Interview: Graduate and guest lecturer Scott H. Andrews

Photo credit: Al Bogdan
Photo credit: Al Bogdan

Scott H. Andrews, 2005 graduate, will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop.

Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, nine guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. His literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales, On Spec, and Space and Time. He is a World Fantasy Award finalist for his work as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a Hugo Award finalist fantasy magazine that Locus has called “a premier venue for fantastic fiction, not just online but for all media.”

Visit him online at http://www.scotthandrews.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @Scott_H_Andrews.


When looking for stories for Hugo-, World Fantasy Award-, and Parsec-nominated magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, you look for “stories that focus on the character.” What advice would you give to writers who want to create more well-rounded, fully realized, and interesting characters? Do you think there is a difference between coming up with interesting characters in short stories versus novels?

I think the core thing that every character must have is a motivation. All compelling characters want something. Even if they can’t articulate what they want or don’t know what it is, or even if what they want is an antithetical thing, like wanting to not have a goal.

For characters who are more well-rounded or fully realized, I like a concept I’ve seen attributed to the great SF and literary writer Samuel R. Delany. Characterization often isn’t in the details of the character so much as the contradictions between those details. Imagine a character who’s a stockbroker and drives a luxury sedan. Then imagine a character who’s a stockbroker but drives a beat-up old pickup. That contradiction between those two details immediately adds another dimension to this character. It instantly feels unusual, and thus interesting. It immediately brings questions to mind: why does this stockbroker drive such a car, whereas most stockbrokers don’t and most people who drive such a car are not stockbrokers. I think contradictions are an extremely powerful characterization technique for making characters feel well-rounded and interesting.

To go beyond characters that are merely well-rounded or interesting to ones who resonate with me profoundly, I love the concepts that Faulkner mentioned in his Nobel Prize speech, which George R.R. Martin–who is routinely praised for his characters–often quotes. Faulkner said the only thing worth writing about is “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself;” the universal truths of “love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Things like that for me really cut to the core of what it means to be human. I often find that characters who truly move me, who make me sit there in stunned silence for a moment after I’ve finished a story, are ones who touch on universal facets of human nature like those. So Faulkner’s articulation of them, while for me not by any means a method or checklist, is a good yardstick for elements that can make a character resonate profoundly with me.

I don’t think there’s any innate difference between coming up with characters for short stories versus novels. They all still need a motivation, and for me they still need to be resonant in some way. Both stories and novels have plenty of room for characters to undergo a character change, in a convincing way. I think however there is a big difference in the amount of space that those different lengths allow for the writer to develop that characterization. In a short story, the characterization needs to be clear and concise from the start; there isn’t time for it to slowly accrete through multiple incidents and interactions the way that characterization can build in a novel.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a magazine for literary adventure fantasy. What suggestions do you have for genre writers looking to use more literary techniques in their writing? Are there any resources in particular that you recommend?

I think a great resource for genre writers looking to use more literary techniques in their writing is the vast wealth of literary-leaning genre stories published in online magazines. We are in a golden age of literary techniques being used in genre writing, especially in short fiction, and much of that short fiction was published in online ‘zines and is available for free. To find literary-leaning stories, I might recommend starting with pieces that were finalists for major awards; stories that receive notice for awards are often more avant or literary. Another strategy would be to survey magazines that tend to publish literary-leaning stories, like BCS or Clarkesworld, and look for authors who’ve been published there multiple times.

I would also recommend that writers looking to use more literary techniques be adventurous in experimenting with literary techniques or approaches in their stories. Experimentation works great in the smaller form-factor of short fiction, where you can try something unusual or off-the-wall but with a much smaller investment of time and work than a novel.

I also think that readings from bygone high school or college English class are resources worth considering. Much of that material if you’re looking for pleasure reading is pretty dry for most people, me included, but all of that fiction is considered quite moving or profound by a consensus of some experienced readers. If there’s a classic literary author whose work is still in your head years later or who you hear mentioned by genre writers, maybe look up an old piece of theirs that you might have been forced to read back in school and see if it offers you any inspiration or insight now. It might contain something interesting and different that you weren’t experienced enough as a reader or writer back then to notice, or that you haven’t seen in genre works that you’ve read. It might spark you toward something literary-leaning or open your mind to a different direction. Some of those English-class writers of course have solid connections to our genre–Bradbury, Orwell, Huxley–and some genre writers are becoming common in lit courses–Tolkien, Le Guin.

