Lee Martindale is a renaissance woman in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, wearing multiple hats, including writer, editor, publisher, mentor to new writers, convention guest, and filker, just to name a few. She makes multiple convention appearances every year, often accompanied by her husband George, so if she’s at a convention near you, stop and say hello to her. Recently at ConDFW, Lee sat down with Adventures Fantastic to discuss writing, publishing, her new book (reviewed here), and other interesting topics such as her preferred weapons. Interviewing her was a blast. I’ve known Lee for more years than either of us is willing to admit, so there’s more back and forth between interviewer and interviewee than in previous interviews I’ve run. Here’s what she had to say.
AF: What got you into writing and why science fiction and fantasy?
LM: That’s a good place to start. What got me into writing was being raised by a grandfather who was probably one of the best oral storytellers I’ve ever heard. He was Irish – it’s genetic – and I grew up pretty much learning the craft at his knee. I started crafting my own stories before I learned how to write. And there was, until a tornado took out my house in 1974, a pencil-on-lined-yellow-notebook-paper romance novel hidden away. Thank God, it ended up in Oz or I’d still be living it down. I started writing nonfiction and selling it when I was 30.
Late bloomer as far as reading science fiction and fantasy…I grew in a time and place when girls didn’t read that sort of thing, so I didn’t discover science fiction and fantasy until I got away from home and into college. Eventually, I started reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, with her wonderful articles on writing. I started writing stories and submitting to her and getting back rejection slip after rejection slip until I made my first pro sale, in 1992, to Mrs. Bradley for the last Darkover anthology. As to why science fiction and fantasy? It’s where the good stories are.
AF: Okay, you’ve partly answered the next question with Marion Zimmer Bradley, but who else had an influence on you? The original question was who had the greatest influence on you.
LM: The first science fiction I read was Robert Heinlein. The first fantasy I read was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series got me hook, line, and sinker. Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion. I admitted to myself early on that I didn’t particularly like hard SF. Not that I don’t have a scientific mind – that’s what I majored in – but for kick-back-and-enjoy-myself reading, I wanted something a little more people-oriented. Which is why I liked societal science fiction, like a lot of Heinlein’s. I like stories that focus on people – character-driven, not hardware-driven. Zenna Henderson’s People stories: the first time I realized the genre could make you cry, and it was a good clean I-Need-a-Good-Sob cry. I guess those were the early influences. I can’t say they were the only ones.
AF: How did it come about that you founded Harphaven Publishing?
LM: Rank necessity. And filk – that’s science fiction and fantasy based folk music. I’ve been a folkie since college, play twelve string guitar. In 1994, I was doing my first convention and couldn’t sleep because I had my first panel ever the next day. So I’m wandering down the hall…
AF: Couldn’t sleep because you were excited or because you were scared?
LM: I was terrified.
AF: I can’t picture this, but go ahead.
LM: Hey, I was green. Anyway, I heard music. I heard guitars. I followed the sound. The tunes were familiar – see above re: old folkie – but the words were totally new to me. I wandered in and discovered filk, it discovered me, and it turned out that a lot of what I was already writing song-wise was considered filk. Over the years, I did concerts and sat in filk circles and kept getting asked, “Do you have a tape?” I didn’t, until my best buddy Bob West, Jr. said, “But she’s going to.” Bob’s a songwriter, audio engineer, and an all-around fantastic musician. Over the course of a summer, he and I recorded original songs, mostly mine but he wrote a couple that were included in the album. HarpHaven Publishing was originally founded for the purpose of putting out the CD we called The Ladies of Trade Town, after the first cut..
It meant that the writers would have stories tied up, without being paid their advances, for more than a year. From a writer’s point of view, Not A Good Thing. There were other indication Norilana was having problems. So I did some number-crunching and bought the project back. Then I contacted the writers under contract, explained the situation, and gave them the option of pulling their stories. Every single one of them came along for the ride, a tremendous vote of confidence on their part. Which is how the first original anthology out of Harphaven Publishing, The Ladies of Trade Town, will celebrate a Gala Book Launch in June, hosted by A-Kon 22 in Dallas. Fifteen original stories and an introduction written by Elizabeth Moon.
AF: Anything in the pipeline after that? Or is it too early to ask? Are you too buried in the current book to look that far ahead?
