Monday Original Content: An Interview with Athena Andreadis
Athena Andreadis interviewed by Charles Tan
Hi Athena! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.
First off, could you tell us about the SF anthology you’re working on now? What kind of stories are you looking for? So far, what are the challenges in producing the antho?
My pleasure, Charles! The SF anthology will almost certainly be titled The Other Half of the Sky, for reasons that will become obvious.-
My decision to edit an SF anthology came from the simple desire to read stories I like! As I wrote in The Persistent Neoteny of SF and The Cookie Cutter Self-Discovery Quest, almost all SF/F seems YA – and parochial YA at that – even if designated “adult”. Furthermore, the dominant tropes du jour (steampunk, grimdark, snarky meta, shallow mythic) make me break into hives. Additionally, women heroes are still peripheral in the genre: few are more than sidekicks, even fewer are protagonists in their own right (enough to be remembered like rare gems when they appear: Signy Mallory, Anzha liu Mitethe, Ellen Ripley, Xena…). So over a brief break on the Florida Keys during last winter’s solstice, I decided to apply Tom Waits’ dictum “You must risk something that matters.” First I wrote down a list of what I wanted:
– Space opera(ish) and/or mythic, but it has to be SF — not fantasy;
– female protagonist(s), who do not (nor are made to) feel guilty about career versus family;
– content and style geared to adult readers, not YA “finding one’s self/place”;
– no “big ideas” Leaden Age SF or near-future earthbound cyber/steampunk.
I also decided that 1) I would pay pro rates out of my own pocket and 2) the word limit would be 10k because I wanted to give people room to develop characters and worlds. Given my stamina and time limits, I decided on a K strategy: namely, to do this by invitation rather than open submissions. Then I sent 30 e-mails to writers who I know can write such stories. They all replied almost instantly: my e-mail pinged every few minutes for the next two days – it was scary and exhilarating. All who were not already overwhelmed with commitments accepted the assignment. I chose a co-editor whose abilities I trust, decided on a cover artist, and we were off to the races. It was a lagniappe that while “looking for the best” I ended up with women in the slots of co-editor, cover artist and co-publisher.
The major challenge was to find a publisher who understands why collections like this are important and is willing to accommodate the input I expect to have, since I’m the one bringing essentially everything to the table. Several publishers said that anthologies don’t sell. I won’t quarrel with ledgers, but that may be in part because most anthologies are reprints. With original collections, I know that many people (including myself) are partial to them, because they allow discovery and sampling of new writers without investment in entire novels. What amazed and amused me was how many of the small presses have taken on the mannerisms of big publishers without the commensurate perks (better visibility, higher profits) and how tribal the business is: for example, some said I was an unknown – unlikely, given the gadfly role I often find myself in, as a non-whiteAnglomale and one of the (too) few working biologists in the territory.
For you, how would you define/classify YA and the YA short story?
Most contemporary Western YA stories are about teenagers finding themselves – and in the SF/F genre it invariably involves ticking off the Campbel/lite quest checklist by way of video games (assembly of ally teams, special objects/powers, etc). It’s very much by the numbers even when written by talented authors; also, YA fantasy is awash in shallow magic, mostly there for dei-ex-machina plot assists. Add to that the demand for sequels and we have a perfect recipe for cookie-cutter products. This is a problem for me as a reader of the genre, because women authors and protagonists are strongly present in current SF/F YA.
“Finding one’s self” appears as a near-default trope for a culture obsessed with youth’s trappings that still believes in the libertarian myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps: the idea that you can become rich, famous and powerful provided you’re Chosen and that everyone has a near-infinity of choices for everything, from their breakfast cereal to their identity. In almost all contemporary Western SF/F YA works, we rarely if ever see full adults, especially women, doing the nuanced, shaded things adults do: work at things they care for and often are good at; love, hate and everything in between; create and preserve and sometimes destroy; grow old and experienced, if not always wise; but above all, go through the myriad small struggles and pleasures that constitute a full life.
