Mike Resnick has 5 Hugo Awards to his name (having been nominated 33 times — so far!) and has won numerous other awards for his fiction. As of 2009, he is first on the Locus list of all-time award winners, living or dead, for short fiction, and 4th on the Locus list of science fiction’s all-time top award winners in all fiction categories. He’ll be attending the World Science Fiction convention in Montreal in a few weeks, as will I, except he, of course, is once more nominated for a Hugo award.
His web page is here.
MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am thrilled to be interviewing one of my favorite writers, Hugo and Nebula award-winning Mike Resnick.
Mr. Resnick, you seem to embody what many people advise all new writers: write a lot and write about everything. You’ve done fiction, non fiction, articles, editing, and so on. Do you agree that this is important and how do see a varied background as helping your writing?
MIKE RESNICK: Anything a writer can learn will eventually prove useful. Editing shows you how other people attack their stories, lets you see the strengths and weaknesses of certain approaches. Writing non-fiction teaches you to be careful of your facts, and that’s almost equally important in science fiction, where you strive for verisimilitude. Short stories and novels have different approaches, and the more you can learn about both, the less likely you are to put yourself at a competitive disadvantage against writers who do learn all that they can about their craft.
VENTRELLA: How has the publishing industry changed since you began?
RESNICK: The main change is that while they are printing more books, less houses are printing them. When I started selling in the early 1980s (I won ‘t count the three science fiction books I did in the late 1960s; my post-1980 career is a public penance for them), 18 New York publishers had science fiction lines. Today there are maybe half a dozen mass market houses with science fiction lines. Signet, Fawcett, Gold Medal, Pyramid, Lancer, Paperback Library, Playboy Press, Doubleday, and half a dozen others have gone – or seen their lines go – the way of the dodo.
VENTRELLA: Did you have an agent and do you think agents are necessary these days?
RESNICK: I had an agent after my first couple of sales; a lousy one. I got a top one in 1983, and I still have her, and she is absolutely not allowed to die or retire before I do. Yes, they’re necessary, for any number of reasons:
1. A lot of houses – most, in fact – won’t read unagented manuscripts.
2. Your agent, because of all the contracts that pass through her office and all the deals she’s negotiated, has a far better idea of what will be a contract-killer that you do, and will know what Publisher A will accept that Publisher B won’t.
3. A good agent will have a top foreign desk, will make you more money overseas than you’ll make in the US, and will have working relationships with top foreign agents in each country.
VENTRELLA: Self-publishing seems to be the trend; do you believe that if a starting writer self-publishes it destroys their chance of being taken seriously by “real” publishers and editors?
RESNICK: John Scalzi to the contrary – and he had a unique situation, with 25,000 daily hits on his blog – I believe, and have always believed, that a self-published book practically screams out that it was not good enough to compete in the economic market place.
VENTRELLA: What process do you use in writing? How important are outlines, for instance?
RESNICK: I have a very brief outline I use to sell the book to a publisher, and a slightly more detailed but far less formal outline – a set of notes,
actually – that I use when I sit down to write the book.
VENTRELLA: Do you plan an entire series at once or concentrate on each book separately?
RESNICK: If you’re writing a series, you have to know a little about where each book starts and finishes, but you concentrate on the book you’re writing, because if you do a lousy job there won’t be any more in the series.
VENTRELLA: Do you usually have more than one project at a time, or do you tend to get one finished and then move on? Do you think it is better to concentrate on one?
RESNICK: I only write on one novel at a time, but while I’m writing it I often take a couple of days off to write a story or an article, and then come back refreshed. For example, I just handed in STARSHIP: FLAGSHIP, the 5th and final book in that series…but while I was writing it, I wrote and sold a story to Asimov’s, 2 to Subterranean, 1 to Analog and 1 to GATEWAYS, plus an article for Challenger and one for the SFWA Bulletin. That’s probably why it took me 9 weeks to write the novel instead of 6 weeks.
VENTRELLA: What’s the biggest mistake you have made professionally? What is the biggest mistake you see new authors making?
RESNICK: I sold 3 very derivative, not-very-good science fiction books in the late 1960s. I was busy learning my trade as an anonymous hack in the “adult” field, and I made the mistake of doing hackwork in a field I cared for. I realized it very quickly, and stayed away from science fiction – as a writer, not a con-attending fan – for 11 years to give readers a chance t forget. They forgave, but those damned books still turn up at every autographing session to humiliate me.
The biggest mistake new authors make? Either sending a manuscript out when they could make it better (this is a murderously competitive field), or signing a lousy contract with a second-rate publisher just to get their book into print.
VENTRELLA: I understand that Hollywood has just taken an interest in your “Galactic Midway” series, which I recall discovering and loving back when they were published 27 years ago. How did that come about, and why that series among all of yours? Can you give any details about this deal yet?
RESNICK: There aren’t any details to give. I met with Jupiter 9 Productions when I was in Los Angeles for the Nebulas this spring. They have options on a couple of my properties, and asked what else I had. I mentioned that I had a 27-year-old novel called SIDESHOW that I have thought, from the day I wrote it, was very filmable: good story, almost no special effects, emotional rather than cerebral, all you really need is a good make-up artist and good actors. They asked to see it, I send them a copy, and they optioned it.
That doesn’t mean it’ll be a film. SANTIAGO has been under continuous option since 1990. I’ve been paid 4 times for the screenplay that Carol and I wrote. You haven’t seen it at your local theatres, have you? Another one was THE WIDOWMAKER. Sold it to Miramax; they paid Carol and me to write the screenplay, hired Peter Hyams to direct – and then lost interest. It’s currently under option with Jupiter 9. The Penelope Bailey trilogy – SOOTHSAYER, ORACLE and PROPHET – has been under option to Intrinsic Value Films for about 5 years now; they’ve had a screenplay for 4 ½ years, they hired a director 2 years ago – and you haven’t seen that one in theatres either, have you? Other projects under option include “Hunting the Snark” and KIRINYAGA. (On Hollywood’s behalf, the economics are different. If a publisher had to raise $75 million every time he wanted to publish a book, you wouldn’t see a lot of them, either.)
VENTRELLA: What is your favorite of your own work and why? Of what are you most proud?
RESNICK: My favorite novel is THE OUTPOST, because it was the most fun to write. Far and away my favorite character is Lucifer Jones, who over 20 years has starred in ADVENTURES, EXPLOITS, ENCOUNTERS, and (this summer) HAZARDS, and will be in VOYAGES and INTRIGUES before he’s barred from every land mass on Earth. If I could write only one thing the rest of my life, it’d be Lucifer Jones stories; I love them.
I’m most proud of PARADISE, because no one had ever used that approach in that way, and I thought I did it about as well as it could be done. And I’m pretty proud of KIRINYAGA, which is up to 67 awards and nominations and still chugging along.
VENTRELLA: And finally, what is the best piece of advice you would give an aspiring writer?
RESNICK: Books don’t write themselves. Writers write; dilettantes who will never amount to much talk about writing.