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Like a Virgin: A Conversation with Jayme Lynn Blaschke
An interview with Rick Klaw
February 2006

© Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Jayme Lynn Blaschke was born in Baytown, TX grew up in the small town of Columbus, TX. He earned his degree from Texas A&M University and took a job with The Temple Daily Telegram working primarily as a sports writer. He served as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. He currently works for Texas State University in the Media Relations and Publications Department, and also serves as the staff advisor for the Texas State student-run Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. He and his family live in New Braunfels, TX. His web log can be found at jlbgibberish.blogspot.com

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SF Site Review: Voices of Vision

Voices of Vision

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

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Over the past decade Jayme Lynn Blaschke has published close to fifty interviews with the famous and not-so-famous of the science fiction community for venues such as Interzone, Strange Horizons, Black Gate, Science Fiction Chronicle, Revolution SF, SF Site, The Brutarian and others. Voices of Vision, a collection of his interviews, was recently published by The University of Nebraska Press as part of their Bison imprint. SF Site's Rick Klaw recently sat down with Blaschke where they discussed the art of interviewing, virginity, editors, comics, and other fascinating subjects.

This is the first time you've been interviewed.

Yeah, as far as me being the subject. My background is in journalism, so I've interviewed literally hundreds of people in the course of my career. I've interviewed Hillary Clinton, Martin Luther King III, George W. Bush before he was anybody other than minority owner of a baseball team up in Dallas.

Did he make your book?
[laughing] No, no. Actually, I don't have that interview. It vanished in one of my moves along with a number of other scripts that I had from my journalism days. I eventually found a copy of my Hillary Clinton story that I had done from more than a decade ago before the Democratic primary. Well before Clinton had the front runner position for the initial Democratic nomination back in spring of 91 or 92. I do media relations now. I've done media relations for hospitals, I've done media relations for Texas State University now for a number of years, and so I've dealt with the press and been interviewed on specific subjects or events that have been going on, but as far as anyone ever actually taking an interest in me, per se, then no, this would be a first.

Nervous?
Not about the interview itself. About the interviewer, I might have some reservations, dirty laundry and what not.

[laughing] All right, well, that's it, then. We can get someone else to interview you, if you like.
No, no, no.

Voices of Vision is the first original publication of Bison Frontiers of the Imagination. A non-fiction collection of interviews seems to be an odd choice because everything else they do is classic reprints of fiction. How'd that come about?
As a process of elimination. I'd always considered the possibility of publishing a collection of my interviews. I'd say, "Oh, well, that'd be something neat to do in the future." Until one day I woke up and realized I had more than 30 interviews, and that was more than enough to put together a book, and I started looking around.

There were some small presses that had expressed in the past a general philosophical interest in this -- nothing ever concrete and I never actually pitched anything; it was, you know, "what if" bar talk. And I started thinking that maybe this would be something that a larger publisher might be interested in. A number of people suggested to me that I look into academic presses, since these are literary figures that I've been interviewing and might have some basis in academia; some value or worth, if I want to get pretentious, for future. I started looking around, and much to my non-surprise, most of the academic presses that I contacted reacted with something not quite akin to revulsion and horror that anyone would even consider approaching them with something as crass and base as genre writers. I found a few academic or university presses that had done science fiction. They rejected me on the basis that their science fiction wasn't really science fiction, it was Eastern European writers, or such. Some of Zoran Zivkovic's publishers -- academic publishers -- said, "Oh, no, no. This is Eastern European speculation, and it's beyond the Iron Curtain. This is what we do. This is socially redeeming. The fact that they write something that could be, you know, vaguely considered speculative is...is...well, we don't talk about that." And so I garnered a few rejections.

Then somehow I stumbled across the University of Nebraska, and their Bison book imprint, which gave me pause: how did I miss this, because they're such a prominent university press to begin with, and then their Bison Books Frontiers of Imagination Series is a very prominent reprint series of these classic turn-of-the-century science fiction publishers. I've since found out that Wesleyan also has a very well-respected science fiction line, which might actually have been a better fit, since they do more original as opposed to reprint presentations of their books.

