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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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Does your method and style of interviewing change with your target market and also, along the same line, the publication media. I know you've been published in several different media. Does it affect how you approach your interview, what kinds of questions you ask?
No, actually not. When I started doing this, I mean, my first dozen interviews were all with Interzone, At the time, the exchange rate wasn't that good; the dollar was really strong, so American banks, they take every opportunity they can to milk you for money. I was losing anywhere to a third or half of my check to bank transaction fees and currency conversions and stuff. That and the fact that no one in America was seeing any of my work in publication. Interzone is a fantastic magazine. But I was getting frustrated, because everyone I was seeing at the conventions here in Texas was saying, "When are you going to have something new coming out? I haven't seen anything from you in a long time." I'm like, "I have something this month, I have something next month, and, you know, two months ago I did something else."

No one was seeing it, so I started looking for stateside markets that would be interested in this. I had something published in the Science Fiction Chronicle, Black Gate ran my Gene Wolfe interview, which to this day it is the only interview that has ever appeared in Black Gate. Basically, Interzone had a Q & A format, and that is really a pure, straightforward unadulterated form, and as far as conveying the message and the facts of the subject, it's really good. Other magazines had adopted kind of a more feature style, where "The author comes and I was sitting down here and the author sat down looking fabulous. He was wearing... drinking a mint julep and he sat back and had a Cuban cigar. The smoke wafted towards the ceiling and the fan spun and the breeze came in through the window and I was suddenly taken back to my childhood in Omaha..." That kind of thing and that's not me. I can't write that way...

You're not Tom Wolfe?
I'm not Tom Wolfe, I never will be Tom Wolfe; Tom Wolfe would laugh if he saw me in the hallway. It's just... that's not me. Some have asked me to, and I've tried, and I've given up after, like, a page, because it's like nails on chalkboard for me. Another way [that] drives me nuts is a Locus interview. They have really good interviews in Locus, but the idea that you go through and take out all the questions and simply run the interview as a continuous monologue, it makes you think that the interview subjects are pathetic, because they're randomly jumping to different subjects from paragraph to paragraph and so it's always a game for me to go back and try to reconstruct what the specific question was that was asked. That's always entertaining, but it's maddening, because depending on the question, the answer could mean several different things and you lose that context with it. A lot of people view the interviewer's questions as cut, so you can get to the important interviewee material, but I think when the pluses and minuses are weighed out, it balances out.

In your book, you mention problems with email interviews. It's probably the only type of interview you talk about having problems with. Why is this, and what are some of the problems?
You don't talk. This is going to sound bad, but writers and editors, too, don't think about what they say as much as they think about what they write. When you get a question via email, they sit down and they write the answer. Then they look at it and they go back and edit it. "Okay, well, this is kind of tangential, so I'm going to take that out," and it gets trimmed down into a fairly terse and concise answer, which is an answer, and that's all it is. When you have someone sitting across from you in a chair in a lounge or something like we are now, you get the "ands" and the "umms" and the long pauses and such, but you also get the top of the head, "Oh, here's a little tangent over here. This is shiny over here and I'm distracted and I'm going to talk about this a little bit." Or suddenly, two questions down the line, "Oh, that question that we...was referenced earlier, I just remembered something about that. I want to go back and talk about that." I could say something in the interview here that will trigger a new question for you. You say, "Oh, this is something I hadn't prepared for, but that kind of sounds interesting. Let's ask about this." That doesn't exist in email interviews.

The one email interview I did that was fantastic, it wasn't easy on me, but Samuel Delaney, Chip Delaney, he does not feel comfortable speaking. He has a stutter, a stammer, and he also doesn't feel like he can quickly come up with thoughts, that he expresses all of his thoughts through his writing, and that's the way he feels is the best way for him to express himself accurately. I'm not going to argue that. He's done far more interviews with him than I will ever do with him. That's allowable. But after the fact, after he had answered all my question and got 'em back, he called me on the phone and we spend as much time on the phone over the course of several days going back and forth and discussing his answers. So it is really an interesting hybrid, where he discusses, "Well, how does this sound?" The man is incredibly precise. Not one word goes down that he did not want. He's very, very, focused on the meaning and the precision of his words and his answers, and that's reflected. It was an interesting experience, and I really enjoyed it.