Could you tell us more about your co-editor, and what your collaboration process is like so far?
My co-editor is Kay Holt, co-founder of Crossed Genres. I first met Kay when I received an e-mail from her, asking me if I was amenable to an interview about science in SF. I agreed readily and since she lives nearby, we did it over dimsum. I still recall my pleasure and excitement at how smart, well-prepared and deft she was and how similar our thought processes were, although that doesn’t mean we agree on everything: we both expect to have our first serious argument over this anthology’s story order!
This harmonious dialogue continued through our subsequent interactions, personal and professional (Crossed Genres published two of my stories, Dry Rivers and Planetfall). So when I thought of a co-editor for this anthology, Kay was my instinctive first choice. She said “Yes!” as soon as the first sentence about the venture had left my mouth. We’re sounding boards for each other. We read the stories separately, compare notes, discuss any divergences, then I prepare a distillation of our observations that serves as feedback to the author – though I’m the one who also scribbles the more detailed comments in the story file margins. It has worked beautifully so far.
Since you talked about the difficulties in finding a publisher, have you found one? Have you considered self-publishing?
I considered self-publishing as a last resort, although I wasn’t looking forward to reinventing the wheel – distributors, publicity, review copies, the works. But I got lucky: I knew Sam Montogomery-Blinn of Bull Spec because two of my poems appeared there (Spacetime Geodesics and Night Patrol, both reprinted in The Moment of Change). He unequivocally recommended Candlemark and Gleam, founded by Kate Sullivan. I sent the antho outline to Kate, who immediately declared she would do her best to help me bring it to fruition.
I promptly phoned her and we spent nearly an hour roaming over many topics. It was obvious from the start that this partnership would work: Kate is savvy, diplomatic, formidably organized and clearly takes great care of the books she publishes. She was also the only one of the publishers who offered me fair terms – and did so without my even having to ask. We signed our agreement at Readercon where we formally announced the anthology, accompanied by flyers that Kay had the forethought to create.
When do you plan on releasing the anthology?
We’re aiming for spring 2013. At this point, the major lag is no longer the typesetting for the print version but the four-plus months it takes to get to the front of the review queue.
Currently, how’s the progress of the anthology? Have there been any accepted stories or is it still in the process of submissions? Anything definitive so far?
The final participant roster was 20, and the submission deadline was July 31. I had expected mostly deafening silence and then an avalanche on August 1. Instead, to my pleased surprise, I received six submissions well before the deadline. At this point, thirteen stories have been accepted; two more are in final revision and I’ve given extensions to three more. So there was an avalanche on August 1, but a smaller one!
It is always a revelation to see how writers interpret framework parameters. The stories so far are completely distinct, as well as original and well-written. That last clause may be the fond editor talking but I’ve been a scientist long enough to be trained in objective assessment! Beyond their other merits, a neat bonus feature of the stories is that they pass the Bechdel test – broadly defined, since there are aliens and non-binary humans involved. They also demonstrate that you can have rousing space opera with a sense of limitations and consequences, and with “regular” people as protagonists, rather than Chosen Ones. Just as opera includes Puccini, Bizet and Weir, not just Wagner.
One of my aims with this collection was to show that imaginative extrapolation/sensawunda and high-quality writing are not mutually exclusive. I was delighted to see the stories effortlessly achieve this synthesis. Bottom line: ask people to write as complex, nuanced adults about equally complex, nuanced adults – and they do so beautifully.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I am still working at my own fiction, both short stories and novel-size works in the same universe as that of my Crossed Genres stories. They start in the Minoan era – an alternate timeline in which the civilization survives despite the Thera explosion – and reach far into the future, with the descendants on a distant earthlike planet. My science work is slow right now because I’m between grants – always a bottleneck for those of us who are experimental science bench slaves. And of course there’s always the Starship Reckless blog to keep me on my toes!