An Interview With Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois is a published author, co-author of Hunter’s Run, but primarily known as the editor of many different publications, including The Years Best Science Fiction series, and has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards.  One of his more recent anthologies is Warriors.

Alex: Did you ever think you were going to be the editor of this many publications?

Gardner: No.  I thought I’d do a couple of reprint anthologies early on, because there were some favorite stories of mine that I wanted to call to the attention of other readers so that they could enjoy them too, but it’s like eating peanuts—it’s hard to stop with eating just one.  There’s always more stories you enjoy that you want to share, and before you know it, you’ve edited eighty or so anthologies.

Alex: What was it that made you want to be a writer?

Gardner: I wanted to write the stories I wanted to read.  Everybody has a unique view of the universe, a view that can be seen only through their eyes, and nothing quite matched the view from my own eyes.

Alex: How did you get started in editing?

Gardner: That’s a long dull story.  When I was being a Hot New Writer in SF publishing circles in New York City, I picked up some work writing reader reports for various publishers (something I had an advantage doing because Damon Knight, who bought some of my first stories, was my patron, and had introduced me to many of the key people in the scene at the time), and that lead to getting work reading slush piles for various magazines, and that eventually led, after many years, to selling anthologies and, eventually, editing ASIMOV’S.  You have to grow a reputation for editorial acumen bit by bit over many years; there are no shortcuts.

Alex: What is your favorite part of the editing process?

Gardner: Finding new writers whose work excites you.  Plus, starting to read a story with no particular expectations of anything and getting sucked into it to an extent that you forget about the bills you have to pay that afternoon and what you’re going to have for lunch, forget about anything except the story until you come out of it at the end with a start and a shiver, having been transported, for a time, to a different world.

Alex: In an average week, how many stories do you read?

Gardner: With all the reading I have to do for the Best of the Year anthology, dozens, in all formats.  I find that I’m reading at least as much stuff online these days as from traditional print sources, maybe more.  When I’m also doing an original anthology, that’s a bunch more to read, although they usually straggle in one at a time over a period of months rather than appearing all in a bunch.  Basically, I read until I fall asleep, and then I wake up and read some more.  Editors don’t have much in the way of lives.

Alex: And how many of those are usually keepers for anthologies?

Gardner: With an invitational anthology, if you’ve been careful to invite good people who are capable of good work, usually most of them, although there may be a few where you go back and forth with the writer several times with requests for rewrites and clarifications.  If you’re editing a magazine, especially if you read your own slush pile, as I used to do at ASIMOV’S, the fact is that few of the unsolicited manuscripts are keepers.  Perhaps in a good month, if you’re lucky, ten or fifteen percent.  Maybe only one or two.  And that’s out of the thousand or more unsolicited manuscripts we used to get per month at the magazine.

Alex: Do people come to you with anthology ideas, or do you tend to come up with them yourself and then decide to go with it?

Gardner: Basically, we come up with an idea, and then try to convince some publisher to buy it.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don’t.  There’s at least four or five cases where I thought some topic would make a good subject for an anthology, but couldn’t find a publisher who agreed.

Alex: When you begin an anthology do you generally request specific types of stories from authors, or do you look at what’s available, or simply ask for submissions?

Gardner: Depends what kind of anthology you’re doing.  With a reprint anthology, you look over the already-published stories there are that fit your theme, and select the ones you want.  With an open-submission anthology, relatively rare these days, you throw the doors open and read everything that comes in, including the slush pile, just like with a magazine.  Most of the anthologies I’ve been doing in the last few years are original invitational anthologies, where you select a group of authors that you think would be suited to write good stories about a certain topic and write to them and ask them if they’d be interested in contributing.  Some will be; some won’t be.

Gardner: Unthemed anthologies, either reprint or original, have become very rare these days, which is a shame.  I’d like to be able to go out and just buy the best stories I can possibly find, without regards to a theme.  But most publishers these days insist on a strong theme because they think it makes the book “sexier,” in the sense that more people will be interested in buying it.

