Lee Martindale speaks with many voices, from traditional Irish bard to the down home twang of Selina Rosen's Bubbaverse. She is, in her own words, a "short story slinger," with credits that include online venues, print magazines, and numerous anthologies, as well as three collections from Yard Dog Press. She and her husband George live in Plano, Texas, where she keeps friends and fans up to date with her website http://www.HarpHaven.net.
Kenneth Mark Hoover: What influenced your desire to be a writer?
Lee Martindale: I was raised by a grandfather who was what academics would call a master oral storyteller. I just knew he told wonderful stories. Another influence was being a voracious reader from a very early age. Anything and everything, much of it probably—and thankfully—well beyond my years and the environment—rural Kentucky in the 1950s and '60s—in which I was growing up. In college, a friend introduced me to science fiction, beginning with Robert Heinlein. A few years later, I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover," and her columns of advice to new writers. Those are what pushed me from writing for my own pleasure to becoming a writer.
KMH: Have you had any personal experiences that helped shape your career as a writer?
LM: In 1991, a viral inflammation left me, very suddenly, the better part of a paraplegic. Part of what enabled me to get my head around that and move on with my life was being able to take something I did in the occasional spare minute to full-time. My husband encouraged the move. He's also a solid first reader, a good proof-reader, and remarkably adept at knowing when to slide sandwiches under the office door and tiptoe away.
KMH: What else shaped you as a writer?
LM: Twenty-five years is being a human rights activist, with a good bit of that involving writing non-fiction commentary, and a lifetime of being "outside the norm" in a number of areas have had their influence. But the greatest one of being a Named Bard; it could be said that I'm acquitting traditional duties using modern means.
KMH: You recently attended the Nebulas. Did you have a story nominated?
LM: Story nominated? <chuckle> Maybe next year. This year's Nebula Event took place in Seattle, and "have a good time" doesn't begin to describe it. Astrid Bear and her team put together a weekend that was, in all respects, a celebration of writers and the genres in which we work. Add to that the incredible joy of watching Elizabeth Moon take home the Best Novel Nebula for Speed of Dark, and it was a great weekend.
KMH: Your anthology, Such a Pretty Face: Tales of Power and Abundance, has been called "groundbreaking." Do you agree with that?
LM: Despite a recently published, and inaccurately subtitled, non-genre collection, SAPF was the first anthology to bring together stories featuring fat protagonists. And unlike that aforementioned collection, the fat characters were strong and positive; they didn't apologize for taking up space. I asked for science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories that cast large people, not as silly sidekicks or comic relief, or "villains by virtue of size," but as heroes and heroines. A radical concept, one that had never been done before, and the writers came through. I still hear from readers for whom SAPF was their first experience with fat people—people who looked like them, members of their family or their friends—being treated in a positive manner. And they liked it. Groundbreaking? Yeah, I'd agree with that assessment.
KMH: What are the major differences between editing something like an anthology and simply writing stories?
LM: They are two completely different jobs. Writing a story is creating the voice, the tone, the characters, and the situation in which they are being placed. The writer may work from guidelines, as when writing for a themed anthology, but it's the writer's imagination and craft on the page. Editing, particularly an anthology, is selecting the stories and mixing them, much in the same way that one mixes music, to produce the most interesting reading experience. If reworking a story is necessary—and, except for extraordinary circumstances, it shouldn't be—the editor's job is to polish, without changing the voice or the tone, what the writer has created. The editors I've worked with do it like that; I learned from the best.
KMH: Did you enjoy the experience?
LM: Tremendously. It was a kick pulling together several of the "worlds" I walk between—size issues activism, editing—into a single project. Then there was the fun and honor of working with Gene Wolfe, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and all the other established writers involved. Best of all was being able to pay forward part of the debt I owe Marion Zimmer Bradley. SAPF was an open read and, for a number of contributors, their first or second professional sale. All the hard work, and doing an open read is hard work, was well worth being able to do that.
KMH: So you would want to do it again?
LM: In a heartbeat. One every couple of years would be grand. At this point, Meisha Merlin and I have agreed in principle on one project, and a "sequel" to Such a Pretty Face has been discussed. I'm also shopping other proposals around.
KMH: You mentioned Meisha Merlin. They, and Yard Dog Press to some extent, have made an impact in the publishing world, in my opinion as independent publishing houses. Is this a trend in the business—"smaller, faster"—and will it influence the larger publishers out there?
LM: It's not the smaller size or shorter leadtimes that explain the impact these two have had; it's their focus. Both are primarily speculative fiction houses, and the decisions are made by people who know, understand, and like speculative fiction. It shows in the way they work with writers and artists, and it shows in the quality of the product they put on the shelves. This is not to say that the larger publishers don't have good, knowledgeable, genre-friendly people working for them—they do—but they're not the ones making the final decisions.
