I first “met” Jack while working on my previous publishing project. We wanted to buy this story, “Double Occupancy”, for that project, but in the end that project never happened. It would have been Jack’s first published story. When I started this site, I thought of it again and wondered what Jack was up to. I was thrilled to discover how well his career had gone in the last ten years. He’s had stories published in Asimovs and stories chosen for the Year’s Best Anthology. It made me feel smart to have recognized his talent ten years ago.
1) Tell me about your first published story, since I missed that opportunity.
I wrote “Dead Worlds” in late 2001 and Gardner Dozois bought it for Asimov’s in August of 2002. It appeared in the June 2003 issue, made the Sturgeon Award short list and was reprinted in Dozois’ “Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twenty-First Edition.” Certainly not what I expected when I sat down to rehash an idea I’d originally tried out many years earlier and presented to a college writing class, to less than enthusiastic response from my instructor, a minor poet and occasional short story writer whose claim to fame at that point had been the sale of an erotic poem to Playboy Magazine. The truth is, by the year 2000 I’d given up hope of ever seeing my work published. After years of trying, and easily more than a million words written, I was out of gas. This would have been a good time to pack it in and get on with more mundane matters. But to my dismay I discovered that I couldn’t surrender my obsession. So after a suitable period of head-banging despair and heavy drinking, I resumed my usual routine of short story writing. Giving up on “success” turned out to be a great career move. Liberated from the annoying distraction of tying to please remote editors and satisfy baffling markets, I wrote whatever the hell I felt like writing and almost immediately made acquaintance with the approval I’d courted fruitlessly for years. Actually, I’d always written pretty much what I felt like writing. It’s just that no one was interested in it. About the time I sold you “Double Occupancy” I thought I was on a roll, that I’d made a major breakthrough and was writing the first decent stories of my life. But though I came close with a number of them at markets such as Weird Tales and Deathrealm and MZB’s Fantasy Magazine, I just could NOT crack the bubble. And of course, even “Double Occupancy”– technically my first sale –never made it into print until now. There’s probably a lesson in all this about perseverance and dogged determination, but really I’m just a prisoner of my obsessions.
2) Tell me about the first thing you ever wrote? How old were you when you first wanted to write?
I’m pretty sure the first thing I wrote was a “feature” piece for my junior high school paper. The teacher who ran the paper, Mrs. Stauter, let me write short stories and call them features. She published most of them, too. They were all science fiction, many with Twilight Zone style twist endings. And they were all uniformly terrible, I’m sure. But even then I understood what was good and I ached to achieve it, to produce the real thing. On one occasion I was so frustrated with my own inadequacies that I flat-out copied the opening paragraph from a Howard Fast story and pretended it was mine. Yes, that would be plagiarism. Fast’s language was balanced and simple and evocative. My prose line was…somewhat less so. I confessed and chopped the first paragraph off the story, but for years I felt like a fraud. Honestly, I STILL feel like a fraud. It’s a Catholic thing.
I was twelve when I decided I wanted to be a writer. This was based on the fact that I’d read all the Danny Dunn books (literary creds) and also that I loved Star Trek. Of course, Star Trek was a TV show and would be off the air before I could ever write a script for it. I wasn’t stupid. Also, I knew real writers didn’t write exclusively for television or movies. They wrote books and short stories. So that’s what I had to do, too. See? I was very logical about the whole business. Just like Mr. Spock. What I soon discovered was that a few “real” writers DID write scripts for Star Trek. I jotted their names down at the end of various episodes. Bloch. Sturgeon. Ellison. They sent me to the drugstore spinner racks and the library, both very important destinations for would-be writers.
3) Do you have any creative projects outside of writing? (music, art, etc)
I play the guitar but just for my own amusement. I keep it next to my desk when I’m working and grab it whenever I’m stuck. It allows my mind to track free. If I didn’t have the guitar I’d probably pace or juggle or stare blankly at the ceiling.
4) Are you active in fandom? If so, what are your favorite/least favorite aspects?
I’m not active in fandom but I have a few fans and they are generally sweet people, except for the ones who are crazy, and I guess they’re sweet, too. I can’t blame the crazy ones. Look at what they read. I do attend various science fiction conventions around the country. It’s like this great moveable party that’s been going on since at least the 1960’s and will continue to go on after I drop dead. There are a nice bunch of people at the party, and beer is free in the SFWA suite.
5) What are you reading now?
I’m reading a few things. “Pride and Prejudice” because people are always telling me to try Jane Austin. Well, I finally have, and it turns out she’s really good. Who knew? I’m also reading “The Motion of Light on Water,” a memoir by Samuel R. Delany. I guess it would just about have to be, with that title. And finally a wonderful thriller by Nancy Kress called “Stinger.”
6) What are your current writing projects?
I’m working on the final draft of a novel. It’s starting point is a short story I published a couple of years ago called, “Life on The Preservation.” Also, Golden Gryphon is bringing out my first collection next year, and I’ve been cleaning up some of the stories that will be in it. “Are You There and other stories” will wrap up this first phase of my professional career in a very beautiful package, I think. Golden Gryphon does an absolutely stunning job, and I’ve managed to snag the wonderful artist John Picacio to do the cover. The whole thing gives me goose bumps.
7) What is your latest big discovery in your life? (music, book, pastime, food, whatever…)
It’s the discovery that my big fears are mostly shadowy things that have no real power over me. This has been a useful revelation, to say the least.
8) Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fallow periods. Have you had a period in your life when you didn’t or couldn’t create? What do you think caused it? What kind of effect did it have on your later work?
I used to react to my fallow periods with despair and self-loathing. Then I noticed they occurred in predictable cycles. That allowed me to accept them for what they are: generally harmless and necessary interruptions of short duration. That’s the trick. So-called fallow periods can gain their own momentum (or lack of momentum, I guess). You have to recognize when the quite natural empty stretch is over and not let the thing drag on into months or even years of self-conscious head-banging despair.
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