Ryck Neube is one of my (Jim) writing mentors. I met Ryck at the Cincinnati Writers Project Wednesday night critique group. Ryck has published novels, novellas, but is best known for his short stories. Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, for example, has published his work numerous times.
JMJ: In the first section of my interview with Ryck Neube he introduced himself and we discussed what makes people stand out from the others. In this section Ryck muses on hard work, errors he made, being published (and not) in Asmiov’s and the usefulness of contacts.
RN: I have many novels in the basement turning, thankfully, into compost because I had to learn. I really think Ray Bradbury said it all: to be a writer you write a million words. And the words really don’t matter. It’s a matter of making that commitment to writing that much and at the end of the million words you are that writer.
JMJ: I remember, broadly speaking, someone said to learn anything well took ten years. That’s essentially saying you need to write a novel a year for ten years. If you write more than that, maybe you can cut down from ten years.
RN: There’s an apprenticeship, unless you’re unlucky enough to have your first novel out of college, boom it’s on the best seller list. I think you can be cursed by that.
JMJ: Not going to be my problem.
RN: Well join the club. I wasted the first ten years of my writing because I didn’t pick up the basics. Editors would get the stuff and look at it and say, “My God. He’s got like quarter inch margins.” It’s those little things. Basic formatting is important and I try to drive that through in critique group just because I really do think I wasted the first ten years making boneheaded mistakes like that.
JMJ: You’re a Sci-Fi guy, but I know you read lots of other stuff.
RN: I actually write everything but romances and westerns. Romances for the obvious reasons and westerns because there’s too much research required. If you get the underwear wrong in a western…You know one reason I’m in science fiction is to avoid the research.
JMJ: I invented the world and you can’t tell me I’m wrong because I invented the rules.
RN: Exactly. Although in my one short story, “Quantum Commode Theory,” I actually got a fan letter from a physicist who went, it’s so refreshing for a science fiction writer who actually understands quantum physics – and I haven’t a clue.
JMJ: So how did you respond to that enthralled physicist?
RN: I said, “Thank you,” and sent him an autographed copy.
JMJ: [laughs] Never fess up when you don’t have to.
RN: Never. The real punch line of that story is the editor of Asimov’s added the final line to that story and improved it 100%. It was like eight words he added—100% better and I get the credit! It makes up with being stuck with bad art.
JMJ: You’ve had a bunch of stories published by Asimov and a bunch rejected by them. If you look at the ones that sold and the ones that didn’t sell, any difference, or no clue or they were just smoking different stuff that day?
RN: I have not a clue what will sell and won’t sell. I have sat down and written a glorified fart joke, and it entertained me enough and was short enough that basically I did ten drafts in three days and I sent it off just because it was finished. And it sold – possibly the worst writing I’ve done in my life. Things that I adore, things that make me cry – I impress myself so much – don’t sell. My rule of thumb is, since I cannot identify what will sell and what won’t sell, I do ten drafts and I mail it off. And if it is rejected by everybody in the business, at the end of that two or three years that it takes to get to everybody, I will reread it; and if I’m still in love with the story, I’ll change its title, I’ll change the opening and try it again. A third of my sales come from that.
I’ve had the same editor…I screwed up one time: whenever I get my rejects, one day a week I open them all, take the rejects out, log it in my ledger, put them in envelopes and send them right back out. I screwed up and sent one right back to the same person who bought it. And I’m sitting here going “Last week it’s a reject, this week you’ll take it?”
JMJ: But you cashed the check.
JMJ: Tell me the story about how you’re published in Polish. It involved some contest?
RN: Even stranger than that. I belonged to an organization called the N3F (the National Fantasy Fan Federation) –this was in the days of mimeographed manuscripts. It just so happened they caught fire in Warsaw and had several members. You know I love to correspond. To this day I actually write letters. So I started corresponding with this guy in Warsaw. And it turned out there was a small group of Science Fiction fans in Warsaw – much like the Futurians were in NYC in the 1930s. Basically you’d have a group of science fiction fans, and Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein – everybody at that point who was writing science fiction – would drop in on them. This was the way it was in Warsaw.
He wanted to see one of my novels. I’d just finished writing one of my favorite novels. (I’m currently data entering the bloody thing into my database and – oh God, is it horrible. But that’s twenty years further down the line.) I sent him a Xerox of my novel and the Communist government seized it. That instantly made me fascinating to Derek and his group. So I sent it a second time and it got through and LO! The Berlin Wall falls. Poland is independent. A Swedish firm walks in and says we publish Science Fiction in Sweden and we think there’s a business opportunity in Poland. They’re looking around for someone who knows Polish Science Fiction and boom, it’s my buddy Derek, saying. “I not only know Polish Science fiction writers, I know and American science fiction writer.” So, the month my novel was published in Poland they published two others: Harry Harrison and Isaac Asimov. So here I am with pretty good company.
By the way, the novel is about a future gang of hovercraft thieves in Mt. Adams (a Cincinnati neighborhood). But that’s how it got published in Poland. And New York could care less. I’ve stopped even mentioning it in my cover letter.
JMJ: We'll have the concluding portion of the interview next Wednesday.
Please contact E. B. Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.