Editors are the unsung heroes of the story world. They sit behind the scenes carefully whittling away slush piles of tales, plucking out beautiful bits of amber, and delivering to us what they think is worthy of our time as a reader. They’re the tastemakers, curators, and shepherds of stories and writers. One editor in particular has shaped the world of science fiction as we know it, and he lives right here in Philadelphia.
Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine from 1984 to 2003. During his tenure, he won 15 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor. He is also the founding editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and has released a new collection once a year since it’s inception in 1984. The 31st Edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction was just released this past July and is a fantastic overview of the current science fiction landscape.
In addition to his solo work, Dozois is also a frequent collaborator who has worked with Sheila Williams (the current editor of Asimov’s), Michael Swanwick, and frequent editorial partner, George R. R. Martin. His most recent collaboration with Martin is an anthology of cross-genre short fiction called Rogues. Featuring stories from some of the best writers around (Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, Patrick Rotherfuss, and Michael Swanwick just to name a few), Rogues is an astounding collection of stories.
Gardner was kind enough to take a few minutes away from creating enormous anthologies and answer some of my questions.
How did you become become an editor of Asimov’s Magazine and then The Year’s Best Science Fiction Anthologies?
That’s a long, boring story. The quick answer is that being a Hot New Writer in the East Coast SF scene in the late ’60s got me connections that lead to me doing a lot of freelance editorial worker as a slush pile reader, and that experience, and my work publishing anthologies, eventually, as my reputation in the field increased, got me tapped for the Asimov’s and Year’s Best jobs.
What makes a story stand out in an enormous pile of submissions?
The vast majority of stories in the pile are boring. Something that’s not boring, that has color, drama, movement, stands out. Story is what grabs you. It’s amazing how many stories don’t actually have any story, or don’t establish it until two-thirds of the way through an otherwise dull manuscript. The best way to do this is to immediately establish an interesting character in an interesting situation. If you can make the reader want to know what happens to the character, it’s an instinct hardwired into human nature to want to turn the page and find out. Keep them turning pages long enough, and they reach the end of the story.
Good prose writing stands out too. It’s shocking how many stories in the slush pile are completely illiterate, and that’s only gotten worse as schools have given up on teaching English grammar or rules of language. Learn how to write, how to punctuate correctly, how to create a well-crafted sentence, and you also set yourself apart from the herd.
You’ve collaborated with a number of other authors on short stories and anthologies. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you and is there a usual dynamic that happens when working with other writers/editors?
Ideally, the point of a collaboration is to combine strengths, so that, working together, you can produce something that neither of you would have been able to create separately. It doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes collaborators end up combining weaknesses rather than strengths, which isn’t good, but that’s the ideal. With most of my collaborative work, I like to think that we’ve produced a story that none of the collaborators could have come up with all on their own.
Can you tell us a little about your new Rogues anthology? What made you choose this theme for the collection?
George R.R. Martin and I have been editing a sequence of big, cross-genre anthologies on similar themes, such as WARRIORS and DANGEROUS WOMEN, soliciting writers from many different fields, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical, to contribute, and ROGUES seemed like a natural continuation. Everybody loves rogues, after all. The villains are often the most interesting thing in a story, which gives the authors a lot of material to work with.
Who are some new and talented voices in science fiction that our readers should look out for?
There are many. Among any number of others, I could point out Lavie Tidhar, Aliette de Bodard, Elizabeth Bear, Matthew Hughes, Carrie Vaughn, Yoon Ha Lee, Karl Bunker, Sandra McDonald, Vandana Singh, M.Bennardo, Ken Liu, so many others. There’s no lack of good new talent coming into the field.
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, we George and I just finished out new collaborative anthology, OLD VENUS, tales set on the kind of inhabitable Venus that everyone believed in before the Mariner probes blew those dreams away; that’ll be out in 2015. It’s a companion piece to my anthology with George, OLD MARS, stories set on the old Mars of dreams, which came out last year. I just published two tribute anthologies, THE BOOK OF SILVERBERG, stories by other authors set in the worlds and using the characters of Robert Silverberg, co-edited with William Shaffer, and MULTIVERSE: EXPLORING POUL ANDERSON’S WORLDS, co-edited with Greg Bear, which does the same thing with Poul Anderson’s works. And, of course, I’m currently working on the next volume of my Best of the Year anthology series. The current volume, THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, THIRTY-FIRST ANNUAL COLLECTION, just came out a couple of weeks ago.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and editors?
Persevere. Often persistence and determination are as important as talent, if not more so. There have been many writers of talent who have given up and fallen by the wayside, and are never heard from again. The writing life, after all, is not a series of gentle encouragements; it’s more like a series of kicks in the teeth. I can guarantee you that any “overnight success” you’ve heard of has been through years if not decades of rejection and discouragement. If they’re tough enough, if they have a thick enough skin, if they believe in themselves enough, if they want it enough, they persevere. Otherwise, they vanish.