I wrote up a brief pitch, it wasn't a formal pitch, it was just an email to their acquisitions editor saying, "This is my idea, are you even interested? Should I waste my time giving you a formal pitch?" I sent it off to them, and about a week later the editor-in-chief writes me back and says, "Yes, send it. This sounds great." We're off to the races.

You can't talk about your book without mentioning the cover. It's an interesting cover concept. The design of the book and the cover itself is probably superior to anything else published by Bison in their Frontiers of the Imagination line. The covers are not always of the highest quality. But your cover is an odd piece. Did you have any input on the cover?
No, I didn't. Early on they asked me in all the questionnaires, "How can we aid in marketing? What do you think would be good target audiences for this?" The whole nine yards, and one of the things they said, "What do you feel the cover of the book should entail? What should it look like?" And I wrote back that I had no idea, but John Picacio does.

[laughing]
I've known the artist John Picacio for close to a decade now. Before he was...

John Picacio.
He is a PHENOMENALLY talented artist. A World Fantasy winner, and a Hugo nominee. I talked to him and he said, "Yeah, sure, when you have a book, get your publisher in contact with me and we'll work something out." I was like, "Woo Hoo!" I've actually seen the cover of my book as John Picacio would do it, because his new cover for Frederik Pohl's Gateway, the [Del Rey] reissue is gorgeous. It just screams out, "Yeah, I think it would be an appropriate cover for my book." Screw Fred; screw Gateway. I want it. Make him wait in line. He can have something else!

But when you're dealing with academic presses and universities and stuff, they have their in-house divisions, and, for one reason or another, they are almost forced by the laws of economics to stay in-house, and since I didn't have anything more concrete than just "talk to someone else about it," they went in-house. I couldn't even come up with a decent title for my book. Usually when I write fiction, I start with the title; a title sort of suggests itself to me and then I kind of hang on to it until a story comes up and say, "Oooo! These two go together." With the interview collection, I started out with the collection and was grasping for titles. 'Cause Nebraska wanted to know what we're going to call this thing, out of desperation I said, "Okay, let's call it Cosmosis." Because that was vague enough not to be, you know...

Not to mean anything?
Yeah. It could mean anything, it could mean nothing. So I gave it to them, and they didn't want it. They came up with Voices of Vision, which is an infinitely superior title. And no, I didn't have any real input on the cover at all, as do most paupers, as far as their books go.

What does the cover signify to you?
I think it's a horror cover. I think it's a good cover. I think it's an eye-catching cover. I think it's dramatic and striking. I don't necessarily think it is an accurate representation of the book. If it gets people to pick it up and flip through the pages and say, "this is cool" and buy it, then great, it has done its job. I don't know if it's doing that or not, it is catching people's attention, whether it repulses them or not I don't know. You can make one tenuous connection that Neil Gaiman is one of the featured interviews in the book, and in his Sandman series, one of the first really dramatic story arcs that he did, "The Dollhouse," features a nightmare that is shaped from the realm of Dream called the Corinthian. The big visual is that the Corinthian has no eyes, he has mouths, and so I'm just assuming that the cover designer was a big Gaiman fan and chose to run with that kind of imagery for it. So hopefully all the Gaiman fans out there will rush out there and buy this book.

Your book features several big genre names. Jack Williamson's in here, Robin Hobb is in here, Charles de Lint, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, I could be here all day.
Woo! That's an impressive table of contents!

It is. How were you able to get interviews with these people?
I asked them. [laughing]

Essentially, that's what it was. You have to go back to when I started doing interviews. I have a journalism background, and I had managed to publish a handful of short stories at the time early in my career. [The 1997] Worldcon was coming up in San Antonio, and I was trying to figure out some way to keep my momentum going, to keep my name out there in front of the readers and editors and such, and here we have this intense concentration of all these really famous science fiction and fantasy writers coming together in my backyard.

I wrote to Interzone, in which I had published several short fiction pieces at and asked the editor at the time, David Pringle, "Would you be interested in any interviews, since Interzone runs regular interview features?" And he said, "Yeah, sure."