Alex: When co-editing an anthology, how does the work break down with who does what?

Gardner: With the co-edited anthologies I’ve done, both editors have to read and approve the stories (which can lead to a lot of back-and-forth, if there’s disagreement over a story), and both put their heads together to decide which authors to invite in the first place.  I usually do most of the rest of the scut work, sending letters (usually email messages these days) to the writers inviting them into the project, corresponding with them, drawing up contracts for their stories, cutting checks, assembling the submission manuscript, and so forth.

Alex: Warriors is a hefty anthology with a wide variety of stories and authors covering multiple genres.  Where did the idea for this anthology come from?

Gardner: It was largely George’s [George R. R. Martin] idea.  At the Anaheim Worldcon a few years back, we sat in the lobby and talked about the possibility of editing a few anthologies together, and George mentioned that he’d always wanted to do an original anthology about warriors throughout the ages.  He suggested that it might be a good idea to do it as a cross-genre anthology, and I agreed that it would be.  That pretty much set the parameters for the anthology.

Alex: Were the stories specifically requested from specific authors?

Gardner: Yes—although not all of them actually delivered anything when push came to shove.  If they didn’t, for whatever reason—one of the writers we wanted the most, mystery writer Tony Hillerman, agreed to be in the book but then tragically died before he could actually finish anything for us—we replaced them.

Alex: How long did the Warriors anthology take to complete?

Gardner: According to my records, George and I exchanged our first email message about WARRIORS on September 7, 2006.  The book was turned in to the publisher on March 23, 2009—hundreds of email messages later.

Alex: Can you talk about the different anthologies and projects you’re working on now?

Gardner: The next anthology that George Martin and I have coming up is a book of fantasy/romance crosses called SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH: TALES OF STAR-CROSSED LOVE, from Pocket Books.  We’re currently finishing up an anthology of paranormal detective stories called DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS, scheduled for publication by Penguin Putnam.  There are other projects in the works, as yet unsold, that George and I and Jack Dann and I intend to pitch, but that’s all pie-in-the-sky at the moment, so there’s no point going into details.

Alex: A lot of your writing is in short form.  Do you have plans to write longer projects?

Gardner: I have a novel under contract now, in fact, and, of course, a couple of years ago I wrote the novel HUNTER’S RUN in collaboration with George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham.  I think that I’m probably a natural short-story writer rather than a natural novelist, my strengths lending themselves to that form, and I doubt that I’ll ever be prolific as a novelist.

Alex: Do you have a set schedule you keep to each day in your work?

Gardner: I work on something every day, usually for a fair number of hours in a row—WHICH hours at which point of the day or night, though, is more fluid.

Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?

Gardner: Persist.  For every writer who has established a professional career, there are probably four or five writers of equal talent and ability who have gotten discouraged and given up.  To a large extent, the ones who make it are the ones who stick with it in the face of all discouragements (many of them pretty extreme) and keep grinding away, learning and improving, day after day.

Alex: What about editors looking to get into doing anthologies?

Gardner: It’s very difficult.  You have to somehow establish a reputation for having good taste and knowing what you’re doing.  The best way may be to get a low-level job in publishing, usually as some editor’s assistant, and work away, learning the ropes and hoping that a chance to move up will come along.  This process can take years, and may never happen at all.  As I said above, there are no shortcuts, and no overnight successes either.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Gardner: Spare time?  In what time I have left, usually no more than an hour or so a day, I read something, believe it or not, usually as I’m falling asleep.  Usually something other than SF, which I’ve been reading all day.  Mysteries usually, especially historical mysteries like those by Lindsey Davis or Steven Saylor.  Travel narratives, such as those by Paul Theroux or Michael Palin or Bill Bryson.  Non-fiction.  Books about history and science, particularly natural history, John McPhee, David Attenborough.