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Temporally Talking: An Interview With Joshua Palmatier

Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. He currently works at SUNY Oneonta, while working on novels, short stories, and editing anthologies with Patricia Bray in his spare time. He has six novels on the shelf at the moment- – the Throne of Amenkor series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne), two novels written under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate (Well Of Sorrows and Leaves Of Flame), and the first book in a new series, Shattering The Ley. He is hard at work on the sequel. With co-editor and co-conspirator Patricia Bray, he also delved into the world of anthologies, editing two for DAW Books, and recently founded the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC so that he could continue editing anthology projects. He currently lives in upstate New York.

Joshua was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his newest kickstarer project, Temporally Out of Order, and his new small press, Zombies Need Brains LLC. To visit the kickstarter page for Temporally Out of Order, click here. In the meantime, let’s get to the interview!

Andrea Johnson: Your new anthology is called Temporally Out of Order. What inspired this title, and what themes can readers expect out of the anthology?

Joshua Palmatier: Ah, Temporally Out of Order. Actually, the genesis of the theme for this anthology is kind of interesting… I was heading to a convention, waiting in the lounge area at an airport, and across the walkway from me was a bank of phones. One of them had a paper sign attached to it, hand-written, saying “Temporally Out of Order.” Obviously it was a typo, but as I sat there (for hours) staring at it, I realized that it could be the theme for an anthology. What if the phone actually WAS temporally out of order? Could you call your long dead grandmother? Or perhaps dial the future? What story could evolve out of that? But an anthology with 14 stories about temporally out of order phones would get boring fast.

So I decided to take the idea and expand it to other objects. What if your iPad was temporally out of order? Could you find files you’d written in the future (a writer’s dream)? Or that refrigerator? What if inside of it, time was halted, so it could preserve food indefinitely? I tossed the idea out to some fellow writers and they were excited about the story potentials as I was, and so the anthology was born.

AJ: When do you expect Temporally Out of Order to be released? If someone didn’t participate in the Kickstarter, will they still be able to purchase a print copy or e-book?

JP: Well, I gave myself some extra time for the release of this anthology, so the kickstarter states that I’ll be delivering it in August 2015. I honestly think we’ll have it ready for release a few months before that. So I’m anticipating that the kickstarter backers will get the anthology in early summer of 2015. After I’ve delivered the anthology to the backers (who helped fund it, so deserve to have it before everyone else), I’ll get it released to the general public. So I expect the general public release will be in last summer 2015. However, the kickstarter backers are getting a special limited edition of the anthology—a mass market version that states “kickstarter edition” on it. The general public will be getting an unlimited trade paperback edition. The anthology will also be available to everyone in the standard ebook formats (Epub, mobi, PDF) for the standard ebook readers (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc).

AJ: Kickstarter has become a very popular platform recently for passion projects. What are some advantages to going the kickstarter route? Have you had any surprises along the way?

JP: I turned to kickstarter after the traditional publishing routes more or less phased out most of the anthology projects they were willing to produce. There are still some anthologies coming from the larger houses, but certainly not as many as there used to be. But Patricia Bray and I had so much fun producing our previous two anthologies with DAW that I didn’t want those projects to die out completely. So after some careful consideration and research, I decided that the best route to bringing our anthologies ideas to the market was to fund them with kickstarters. This way, we could see whether an anthology idea would find an audience, because that audience would back the project. If there was no audience, the project would simply not fund.

In essence, the kickstarter is a way of pre-ordering the anthology, and with enough preorders, the anthology will get produced. That’s one advantage. Another is, of course, the fact that some of the funding for the project is provided up front, alleviating some of the monetary risk of producing a book. There are still some upfront costs even before the kickstarter—such as paying for cover art, etc.—but not as much as simply printing an anthology and hoping someone buys it. There have been a few surprises along the way, mostly positive ones. The interest in the projects has been greater than expected, with the current project getting halfway to its goal in just three days, which is a plus. The support from the SF&F community is spectacular. A rather nasty surprise was the sudden increase in postage costs between when the first kickstarter for Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens finished and when the anthology finally got shipped. Postage is always an issue, since it’s difficult to calculate it ahead of time. But overall, each surprise is a learning experience. I’m hoping this kickstarter runs smoother than the last . . . So far, it has. *grin*

AJ: You also run a small press named Zombies Need Brains, LLC, whose first Kickstarter anthology, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens, reached 150% of its funding goal on kickstarter last year. Tell us more about Zombies Need Brains, LLC. What’s the goal of this new small press, and what types of fiction do you plan to publish?