About a month in advance or so, I emailed a couple of the writers. Well, actually, probably more than a couple, about half a dozen and said, "Would you like to get together over the five-day period sometime and, you know, chat a little bit." Jack Williamson was one, Harlan Ellison was one, Elizabeth Moon, JV Jones, and they were all very agreeable to it. Incidentally, Harlan Ellison ended up not going to that Worldcon because of a conflict that had arisen, but he called me on the phone. People tell stories about infamous phone calls from Harlan Ellison out of the blue and they'd be terror stricken and I was, too... "it's like, "My God! What did I do?" He said, "Tell you what. You take a week to come up with questions that I haven't been asked a hundred times before and then we'll do your interview." I did not intend to make Harlan Ellison my first interview I ever did in this kind of format, but he kind of fell into my lap and, who am I to refuse an opportunity like that?

What do you do as an interviewer to prepare yourself for the interview? I assume you don't just show up.
I don't just show up, no. That's the kiss of death. You learn that early on in journalism as a reporter. If you show up, your ignorance will be on display for everyone to see and snicker at, and even when you do prepare, a lot of times your ignorance is on display because you haven't prepared enough, even if you do an extensive amount of preparation.

First of all I just try and find the author's web site. If they don't have an author's web then, just any fan sites or anything up there, just the basic biography first, who they are, what their influences [are], if they grew up here, or they grew up there; that's just background information to give you kind of a picture of the person. Their bibliography: find out what books they've written, what their newest books are, what their most recent stuff is, what they're most known for. If they're known for winning Hugos back to back to back, well then that's a significant part of the story. That's background information to give you a feel for the author and a foundation to base everything else on, but what I've found is the most important thing to do is to track down as many prior interviews as possible, not to steal the question, but just so you know what questions are always asked, then just do one step and DON'T ASK THOSE.

That's the main thing that I learned: don't ask these questions, don't ask this question, don't ask this question because everyone else has. Now, I say that, but that's not always really possible or advisable, as far as not asking questions. Because when I interviewed Vernor Vinge, I started off the interview with an apology, I'm sorry that I'm going to start this off, because you've answered it a million times, but let's talk about the Singularity, this concept that you have. He laughed, and then we went on from there. I didn't limit myself to that, which I've seen some interviews with him that that's all they discuss is the concept of the Singularity where humanity reaches a cusp and what comes out the other side of that no longer resembles humanity as we know it.

Good thing for me that this is your virgin interview.
My virgin interview, so you don't have to worry about.

I can ask anything I want!
You don't have to worry about re-treading any of those old tires. But yeah, a lot of times interviewers ask questions and interesting answers come out, but they don't follow up, and you're like no, no, no wait go back! Go Back! Follow this, follow this, go with it! Formulating my questions allows me to go back and follow up on those threads.

In Neil Gaiman's 1997 interview in Interzone, which, coincidentally was my first fiction publication in the same book, so I have that one and refer to it often. But in there he discusses that he is leaving comics, that he has accomplished everything that he set out to do with comics, and the challenge is no longer there, so he's going to try other mediums and such, and one of the things that I was able to do when I interviewed Gaiman a half a dozen years later is say, "Okay, you said this back then, but you've got these comics in the pipeline now that are coming out. How do you feel about that?" He was great. He didn't feel the question was an ambush or anything like that, he said, "Yeah, I said that, and at the time, that was the way I felt. I've been away from comics for a very long time and I'm starting to see things and challenges that didn't exist then, that well, if I try this with this kind of storytelling technique, will that work?" The medium had changed; the landscape had changed and he had changed as a writer, so that was a very interesting question and I think his follow-up answer to that was illuminating as far as who he is as a writer and those writing concepts.

