Marshall Payne is no stranger to Double-Edged Publishing. His short fiction has been published on The Sword Review, Mindflights, and Fear and Trembling Magazine. When I first interviewed Marshall in 2007, he had yet to make his first professional sale. Since that interview, a lot of things have changed.
The last time I interviewed you, it was 2007 and you still had to make your first pro sale. In the meantime, it’s 2009 and if I’m right, you’ve made more than one pro sale. Would you like to share a little bit about the journey towards that first pro sale (maybe share the name of the publication and the title of the story plus history behind that)?
I began subbing my short fiction in earnest in 2005. It took around 600 rejections to make my first pro-paying sale to Aeon Speculative Fiction. It was my 29th sale, so there were a lot of sales to lesser-known markets before that. Aeon started out paying 3 cents a word for fiction, but by the time I sold them my story "Bullet," they'd raised their pay rate to 6 cents a word on acceptance. They were probably near the point of qualifying for SFWA when the magazine folded, which was rather disheartening. Aeon was my dream market because I really enjoyed what they were publishing. They published adult speculative fiction with a literary slant that was still accessible, fiction that relied on characterization and storytelling and not form and style over idea and substance. They also weren't afraid to publish the offbeat and humorous story as well. So I was pleased that they were my first pro-paying sale. They're putting out the remaining stories they purchased in an anthology called End of an Aeon, which will debut at World Fantasy Con the fall. Still, I lament the loss of this magazine.
My second pro sale was to Brutarian. Last November I got an idea one Saturday evening and two hours later I'd finished "The Collection Plate," an 800-word horror piece. I was thinking it might be a good fit for Chizine, but Chizine was closed to submissions at the time so I sent it to Brutarian. Ten days later they bought it and I'm an associate member of SFWA now because of that sale.
There was a time when it looked like my first pro sale would never happen. But I just kept writing and subbing and these two acceptances came one after the other.
From being a reviewer at Tangent, you went on to review for The Fix and eventually became assistant editor and their principal interviewer. Tell us about this.
Back in 2006 I remember reading the online reviews on Tangent and wondered what it might take to be a reviewer. My friend Aliette de Bodard was a reviewer there, so I got the idea I might be able to do it too. That began one of the most rewarding editorial relationships I've ever had with the talented and charming Eugie Foster. So when she started up The Fix in 2007, naturally I followed her there. Soon I got the idea that I might want to try interviewing and found I had a knack for it. All this takes second place to my fiction I have to say, but I've learned much about this field from being an interviewer/reviewer, and I acquired copyediting and online skills as Eugie's assistant editor that I wouldn't have developed otherwise. But all good things come to an end, I afraid, and I no longer consider myself a reviewer. I still wanted to keep my hand in doing interviews, though, so since then I've done a few of them freelance for Fantasy Magazine, as well as for Charles Tan on the SFWA Nebula Award Site.
How has making your first pro sale influenced your writing and your involvement in the SF&F community? Are you happier or more confident or is there no change?
I'm definitely happier. Now all that hard work doesn't seem for naught, though I still have a long way to go. As to improving one's confidence, it does demonstrate that getting well published is achievable despite the great odds and all the competition. I don’t think it's affected my writing any. When one begins a new story, nothing one has written in the past really matters. While one's past successes offers self-assurance that most likely you can do it again, it's still a matter of making the current story work. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned in your pursuit of the professional paying sale? What advice would you give to writers who are working towards that goal?
My advice is pretty mundane—just keep trying and give it all you've got. I don't know if I have a big lesson to relate, but I do have a story steeped in irony I'll share.
Like most writers trying to get published and make a name for themselves, I have a website and a blog. Having an Internet presence nowadays is important. My blog is on LiveJournal where many SF/F writers hang out. Unfortunately it seems that every so often an Internet "flame war" will raise its ugly head. I typically stay out of these as they usually end up with everyone looking ridiculous. Last summer I couldn't scan various blogs without being inundated with negativity. One Sunday I'd had enough and decide I needed to get away. I'd been making a few sales recently, but still no pro sale yet so I was getting discouraged and all this negativity wasn't helping. But I didn't want to lose touch with a few of my close writer friends, so I started a private friends-lock journal and invited a few writer-friends along for the ride. For fun I named it Marshall's Super-Sekrit Friends. The next day I put up a notice on my main LJ that due to all the negativity I was on hiatus. (Mostly just to show my annoyance.) I had no intention of coming back anytime soon. I had to eat my words an hour later when I got an email from Bridget McKenna at Aeon saying, "Marshall, wanna sell us a story?" So my hiatus lasted a whole hour as I couldn't resist announcing what had taken years to make happen. My first big sale. We writers have big egos, ya know. It might be why we do this crazy thing in the first place.