You’ve read quite a number of short stories over the years as an editor. For writers looking to improve their understanding of how short stories work, how would you suggest critically reading stories with an eye to improvement and understanding? Are there particular elements critical readers should look for?

As with all fiction writing, I think that breaking down what an author is doing on the page can be invaluable as a way to gain insight into writing.

One way I like to critically break down a story is to look at it overall. View it as chunks or elements summing to a whole. How was it structured, how did it flow and escalate, how did it reveal information about the world or character. What expectations did it raise, and how or whether it delivered on them. How did it build to a peak, and how did that peak resolve (or choose not to resolve). Did it overall work for you, as a reader, or did it not, and why. Is it similar to what you, as a writer, are trying to do.

Another important way to break down a story for me is to look very closely at the opening. A story’s opening must hook readers and editors, but there are a thousand different ways to achieve that. It must give readers everything they need in order to slip into the story, but it can’t give them so much that it drives them away. One way to break down an opening is to read it extremely slowly, one phrase at a time or even one word at a time, holding a piece of paper over the rest of the words to hide them from your eyes. Then stop after each phrase or word and think about what’s going on. For each word or phrase you read, does it make you want to read on, or not? And why. Is it interesting to you, or not? Are you engaged, and if so, by what? What sort of lures is the author using to make you want to keep reading–such as curiosity, mystery, disquietude, tension, humor? Because that sort of word-by-word analysis is exactly what’s happening in my head when I read the opening of any story. Each word and phrase in that opening is either engaging or luring me somehow or it’s not, and that’s what makes me keep reading. After the first paragraph or so, you can speed up the analysis to one sentence at a time. Are those next couple paragraphs continuing to keep you reading? Are they building things, such as character and world, at an engaging level of increase? How are they doing as far as raising questions and expectations for you as a reader, and escalating or answering questions and expectations that the first paragraph raised?

A more challenging but incisive way to break down a story is to analyze its voice. Voice, for me, is the key factor that sets a story apart and makes it feel unique. How is an author you admire, or a story whose voice affects you, pulling off that voice on the page? What word choices and tone and style are they using to do it? How could you execute that sort of voice, in a way that might work for your characters or story? Voice is ephemeral and more difficult to analyze, but doing that can offer great insight into how great writers achieve it on the page.

Can you talk a little about a story Beneath Ceaseless Skies has recently published, explaining what initially drew you to it and why you bought it for the magazine, and providing a link to the story?  That will allow our readers to compare your reaction to their reactions and perhaps gain some insights.

Last October in our Seventh Anniversary Double-Issue, we published BCS 183 7 Anniv “The Sons of Vincente” by I.L. Heisler, who coincidentally is an Odyssey graduate.  It’s concise yet vivid; a great story to experience as a reader, then analyze more closely.  It’s available at this link, as text and ebook and audio podcast:

http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-sons-of-vincente/

Several things in the opening drew me.  From the very first paragraph, the voice has a great feel to it for me; imposing and intense, slightly poetic but not overly so.  The opening lines have vivid and tactile images, shown very concisely and with a tone of emotion to the details.  That’s important to me, that details are not just details but also are conveying a sense of mood or emotion.

The opening also gets immediately to a situation of character conflict, in the second and third sentences:  the narrator is fleeing, and his mother is assuring him he will be safe.  But we don’t know why or what from, and that makes me curious.  We also don’t know, from his childlike perspective, if his mother is lying or not, and that makes me feel uncertainty.  I want to keep reading to find out.  We also get concise hints of the paranormal world:  the narrator has snakes on his scalp; he must be some sort of Gorgon-like creature.

As the opening continues, the narrator’s situation gets completely upended.  It’s a moment that shapes his motivation for the rest of the story, and it’s portrayed so emotively that it makes me not only understand his motivation but also feel it along with him.  That’s always important to me–I need to not only know or understand a character’s motivation, but I need the story to make me feel it too.  I am moved by what happened to him, so I feel why he is driven to do what he does.

The story overall is intensely character-centered, about this young man working toward what he’s driven to do.  The story never spells out what exactly he wants ultimately to do, but it shows you his intense attitude about what he’s doing, and that attitude makes me feel his motivation for myself even though the story isn’t yet revealing exactly what he wants.

The story is told over a long span of time, which sometimes makes a story feel less acute or immediate to me, but this one zooms in from its time-lapse narrative to include vivid and emotive episodes of character interaction, and those live-action episodes keep things feeling acute for me.  It has details showing this particular society, and details of a craft or trade, in this case stonecarving.  I always want to feel the world that a story is set in, and I always like getting details and jargon of interesting trades.