What is your favorite aspect of interviewing? Is there a part where you go, "Wow! I love this part?"
Just the interconnection with the interview subjects. I've met so many people through the interviews, and a number of them I've kept in contact with. It's kind of a friendship level. There's networking, but I've never been a really tremendous, tremendously impressive networker. I kind of accumulate acquaintances and contacts and everything, but I'm not working the angles so I can get in so-and-so's next book. Possibly a lot of ambitious authors out there would dog me for that and say, "Aw, you're squandering such opportunities; you should be flogged." But that's not me. I'm more of a laid-back person in certain ways, as far as the personal connections. I really enjoy the personal connections: getting to discuss things kind of one on one with a writer. It's in a setting. You have two people there just talking about writing and genre and anything else that happens to come to mind.

A tangent to that: A couple of years ago at Armadillocon...Was it Armadillocon? Maybe it was ConDFW. Lois McMaster Bujold was the guest. I've been acquainted with Lois for quite a number of years, because I'm good friends with her best friend, Lillian Stewart Carl. Lillian's a writer from the Dallas/Fort Worth area who grew up with Lois and they went to high school together. And so I've been acquainted with Lois, but never really interviewed her, and it just so happened that the opportunity arose. So we're sitting down, we're fairly comfortable with each other, and just start discussing different aspects of her books and how certain ways with her Miles Vorkosigan books she has written herself into a corner because Miles is a character who has always been the underdog, tilting at windmills and challenging authority and in her latest book, he is the authority. He has more power than anyone else that he's going to come across, and how does this change the dynamics? We're going back and forth and she acknowledges that this is a problem as far as plotting goes and character development.

I need to back up a little, because we couldn't really find anyplace that was quiet to have the interview, so we went up into the Con Suite. It was pretty empty at the time. We're talking and we start noticing that it's not empty any more. The Con Suite has filled up and no one was actually looking at us. All of the people were sitting in their chairs, but their chairs had been scooched back to the couch and were back to back with the couch that we were sitting on, the sofa, and they were all leeeeeaning back, and you could see their ears stretching back and everyone was just completely hushed and was kind of like sitting on the floor and sitting behind the table. We never even noticed that the crowd was gathering, that all these people were gathering and it became almost like another track of programming, just this quick interview with Lois Bujold. That was a lot of fun: it was intimate, but also a group participation.

What was your favorite interview that you conducted? Especially when you were re-reading them, where you were just, "Wow! I really nailed this one!" Is there one?
I don't know. Because after I go back and look at them, I second-guess myself a lot. I talked earlier about being furious with certain interviewers for not following up on certain questions raised or something that's obvious big old softball questions sitting up there just knock it over the fence. I go through my interviews and I can see that big softball sitting there that I didn't follow through. Often times I'll look at them and say, "This interview didn't end right... didn't come to kind of a wrap-up conclusion. It just kind of dangles there. It doesn't feel like this is the end of it." That's not an easy question, to tell you the truth.

I'm sorry, was I supposed to ask an easy one?
Yes! You're supposed to give me easy questions! My agent will be in touch with you, I assure you.

Uh huh.
I like the Brad Meltzer... I'm very proud of the Brad Meltzer interview, because no one in comic books knew who the hell Brad Meltzer was they announced that...

Well, he was a best-selling author of legal thrillers.
Yeah, legal thrillers, but he had diversified somewhat, slowly diversified somewhat, slowly diversifying away from the legal thrillers aspect, but he was still a best-selling thriller author that wasn't really known in comics, because he had never written comics. DC Comics was keeping it very tightly under wraps who was going to follow Kevin Smith in writing Green Arrow, and they announced Brad Meltzer, and everyone was, like, "Who the hell's Brad Meltzer?" And I said, "I'm going to find out who this Brad Meltzer is." And so I googled up his web site, and, at the time I was investing a lot of time and energy into the unofficial Green Arrow fan site, which is a fan site that me and a friend named Scott McCullough up in Illinois put together and just ran for fun.

