INTERVIEW: Jay Lake

[Editor’s Note: A while back, SF Signal published a Mind Meld feature on Tomorrow’s Big Genre Stars. Patrick at Stomping on Yeti has been profiling these writers and has agreed to cross-post them here.]

In this week’s entry in Keeping An Eye On we have yet another author who needs no introduction. Jay Lake, who can write fiction faster than most people can read it, was one of the most commonly suggested authors SF Signal’s Genre Watchlist. I’m guessing anyone who didn’t name him assumed he was too prominent to qualify. Like many of his fellow Watchlisters, Jay Lake won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer; his award coming back in 2004. Since then, he has published several novels (most recently Green), a number of collections, edited a dozen anthologies, and written countless short stories. I’m not kidding about this, look at his bibliography, there are at least 200 stories there. I’m not counting that. It goes without saying that more than a few of these works have been reprinted in anthologies such as Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year and several editions of Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction.

Click through for the interview itself…


SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

JL: Just lately I’ve wrapped the first draft of ENDURANCE, a sequel to my current novel GREEN. There will be a third book as well, probably entitled KALIMPURA. Short fiction continues apace, and I’ve got some cool stuff coming out next year, including a collection entitled THE SKY THAT WRAPS from Subterranean Press, and a single title novella from PS Publishing, THE BABY KILLERS.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, as unlikely as that may be, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, Hawaiian shirt, etc.) would you like them to read? (This can be for whatever reason you would like)

JL: Either my Dick-and-Jane shirt (a strong candidate for the most heinous aloha shirt ever), or my new novel GREEN. What the hey, start at the top in your pimping. People looking for a free, quick hit might try my short story in the Clarkesworld archives, “The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black”, or my collaboration there with Shannon Page, “Rolling Steel.”

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

JL:

words come together

like rain falling on pizza

making a new thing

SoY: Some of the other up and coming authors I’ve interviewed have mentioned how hard writing a novel is compared to their experiences writing shorter fiction. What did you find hardest about making that transition? Has it gotten easier over time?

JL: Novels require more courage, I think. Typing “Once there was man”, knowing you’ll be living inside that manuscript for months – years, really, with the full life cycle of the editing process – is a huge step for anyone sane. Short stories are like the raid on Entebbe. You get it, you trash the place, you get out. It’s over before you can really shit yourself in fear. Novels are like the invasion of Normandy. Lots of things to go wrong, lots of time to worry about it.

SoY:You seem to be more prolific than entire creative writing classes. How do you keep the writing fresh and the ideas flowing? What advice would you give to young authors who are frustrated with their writing careers?

JL: Write more. That’s it. Writing is self-reinforcing. Don’t make a fetish out of it, and don’t surrender to the myth of the garret, or the myth of the chained muse. It’s like playing the guitar, or practicing taekwondo, or having sex. The more you do, the better you get. The better you get, the better it feels. The better it feels, the more you want to do. For me, that opens the channel for ideas, and keeps things from going stale.

SoY: What’s with the Hawaiian shirts?

JL: You can always find me in a crowd, right?

SoY: You’ve done a fair bit of editing work in addition to your writing. Is it easy to take off the writer hat and put on the editor? What the biggest difference between reading a story as a writer and an editor?

JL: Actually, that transition isn’t as easy as I might like it to be. Also, I’m always a writer first. Being an editor is ever an exception case for me.

Reading, oddly, is not that different, as I have to work hard to turn off my critical eye these days. Reading critically and reading editorially are not the same thing, but they’re kissing cousins. It’s the difference between “how would I fix this” and “how does this need to be fixed”.

SoY: As someone who has written for the cycle (short stories, stand-alones, series work, and editing), what’s your favorite thing to do?

JL: Series novels, I think. Though there is great joy to the lapidary crafting of a short story.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

JL: I don’t think I’m quirky, you’d have to ask everyone else. I can write anywhere – in a noisy bar, at a party, on a plane, in the bathtub. I just take the time and do the work. I always use a laptop – never paper and pen, never a desktop. And I fidget a lot. Sprawl on the couch, sit up, move to the easy chair, wander into the kitchen and fry a quesadilla with the computer beside the stove. So many people seemed to need a structured location, or a clean desk, or a ritual. I just need time and my laptop. Quirky? Maybe. Practical? Immensely so.

SoY: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened during your career as an author?

JL: The very earnest rejection letter explaining to me the difference between Jell-O and Kool-Aid.

SoY: If I kick you off this list due to your status as an established author rather than an up-and-coming genre star, who would you nominate in your place?

JL: Ken Scholes, or if he’s too established, C.S. Inman, who’s so new you haven’t heard of him yet.

SoY What’s the real reason for the Hawaiian shirts? I know you were lying before.:

JL: They help me maintain my trim, girlish figure, and also cure gout, scabies and bedbugs.

SoY: It’s common knowledge that you are a hardcore super-secretive Michael Jackson fan. By common knowledge, I mean something I totally made up on the spot. How will his death shape your writing in the future?

JL: Once I’m through with my mourning year, I plan to dedicate myself to raising funds to build a giant, free-range Michael Jackson robot with lasers in his eyes. Fricking lasers, to be specific. Think of a Beverly Hills gundam. That will shape much of my writing for the foreseeable future, as the dedication required to properly honor the King of Pop will lead me down nigh-obsessive paths.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

JL: Wow, that’s toughie. Some really good books and stories, both published and unpublished, have passed through my hands. Kaaron Warren’s SLIGHTS, C.S. Inman’s I DIDN’T WANT TO GO ON YOUR STUPID QUEST, ANYWAY. An as-yet-unpublished short story called “We Happy Few.” Robert Charles Wilson’s JULIAN COMSTOCK. It’s so hard to choose.

SoY: How many story ideas did you come up with during the course of this interview?

JL: About four. Seriously.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

JL: Why, yes. http://www.jlake.com/blog. This is echoed to http://jaylake.livejournal.com/ as well. Also, I’m on Twitter as @jay_lake.


My thanks to Mr. Lake for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. I also wish him the best of health and hope that he pushes his bibliography into the low to middle thousands.

I definitely recommend checking out his work (both novels and shorts) although I urge you not to try and read it all without first consulting a doctor.

If you enjoyed this interview, feel free to stop by my own SF Blog, yetistomper.blogspot.com, for more interviews and similar content.