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Interview: James Stoddard on "First Editions"

James Stoddard–author of “The First Editions,” which appears in our April 2008 issue–said in an interview that ideas usually come to him over time, making the origins hard to pinpoint, but this story was the exception. “I was walking out of the library at the college where I work, and noticed a display which read: If I were a book, I’d be a library book so I could meet a lot of people,” Stoddard said. “I got two paces past the display and stopped dead in my tracks. I knew I had a story.”

Stoddard knew he had something, but his first fear was that someone had already done it. “I could picture sending it to Gordon and having him respond with, ‘Don’t you realize this was done in an award-winning story in the first issue of F&SF in 1950?’ or some such thing,” Stoddard said. “But I had no recollection of such a tale. The other problem was that I thought that such a grand idea deserved a really good story. All during the writing, I kept asking myself whether I was going in the right direction, since there were so many possibilities from the initial premise. In the end, of course, I could only do the best I could. But beyond my doubts, the story was quite enjoyable to write.”

Like a lot of us, the protagonist, Jakob Mamolok, is attracted to good books, beauty, and the advantages of money, Stoddard said. “Jakob Mamolok is a businessman and a book collector. When he goes to visit Yon Diedo, who is said to have the greatest collection in the capital city, Diedo shows him a special set of first editions,” he said. “Thrown into a totally alien situation, [Jakob] struggles both physically and morally, as his chauvinistic attitudes are challenged during the course of the story.”

Stoddard shares a love of books with Jakob, but he wonders why he chose the particular difficulties Jakob experiences, he said. “I feel like the story reflects my personality,” Stoddard said. “But it seems to me that writers often learn more about why they wrote a story when they hear from readers, who always see aspects that the writer misses.”

In addition to his short fiction, Stoddard has spent the last three years working on a novel, entitled THE PAST NEXT DOOR, for which he’s now seeking an agent. “That has taken most of my time,” he said. “I’m anxious to get back to writing some shorter pieces again. I occasionally take out my rewrite of William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND, and see if I can improve it.”

To learn more about Stoddard and his writing–to and to see some of the books (first editions or not) that he has in his collection–visit his website.

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One Response to “Interview: James Stoddard on "First Editions"”

  1. Seas Beyond the Sunset » Initial Influences on March 11th, 2008

    […] First Editions, by James Stoddard, was an early highlight.  It deals with a sorcerer and a very special book collection, and though the story is quite new, it has the timeless air of a classic fairy tale. […]

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