I sent him an email through his web site saying, "Okay, I see that you're going to be in Austin doing a book signing next week. Can we get together and have an interview?" He emailed me back within five minutes saying, "No, because they have me on a flight out right after that. There's no way I'm going to have any time. But I'm sitting in my hotel room in Milwaukee right now doing nothing until tomorrow. Here's my phone number. Why don't you call me and we'll do it now?"

So I had an interview within like 30 minutes of the word going out that this guy is the new comics writer for this title. I was on the phone with him and conducted the interview. That was almost surreal, the way that one came about. It was like a week later before anyone else contacted him. That was a lot of fun. Of course, the Harlan Ellison one, because that was my first interview, and I think I acquitted myself well as could be expected, maybe a little better than most people would have bet on. Looking back now on it I see things that I could do better, questions I could have asked that I didn't, but I think I did a real good job with that. I really like the Patricia Anthony interview, because that goes off in a lot of different, unexpected directions. She talks about her time in Brazil where ball lightning was floating through the rain forest during a tremendous tropical storm and how the lightning struck this old plantation house they lived in and polarized all of the electric equipment in the house. It would shock you any time you touched anything, so they had to wrap copper wiring around everything and ground it outside. How she grew up in San Antonio and there was a tremendous explosion at one of the air force bases that was basically a nuclear accident that was somewhat covered up.

Really fascinating things that I had no idea were going to come up, yet that organic nature of interviewing, as different tangents present themselves, you're able to follow it, and it was fantastic. Of course and then someone like Jack Williamson, where you get to sit down with a legend in the field who literally helped to create the genre as to what it is now. I won't ever forget it. We're talking about his stories, and he's like, "Oh, this one story." "What story?" And he pulls out this deck of, like, trading cards and starts going through them. "Okay, here it is," and he hands it to me and it's the cover of a 1932 Weird Tales or something, and it's a deck of trading cards that had the cover of every magazine he had ever...

Wow!
I want to say that some fan had done it for him, had 'em all printed up or something, or something else, but I was in awe, because all these covers, every one of them was a Jack Williamson story.

If somebody said to you, "Jayme, we're going to let you interview one person. It can be anybody you want, any where, any person." Who would you pick?
Oh boy. I should have seen that one coming. That's an obvious one. It is a good one. I don't know if I can really limit that down to just one person. I mean, one of the big names that's out there now that I haven't interviewed is Ursula K. Le Guin, and I'd like to interview her. That would be a really difficult interview, simply because so many people have interviewed her. She's readily interviewed and very intelligent. So intelligent that she's intimidating. How could I come up with a question worthy of her?

I would think Stanislaw Lem would be very interesting, simply because he isn't accessible... as physically accessible to the west... and he's got a history. He made some enemies back in the 60s during the height of communism condemning the quality of science fiction produced in America because we're all bourgeois capitalists. He made a lot of enemies, and he deserved to make a lot of enemies. I'm curious as to how much of that was the communist party machinery and how much he really bought into the ideology, or where he stands today. This man is undeniably a major, major science fiction writer, easily, easily the biggest writer to ever come out of the eastern bloc. But nowadays you have a new generation, like Zoran Zivkovic...

Lem would be the biggest genre writer to come out of the eastern bloc.
The biggest genre writer would be Yevgeny Zamyatin, maybe if he had written about going to the moon, maybe he would qualify.

Channeling [Bruce] Sterling for second there?
Bruce would take my interviews and critique them and then tell me how he would do the interviews completely different. But yeah, I think that Stanislaw Lem would really, really be a fascinating one, and the fact that I don't know much about him personally, so it would be an excuse for me to do a lot of research on him.

