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Mike Resnick
conducted by Jim Minz
 
July 2007

Mike Resnick was born on March 5, 1942. He sold his first article in 1957, his first short story in 1959, and his first book in 1962. Since then, he has written more than fifty science fiction novels and close to two hundred sf stories, as well as having edited nearly fifty anthologies. He's won five Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and more than fifty other awards, as well as receiving the Skylark Award for Lifetime Achievement. Tack on 200-plus novels, several hundred short stories and a couple thousand articles written mostly pseudonymously, and mostly for the "adult" market, not to mention editorial runs with a couple of men's magazines and several tabloid newspapers back in the '60s and '70s, and you'll begin to appreciate the breadth and depth of Mike Resnick's career. Early in 2007, he came on board as Executive Editor of Jim Baen's Universe, and he recently took the time to answer a few questions in anticipation of the July publication of The Best of Jim Baen's Universe.

In his inaugural editorial essay

(http://baens-universe.com/articles/febed)

Mike mentioned a number of authors whom he greatly admires as writers, but in terms of editors, "for the record, I admired the fact that regardless of story content, Anthony Boucher insisted on fine writing first and foremost. I liked the fact that neither Ed Ferman nor Kristine Kathryn Rusch had any problem buying a story that stretched, or even fell outside, the definition of science fiction if they liked it enough. I liked the fact that Fred Pohl would buy a story whose philosophy he disagreed with if it had a valid premise and logically followed it through. That's all for the record. The truth of the matter is that the editor I have had the most experience with, and admire the most, is my wife Carol, who has been line-editing my work for four decades, who invariably finds the hidden flaws (harder and harder as I become more and more polished) and shows me how to correct them. Most important of all—and it's the thing I always try to do as an editor myself—is that she makes suggestions that play to my strengths, rather than those that she would apply if she were writing the story, which is as sound an editorial principle as I've ever come across."

Back in 1965, Mike began his editorial career with a tabloid newspaper, but his first experience as an sf editor was an anthology entitled Shaggy B.E.M. Stories, "which was commissioned by Nolacon II, the 1988 Worldcon, when I was their Toastmaster. The first thing I learned was to make sure the publisher knew enough to let the editor and authors proofread the galleys. (Nolacon II didn't—this was their first and last book—and as a result I would conservatively estimate that there are at least 200 typos.) The other was that most authors—and we had some huge Names in the book—are pretty easy to deal with when you have a project that appeals to them. Since it was a reprint anthology, I didn't learn a damned thing about working with a writer, tossing out ideas, turning down ideas, and all that—but I'd learn plenty about it over the next 40+ anthologies, most of them originals.

"The main difference between editing all those anthologies and editing Jim Baen's Universe—and it's an absolute joy—is that I get to select the best stories, rather than the best Alternate President stories or the best Christmas Ghost stories or etc. Lessons learned? That when you pay the top rates you can attract the best authors...and when you pay the top rates, if you don't run the best stories of all the magazines, it's not the writers' faults."

Of course, Mike also had a brief editorial stint in the men's magazine market. The big difference between those and Jim Baen's Universe? "Well, for starters, there are a lot less naked women. Seriously, the men's magazines I edited in the 1960s were not quite up there in the stratosphere with Playboy. We didn't pay that much, and in truth we didn't expect that much. Mostly the stories were the legal 'redeeming social values' that allowed us to print all the photos of (*sigh*) nekkid wimmin."

And how's it been with Jim Baen's Universe thus far? "I've brought in a few top writers who hadn't written for Baen or Baen's Universe before, but had worked for my anthologies and felt comfortable with me; and I cleaned up a ton of forwarded slush stories. Other than that, Eric Flint and I pass stories back and forth, and sound out each other's opinions. We come from totally different backgrounds, but we're very close to being literary soulmates; there are very few stories—either acceptances or rejections—that we disagree on."

"In fact, I consider all my primary co-editors—Eric, Gardner Dozois, Marty Greenberg—to be good friends, and I can't recall ever having any serious disagreements with them. With Gardner all the books were reprint anthologies, so it was simply a matter of pooling our knowledge. With Eric, since we're dealing with original stories, of course personal taste enters into it, as does our perception of how to improve any given story, but we're usually on the same wavelength. (And come to think of it, we have edited reprints, too; our anthology, The Dragon Done It, which is all reprints except for an original novelette from each of us, comes out next March from Baen Books. With a really striking Bob Eggleton cover, I might add.)"

