This week, I welcome author Jay Lake. In addition to loving his work, Jay is a constant source of inspiration to me as he blogs openly and honestly about his ongoing fight with cancer.
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. His new novel ENDURANCE is out from Tor Books on November 8th, 2011.
ANTHONY: Thanks for taking the time to join me, Jay. So, The 2011 Hugo Awards were presented in Reno, Nevada on August 20th. You were tapped as MC this year. How did that come about, and what hijinks did you have planned? Did you channel the spirit of Neil Patrick Harris and do a downscale but hysterical musical number?
JAY: I was asked by the Reno con com. Given that they are largely drawn from Pacific Northwest fandom, this isn’t too surprising — it’s folks who’ve known and worked with me for years in various capacities. As you know, Worldcon having come and gone since you asked me this question, we were sort of the Smothers Brothers on Quaaludes. Which was a lot of fun, and a heck of a lot of work. My only regret is that we didn’t have a teleprompter, as our need to rely on the script was pretty obvious from the audience. I do my best work improv, but the Hugos are far too structured for that sort of technique to be successful.
ANTHONY: As a previous Hugo nominee, give us an idea of what the awards ceremony is like, and how it feels waiting for your category to be announced.
JAY: Well, the awards ceremony is very different for the nominees that is for the rest of the audience. (Also, this just in, sun rises in east.) All those categories before yours? Time wasting piffle for the main event. All those categories after yours? What categories? One becomes very focused on trying not to look like a total prat when someone else’s name is called out from the podium. Truly, it is a very intense experience, waiting to hear. The habits of certain presenters make this experience even more questionable than otherwise, trust me.
ANTHONY: You’re one of the most prolific writers I know. It feels like every time I go to a book store, I find another anthology with one of your short stories. Where can we expect to see your short fiction in the coming months?
JAY: Not a whole lot, given my cancer adventures. My writing time has been cut by more than half for the year these past two years, and I’ve really had to focus on getting novels done and out the door. So I’ve been badly neglecting my shorter work. There is a pretty big novella coming up at SUBTERRANEAN which is a prequel to the SUNSPIN novel sequence, “The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future”. That’s probably my most significant piece of forthcoming short fiction right now.
ANTHONY: Short stories, novellas, novels of varying lengths … you’ve talked in the past about predicting a work’s appropriate length and the “span of control” a writer has. For my readers unfamiliar with the concept, can you summarize it and talk about how it affects your own work?
JAY: “Span of control” refers to how much of a story a writer can keep in their head at once. Work that falls within the span of control can be addressed organically, by following the headlights and essentially making it up as the writer goes along. Work that falls outside the span of control requires a lot more deliberate attention to craft. My personal experience is that for the most part, my work within my span of control feels much smoother and more crisp to me.
For reference, when I was first publishing at a pro level, my span of control was in the low thousands — two or three thousand words. These days I can hold an entire novel in my head, up to about 200,000 words. However, when I’m doing that, I have to work pretty continuously, day in and day out, to keep the voice and continuity intact.
ANTHONY: Do you find that your “span of control” has been influenced (positively or negatively) by your on-going surgical and chemical battle with cancer?
JAY: Yeah, it has suffered. Not so much from the surgeries, which are unpleasant but fundamentally acute events. But the chemotherapies really fry my brain, especially as they progress further along, which blunts a lot of my cognitive skills. Span of control lessens, I have to work a lot more from notes or at shorter lengths, et cetera.
ANTHONY: The work of yours that has moved me the most, as a fellow cancer patient, is the limited edition short literary novel THE SPECIFIC GRAVITY OF GRIEF. As your fight continues, is there any chance the book will be re-released in a broader print run so that more people can experience it?
JAY: We plan to put out a low-priced trade paperback at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, yes. I want the book to be read more widely, especially by people who don’t have cancer but may have someone in their family or social circle who is battling the disease.
ANTHONY: That’s great to hear. I’ll be looking forward to the release. In terms of novels, you seem to have become quite comfortable working in trilogies (with associated short stories): The Clockwork Earth series has run three books (MAINSPRING, ESCAPEMENT and PINION), ENDURANCE, the second book in your Green trilogy (preceded by GREEN and followed by KALIMPURA) is due out in November, 2011, and you’re currently working on a hard-sf trilogy. Are you crafting them as trilogies because that’s your current “span of control,” or because our popular culture seems obsessed with trilogies lately?
JAY: MAINSPRING was an accidental trilogy, market-driven. Likewise GREEN, which was absolutely written as a standalone. So SUNSPIN, the space opera trilogy, is the first time I’ve sat down and deliberately worked in the form from word one.
I think trilogies work for readers because they mimic the three-act structure on a larger scale. Three is a magic numbers in Indo-European cultures, pace Georges Dumezil’s work on tripartite religious structures. Beginning, middle, end. Red, yellow, blue. Father, son, Holy Ghost. Cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. GREEN, ENDURANCE, KALIMPURA. How could I not hop on a five thousand year old cultural bandwagon?
ANTHONY: Good point, and I for one am glad you did. Steampunk. Hard SF. Fantasy. Horror. Literary fiction. Is there any genre you’re not comfortable working in? Can we perhaps expect to see a cozy mystery in the future?
JAY: Probably not any cozy mysteries coming up, but I am seriously discussing squeezing a collaborative urban fantasy into the schedule of writing over the next year or so. I like to stretch.
ANTHONY: Every writer has those “trunk stories” that will never see the light of day. With over 250 short stories and close to a dozen novels in print, I have to ask: is there anything in your trunk?
JAY: Oh, god yes. My first novel, THE JANUARY MACHINE. Any number of finished-but-trunked short stories. Quite a few novel outlines. My trunk is legion, for it is many. Heinlein notwithstanding, I don’t see how it could be otherwise.
ANTHONY: And my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who has never read it?
JAY: SHADOW OF THE TORTURER by Gene Wolfe. That’s almost my perfect book, rivalled perhaps only by Wolfe’s THE FIFTH HEAD OF CERBERUS. It is an exquisite work of language, thought and storytelling merged into a unitary whole, that drives the reader to deep consideration of the words on the page. If you’re simply reading to escape and be entertained, it’s quite likely not your cup of tea. If you’re reading to expand the borders of your mind, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Thanks for the interview.
ANTHONY: Thanks again, Jay! Stop back any time!