How has interviewing affected the way you approach your own writing?
It hasn't. I'm more aware of what I write now. When I interview editors like Gardener Dozois and Stanley Schmidt and they talk about how they really want the far-future, galaxy-spanning science fiction; the meat and potatoes of the genre, which a lot of people have shied away from, I'm painfully aware when I start a story and it's not the galaxy-spanning far-future science fiction that is the meat and potatoes of the genre. What I'm writing is kind of esoteric, quirky, strange thing that really probably isn't going to find a home, and everyone who sees it is going to like it, but they say, "You know, this really isn't right for our magazine." I can see the dead end starting to form.

Maybe more so, it has also shown me how every writer's different. You always hear that, you always discuss it. Ask a hundred writers how they write and you're going to get a hundred different answers. There's several different camps that the writers fall into: you have the ones who religiously outline and are very structured and disciplined when they write, and then you have the other ones that are more organic and they just kind of let it sprawl out on the page and see where it goes, and then you have the writers who re-write constantly, you have the writers who write it correctly the first time so they don't have to re-write it, you have the whole gamut.

As a writer, it shows me the big picture that I know I'm not doing it wrong. It makes me think sometimes when I come up with a project I want to challenge myself. What if I try and do something like this person did from behind the scenes this way when they discuss something? Maybe I can try that technique or trick here. On the macro level it probably hasn't had much of an effect, but at the micro or nano level, I've tweaked and done stuff that hopefully affected me more as an editor at Revolution SF. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted before Jayme left his editorial post at RevolutionSF.]

When I get a submission that's good or not so good, that has something in it, I think I'm better able to recognize specifically what the flaws are in a piece, if it is worth addressing, or, specifically, how to address it. Because sometimes a story will come in that's flawed, but if you necessarily correct the flaws, then that would probably undermine what was appealing about the story in the first place. It's kind of odd, because I have a little more flexibility with Revolution SF than I would were I editor of Asimov's or Fantasy & Science Fiction with the types of stories I can do. I can take a flyer on something that probably wouldn't make it in one of the other magazines, but then again I turn around and I get something like "Leonardo's Hands" from Steve Gould and Rory Harper, which is a phenomenal synthesis of horror, fantasy, it's also kind of a caper, there's a little bit of noirish... noir in there kind of all mixed together and it's a strange story, but it's really cool. It has some of the most phenomenal imagery I've ever seen in kind of a disturbing horror piece, but it doesn't really fit anywhere. It might go to Weird Tales or something like that, but it's not really that suited for a lot of things, but it's a great story and it deserves a home, and it floated around forever, for a decade, at least, and they'd gotten a lot of responses of, "Well, this is a really neat story, but, you know, it's not right for this market. It's not right for this market." And I'm so phenomenally jazzed that I get stories like this.

Your first story "Cyclops In B Minor" was published in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future.
No, it was not. My first story was "Project Timespan," published in Interzone in 1997, about a year before Writers of the Future.

I always thought that Writers of the Future was for unpublished writers.
You have to be an unpublished writer. Their definition of unpublished writer... it's almost... you have to have no more than three professionally published works at the time, so it's new writers, and at the time I believe I had two stories published; I'm not sure if my second Interzone story had come out before or after that, but I had two stories and the Writers of the Future story was my third one, so that's the one that cut me out of the eligibility running.

I was a finalist; I did not win my category... or my quarter or whatever. I believe it was Scott Nicholson who won my quarter with a story that was very different than mine, very very much so. He had done a story that was kind of an atmospheric, low-key horror piece that was about basically a living city: a city had a presence and a spirit and everything, and it was very much a mood piece that was very well done. Mine was a rural fantasy, as opposed to urban fantasy.

How did it affect your career, being involved in the contest?
Well, the check cleared, so it affected my bank account nicely. It was interesting.

