Thursday, January 21, 2010

Abyss & Apex editor and writer, Wendy S. Delmater

I met Wendy at World Fantasy last year. We sat at the same table during the mass book signing. She was gushing over a particular story in an issue of Abyss & Apex because it was so fresh and well-written. Oh, to have an editor do that about one of my stories! Well, maybe they have when I wasn't listening. Anyway, I found Wendy a delightful tablemate and I am so glad of this opportunity to get to know her better and share her with my readers.

Wendy is the Editor in Chief for Abyss and Apex magazine and a speculative fiction writer herself. In fact, she just sold "Jack & the Beanstalker" to a new webzine called Uncast Shadows, publication date TBA.

AW: What or whom inspired you to write? To become an editor?

WD: My father was a reading tutor and he got me reading at a college level before fourth grade. And it was a lonely childhood: my mother was sick since I was three, and my father worked two jobs (and was often bitter and abusive). So I was an avid reader as a child; an avid reader who needed an escape into the worlds of Kipling, Frank Baum, Walter Farley, Louisa May Alcott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I grew up with some very talented friends – but they were all authors.

Connie Willis once said that she had read so much she was no longer surprised, so she wrote stories to surprise herself. I found that to be a big part of the draw of writing. But I also wanted to write things that had that “aha!” moment, a reveal for the reader. To learn how, I joined the Del Rey Online Writing Workshop when it was about six months old. It eventually morphed into the Online Writing Workshop and I was a member for six years. I made lasting friendships there, people like author Charles Coleman Finlay, Melinda Goodin (who does the Locus Spreadsheet), Ilona Andrews, Ruth Nestvold, Marsha Sisolak (former editor of Ideomancer), copyeditor Deanna Hoak, writer (and blogger and editor) K. Tempest Bradford, and so many more you’d run out of space if I listed them all. You really bond with people when you share manuscripts: it’s like baring your soul and those who deal kindly and constructively with your faults are a treasure.

Oh, and by the way this meant I was no longer lonely: in writers and editors I’d found my “tribe”, as it were.

AW: When did you latch onto speculative fiction and why?

WD: Do you know what editor John W. Campbell called the golden age of science fiction? About twelve to fourteen years old. I was privileged to have a middle school right next to a public library and I dropped by several times a week. The new book acquisitions were done by a serious genre fan. She introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Pohl Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak and Ray Bradbury. I was thrilled to discover that Andre Norton was female. I was introduced to Tolkien and from there to fantasy authors like Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle and more.

I was well and truly hooked. It was the worldbuilding that drew me in, and the “what ifs”. How would people respond to having magical powers or objects? How would human nature respond to this or that new technology or disaster?

AW: Are you often surprised by prose submissions? I mean in a good way. Something that is truly unique?

WD: *laughs* I’d better be or I’d never buy anything!

AW: Do you notice a difference in writing style between men and women?

WD: Nope. Next question?

Seriously, I am pretty much gender-blind. There have been many messy blog wars and accusations of bias made about other editors (who will remain nameless). Fur has flown on the issue. Genre watchdogs do headcounts on how many male vs. female authors a mag publishes, and to be honest my staff has some internal stats: percentage of male/female submissions vs. how many of each we publish. Me? I pretty much strip off the headers and go by the story itself. And I am no longer shocked at how well guys “get” what it means to be female, or how macho (if you will) a woman writer can write.

AW: Are women able to pull off a male protagonist as well as a female one, generally? And can guys get women protags right as easily as they can men? Do you think this is something writers struggle with?

WD: We’re writers. We make stuff up based on research and observing people. If we are good at it, they publish us. Anyone can observe the opposite sex or study them, and then writers can have someone of the opposite gender read a manuscript to see if it sounds authentic. Simple.

AW: I imagine that you have to contend with a lot of overused phrases and devices. What was the 2009 crop like? What phrases and devices should writers avoid in 2010?

WD: Anything derivative. I mean that! Editors watch TV and movies, and they know what’s hot and what’s not. Your Twilight fanfic or your thinly veiled Famous Role Playing Game scenario with the filed off serial numbers? We see right through those, yes we do. And it does not endear you to us at all. Please do not copy the Next Big Thing. We are looking for originality.

AW: What is the Abyss & Apex guidelines instruction most often ignored by writers?

WD: It’s a tie: about half of them ignore the “no horror” admonition and the other half ignore our reading periods.

AW: What was your favorite story in A & A? What made it stand out above all the others?

WD: I have to pick one? I had trouble picking a dozen, and they went into The Best of Abyss & Apex, Volume one from Hadley Rille Books.

I guess I am always fondest of the current edition. The First Quarter 2010 edition of A&A leads with Lisa Koosis’s “How We Fly,” which (as I was telling Gardner Dozois at the SFWA reception) is an amazing story. You know that sense of wonder, that human connection, that awe and tears that the reality of our humanness can create? It’s all there.

AW: Do you still find time to write? Are you working on something now?

WD: I just quit my engineering job in NYC, got married, moved to the Deep South, and terraformed my house. Yes, I still write a little, but although I have novels nearly done it’s just short fiction at the moment. It looks like I sold a story this week but I will not mention where until they send me that all-important contract. (This was the aforementioned "Jack & the Beanstalker". )

vote it up!


Lindsay B said...

Nice interview. I remember Wendy from the last time I was a member of the SFF OWW. Nice to see Abyss and Apex is still around too. :)

Greg Sky said...

Gender blind? Great! Now if that was the case throughout the industry... (said by a male who has to write under female names in certain genres!)