As the conflict builds, there are threads of escalation that are clear and others that are subtle.  There are strong emotions from the characters, like love, grief, and cruelty.  There is emotional pathos. All the incidents and threads fit together and resonate with each other as the story builds to a climax that ties in the subtle threads and casts a new light over everything that came before.

And all over a rather short length; the story is only 2800 words long. In addition to all the great things it includes, I think it’s also a fine example of a fantasy story with very concise world-building.  Some settings require more story room to show them than others, but this story demonstrates that it’s definitely possible to write secondary-world fantasy short fiction at short lengths.

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

I think the most important advice I can give to developing writers is about being a neo-pro writer or workshop grad, about experiences that many neo-pros or workshop grads will face. I think I’m uniquely qualified to lecture about that because I’ve seen it from both an external perspective and an internal one. I’m a workshop grad neo-pro myself, and I’ve been through many of the experiences that neo-pros and workshop grads encounter. I can speak directly to those thing from an internal, personal perspective. I also am friends with over a hundred such writers from Odyssey and other workshops, and I’ve interacted with probably another thousand neo-pro writers who’ve submitted to BCS. I’ve seen that same neo-pro stage of being a writer also from the outside, a more objective viewpoint, so I can speak to that side of it too. I’ve lived the challenges of being a neo-pro, and I’ve watched a thousand other neo-pros live through them too.

A single and important piece of such advice for developing writers would be this: regardless of whatever studying or instruction or workshops or courses or critique groups you are using to improve your writing, I think it’s important to always make sure to still be yourself. Make sure that your writing still is uniquely yours; make sure you still keep in it whatever unique essence or slant or personality that is you. Writers often ask the question “why do you write.” Another variation on that is “what are you trying to say with your writing.” What do you want your writing to do. I think it’s important, especially when studying or workshopping or critiquing, to not lose sight of the unique personality that your writing has, and what you want it to accomplish. That is the element that sets your writing apart from everyone else’s in the galaxy. That is the thing that will let your writing offer a unique contribution.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

I am trying to write a novel! It’s the third or fourth novel I’ve tried to write in the last five years. I’ve had to tear down and rebuild my process multiple times, but I think I have found one that will work, so I am at the same time trying to write a novel and trying to learn how to write a novel. Hopefully I’m on my way out of Rivendell, not merely still stuck in The Shire. 🙂

Special Announcement: World Fantasy Award Nominations for Jeanne Cavelos and Scott H. Andrews

We here at the Odyssey Blog and pretty much anyone ever associated with Odyssey Writing Workshops are ecstatic! Why?

Because Jeanne Cavelos, the founder and director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops, and Scott H. Andrews, Odyssey graduate and founder and editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Magazine, have each been nominated for World Fantasy Awards! The World Fantasy Convention and award ceremony will take place next month in Saratoga Springs, New York–and until then we’re all on the edge of our seats.

Without further ado, we Odfellows present a tribute to Jeanne and Scott.

Ode to Jeanne

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Jeanne Cavelos

Odyssey just concluded its 20th workshop, and its two decades of operation have spawned such writers as Carrie Vaughn, Theodora Goss, James Maxey, Alex Hughes, Rebecca Shelley, Lyn Benedict, Barbara Webb, Mike Grinti, J.A. White, Meagan Spooner, and David J. Schwartz, and editors such as Scott H. Andrews and Douglas Cohen–and many more, and more to come.

Jeanne Cavelos, nominated in the Special Award–Professional division for creating and running the Odyssey Writing Workshops, is one of the most humble, unassuming people I know–all the better to get her sneaky editor claws in you, because she has lived quite the varied life, and she brings all of her experience plus a critical eye toward editing, critiquing, and writing, whether she’s assessing her work or someone else’s. She’s an astrophysicist who worked for NASA, then was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell where she started an award-winning line of books, and now is a college professor who runs a full-service freelance company on the side. She is the author of several books, both fiction and nonfiction (The Science of the X-Files was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award), and has also edited an anthology. (She swears she has not cloned herself.)

But those are all the jobs she gets paid for.

I can say with all honesty that creating and running Odyssey is the jewel in Jeanne’s crown. I’ve gotten to know her a little over the last eight years and in that time I can’t say her enthusiasm for Odyssey has ever flagged. She works tirelessly to promote and host the annual six-week on-site summer Workshop, and even expanded Odyssey’s offerings to include online winter writing courses and themed free online salons.  There is always something to do and someone to see, and when an Odyssey workshop comes around, plots to fix and characters to revive.

