If you’ve been following these interviews, by now you realize that one could not swing a deceased feline quadruped at the World Science Fiction Convention without hitting writers and authors at practically every stage of their careers. Jude-Marie Green is a published author of speculative fiction whose work is just starting to take off. And whilst swinging the above said carcass, I happened to meet her at the wind-down of a long exhausting day tramping for miles around the enormous convention center and downtown Denver, and so ensued one of those, “Oh, really? What do you write?” conversations. Strangely, she thought I was pulling her leg about doing this interview. Hey, I’m a serious guy, ain’t I?
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
JMG: A friend challenged me to write a ‘fat vampire’ story. This was back in 2002. I struggled through 42 revisions of that story (and still haven’t sold it, though I’ve gotten plenty of critique about how creepy it is) and loved every minute. Since then I’ve sold 10 stories to a variety of venues: Say, Why Aren’t We Crying?, Abyss&Apex, Ideomancer, Every Day Fiction, and Hadley Rille Books, to name a few. In late 2006 I joined the staff at Abyss&Apex online magazine as a slush reader and I’m now the associate editor.
TH: In your slush pile excursions for Abyss & Apex, what the top two single most common problems with the submissions you read?
JMG: I have to say that when I began my slush pile adventures, I was prepared for the worst of awfulness in terms of submissions. Imagine my surprise when I realized most stories are okay. Some very tiny percentage are just bad (bad writing), some are inappropriate (revenge stories; bludgeoning does not construe a plot), some are very good, and some tiny amount (about 1%) are outstanding.
For the bulk of stories that are okay, the writing could be tighter, the characters could be more realistic, the dialog less histrionic.
The most common problems? Starting the story too soon, too slow. Yes, all the writing books/groups/lessons/workshops say, lop off the first 3 pages because that’s usually the place where the story is getting a grip on the author’s mind; the real story starts after the writer is in gear (usually after page 3.) And yes, that advice is all too true. We get far too many stories that start with breakfast, or a white room, or walking down the street trying to figure out what the story is going to be.
Theses stories usually suffer from abrupt endings, too. I believe (from my own experience as a writer!) that sometimes a writer thinks up an ending and uses some thick black nylon sutures to tack that ending onto another story.
These are issues that experience and writing more stories will sort out for the writer. Unhappily, the writers who send in the revenge stories (blood! guts! she left me and now must die in the most horrific way imaginable; oh hey wonder if the local magazine would like to buy the story?) probably won’t improve out of that problem.
TH: What is The Story of Jude-Marie? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
JMG: Well, my story is all of that. It’s also livejournal entries and plenty of those things held too close to share. There are even some songs involved! Plus foreign language thrown in for spice.
Gnothi Seauton is the word of the day. Tomorrow’s word is yet undiscovered, and yesterday’s theme of subways and pad thai was incorporated and is being composted.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
JMG: When I wrote a novel in the 5th grade (happily lost to posterity)? When I wrote that speculative short story about a shoe’s hard day’s night in 3rd grade? When I realized early on that I read and understood words my adult relatives did not? I think it’s one of those “from the egg” questions. It’s what I’ve always been, even when I haven’t done it.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
JMG: Aside from the aforementioned novel, I have hordes of stories that… well, some day I’ll try to sell them. Maybe.
The only embarrassing work are the stories I haven’t done yet.
TH: The “embarrassing stories” comment is a good one, and points toward a critical barrier that separates published/working writers and the wannabes. Can you explain what you mean?
JMG: I’ve written stories that aren’t so great, are clunky, perhaps have a flawed story arc; but the operative phrase is that I’ve written them. The embarrassing thing is going over old notes and seeing a jot about a story idea that took me over, excited me, but I never wrote it out, never explored the possibility because I was caught up learning to tie-dye. This is different from cat-vacuuming or other avoidances, this is murder of a potential. I might write that idea when I stumble over the notes, but it isn’t the same idea that excited me back when.
(Of course, I’ll also be that much further along as a writer, so the exploration might be more mature and better written.)
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
JMG: Of course. I intend to be Stephen King when I grow up.
More seriously, I just want to keep writing the best story I can write. I’m disappointed that so much of the bestseller mainstream is barely readable and stylistically void while so much excellent literary work is done in genre and is ignored and doesn’t hit bestsellerdom. I want a bestseller, of course, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t; I can’t use that as a yardstick.
I’m also working on a novel about the Mercury 13; of necessity it’ll be an alternate history where the women are incorporated into the space program. Maybe it’ll be a runaway best seller! But I hope to write better than that.
TH: How do you predict that your skill with writing will improve? Are there areas where you will choose to challenge yourself?
JMG: Ask any writer: the skills improve with each story written.
