Author Robert E. Porter (a.k.a. bearleyport ) has been an online friend of mine for some time. We used to frequent the Rumor Mill on www.speculations.com together, and discuss many topics including religion and fatherhood. He has done a series of interesting interviews of mutual aquaintances on his blog (including Lisa Bradley, David Kopaska-Merkel, Elizabeth Barrette, and yours truly), and I decided it was time to get him back. He was nice enough to answer a few questions:
1) Why do you write?
For many reasons. I enjoy writing and I want to make a difference. As Mr Rogers says, it’s important for us to find healthy and productive ways to express ourselves and how we feel. I also enjoy the challenge of writing to be read. I write for my health. I write for many of the same reasons that a child plays. I write for the truth as I see it.
2) Where do you write?
I have a room here with my computer in it and stuffed with boxes of books, artwork, papers, etc. Unpacking has got to wait. We have a kitchen stink, but no sink. This old house.
3) How do you write?
I try to avoid adjectives like "badly" and "slowly". I make a lot of mistakes but they can be serendipitous. Luck and the prepared mind, etc.
I learned some tricks from Andre Breton, though he was dead long before I knew him. The Exquisite Corpse.
4) When do you write?
When I can. Before noon, if possible. Parenthood tends to make a person irregular.
5) Who do you write for?
I sent my first MS to New Directions. The fiction editor called it poetry, compared it to poets I’d never heard of, and said I ought to try to break into the magazines first. I didn’t follow up on this as I might have. After a few years, I went online and it wasn’t long before I discovered Critters and Ralan.com; my introduction to the spec community and market. I didn’t know what standard MS format was until I read about it on Justin Stanchfield’s website. I started submitting — and selling — to spec magazines. The experience and the people I met have been tremendously helpful to me as a writer. There’s so much that I appreciate about this community and literature of ideas, but many tropes — space opera, sword & sorcery, supernatural horror — I can’t take seriously. I need to write the kind of stuff that I’d like to read.
6) I’ve read many of your stories and poems in various places both print and online. Which piece are you most proud of and why?
"Blade of Grass," which you haven’t read. It’s in a slush pile. It’s my kind of spec fiction, the way I want to write it.
7) Do the stories or poems that editors/readers connect with often surprise you?
I’m always surprised by a sale. I have a failure rate of about 90%, with pieces often picked up for the very "reason" they were rejected by other editors. I received positive feedback on a story once from Ellen Datlow at Scifi.com; other editors have since responded to the same story with form letters.
Any feedback at all from readers surprises me.
8a) I know you are a really outspoken guy on many issues. That’s one of the things I’ve always respected about you, even when we’ve been on other sides of the fence during a discussion. How "topical" is your writing?
But it takes me so long to get it close to right, and so much longer to find a publisher — if I do — that I can’t expect my readers to pick up on the references.
8b) In your opinion, what’s the best way to insert an opinion into a piece of fiction or poem without making it sound like a preachy op-ed piece? Any suggestions? (I’m being selfish here, Ineed to know for something I’m working on).
Fredric Brown once said to base your villain on somebody you like, it makes him or her more interesting. I think it helps to humanize the opposition, to understand and present their best arguments as well as your own. This can be very, very hard; we can be so blinded by our own POVs that we make fools of ourselves and foolishness of our beliefs. But you can get away with saying just about anything if nobody takes you too seriously — satire — or if you do such a good job of integrating the opinions into your story that nobody notices you, the author, lurking behind the scenes.
9) We all know something about the "writing" side of things. For many of us, the mystery comes with what to do with a piece once it is written. You’ve built up a nice list of credits over the years. What kind of insight can you share with us concerning "publishing?"
Even the best short fiction markets today pay rates that writers found acceptable in the 1950s. I think it cheapens the word to consider any short fiction credit "professional," but there are far more reasons to write short fiction and seek its publication than to subsidize writers who can only make a living in the field by teaching how-to classes.
For a truly professional credit, I think we’ve got to land a literary agent and let him or her submit the MS to the publishers — or producers.
10) When it comes to publishing your own work, where do you stand in the online versus print debate? Do you have a preference?
There’s a debate? I’d think it was paradoxical if a community and genre concerned about the future were not socially and technologically progressive, if they did not do more than any other group to adapt to a changing world. Online publications can be far more accessible, cosmopolitan, and widely read than any printed book or magazine. India has a huge English-speaking population, for ex., which — I think — has been largely ignored as a source of and market for English lit.
That said, I prefer to read old paperback novels.
11) How has being a father impacted your writing?
If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s heading this way. I doubt it’s John Coltrane.
12) So, what’s new with you? Anything you would like to shamelessly plug?
Ralan.com needs support, as do many worthy causes — UNICEF, Nature Conservancy, MADD, the Red Cross, Live Strong, etc. Give what you can, until you can’t. Then ask for more.
13) Insert your random thoughts or any closing statements here: