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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ryck Neube Interview, Part III

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.

In the final section of my interview with Ryck Neube he discusses how stolen stories in Russia lead to paying work; how he generates story ideas; and what happened the time he wrote a novel for the market instead of for himself. Click on the links to read the first and second segments.

JMJ: You’re also very popular in Russia, which happened by way of theft, if I recall?

RN: Yes indeed. Back at the turn of the century, my union, the Science Fiction Writers of America, approached me with the news that I was being pirated in Russia and would I care to join their class-action suit? At the time the Russian economy was in the crapper. I mean they had stagflation – the economy was just a disaster. I’m going, even if we win what do we get? So I said, no, I’m not going to sue people for stealing my work. It’s kind of cool. People are reading me. Last year Issly, the Russian equivalent of Asimov’s, which means “if” in Russian. (If was a famous American fiction magazine back in the day – the 30s and 40s.) The editor of the magazine tracks me down and goes, “We can’t pay you much, but we’d like to reprint these stories over here because you’re popular.” As a matter of fact, the first story – I’m told since I can’t read Russian – that a Russian science fiction critic asked, “Why is the best science fiction being written in Russia by an American hillbilly?”

JMJ: Any other foreign countries?

RN: I’ve won the 4th Barcelona novella competition and been published in Catalan – another language I can’t read. I’ve been published in China: Asimov’s is published throughout the English speaking world. Even my correspondent in New Zealand can pick it up on the shelves

JMJ: How do you get story ideas?

RN: I drink a lot. I started work on a story this morning where the opening line is “Can I borrow a cup of cat fur?” I still don’t know where that’s going, but I misheard someone saying that.

JMJ: That’s an advantage of getting older.

RN: Actually, going deaf may improve my fiction. The same’s true with perhaps my favorite story, which was in the Feral Parakeets anthology by CWP. I over-misheard someone asking, “Do you want to see JFK’s brain?” I have no idea what they actually said, but it doesn’t matter.

JMJ: If you could impart words of wisdom to writers, what would you tell them that’s unique from Ryck Neube?

RN: Writing is easy; revision sucks – it’s hard work, but you can’t do it enough. You may be one of those lucky people like Carlin Ellison who used to sit in the window of a bookstore, type a short story during the day and mail it out at the end of the day. The reason geniuses are geniuses is because they are that rare. The rest of us have to work and revise and revise and revise and revise. I really do think a lot of people come through critique group thinking, “This needs one whack and I’m ready to go to New York.” I’ve seen people like that crash and burn so many times, because that ain’t going to happen. It has to be polished to diamond brightness. And even then it requires luck.

One of the crappiest pieces I ever wrote, an editor sends me back this beautiful letter saying, “I loved this ever so much, but we bought one just like this three few months ago, so we’re going to pass on it.” If I had been four months quicker, it was mine. And that novel, by the way is the one that taught me I can’t write for the market, I’ve got to write for me. In the end it was like shoving hot bricks up my ass getting that project done, because I just wasn’t having any fun.

JMJ: And your plan for this one was to write for market?

RN: It’s one that I sat down, I read all the books, I read Locus. What are the common denominators for a quest novel? I had my plucky young sorcerer; I had a tribe of warrior Viking bears; I had dragons and adventure – I whored myself like a five-dollar street walker.

JMJ: And it worked, except for the timing. If you’d only done nine revisions instead of ten, you would have gotten it out four months earlier and…

RN: Exactly. Hoisted on my own petard. If you look at the things I’ve said about this novel, check out the novel/movie The Golden Compass – all the elements right there. This was done twenty years later, but I do highly recommend it as a movie, and it had Viking Polar Bears. Mine were grizzlies.

JMJ: That made all the difference in the world: The white versus the brown.

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