LM: Right now I’m too buried in Trade Town to even think beyond “Am I still going to be breathing at the end of this thing?” I’m in the middle of what I call the grunt work, the nuts and bolts, the editing and laying out and making sure what I send and what prints is what I thought it was going to be. I’d like to do a Trade Town 2, and another anthology of size-positive genre stories similar to Such A Pretty Face. Other projects that ended up shelved in the demise of Meisha Merlin and Norilana. Are any of those going to happen any time soon? I couldn’t tell ya. First we’ve got to survive this one.
AF: What trends do you see in fantasy over the next few years?
LM: That’s a tough question for which there is no answer. Other than…I think that people who enjoy it will keep reading. There will also be listening. There will also be reading in electronic format. I don’t think the genre itself will change all that much because, as somebody pointed out on a panel I just did, fantasy is actually not just one genre. It’s urban fantasy, it’s steampunk, it’s gothic, it’s vampires. It’s an umbrella term in the same way you’ve got science fiction, and then you’ve got space opera, and there’s still some cyberpunk running around. I don’t see us having to go write How-To books anytime soon. I think the forms will change. Publishing will continue to implode and expand cyclically. You’ve got distributors taking publishers down right, left, and sideways. You’ve got, well, just recently the Borders Chapter 11 situation.
AF: Have you been reading my questions?
AF: Because the next one is what you thought publishing would do in the next year.
LM: Well, genre and publishing, you can’t separate them. Without publishers, there is no genre. Without something to publish, why bother? And it’s all interconnected. Writers will keep writing. Readers will keep reading. Hopefully those of us who do this for a living will continue to eat on a regular basis and sleep indoors. But that’s hope, that’s not prediction.
AF: You’ve kind of addressed this to a large degree. The next question was with Borders filing for bankruptcy and with a lot of talk about independent publishers now able to deliver electronic books fairly cheaply, what changes do you see? You’ve been involved in so many facets of publishing, you have a perspective most of us don’t have.
AF: Other than nobody can really predict what’s going to happen.
LM: Hey, I can be as wrong as anybody else. Other than the sheer terror of making the mortgage, the bottom line for any writer who is doing this for a living is that this is a business, this is a profession. And, yes, I’m a mercenary. I love it, but I can’t afford to write for the love of it. If I didn’t like what I was doing, I’d go find a street corner somewhere. But, like any professional, I expect to be paid. And that, [sighs] there is a trend partially promulgated by the whole ebook thing and the lack of the gatekeeper aspects of major publishing. A lot of small presses are just as professional as the majors, and in some cases more so. But there are enough of them that take shortcuts. Yeah, I’m gonna have a typo slip through every so often. That line is just going to be a little bit lower than it should be on the layout. But the fact is, there are a lot of new publishers that just don’t care. They don’t consider form to be as important as function. When you’re talking about product, it’s both. I see small press, well, it’s like I said, it’s cyclical. You’ve got all of these mergers going on with the majors. As far as I know, Baen is the only one that is owned by a US company. You’ve got the magazines dying, right, left, and sideways. The professional markets are decreasing in number. Delivery systems are changing. You’ve got, as you say, more ebooks. They’re easier to do, but harder to do right. You’ve got small presses springing up at the rate of what seems like three a day and lasting about as long as a day lilly. They come up, they go down, they disappear.
You’ve got a lot of good writers getting hurt by stuff like that. If I hadn’t pulled Trade Town when I did, I doubt it would have seen the light of day. And that’s not casting aspersions on anybody, that’s just a fact. So, in a way, I’m kind of adding to that small press functionality.
If you have discerning readers, people who value the product and demand that it be done right, the publishers who do that will continue to grow and continue to make good solid livings for those concerned. The publishers who don’t care are going to lose customers, lose readers. Despite the changes, it’s going to even out, hopefully to the benefit of all concerned.
AF: What kills a story for you, both as an editor and as a reader?
LM: That’s two different questions.
AF: I realize that may be two different questions or it may not be. Everybody is different, so take it however you like.