KMH: Can you give any examples of that?
LM: A couple of years ago, I pitched an anthology proposal to one of the large houses, to an editor whose genre credentials are among the best. She asked to see a list of contributors, I sent up flares, and within a week came back with a list of twenty-six writers interested in contributing stories, most of whom I think anyone familiar with science fiction and fantasy would classify as heavy hitters. The editor certainly seemed pleased. When the proposal went before the editorial board, it was declined for lack of "big names." My already high respect for that editor went up another couple of notches when she actually looked embarrassed delivering that part.
KMH: In what other ways are independent houses making an impact?
LM: Meisha Merlin and Yard Dog—the two such houses with which I've had experience so far—seem to be rewriting many of the "unwritten rules" and making up some new ones. I said previously that Such a Pretty Face was something that had never been done before. Stephen Pagel took several chances with it: first time anthologist, first anthology out of Meisha Merlin, a radical concept, something that flew headlong into a deeply-entrenched societal prejudice, and he let me do it as an open read. Both houses encourage taking an active role in promotion, and it's an approach that works. So does the sense of community that's developed around both houses.
KMH: Any last thoughts about independent publishers and the mainstream houses?
LM: It would be wonderful if the larger publishers were influenced by the growth of independent and small publishers, and beneficial to all concerned—the publishers, the writers and the reading public. I don't see it happening, though. The differences in mindset and corporate model are just too great.
KMH: Many writers, new and old, often complain about the lag time between selling a story and seeing it in print. In our increasingly fast-paced world, is this ever likely to change?
LM: Fewer story markets publishing fewer issues per year, editors buying more stories than they can use in a reasonable timeframe, writers selling to markets known for long lead time; unless these conditions change, long lags between sale and publication will continue.
KMH: I guess my next question ties in to the last one. In your opinion, are writers respected by publishing houses and magazines, or do they view writers as a "necessary evil"?
LM: Some version of this question comes up almost every time I do a panel for new writers, and I always quote Marion Zimmer Bradley who said, "Nobody ever told you not to be a plumber." Being "respected" is not in the job description. The optimum situation is professional treatment, negotiation in good faith, contracts that benefit both sides, and the reasonable expectation of adherence to the conditions of those contracts. The publishers worth working with maintain those standards and they understand that the relationship between writers and publishers is symbiotic. I think there are a lot more of that sort than those who view writers as "necessary evils."
KMH: I know you're a lifetime member of SFWA. What have they done to garner more respect for writers of science fiction and fantasy?
LM: SFWA's mission is to promote and further the writing of genre fiction as a profession, and it pursues that mission on two fronts. A number of programs promote awareness and appreciation of genre fiction in the general public: the Nebula Awards, the anthologies, and the work being done with librarians and educators to name a few. The second front is geared toward writers, with emphasis on information, networking, and advocacy. In addition to committees dealing directly with writers' concerns, members of SFWA have addressed Congressional committees, and are in discussion with various corporations on numerous issues that directly impact professional writers.
KMH: Let's talk about your career as a writer. When and where did you sell your first story?
LM: It was in 1992, a story called "YearBride," to Marion Zimmer Bradley for the Snows of Darkover anthology published in 1994.
KMH: What themes do you find most often appear in your stories?
LM: Human rights issues, usually in terms of their effect on individual characters. Bardcraft, particularly the traditional bardic duties. Coming to terms with aging or disability, especially with characters we routinely see when they're young and standard-issue in terms of senses and body parts.
KMH: What do you enjoy writing about most?
LM: I'd have to say the bardic stuff, followed in close order by taking bits of Arthurian legend and going off in new directions.
KMH: What do you feel are your strengths as a writer?
LM: When I'm writing, a part of my mind is thinking about how the story will work being read aloud to a listening audience. In fact, part of my polishing process is reading it out loud—and yes, the cats do give me funny looks. A piece that stands up to that, flows well, stays interesting, will do so on the page. I've been accused of having something of a quirky sense of humor, which is also, in my opinion, a plus.
KMH: I think so, too. Is there anything about your writing you'd like to improve?
LM: My "production speed" for one. Except for the times stories have kicked me awake at 3 a.m. and been ready to go out the door when my husband left for work five hours later, I'm not a fast writer. I can't seem to break the habit of editing as I go. Somewhere there's a happy medium between that and getting something—anything—down, and then going back and editing, and that's something I'd like to learn to hit.
KMH: What is your favorite format, short stories or novels?
LM: I can't really say "favorite," because I'm only beginning to try to write long form, but my natural length—the length I think in—is the short story.
