Douglas Cohen (douglascohen) wrote,
Douglas Cohen

Editorial Musings--Issue 11

So for reasons that were not my fault, there was no Editorial Musings interview last month. I'll refrain from detailing the problem on a public forum like LJ, but suffice it to say I decided it was best to wait for April to post the next issue rather than ask one of our beloved and busy editors to try to get an interview back to me under the gun so I'd have something for March. Anyway, Editorial Musings is back, and for those of you with the tax-day blues, I present to you this month's guest, writer/anthologist, Jay Lake:

Bio: Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon with his books and two inept cats,
where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His current novel
is Trial of Flowers from Night Shade Books. Mainspring is forthcoming
from Tor Books, with sequels to both books in 2008. Jay is the winner of
the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple
nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through
his blog at

How did you get your start as an anthologist?

It was pretty much an accident. Deborah Layne, publisher of Wheatland Press and my co-editor on the Polyphony anthology series, had originally envisioned Polyphony as a magazine. I argued for it being an anthology, given the general vision she had of the whole process, which somehow turned into me co-editing. It was definitely a case of learning the hard way, but learn we did.

Although you’ve edited others anthologies, the one that has received the most attention and acclaim is the Polyphony Series. Can you tell us a bit about this series and why you think it’s been so successful?

Deborah's original vision was for stories she liked she wasn't seeing published elsewhere. At the time, 2001/2002, the term "slipstream" was in the zeitgeist in a big way, for all that it never did have a usefully common definition. We took the perspective that we were looking for genre stories with strong literary values, or literary stories with strong genre tropes, whichever direction the good stuff happened to flow from. While there were a certain number of one-off anthologies with this same focus -- Trampoline and Angel Body come to mind -- the only serial anthology making a similar effort was Leviathan, and that market was too irregular in its production schedule, with each volume shifting theme. We were the only market which stuck our thumb in the eye of slipstream and said, "here we are."

That being said, I think there's a reasonable case to be made for saying that war is over. Slipstream has merged with mainstream, and there's literary breaking out all over in a way we haven't seen since the heady days of the New Wave. (I was in pre-school back then, so I missed that movement as either a writer or an editor.) We went from being a voice in the wilderness to one of the crowd. In other words, ultimately, we were right. The fun was that we got to set at least part of the agenda for a demigeneration of writers, editors and markets.

Your co-editor on the Polyphony series is Deborah Layne. Can you describe the how the editorial process works between the two of you?

That process has varied from volume to volume, as our guidelines have changed and the pace of our individual commitments has ebbed and flowed. Volume 1 was invitation only. We had exactly one story over the transom, that came in on query from Doug Lain -- "The Sea Monkey Conspiracy", which is now part of his excellent novel The Brainwash Brand. Volume 2 was a mix of invitation and more or less unpublicized open reading. From volume 3 forward, we went to a true open reading model, classic slush, with a sprinkling of invites to try to keep some names with good cover pull in each book.

Some volumes I've read most or all of the slush, some volumes we've split the slush. Once we cut the initial pile -- usually 500 or more -- down to 40 or 50 finalists, we then pass them back and forth, compiling lists of preferences and potential tables of contents. If we're both very excited about a story, it's in. For stories where one of us loves and the other doesn't, it comes down to negotiation. At the end of the day, she's the publisher and the senior editor, so I try not to let it come to a head-to-head disagreement. Her vote's bigger than mine, if you know what I mean. However, we've survived six volumes co-editing, so obviously we're doing something right, with significant congruency of taste.

Your anthologies have been released through Wheatland Press, a publisher some people may not be familiar with. Can you tell us a little bit about Wheatland Press?

Wheatland Press is an independent publisher based in Wilsonville, OR which specializes in books and authors with more literary or unusual themes. Deborah's catalog is well over two dozen books now, and includes work from Jerry Oltion, Howard Waldrop, Lucius Shepard, Steve Utley, Bruce Holland Rogers and myself. She doesn't do many novels or nonfiction titles, focusing mostly on anthologies and collections. It's good stuff, that Deborah thinks deserves to stay in print.

Can you tell us about some of the other anthologies you’ve edited?

Heh. There's always another one, you know? David Moles and I did All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, with a largely uncredited but strong assist from Greg van Eekhout. I also did a solo project called TEL : Stories, which was mostly built around stories too weird for Polyphony.

Any anthologies in the works/due to be published/recently released?

Mike Brotherton and I have an as yet unpublished e-antho called 44 Clowns. Nick Mamatas and I have an as yet unpublished print antho called Spicy Slipstream Stories. I've got an unannounced project under contract with Daw for a 2008 release, with a co-editor, and another unannounced project in development. A mixed bag, but I love doing anthologies.

On average, what percentage of stories do you solicit in advance for your anthologies?