JP: The goal of the new small press is to produce quality SF&F themed anthologies. Right now we’re trying for just one such anthology a year, although we’d like to bump that up to two or more eventually. We’re just getting our legs now, though. But once we feel stable enough, I’d like Zombies Need Brains, LLC to branch out into other non-anthology projects. For example, I’d like to perhaps pick up some of the series that the larger publishers have abandoned, producing that third or fourth novel that the fans are expecting but that might not be published otherwise. And I’d like the press to start producing original novels as well, projects that for one reason or another the larger publishers have passed on, but that I think are still strong and might find an audience out there. During this entire process, I’d like to slowly decrease the reliance on the kickstarters as the initial funding process, but we’ll have to see how well the anthologies sell outside of the kickstarters before that can happen. As for what types of fiction . . . well, I think we’ll stick to the SF&F genres for a while. I might be tempted by some other genre projects if they’re interesting or intriguing enough, but the focus will mostly be science fiction and fantasy.

AJ: You work on a lot of anthologies. Who are some of your favorite speculative fiction short story authors?

JP: If you look through the anthologies Patricia Bray and I have produced so far, you can probably pick out a few of our favorites. Seanan McGuire is always fun to work with and loves writing short stories. She’s one of our main sources when we’re considering an anthology and who might be a good anchor author for its kickstarter. A few others that have been a joy to work with are Barbara Campbell (aka Barbara Ashford), S.C. Butler, Ian Tregillis, David B. Coe, and more recently Gini Koch and Jean Marie Ward.

Honestly, all of our authors to date are great and I feel weird picking out a few. And there are authors that I’d love to work with on future anthologies—dream authors, if you will—such as Neil Gaiman (who wouldn’t?), George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, etc. If any of them read this and would like to work with Zombies Need Brains LLC, PLEASE get in touch. *grin*€

AJ: Tell us a little bit about how you got into science fiction to start with. Did you always want to be a writer? And how did you get involved with editing?

JP: Ah, my introduction to sci-fi was rather amusing. My mom always took us to the library when we were young and for a while I was reading only mysteries. Hardy Boys, etc. I was reading the author Mary Norton’s mysteries and one day I couldn’t go to the library with my mom, so I told her to pick up another of the Norton books. You can probably guess what happened next: she brought home an Andre Norton book by mistake. I remember being annoyed—I wanted another Mary Norton book—but she convinced me to at least try the book. I don’t even remember what that first book was, but I was hooked.

I abandoned everything else and only read Andre Norton books for months. I even had the library bring in as many as they could find through inter-library loan. Eventually, I branched out to other sci-fi and fantasy novels, including Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. It never stopped after that. It wasn’t until I hit the 8th grade that my English teacher suggested that I try writing sci-fi myself. From that point on, I started writing my own stories, working on short stories at first, then novels through high school and college. The editing didn’t come until later, almost by accident. A group of authors were at a multi-author signing (we called ourselves the Magnificent Seven) and at the bar afterwards we jokingly talked about an anthology where the stories were centered on a bar that traveled through time and was bartended by Gilgamesh. I pitched the idea to Tekno Books, and they pitched it to DAW, and within a few months Patricia Bray and I were well on our way to becoming editors. We haven’t managed to shake it loose since.

AJ: When you’re not writing, editing, or putting together amazing Kickstarter projects, you spend your time as a math professor. Lots of science fiction fans are also math and science geeks (and proud!). What connections do you see between a love of math and science, and a love of science fiction?

JP: Oh, I think the go together extremely well. First of all, I think they both result from an insatiable desire to answer the “What if?” question. The direction is a little different—for math and science, you’re trying to describe something you’ve witnessed in the present; while for science fiction, you’re trying to extrapolate to something in the future—but it’s still the same essential question. And both science fiction and fantasy rely heavily on a specified structure and order. Yes, there’s some scientific principle that’s astounding or some magical element in the worldbuilding, but it still must subscribe to some set of rules or logic or the world itself is no longer believable. So the math and science backgrounds give the fictional aspects of the world a sense of believability, something that allows the reader to suspend their disbelief. And it works in the opposite direction as well. If you read science fiction or fantasy, that spark of imagination, of wonder and creativity, is going to creep into your research in the math and sciences. Research requires a certain level of creativity in order to progress—if a principle were based simply on logic and the equations and theorems that came before, then it would have been discovered already. It’s the leaps in logic that appear nonsensical at first that allow the math and science fields to expand and lead to new discoveries. So I think the two are certainly interrelated. I don’t think they can function individually; they need and feed off of each other.

AJ: Thanks so much Joshua!

Be sure to check out the Temporally Out of Order Kickstarter page!

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.
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