As for the criteria for submitting to Jim Baen's Universe, "the one I've made public is that unless you are a well-established writer who can be trusted to deliver the goods, you'd better capture me in the first 500 words. Another, which should be a given for every fiction editor in every field, long and short, is that you'd better make me care about the characters. Yet another is that I'm paying top professional rates, and in exchange for that I expect (and insist upon) top professional quality in the writing."

Any near misses from the submission pile? "Not really. If they come close, I'll ask for a rewrite and explain where, how and why I want it. You have to understand that this is 2007. In 1952, there were, honest to goodness, 57 science fiction magazines. Today there are five. That means only the best stories will sell, and that means you can't cry over the stories that would have sold if there were still 57 viable markets, or 37, or 17. It also means, as I pointed out in one of my editorials, that if you do sell a short story to these limited markets, you can feel justifiably proud of yourself.

"And the most important thing is that you should write the very best story of which you're capable, and don't try to slant it toward what you perceive as the editors' taste. It'll be a lot better story if you write what you want, what interests you, what makes you love or hate or fear, than if you try to write what you think we want."

So how does someone balance writing novels and short stories, as well as editing anthologies and a major sf magazine, not to mention your family? "All I ever wanted to be was a science fiction professional. When I was 21, I went to my first Worldcon. There were giants present. Doc Smith bought me a cup of coffee. Jack Williamson encouraged me to try to become a science fiction writer. Isaac Asimov was handing out Hugos to people like Philip K. Dick and Jack Vance. I knew long before the convention was over that I wanted to devote my life to this field. I have been living that young man's dream for more than 40 years now, and when you feel blessed to be able to do exactly what you wanted to do, you have no problem finding the energy to do it. Let me put it another way. Someone once asked Pablo Picasso what his hobby was, and he answered: 'I paint.' The questioners said, 'No, that's what you do for a living. What do you do with your spare time, to relax?' And he repeated, 'I paint.' If you were to ask me my hobby, I'd say 'I write and edit science fiction.'

"My daughter Laura, an award-winning sf and romance author, lives 7 or 8 miles away (though it seems she spends half her time traveling out of the country). We see each other every week or so, trade e-mails a lot. We discuss the business of writing, and industry gossip, but unless I've bought a story from her for an anthology, I am never permitted to see what she's written until it's in print."

If Mike had to pick which of his recent stories would make a good movie, he'd go with "this year's Hugo nominee, 'All the Things You Are'. My standard answer to casting is that I don't care if it stars PeeWee Herman and Miss Piggy, just make the damned thing and pay me my pick-up fee. You know, people are always saying: 'Aren't you afraid Hollywood will ruin your book (or story)?' The only answer is: 'My story is sitting up there on the shelf, and no one can ruin it. They can ruin someone's screenplay, but they'll pay me enough money to make it okay.' Any other attitude will drive you crazy. If I must name a lead actor and actress, I choose anyone but Ben Affleck and anyone but Paris Hilton."

As for what innovation he'd like to see in his lifetime, Mike offers two answers: "the selfish answer is that I'd like to see retina transplants, since I suffered a torn retina a couple of years ago, and have been legally blind in that eye ever since. My general answer, and I know it's a pipe dream, is that I'd like to see someone find a way around Einstein's equations and come up with a FTL drive."

As for a trip back in time, Mike offers an answer both practical and predictable. "As readers of my books know, I have a long-standing love affair with Africa. I'd like to go back to East Africa about 300 years ago, when it was still islands of men in a sea of animals, rather than the reverse that it has become. (And I'd like to come back home before I was eaten or contracted a disease.)"

To check out Mike's latest editorial, and read the newest issue of Jim Baen's Universe, go to www.baens-universe.com. And of course, if you're looking to catch up on your reading of science fiction's hottest new magazine, you can't go wrong with The Best of Jim Baen's Universe, edited by Eric Flint. As the title suggests, it features tales taken straight from the e-pages of Jim Baen's Universe, the new standard in science fiction storytelling, created and inspired by legendary publisher and editor Jim Baen.

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