LM: Tight construction, economy of description, linear plotting. Or, as my grandda used to say, "Get in, tell the story, get out before they start throwing things." I also like writing short stories for purely mercenary reasons. They're faster to write and easier to sell.
KMH: What personal goals have you set for yourself as a writer?
LM: Continue to eat on a regular basis and sleep indoors. Beyond that, I've promised several friends to take a swing at expanding a couple of my short stories into novels; it's time, I think. More short stories, of course, and more sales.
KMH: Can you tell us what you are working on now?
LM: The biggest project on my plate right now is not, strictly speaking, a writing project. I'm recording, for distribution through HarpHaven Publishing, an audio version of "To Stand As Witness", the chapbook of three Arthurian short stories published by Yard Dog Press. If that goes well, I'll follow it with audio versions of my other two Yard Dog chapbooks. On the writing front, I generally have multiple stories, in various stages, going at any one time. Among them are more stories with "Ellen," the vampire in "Neighborhood Watch," a new Myr Aelyn piece, at least one new Copperwood Bard story, and couple of stories for an "old broads and blades" cycle.
KMH: What genres and authors do you like to read?
LM: One of the downsides to being a writer is that I don't get to read nearly as much as I used to or would like. Mostly I read in the genres I write: fantasy, societal science fiction, and horror-lite. I'll pretty much drop everything for a new novel by Elizabeth Moon, Wm. Mark Simmons or Mark Shepherd. Every few years, I go back and reread all my Heinlein, the MZB Darkover novels, and McCaffrey's Pern novels.
KMH: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
LM: Read the guidelines. Write. Finish. Submit. Repeat last step as needed. And read the bloody guidelines.
KMH: I know you also attend conventions when you can. Which are your favorites?
LM: My first convention was GalaxyFaire in 1994 in Dallas, followed soon after by the late and much-missed SoonerCon in Oklahoma City. Fan-run regional conventions, primarily focused on written SF&F, with solid media and filk components; that kind of convention continues to be my favorite. I'm one of those folks who actually enjoys doing panels. I believe in "earning my keep." Putting on a convention is hard work, and supporting that with whatever talents I can bring to the table is part of the deal, in my opinion.
KMH: In what way do conventions help you as a writer?
LM: In addition to the sleep deprivation? Writing is, for the most part, a solitary occupation, but not one I can do in a vacuum. Talking with fans and fellow writers recharges my batteries like nothing else, gives me a fresh dose of energy and a renewed sense of why I do what I do.
KMH: What about hobbies or activities?
LM: I'm a singer/songwriter, which means I also commit filk, occasionally in the recording studio and in concert. I'm a fencing member and frequently Safety Marshall of the SFWA Musketeers, and a member—although unfortunately inactive because of my convention and writing schedules—of the SCA. I merchant on eBay, go target shooting when I can, and love spending quality time with my husband. I also do a good bit of public speaking to advocacy groups, writers' groups, keynote speeches, and talks at libraries.
KMH: What's the one major misconception the general public has about science fiction and fantasy?
LM: I only get one? <sigh> That what isn't rayguns and rocketships, geared toward twelve-year-old boys, is elves and never-ending twenty-pound tomes that rip off J.R.R. Tolkien.
KMH: What misconception do they have about writers?
LM: The one thing that puts my teeth most on edge is that we don't work for a living.
KMH: Do you have any stories about to come out for us to read?
LM: I have two coming out in the Fall (November, I think.) "Necessity and The Mother" in Sword and Sorceress XXI, and "Combat Shopping" in Turn the Other Chick, the fifth in Esther Friesner's Chicks in Chainmail anthology series.
KMH: Are you where you want to be, the pace and placement, of your career?
LM: Most of the short stories I've been writing are selling on the first or second submission, which I think is a combination of continuing improvement in my writing and a steadily growing audience. I still get excited about every story sale, which tells me I still love doing this. It's not J.K. Rowling, but it's where I think I should be at this stage.
KMH: You work within these genres. What is the future for science fiction and fantasy, in your opinion?
LM: Drat, I just sent my crystal ball out to be cleaned. Seriously, I don't have a good answer for that. I know I'm not in the "doom and gloom" camp, because I honestly feel that giving the readers something to think about or a few minutes in a universe other than their own will always be a saleable commodity. It may not always be an easy sell, but that's just the nature of the societal pendulum. I'm even less in agreement with those who think that the "savior of the business" is the latest gee-whiz technology and figuring out some way to plug the story straight into the brain.
KMH: What about trends in these respective genres?
LM: What I hope is that it will continue to be a place where good ideas, interesting concepts, radical notions and, above all, the craft of the storyteller, will continue to be practiced by writers and enjoyed by readers. Preferably, in a profitable manner.