You hear so much negative about the Writers of the Future contest.
That's because of its connection with the Church of Scientology. It's a chicken/egg sort of thing, and you go into it and you know it. I had no real interest in Scientology. The Pope told me not to, I'm a good little Catholic, so that was a never a non-starter.

But it affected me as a writer, mainly, and this is most of the people I spoke to, it's a week long workshop you get to go to. They take everyone in there, put you up in a hotel conference center and at the time it was Algis Budrys and Dave Wolverton led the workshop every day and they brought in pretty much a non-stop parade of guest authors to lead in the workshops. I met Tim Powers and his wife there; that was a lot of fun; very interesting perspectives on writing there, Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, they were there. And Jack Williamson came in. They had a big birthday party for him. I've got a great picture of me and Jack, both in tuxedos, like two swingin' dudes out on the town having a good time. Just the intense influx of knowledge and experience that comes into that workshop. It's very different from, say, Clarion or Sycamore Hill, or Turkey City because these are all established, professional writers and everything and this is a new writers group, even though a lot of the writers there had published experience, they were still new writers, so the approach was somewhat different.

You've been a writer, an interviewer, and an editor. What's your favorite hat? What job do you prefer?
Oh, writer. Well, I enjoy the most looking at the story after I've finished writing it. I'm like so many writers, I just...just...

Like most writers, you like to have written.
I like to have written, exactly. I spend most of my days coming up with reasons and excuses not to write. It's this really love/hate relationship, because you get the ideas and stories just upwelling inside you and reaching this kind of critical mass where they have to erupt. It's like this incredibly large nasty zit that really doesn't want to come out, so you have to push 'cause it's painful if it doesn't, and you push and you squeeze and you mash and it starts spurting out on the page a little bit at a time and finally it's all gone and you're relieved, and it's really probably quite the most disgusting writing metaphor I've ever come across. "So kids, if you, too, want to squeeze zits, you can be a writer!" All the teenagers are like, "WooHoo!"

Is there another book in the works?
Well, if I get my lazy butt in gear and return to a novel that I have in progress. A few years ago I started a novel, got about 20,000 words into it. It's still clear in my head; I still know exactly what's going on, but I got distracted by things; interviewing, for one.

Interviewing became a siren song to me, to an extent, because I reached the point where practically any interview I did would sell somewhere for actual cash money, and so, you know, struggling writer starting out, even though I had a day job, that check coming in the mail is very attractive. But interviewing is time consuming. It's not particularly difficult from a physical standpoint; it's just an incredible time sink, if you're going to do it right. I started doing that more and more and more, and my other writing suffered. I didn't write short stories. I stopped working on my novel entirely. I've got several novels in various stages of decay, but this one I keep referring to, that one is fairly well-structured and has a chance of being something other than dreck. When I was 17 years old I wrote my first novel, completed my first novel, about 90,000 words, and, oh my God, is it awful. I still have a really crummy dot matrix printout of it buried somewhere in my files. I take it out every so often just to remind myself how bad it could be. That one can never be published.

And more importantly, how bad it has been.
Has been, yes, and never return to that level, for sure. I need to do that. As far as interviews, I've got close to 40 interviews, 35 or 40 interviews that I've done, and that's just 17 right there, so, you know, if Nebraska comes to me tomorrow and says, "Hey! We really like the sales figures on this one. Let's think about putting something together." And I'll say, "Okay, I'll have something to you tomorrow." So we're ready to go on that front. My goal now is to have my novel finished, at least in presentable form, by WorldCon -- the World Fantasy Convention when it comes to Austin in 2006. Of course, I have a number of different short stories that I'm working on that are very very very solid at this point. I have definite markets for them; I just need to finish the rewriting process, which, I'm finding good ways to avoid doing that as well. But I've got a lot of projects ongoing.

Jayme, thank you very much for the interview.
Well thank you very much, too, Rick.

Did I do all right?
Yeah. I'm glad you didn't bring up that incident with the monkeys in Matamoros, and beyond that... What happens in Matamoros...

[in unison] ...stays in Matamoros!

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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