MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing author and editor Gardner Dozois, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, and probably best known for being the editor of ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE for over 20 years!
Gardner, you’re well known as THE modern editor of science fiction – no one comes close (especially when you consider the number of awards you’ve earned). What do you have that others don’t?
GARDNER DOZOIS: Many editors are sensitive, highly intelligent, high-strung people, and they tend to burn out relatively quickly. Me, I’m a stolid peasant type who actually likes eating meat and potatoes every day. Where others burn out from reading science fiction all day long, get sick of it, I actually like reading science fiction, and am not sensitive or intelligent enough to get tired of reading it.
VENTRELLA: What, in your mind, makes a good editor?
DOZOIS: It’s similar to the answer to the question above. You have to like what you’re doing. You have to have passion for it. When you read a really good story, you have to have the ability to be excited by it AS a reader, to become engrossed in the reading of it rather than just coolly evaluating it professionally. If you lose that, you’re lost. My strategy as an editor has always been simple: I’m a reader with fairly average tastes myself, and so I figure that if I like a story, as a reader, then many other readers will probably like it too. This is the philosophy I had when I was editing ASIMOV’S, and its what’s guided me through all the years of editing THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, which is now up to its THIRTIETH ANNUAL COLLECTION — so it must work.
It seems to me that editing requires an eye for balance – you don’t want too many stories with the same theme in a collection, but you also don’t want to stray too far and alienate readers by being too eclectic. How do you balance the extremes? What guidelines do you use?
You do have to have balance, and this was as true of an issue of ASIMOV’S as it is for an edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction. You can’t publish nothing but near-future dystopias, or nothing but grim, depressing stories. I always put a lot of effort into trying to balance the mood of the stories in anything I was working on. You have to try to balance the TYPES of stories, too — some hard science fiction, some soft, some offplanet stuff, some near future, some far future, and with both ASIMOV’S and THE BEST OF THE YEAR volumes I put a lot of effort in to working out the story order so that you don’t get a lot of the same kind of stories in a row. You also have to pay some consideration to sources. You can’t use only stories from one source, and even too many of them, no matter how good a job you think that source is doing. When I edited ASIMOV’S, I used to get a lot of grief from reviewers for using too many ASIMOV’S stories, so I had to be careful not to overdo it.
Sadly, this is largely a waste of time. Most readers ignore the carefully arranged order and either read the stories by the authors they like best first, or start with the shortest stories first, or the longest ones. I know it’s a waste of time, but I can’t help doing it anyway.
VENTRELLA: How do you handle similarly themed stories with the “best of the year” collections? After all, it’s not like you can set one of them aside for the next edition…
DOZOIS: I use the one I like best, although in close cases, determining which one that is often involves reading them again, and again, and again. In the final stages of assembling the Best, I think of it as arranging a steel-cage match between two similar stories; let them fight it out, and the strongest story wins. With a magazine, like ASIMOV’s, you have a little more flexibility –if you have two similar kinds of story and you like both of them, you can always duck one of them into inventory and use it later on, in another issue.
VENTRELLA: How do you find short stories for your “best of” collections?
DOZOIS: You just have to keep your eyes open. I make a good-faith attempt to read every SF story in the English language I can find. Realistically, I know that I must miss a lot, especially these days, with all the proliferating internet markets, but I do the best I can.
VENTRELLA: Do you ever consider self-published works for these collections?
DOZOIS: Yes. Although finding them in order to consider them in the first place is the problem. Many single-author short story collections have unpublished stories in them, and you have to keep an eye out for that as well.
VENTRELLA: You have concentrated your career almost entirely on short fiction. What is it about short stories that attracts you more than novel-length works?
DOZOIS: The brutal efficiency. A short story delivers one hard punch, fulfills one purpose, and then stops. You can’t sprawl in a short story the way you can in a novel. A short story that sprawls doesn’t work at all.
VENTRELLA: Do you regret not writing more fiction and thus being known more for your editing?
DOZOIS: Yes, I regret it. I backed into editing more or less by accident, although my first reaction to reading a story I really liked was always to show it to as many people as possible, which has always suited me for the work. In an ideal world, though, I would be a Big Name SF Writer, which is what I set out to be, and be remembered for my writing rather than for my editing. As it is, my writing is already largely forgotten, and will be forgotten completely fifteen minutes after I’m dead. You play the hand you’re given, though.
VENTRELLA: Do you ever stop and consider how much you have influenced the field – how, thanks to you, certain writers have been discovered and moved on to influence others?
DOZOIS: I think it’s possible to exaggerate the contribution of an editor. It’s the writers who did all the work; if a story is good it’s because of all the blood and sweat they put into it. My function is just being smart enough to recognize the good work when it comes along. (Occasionally, an editor can spot something that needs fixing in a story that the author can’t recognize on his own, and help the author to find a way to fix it — but there all the heavy lifting is being done by the author too.)
VENTRELLA: Who are you most proud of “discovering”?
DOZOIS: There are a fair number of them. George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, Allen Steele, David Marusek, Mary Rosenblum, Kage Baker.
VENTRELLA: Tell us about your newest anthology with George R.R. Martin!
DOZOIS: I’ve just finished and delivered an anthology with George called OLD VENUS. Next out will be an anthology with him called DANGEROUS WOMEN, which will be published in December. Also out soon will be OLD MARS. Sometime in the future, probably 2014, my anthology with him called ROGUES will come out, and also OLD VENUS.
VENTRELLA: Magazine circulation is dropping everywhere; what do you see for the future?
DOZOIS: Most magazines will probably become electronic online-only magazines, as many already have, although the existing print magazines, like ASIMOV’S, ANALOG, and F&SF are doing a bit better these days by selling subscriptions for electronic formats online. I always said that if anything could save the print magazines, it would be the internet, and this may turn out to be true.
VENTRELLA: There are fewer and fewer anthologies being printed these days as well, and many writers are uploading their short stories rather than going the traditional route. Is this good for fiction overall?
DOZOIS: This is completely untrue. There are a lot more anthologies being published these days, from an proliferating number of small-press publishers, as downloadable files, as Kickstarter projects. There are more of them every year, enough so that it’s become harder to keep up with them all.
VENTRELLA: My worry is this: in the past, with magazines and anthologies, there was a gatekeeper (the editor) who, with a good reputation, guaranteed quality. Now I have no idea most of the time if the work I might download has even been edited, much less subject to any sort of review. What can a reader do to find good fiction?
DOZOIS: This is a bit self-serving, but your best bet is to buy one of the Best of the Year anthologies, which serve as a sampler of the work of many different authors, whose work you can then follow up on if you like it. If you don’t like my book, get Jonathan Strahan’s, or Rich Horton’s, or one of a number of others.
VENTRELLA: There still is a stigma attached to books that are either not available in a hard copy or only available as a POD. Do you see that changing in the future?
DOZOIS: Yes, that will change. Is already changing rapidly, in fact.