LM: As a reader, what kills it for me is throwing me out of the story. I’m happily reading along, and they use a phrase that just doesn’t fit the voice of the story. Let’s say it’s historical fantasy, they’ve done pretty well placing it in place/time with the dialogue, and then one of the characters has a line that’s completely modern. It jars me right out of the piece. So do factual errors. One writer, whose work I enjoy a great deal almost lost me early on once had a pistol I knew had never been built as a six shot model suddenly shooting six shots. If the writer had just said “pistol”, no problem. He got too specific. He gave the model number. That’s when it went Oops. Not checking the details will do it for me. That’s as a reader.
As an editor, what will get a story rejected faster than anything is plagiarism. I read a lot, I have a good memory, and certain turns of phrase are like fingerprints. A dull opening that doesn’t get me hooked quickly gets rejected almost as fast. You want me to read the second paragraph, you better have a kick-ass opening. You catch my attention with the first line. You keep my attention with the first paragraph. I keep reading as long as it’s interesting. Not knowing the tools of the trade: punctuation, grammar, spellings. Not caring enough to proofread the manuscript you’re sending me. That’ll do it real fast. Lack of originality. Pretty much all of those things. And having just gone through an open read, I’ve just seen every mistake it’s possible to make. [laughs]
AF: I’m sure you have. Okay, let’s lighten things up a little bit. Adventures Fantastic tends to focus on heroic fantasy and historical adventure, and the characters in these stories are frequently barbarians. What qualities do you look for in a barbarian?
LM: Male of female?
AF: Your choice.
AF: There aren’t that many female barbarians roaming some of this fiction.
LM: Dammit. Yes. Gotta do something about that.
AF: [laughing] Well then, write the story.
LM: Well, I have been a collector and appreciator of swords since my twenties, and I’m a fencer.
AF: I think you’ve been reading my notes because your preferred weapon is the next question.
LM: We’ll get to that, too. I’ve been fencing for the last ten years, as one of the SFWA Musketeers. Yes, I fence from the wheelchair. I’ve been in the SCA, so I’ve been around heavy weapons as well, broadsword and that sort of thing. What I prefer in my barbarian, either gender, is competency with their weapons. A writer knowing that a broadsword weighs about twelve pounds. Try holding one of those out straight- armed for as long as you can, most people, including those in top physical shape, lose it after about a minute. Thirty minutes of hack and slash ain’t gonna happen.
The Romans considered the Celts barbarians. The Celts had a much more evolved society. So I like barbarians with a twist. Warriors who understand the concept of honor and ruthlessness pretty well mixed. I like my barbarians in stories that are actually entertaining. Most of these so-called barbarian societies had highly evolved senses of humor. I kind of like that sort of thing. Physically appealing is not that bad, either.
AF: Okay, preferred weapon of choice?
LM: If we’re talking steel, I like epee and sabre or, when I can get my hands on it, Del Tin rapier. I got to fence with one of those once, and damn, that’s a fine blade. If we’re talking firearms, Beretta 380. It doesn’t have to punch hard if you are very good at hitting what you aim at. My first love was a Browning High Power 9 mm. I like handguns as opposed to rifles because, well, I’m short. I don’t want to have to use it as a quarterstaff.
AF: You just had a story published in Fangs for the Mammaries.
LM: Fangs for the Mammaries, and ritual disclaimer, the title and cover are not Esther Freisner’s fault. [Esther Friesner is the editor of FftM] The story is called “Sarah Bailey and the Texas Beauty Queen”. It’s a triple-Tuckerization: two individuals and a 1974 Chevy Vega.
AF: Is there anything else coming out from you in the near future that we need to look for?
LM: I’ve been buried in the anthology, however…I did write the title story. So, there will be a story of mine in The Ladies of Trade Town, called “The Lady of Trade Town”, based on the song.
AF: If someone reads this interview and wants to track down your stuff, where do they go?
LM: To my website, http://www.HarpHaven.net. There’s a link called “Teller of Tales”, with a complete bibliography of my short fiction, collections, and such.
AF: Last question. If you were conducting this interview, which question would you ask that I haven’t?
LM: Oh, Damn……Probably why I do this. And the answer to that one is I’m a Named Bard. There are certain duties that I promised to do in my lifetime, and one of the best ways to do them in modern society is to be either a singer/songwriter or a storyteller. Or both.
AF: Thank you very much.
LM: My pleasure.
Lee’s website is here and her blog is here.