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Five questions with Wendy Wagner

With the recent release of her latest novel, An Oath of Dogs, we asked writer and editor Wendy Wagner a few questions about her love of SF, what it is like editing a short fiction magazine, and how she balances her critical and creative sides.

What made you fall in love with speculative fiction?

As a young person, I read voraciously. But even at age five, I was a proto-feminist—during the 1984 election, I was obsessed with Geraldine Ferraro. I cried and cried when I learned she and Walter Mondale lost! So, of course, I was hungry for books about brave, strong women. Outside of the Nancy Drew mysteries, I didn’t find a lot of books I really liked that featured cool female leads (it probably didn’t help that I wasn’t a huge fan of horse books)—except for speculative YA and mid-grade novels. Tamora Pierce, Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Ursula K. LeGuin were magnificent introductions to the power of fantasy and science fiction.

What challenges do you face when editing an online magazine? How do you try to incorporate diversity in the content as well as the authors you publish?

I oversee the nonfiction at Lightspeed and Nightmare, so I don’t have some of the trickier wrestling duties that John Joseph Adams faces picking fiction. I’m usually looking at personal essays, interviews, reviews: stuff mined from people’s personal experiences that are not strongly filtered by plot and other fictional elements. It’s reading material about real people and their real thoughts. So for me so far, seeking out a broad spectrum of writers has successfully given me a broad spectrum of content.

As for challenges, running a magazine is full of them. Since all our staff and writers are scattered around the world, we rely on file sharing, email, and technology to make the issues come together. Every now and then, an email gets eaten by a spam filter or someone’s computer stops talking to Dropbox, and next thing you know, you’re scurrying to catch up. In publishing, there’s always something going on. The excitement never stops.

How do you balance your editorial brain with your creative brain? Does being an editor impact the way you work on your own fiction?

I think writers and readers are so focused on the gate-keeping functions of the editor that they don’t realize that an editor’s primary job is to be the story’s (or article’s) biggest fan. We’re there to support the author and make their work the most fantastic it can be. I find that the challenge being a writer and an editor is that it becomes extremely easy to put other people’s work before my own. There is always email to deal with, and some days it’s really easy to prioritize answering those emails before I write another thousand words. Our Lightspeed and Nightmare writers can just seem so much more important than me.

When I first started working for the magazines, I really struggled to find a balance between writing and editing. The strategies I’ve developed—scheduling email, planning my day, simple things like that—have made me a more disciplined writer. Staying focused is really important in this business, especially when you’re writing longer work. You have to train your brain to pay attention to what really matters, to screen out what’s not important, but also to be open to fresh possibilities. It’s a mental juggling act.

What genre tropes would you like to see retired/what unexplored avenues would you like to see the genre tackle?

I don’t necessarily want to see any genre tropes retired, because just when somebody says “this trope is dead,” someone else often turns around and pumps new life into it. (I mean, outside of tropes that exist to keep people shut up in neat and stupid boxes, like sexist, racist, homo/transphobic kind of crap. That junk can just go launch itself into the heart of the sun.) I love an apocalyptic zombie story. I adore a vampire detective. I delight in a portal tale. Any trope can be pleasing if it taps into real human feeling and great prose.

I do feel like there’s been a dearth of cyberpunk stories lately. Sure, we’re living in a cyberpunk kind of future, but I feel like people can and should keep pushing the limit of their technological imaginations. Also, I really, really love cryptids, and people should really write more horror stories with more varieties of weird creatures.

Why should we be reading your books?

Because they’re exciting! I write books with sassy characters and lots of danger and usually a healthy dash of creepy stuff. My latest book also includes a therapy dog, crocheting, beer drinking, and multi-colored furry alien isopods.

Yes. Danger, murder, and beer.

If you don’t like those things, well, I guess my books are not for you.


Wendy N. Wagner
is a writer and Hugo award-winning editor.  She is the author of more than forty short stories and two novels for the Pathfinder role-playing game. Her third novel, An Oath of Dogs, is out July 2017 from Angry Robot Books.

She is the Managing/Associate Editor of both Lightspeed Magazine and Nightmare Magazine, and served as the Guest Editor of Queers Destroy Horror! She was also the Nonfiction Editor of both Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Women Destroy Fantasy!.

An avid gamer and gardener, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her very understanding family. Follow her on Twitter @wnwagner.

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