Do you tape your interviews?
Absolutely. I tape, and I also write as I go along. I learned as a reporter you cannot wholly depend on tape recorders, because they will stop, they will corrupt or anything like that. But in a Q&A situation where the author's, the interview subject's words are the story, you're not writing the story and then including quotes and paraphrasing and such like that, you almost have to because so much can be lost. I mean, even the author's, the interview subject's words when they answer questions, they mean what they say, but they don't always say what they mean, so you can get into all sorts of conflicts, not just between the author, the interviewer and the interview subject, but, between what they said and what they meant, and it's confusing. It's so much easier, so much more direct where you have the original words and you can see that. You can hear the context, and a lot of the time the context is lost: verbal inflection and stress does not translate onto the page, so you see that on there, what you read on the page may not be the way it sounds audibly, so you have those two versions there, and now you're able to work something into a semblance of what the meaning is.

You're not really there to inject yourself beyond the questions that you pose; you're just a conduit for the interview subject to express their thoughts and opinions as clearly and as unaffected as possible. So I keep notes and that helps me when I'm doing the editing, because I also number every so often so I have that as kind of a little road map so it's okay, at track number 123, there was this discussion, so I'm able to skip there if there's something relevant and it helps me stay a little better organized.

How much would you say is changed in the final version? Some subjects go off on a lot of tangents. Do you find that you change quite a bit of it?
It really depends on the interview subject. Some people, like Michael Moorcock, for example: you sit down and you say, "Hi, Mike," and two hours later he finishes whatever discussion ensued from that. If you interview him, you don't even really need questions. He'll just go on in a monologue and discuss anything that comes to mind, which is fantastic, from that kind of standpoint of discovering things that wouldn't have happened before. I interviewed him, I believe, two days after George Harrison died, and Michael Moorcock had worked for Apple company, Apple Corp, for a number of years way back when in the post-Beatle era, or maybe even during the Beatle era, and he met and had known all the Beatles. He had some interesting insights on George Harrison talking about British guitarists and rock and roll, which segued into his Hawkwind work and all the other such. Of course, by the time the interview was ready to be published, it came out that George Harrison's death was ancient history, essentially, so the context was lost for that. I hope that, if there's enough interest in Voices of Vision, we'll someday be able to do Voices of Vision II: More Voices, More Vision, whatever, a follow-up volume and include the Michael Moorcock interview with that, along with a lot of the material that was cut from that, including his discussions on George Harrison, which are entertaining. Not terribly profound, but interesting from a reader's standpoint.

You mentioned earlier how the interviewer is essentially invisible, and just asks questions. Does the interviewer matter?
I think so. It goes back to your other question, that the interviewer didn't prepare. It's really obvious sometimes that the interviewer has no clue as to who this person is. They got an assignment for something, and essentially say, well, "Who are you? What are you doing? What do you write? What's that?" If it's a big fantasy author, they'll say, "Well, you know, so, how often do you use spaceships in your work?" That shows a terrible ignorance, and I've seen these published that way. It's kind of an uncomfortable feeling. It kind of gives you the willies in... uncomfortable in a car-wreck-happening sort of way, that you feel uncomfortable and sympathetic towards the interviewer, but also for the interview subject, 'cause the interview subject's got to maintain... you can't say, "Well, you're a stupid git. Do your work and then come back with some quality questions."

From "Where do you get your ideas," I've seen that in formal interviews before, which sends many writers' skins crawling, a lot of, "Well, how much did you pay to get your book published?" which opens a whole other can of worms. I admit that I haven't always read the authors that I interview, but I take that as a sign that I have to do additional research, find out more, read up on the person's book or something like that so you can ask questions about their work that are intelligent, because it's your obligation to give them good questions that they can answer. Not necessarily easy questions, but good questions, and some interviewers don't. Some interviewers are fantastic. I could never hope to get the insightful and in-depth conversations going that some of these other people do, but...

We can't all be Bill Moyers or Terry Gross.
Exactly! I think that I've carved out a little niche of my own, doing a Blaschke interview...

SF Site Interview: | Part 1 | Part 2 |

Copyright © 2006 Rick Klaw

Perhaps best know for the popular column "Geeks With Books" for SF Site, Rick Klaw's critical essays, reviews, and other observations were collected in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century, published by MonkeyBrain, Inc. Previous Klaw interviews have appeared in SF Site, Science Fiction Weekly, RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, and Fantastic Metropolis.


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