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Laura Haywood-Cory
conducted by Tony Daniel
 
December 2011

An Interview with Baen Associate Editor Laura Haywood-Cory



So, after having seen you in action at the Baen Books office, I’m tempted to ask: what does an associate editor NOT do at Baen? It seems you tackle every task imaginable and with the same aplomb. Could you tell us your main duties in bringing Baen books to readers?

One of the things I enjoy about my work is that there's so much variety.

Of course, the one constant is feeding the office cats, Butch and Ninotchka, first thing when I get to work every day. Butch is what a kindly person would call "husky," but he always demands to be fed as soon as he sees my car pull into the parking lot.

A typical day might include proofreading Locus ads and catalog copy, coordinating a shipment of books and other goodies to a convention that Toni or one of our authors is attending, posting news items on FaceBook and Twitter, sorting through contest entries, writing some content for the website like a reader's group discussion guide, and mailing out contracts. Another day might involve checking blues—blues are the final stage of a manuscript before it's published and are the very last chance to catch any errors.

And what are some of your favorite odd or unusual tasks you’ve had to perform during your time at Baen?

Hands-down, one of my favorite things to do is to send books to our men and women in uniform.

One of the more unusual requests came from someone about to be deployed to a submarine—given that space would be at a premium, we sent exclusively books on CD, so they could be loaded onto laptops and wouldn't require nearly as much physical storage as paper books would.

You grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. But you are clearly an, er, science fiction kind of gal in real life and not just at the office. How did a nice, middle class Southern girl come to this?

I've been a voracious reader ever since I can remember, therefore my parents were puzzled and angry when a note came home from my first grade teacher notifying them that I was about to be moved into the remedial class.

They marched up to the school the next day demanding to know what was going on. The teacher told them that apparently I couldn't read. My dad went through the roof: "She's been reading since she was four years old!" "Well, she won't read out loud in class," the teacher responded.

When my parents asked me about it, they discovered that I was indulging in a form of civil disobedience: the books the teacher was asking me to read aloud were "baby books," and I was insulted to be asked to read such easy things, so I was refusing.

I had no idea that I was in danger of being demoted; all I knew was that suddenly I had free rein to check out as many books from the school library as I wanted, and I wasn't restricted to a particular grade level.

Reading The Hobbit, then Lord of the Rings, opened imaginary doors to amazing places. I wanted more. I found Terry Brooks, then David Eddings, then Katherine Kurtz and her Deryni novels (love those Darrell Sweet covers).

As the youngest of three kids, there were always books around that were officially above my grade level. I read Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End perhaps earlier than I should have; it creeped me out and I avoided Clarke novels for many years. On the other hand, there were a lot of Heinlein novels around, too, and I quickly read through them all and checked out more from the library. I wouldn't recommend doing what I did, though, which was to start with The Number of the Beast.

(Interestingly, what we had on hand at my house were not RAH's juveniles; as we reprint them here at work with the fantastic Bob Eggleton covers, it's been a joy to read them for the first time. I have to keep telling my office-mates to not spoil the ending of The Star Beast for me—it's coming home with me this weekend and I'm looking forward to reading it.)

A high school boyfriend ran a Dungeons and Dragons game; we played on Saturday afternoons. It was a chance to not just read the adventure, but to participate in creating it.

In college at UNC in Chapel Hill, I found that others who shared my reading habits and hobbies actually congregated in clubs. So I joined up and met a large crowd of sf fans of various stripes – gamers, costumers, readers, theatre majors, physics students, computer programmers, and more. A truly disreputable lot, including my future husband...

Speaking of gaming, tell us some more about your favorite games and the attitude you bring to playing them. How do you relate your love of gaming and your love of reading?

In college, I met people who were tabletop role-playing gamers, but they didn't play D&D, they played this thing called Champions, published by Hero Games. What I immediately loved about this new-to-me system was that you could build a character from the ground up, the way you wanted to. If you want to spend your points to make a super-strong character, you could do that. If you'd rather be fast and nimble, you could do that, too. The control over the process combined with the flexibility to build what you want, appeals to me. That's why Champions is my RPG of choice.

I like RPGs and board games for similar reasons – they're opportunities to be social with a small group of people, and also, with RPGs, a chance to be creative and work as a group on a common goal. Not all board games are cooperative, but ones like Settlers of Catan definitely foster cooperation, especially early on in the game.

Reading and gaming both satisfy the need to explore other worlds, experience other realities. Reading is what I do when I want to do that exploration on my own; gaming is what I do when I want to have a collaborative, imaginative adventure.

What genres or subgenres are your favorites? What other art forms do you like?

Tolkien was my first foray into fantasy, and Lord of the Rings still has a special place in my heart and on my bookshelves.

