, and at the height of his craft.
Right now I am writing a new Sekenre story.
My books are easily available on the internet. Just Google my name. Or go to eBay, Amazon, or Abebooks.com and you will find plenty. You could always go to Wildside Press's website and order from there. I will get royalties if you do, which I will not if you buy a used book club edition on Abebooks. If you want signed copies, you can get a lot of titles from me directly. I have some stock nobody else does, remainders and out of print titles.
If you have not read me before, the two novels you want are The Mask of the Sorcerer and The Shattered Goddess. For short stories, probably the best single sampler is Refugees from an Imaginary Country. (Shameless plug: when the publishers more or less retired, most of the stock ended up in my garage. I still have the limited-edition hardcovers, signed by myself and Stephen Fabian. I think I have all of them, or nearly so. I offer these on eBay constantly.) Other good collections are Nightscapes, Tom O'Bedlam's Night Out, and Transients and Other Disquieting Tales. (This last is all modern-scene horror or urban fantasy, in the Twilight Zone mode. One of the stories is actually from Twilight Zone magazine, and several more are from its companion, Night Cry.) Necromancies and Netherworlds is a volume of my collaborations with the author/artist Jason Van Hollander, who brilliantly illustrated the book. It was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 2000 for best collection, and he was nominated for best artist. He won.
If you want to read me as a critic and essayist, I can only recommend the new collections Windows of the Imagination and The Fantastic Horizon. As a poet: Groping Toward the Light and Ghosts of Past and Future. It goes on and on. Lately I have been editing anthologies with Martin Greenberg. Hunt up The Secret History of Vampires (DAW, 2007). There will be more, including an urban werewolf book from Pocket next spring called Full Moon City (I think that is the current title; it's been changed several times by the publisher). It contains a wonderful Peter Beagle story, and one from Gene Wolfe, among many others. I am currently editing Cthulhu's Reign, which is a book of Cthulhu Mythos stories that take place AFTER the Old Ones win and take over the Earth again. My aspiration as an editor is to become so respected that I can sell a non-gimmick anthology called DARRELL SCHWEITZER'S Book of Good Stories, but I do not think I have nearly reached that point yet.
Oh, I also once rhymed Cthulhu in a limerick. This and more such poetical effusions can be found in a series of chapbooks, beginning with Non Compost Mentis (1995).