So I guess that's the big lesson. Things come when you least expect them. Especially starting out, you've got to go through a whole lot of bad to get to the good.
All this has taken place within the space of two years, it seems like it’s all gone very fast. How do you feel about it? Have you set goals or expectations for yourself for the coming years?
Actually, it seemed like it took forever to get the ball rolling, but in the last year things have taken off a bit. I have the usual goals, I guess. Find an agent for the novel I'm trying to market. Continue to keep placing my short fiction at the best markets possible. My main goal, however, is to carve out a niche for myself in the field where I can be me, myself. I tend to jump back and forth between science fiction, fantasy and horror, as well as narratives that are serious and humorous. The offbeat gonzo stories are the hardest ones to find a home for. I'd prefer to someday be known for those.
Why do you think it's tough to sell those offbeat gonzo stories?
Our field has always been rather conservative, so that could account for it. It's not just offbeat gonzo fiction that seems to be published so little, though. The question might be: why is there a dearth of humorous SF/F? Especially nowadays. You can always say that not everyone finds the same thing funny. One reader's guffaw is another reader's groan. I think it goes deeper than that. I've had the notion for a while that SF/F has become overly self-conscious of its ghetto past and embarrassed by its pulp origins, and a humorous story to some "proves" that ours is a literature not to be taken seriously. SF/F now wants to be part of the mainstream so desperately that it takes itself too seriously, I think.
In the last few years our field has taken a dark direction that focuses on the hopelessness of the human condition. I can understand this as to many people life is full of mysteries that are unexplainable and with no simple, unequivocal answers. What I think we're missing in speculative fiction today is exploring the absurdity of life and the willingness of the human spirit to prevail despite this absurdity. To me, a great way to illustrate this is with humor, irony, satire.
Also, with just about all of the speculative ideas mined out by now, speculative fiction has taken a revisionist bent—retold fairy tales, the retelling of myths, or science fiction redoing the work of past masters, sometimes without the author realizing the source material they're cribbing off of. Personally I'd like to see our field celebrated in a more ironic, tongue-in-cheek manner, with writers winking at their roots and having some fun with it instead of dealing with these old tropes so heavy-handedly. When you can laugh at something it often means you've gained a unique perspective of it. There is a fine art in employing these techniques, I believe. An art that is often more difficult to pull off than telling the solemn, straight realistic story. While it's not my only interest in speculative fiction, it's what I like to read and can't find enough (or very much) of. Hence, it's what I like to write.
Are you superstitious when it comes to talking about projects? If you are, what are some of the things you’re superstitious about? If not, would you like to share something about any upcoming projects or anything you're working on at present?
Not so much superstitious, just that I think putting "the world" on advance notice of one's plans is seldom a good idea. The best way to let others know what your doing is just to do it. Life has a way of not cooperating with one's plans, and no one wants to stand around with egg on their face when something blows up. We all have our share of failures. This is one area where the writer has some control. Learning to zip one's lips can be a good thing. I did say above that my plan is to be me, myself, didn't I? Oops! I let that one slip out.
What has been the most satisfying answer anyone has ever given you to an interview question?
When I interviewed Paul Di Filippo for The Fix I asked him about my favorite literary technique, irony and how it's often misperceived in our field. I couldn't resist this question as Paul does irony so well. He said:
"Irony is dangerous and slippery. People with no radar for it misapprehend the writer’s motives and desired effects, frequently leading to a lynch-mob mentality. But then again, such folks are probably immune to any form of communication other than a two-by-four upside the head."
I'm not sure if you'd classify his above comment as ironic, but it certainly is funny. At least I found it so.
If you had your choice of fantasy or science fiction worlds to occupy, which world would you choose and why?
"Occupy" is an interesting choice of words. Rather like the Germans occupying France during World War II. This is a difficult question as most worlds from the best SF/F novels might not be a pleasant place to reside. I think Philip K. Dick's gonzo SF world from his 1969 novel Ubik might be a fascinating place to visit, but I wouldn't want die there. Though no one in Ubik really dies. They just flip back in time and experience bizarre events again and again. Fun stuff!
Inside the Writing Mind wishes to thank Marshall Payne for taking the time to answer these questions. Marshall has a livejournal, you may visit him there at: http://marshallpayne1.livejournal.com.
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Copyright 2009, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. All rights reserved.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in The Netherlands. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes two and four. She is the co-author of the inspirational book, Hope Away from Home (OMF Lit, Philippines), and is a member of the Villa Diodati expatworkshop.
She will be attending the Clarion West Writing Workshop in 2009. She blogs at: http://rcloenen-ruiz.livejournal.com