I adore good urban fantasy; Terri Windling's Bordertown anthologies struck a chord with me when I was in college. Likewise Charles de Lint's Newford stories and of course, his novel Moonheart — who wouldn't want to live in Tamson House? More recently, Larry Correia's Monster Hunter novels are fun, fast-paced urban fantasy. If I'm ever on the wrong side of the tracks, Owen Z. Pitt is the person I want by my side. And I want to take a spin on the carousel at Archer's Beach from Sharon Lee's Carousel Tides.

Part of what appeals to me about urban fantasy is the idea that you can be a regular person – say, an editor at a book publisher – and that by walking down a particular side street and ducking into just the right alley, you'll see something amazing. A slight movement glimpsed from the corner of your eye; was that a pixie darting away? It's that splash of the extraordinary in the middle of an ordinary life. I may never win the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, but some day I'll find the door that leads under the hill.

Additionally, I enjoy space opera, as typified by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller's Liaden Universe® novels. Liad would be a fascinating place to visit, and for starting up a new business, Surebleak might be a good bet.

As for other art forms – I like music, as both an out-of-practice piano player, and as a listener. Some favorite genres include cheesy '80s (the soundtrack of my youth), Celtic – both traditional stuff like the Tannahill Weavers, Loreena McKennitt, and Silly Wizard, and Celtic rock, as typified by bands like Wolfstone, early Seven Nations/Clan na Gael, Great Big Sea, Boiled in Lead, and I'll put Blackmore's Night in this category; and what for lack of a better term I'll call old-school rock – Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, some Pink Floyd, early Rush, Santana, Deep Purple. There are others, but those are the highlights.

Not many people know this, but I'm a retired Scottish highland dancer.

Of which Baen author might you say: “you know, I’d read all the stuff that person wrote even if I were NOT working at Baen”?

I enjoy all of our authors; this is almost like being asked to pick a favorite child...

But I can tell you that before I started at Baen, I was one of those anxious fans waiting on the edge of my seat for the next Honor Harrington book—strangely enough, now that I'm working at Baen, I'm still poised on the edge of my seat waiting for the next Honor Harrington book!

I won't say I've gotten jaded in the more than three years I've been here, but I'm getting more used to talking with New York Times bestselling authors on a regular basis; I even joke around with some of them (sorry about that, Eric). Except for David Weber, that is. He probably doesn't know this—well, he will now—but of all our authors, he's the only one I still feel nervous when I'm talking to or emailing with. It's because I like his books so much, and I haven't ever managed to coherently tell him so.

I know you’ve experienced some very frightening heart problems in the past. Tell us a bit about the condition you discovered you have, if you don’t mind. And can you give us some insight into the exciting areas and activities this experience has led to with regard to your work with patient social networking and patient’s rights?

In 2009, I was training for a super-sprint triathlon. Heart disease wasn't on my radar. Then I woke up the morning of March 30th with textbook heart attack symptoms: pain in the center of my chest that radiated down my left arm and up into my neck and jaw, I had cold sweats, I was nauseated...

I'd experienced a rare thing called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.  Arteries are constructed in layers, and a dissection is when one of the inner layers tears away. The torn flap then either partially or completely blocks the artery, and thus blocks the flow of blood to the heart. The blocked blood flow caused by the dissection can cause angina, a heart attack, or sudden cardiac arrest.

If you check out this video interview of me, another SCAD patient, and a cardiologist who's now researching SCAD, near the beginning is an excellent animation of a dissection: http://youtu.be/uNnjLOF3x_Q?t=34s

Only a few thousand SCADs happen in the US every year. Most cardiologists have never seen one. Research is scarce, and even the experts have very little info to share. As a result, SCAD patients have started organizing themselves online—since it's a rare condition, most of us don't know anyone else in person who's had one, so we find each other via the Internet.

One of the most exciting things is that a long-time SCAD survivor was able to convince a Mayo Clinic cardiologist to take us on as a research project, to try and find some answers as to what causes these and whether there's any way to prevent them.

The initial pilot study results came out in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings in September of this year, and two new studies have been born from that initial one. Also, Katherine, the SCAD survivor who got the research started; Dr. Hayes (the cardiologist doing the research), and I were interviewed for a piece in the Wall Street Journal in September; then the three of us were invited to attend Mayo Clinic's Third Annual Social Media Summit. It was a week-long immersion in social media and healthcare.

One benefit is that patients with other rare conditions are looking into research; the new phrase for this is "patient-initiated research," and it's truly groundbreaking.

Another benefit, due to the publicity, is that people who've had dissections and thought they were all alone are finding support that they've been missing, sometimes for decades.

I've been able to bring back some of what I learned at Mayo and apply it to Baen's social media usage.

My heart didn't get very damaged from my SCAD, so the hope is that I'll have a normal life expectancy and can continue on at Baen for many years – pampering Butch and Ninotchka, waiting anxiously for the next Honor Harrington novel, writing book group discussion guides, sending books to troops, and more.

 

Laura Haywood-Cory is Associate Editor at Baen Books. Photo of Laura Haywood-Cory © 2011 Paul Cory

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