I’m very good (if I say so myself) with character, dialog, imagery; but oh boy do I suffer from plot holes. I hope to improve along the way. Flash fiction is a way of improving plotting; those little suckers have to be tight. (See my story in November 2007 Ideomancer, “What Happens Next,” for an example of my plotting problems and how I try to overcome them. The story is 2nd person and leaves a lot to the imagination.)
Every time I tell a story, it’s a challenge: did I tell the reader what I want them to know? Did I put in the right details so the reader understands what turns me on about the story? I occasionally write a story that readers take in a wholly different manner from my intended story. So that’s exploration of my own psyche. Is this a failure of writing? A failure of story-telling? I guess if the reader gets something enjoyable from the experience then it isn’t a failure.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
JMG: The beach. It’s awfully symbolic of effort. Travel and journeying and discovering people are the same all over, despite superficial differences. Other people’s success, because every time someone wins big, I feel bigger.
No, I’m not kidding, I really am that Pollyanna.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
JMG: Discovering how my characters manage to accomplish what I need them to do.
Sometimes, the methods are a surprise.
Having my name in print, and my stories read by people who are not my family or friends, is also very appealing.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore ?
JMG: I post into my livejournal (saycestsay.livejournal.com) about all my successes and failures. I network with people at conventions: at WorldCon, for instance, I sat at the Hadley Rille Books table in the dealer’s room even when I wasn’t signing officially, and I talked with people as they passed by.
I’m not sure there’s a lot an author can do for promotion aside from being available when the publisher wants to sponsor an event. I’ve gone to several Hadley Rille Books signings (in Elko and Reno, Nevada; Glendale and San Francisco, California; and Denver, Colorado) to help spread the word about the excellent line of books. I’ve also previously participated in the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Readings at conventions, which do generate a bit of buzz for up and coming female genre writers.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
JMG: Made it? Not even close. I’ve sold some stories, with some honorable notice, and I’m proud to be part of Abyss&Apex, but I have a long way to go.
Honestly, when my first story was accepted (Til The Wildness Cried Aloud, in Say, Why Aren’t We Crying?) I thought I’d truly made it: no longer a wanna-be, but actually published in a well-regarded small press magazine. But there are more mountains above each successfully-climbed ridge, darn it. Or maybe not “darn it.” Wouldn’t want writing and selling to stop being a challenge!
Milestones. Gardner Dozois selected my story, In The Season of Blue Storms, as an honorable mention for the 2006 Best SF anthology. That was a trip and a half! I’m still thrilled about it. I think a great milestone would be publication in his Best of the Year anthology. Having a story printed in one of the Big Three magazines would also be a sign that I’ve made it.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
JMG: I do not need to do this yet as a writer. However, I believe that I will need to take this professional approach later when I’m more recognized. And this is not a bad thing.
TH: Do you think you’ll ever use a pseudonym?
JMG: Yes. I already have one (nothing published under that name yet, though.) I suspect that pseudonyms are important for branding… and as a safety net. I actually developed my pseudonym to keep two aspects of my writing/editing life separate.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
JMG: I have stories of women striving to overcome the odds that are making the rounds. Hadley Rille Books’ Global Warming: Aftermath will have my story, Adrift in the Horse Latitudes; and of course I expect to publish the novel about the Mercury 13 next year.
TH: Do all of your stories have strong female protagonists?
JMG: No. I grew up reading older fiction (not just science fiction) where most all protagonists were male; when I began writing all my protags were male. But they were all me, in that they reacted like me. As an experiment with one story, I changed the gender of the protag without changing anything else… and the story still rang true. Perhaps I don’t write male protags well!
Of my published stories, I’m at 50% male/female protags. Of the stories I’ve written, the average is about the same. Hmm.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
JMG: Good: that was MY NAME in the Honorable Mention section of the 2006 Year’s Best!
Bad: that was my story (same one, by the way) that got an awful review. Ouch.
Other: Carl Frederick, when I spoke to him at World Con in Boston, remembered me from our Critters day. Unhappily, the story he critted was godawful. And he remembered me. Good or bad? I don’t know.
TH: Your “good” vs. “bad” experience with the same story brings up an interesting point about how subjective reading is.What are some ways you’ve consciously worked your life experience into your fiction?
JMG: Consciously? I’m not sure I could consciously KEEP my life experience OUT of my fiction. Sure, I’ve never been a lion genetically modified into a couch (Til The Wildness Cried Aloud, in Say, Why Aren’t We Crying?) but I have felt helpless, imprisoned, scarred, and like I’ve won my way through to freedom at great cost. The lion, my main character in this story, isn’t a Mary Sue; his reactions are.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
JMG: Peace on Earth, good will towards all, is a sentiment for all time, not just the cold holidays.