Jeanne lives and breathes Odyssey, at great sacrifice to herself and others. She has made it her life’s work to educate amateur, up-and-coming science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, and introduce us to the world of writing and publishing. The caliber of instruction at Odyssey is always high because Jeanne sets the bar high and makes good on that promise, year after year. If something doesn’t work, she acknowledges it, fixes it, and does better.

In Odyssey, Jeanne has crafted an atmosphere that fosters collaboration and community over competition. Many graduates return year after year for TNEO (The Neverending Odyssey)–ten days of critiquing, story writing and all things science fiction–for more of that same community and support. Most of us stay in contact with each other, encouraging writerly habits.

Jeanne doesn’t do any of this for fame. She is always looking for better ways to serve amateur writers and give us the tools we need to become professional writers. She does it for the students, for all the people she sees who are writers. Whether Jeanne wins an award or not (but hint: we think she should), we thank her for everything that she does for us–and she should know we wouldn’t ask for a better evil overlord.

~Ronya F. McCool (Odyssey 2007) is the managing editor for the Odyssey Workshops Blog. She lives, works, writes and renovates in the Midwest and can sometimes be heard on the Libraryland podcast.~


A Toast to Scott upon the Event of his WFA Nomination

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Scott H. Andrews (photo courtesy of Al Bogdan)

My pal, drinking buddy and fellow 2005 Odfellow Scott H. Andrews is up for a World Fantasy Award! Permit me to briefly bask in the credit of his association and raise a glass of something frothy in his honor as I elucidate why it couldn’t have happened to a better editor.

Scott is a great, meticulous, thoughtful, perceptive, respectful editor. As far as I’m concerned, he’s like nobody else working in the field. If you’ve ever submitted to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, you know how routinely generous he is with his time. He provides actual feedback in practically every rejection. He asks for way more rewrites than is good for him. When he buys a story, all too often it’s because he helped the author make it better. This has certainly been the case with all five of the stories I’ve sold him. He’s made me a better writer.

As a reader, he has an uncanny ability to inhabit a character inhabiting a world that isn’t our own, to see that world through their eyes and feel what they feel. As an editor, that ability helps him keep me honest. Often it seems like he knows my world and my characters better than I do. I’m not saying I’ve never been frustrated working with him–I think every writer loves their own words too much for their own good–but he knows that as well as I do, and he’s always ready to work through it. And the story is better for it. He is the only editor I’ve worked with willing to go to those lengths. In fact, I’d argue no other short fiction editor in the field contributes as much has he does to making the stories they buy as good as they can be.

Contrary to what we’ve heard from different quarters over the past few years, short fiction is not dying. But neither does it pay an editor’s bills; novels do that. In an era when many top markets for short fiction act as loss-leaders for novel sales, BCS is an end in itself. The purview is narrow: character-driven, secondary world adventure fantasy. But that narrow focus allows Scott to be the best at what he does. And in doing so, he’s forged a legitimacy for that kind of fiction without which by now it might have faded away completely. When BCS came on the scene in 2008, Realms of Fantasy was the only professional-rate market dedicated to short fantasy, and it was in its death throes. Eight years later, thanks to Scott, BCS is the top market for fantasy.

I’m really proud of him for the nomination. In fact, I think it’s overdue. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that there’s no accounting for awards politics. So by way of closing, let me just suggest that in the event he doesn’t win the award (and here let me express profound relief Scott and Jeanne aren’t in the same category), next time you run into him, you should really ask him to recap his acceptance speech.

Here’s to Scott and BCS!

 

~Michael J. DeLuca’s (Odyssey 2005) short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Interfictions, Pseudopod and Clockwork Phoenix. He guest-edited Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #33, an ecologically-themed issue that came out this July 2015. He narrates occasionally for the Beneath Ceaseless Skies fiction podcast, operates Weightless Books with Gavin J. Grant, and blogs at mossyskull.com.~

Interview: Scott H. Andrews

Scott H. Andrews lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, nine guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, fifty board-feet of lumber, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He is a graduate of Odyssey 2005. His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales and Space and Time, and he has been a Finalist in the Writers of the Future competition. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the pro-rate fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. His website is http://www.scotthandrews.com/.

Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

Continue reading “Interview: Scott H. Andrews”