Completely depends on the project. Some books need to be largely or entirely invited, in order to be marketed to the publishers. Others can run wide open. We launched Polyphony by invitation, because we wanted volume 1 to reflect our vision as closely as possible, so we'd have something to point to when accepting submissions later in the series. My personal preference runs strongly toward open readings, but that places a substantial burden on the editorial process. I really, really like finding the unlooked-for gems, like Paul Berger's "Voice of the Hurricane" in the Zeppelin slush pile. I believe you call those "slush survivors."

Can you give us an idea about the average amount of submissions you receive for the open slots in your anthologies? I would imagine you receive more for the Polyphony series.

Polyphony runs about 20 stories depending on word count, of which perhaps 15 are filled from open reading. We get over 500 submissions for those slots. The other projects have varied considerably by project.

What advice would you give to someone considering putting together an anthology?

"Run away, run away!"

Seriously, it's a pain in the neck. A very fascinating, rewarding pain in the neck, but a pain. The best thing you can do if you're interested in putting together an anthology is line up a publisher and the associated funding first. That's the heartbreak part. Guidelines, slush and tables of contents are fun. If they don't seem fun to you, for the love of Ghu, don't do it. I'd also spend some time talking to established anthologists. There's a lot of lessons to be learned, right down to the evolving minutiae of guidelines.

Personally, I love to blab on and on about my slush discoveries. What about you? Any stories you’ve discovered for your various anthologies you’d like to tell us about?

As I mentioned, Paul Berger's "Voice of the Hurricane" jumps out as the real pleasant surprise among our slush discoveries. I'd like to claim David Moles' "Theo's Girl" in that category, as it may be my favorite story I ever published, but I saw it in a workshop and asked him to send it in, so it probably doesn't count. I'm proud of everything I've published -- otherwise I wouldn't have bought the story, eh?

What are your pet peeves as an editor?

Bad manuscript formatting. Stories with my name in them. Stupid character syndrome. Oddball fonts. Did I mention bad manuscript formatting?

Who are some of your favorite authors, both in and outside of the genre?

There's a loaded question. I love David Moles' work, and wish very much he'd write more. Jeff VanderMeer, China Mièville, Terry Pratchett, Gene Wolfe. Outside our field...James Lee Burke. I'm a total sucker for his style. Jan Count Potocki, though he's been dead almost 200 years, so maybe he doesn't count in the sense that you're asking the question. I also have a lot of respect for Nora Roberts and Steven King, for being master story tellers who've cracked the commercial code.

Do you have any additional editorial aspirations?

I'd like to keep doing anthologies, ideally for larger markets. This upcoming Daw book is a nice shift for me. I think I have a lot to say as an editor, and welcome opportunities to stretch myself into larger markets and different focii. At the same time, I have no ambition whatsoever to edit a periodical or a YB market -- that would take too much time away from my writing.

You’ve also accomplished quite a bit as a writer. Has your editorial work helped your writing at all?

I think my editing has had a profound effect on my writing, almost all to the good. For one thing, it's given me a much better perspective on the process, and what goes on at markets. All aspiring writers should work slush a while -- all that mickey mouse crap around manuscript format and guidelines would make so much more sense to them. At the same time, I've seen a wide range of takes on creativity and story telling, some of it flawed, all of it interesting. It's a completely different exposure than reading finished markets, and it helps my creative perspective immensely. Keeps me in touch with trends, too, or at least that's what I like to tell myself.

What about Jay Lake, the writer? What works of yours should we be on the lookout for?

The big penny drops this coming June when Mainspring comes out from Tor. It's my first trade novel out of the New York press. I'm very, very excited about it. There's a sequel next year, Stemwinder, and there's also a forthcoming sequel to my recent Night Shade Books novel Trial of Flowers, Madness of Flowers. I'm having a lot of fun writing and editing, and hope like heck people are having a lot of fun reading it all.

Everyone wants to know …how are you so damn prolific as a writer? :)

Good time management skills combined with a fast typing speed. Seriously. I work hard at it, I don't have much of a social life, and I'm ruthless with myself about scheduling. Also, I don't watch TV, play computer or video games, or go clubbing, and I very rarely make it to movies. I do go to parties and dinners, for the sake of not being a stick, but conversation feeds the plot place in my head rather than filling it, which games and movies tend to do.

Does the writer in you have any non-editorial advice for the hordes of scribes out there?

Write more. Seriously. Everything flows from that. Write more, and you'll get better, you'll have inventory to sell, and you'll have more fun.

Thanks so much for your time.

You are most welcome.

So big thanks to Jay Lake for a great interview.  Be certain to check out his antho projects, and be sure to buy Mainspring when it hits the stands.  And tune in next month, which shall mark one year of Editorial Musings, when I interview ...???
Tags: editorial musings (column)

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded