Bewildering Stories Interviews
Bewildering Stories is a big operation, as our Information page shows. Our Associate Editors are an elite group. Their critiques of submissions not only make Bewildering Stories possible, they are essential to making it the best it can be. The Associate Editors necessarily work anonymously, “behind the scenes.” Now we express our appreciation to them with a series of personal interviews.
How did you become involved with Bewildering Stories and when?
Bewildering Stories published a story of mine (and then another written with co-author Sue Hagedorn), and I got to know the magazine and responded to some of the discussion questions.
I really enjoyed those online conversations with Don Webb, and after several of them involved grammar, he asked me if I’d like to be an associate editor/submissions reader. I was delighted to join up.
Is there anything you’d like to tell Bewildering Stories authors to do or not do?
Love your story and let it unfold in the least-used geography of your imagination. Proofread. When you think you’re finished, prune the story back by a third.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working as an Editor for Bewildering Stories?
Favorite: reading good stories that are rich in detail but concise and precise, stories that grab my imagination, stories with generous hearts. Least favorite: reading stories that are poxed with grammar and punctuation problems, reading stories that are hurtful or shabby re-tellings of trite plots; saying no.
What do you do in real life?
I am newly retired from university teaching. Now, in real life, I write in my home office: a recliner by a big bay window that overlooks mountain ridges fading to blue in the distance and a neighbor’s pasture with horses, chickens, crows, and the occasional fox.
I sit on the porch swing with my husband and read the Sunday newspaper. I garden, I defend my vegetables from deer with garlic, I cook, and I plan travels to re-discover what’s nearby and meet new places far away. England and Iceland (with snorkeling in the Silfra rift between the North American and European tectonic plates) are ahead.
I am still part of a project made up of VT teachers who are providing English writing instruction online for medical students in Tanzania. I read for Bewildering Stories and have newly joined the reading staff at Luna Station Quarterly, too.
What is your occupation?
It was teaching English at Virginia Tech: the dreaded Freshman English (though my students quickly ceased to dread it), grammar (it can be fun), technical writing, and science fiction/fantasy. I also did administrative work to schedule classes for a hundred teachers and thousands of students.
What do you like most and least about it?
About retirement? I love the freedom from responsibility. About teaching? I loved my students and colleagues. It was wonderful to be in conversations with inquiring people about the discoveries to be made through language.
What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?
Teaching is very, very hard work. You can’t make students learn: it’s their choice. But you must make a classroom or online environment that encourages thoughtful exploration, and that’s not easy, especially when most students wouldn’t be taking the course if the school hadn’t forced them to.
You must design writing and other experiences for the students that will make it possible for them to grow and learn for themselves. You must evaluate what they do with a grade, which is torturous and tedious work — grades are the worst part of the job — and to do this work, you’ll need a high tolerance for misery.
But when a student’s next paper comes in with an adventurous idea and some lively language... well, it’s a magnificent reward. But I warn you that teaching is about students, not about you: if you want to stand in front of people and be adored, join a rock band.
Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying?
I live in Blacksburg, in southwestern Virginia. My home sits on the eastern continental divide at around 2500 feet, and sunsets are awesome from my porch.
Because of the university, the town includes a wonderful mix of people from all over the world. My older son said when he was in high school that what he liked about the town was that he could walk down the street and see a guy with white whiskers carrying a dulcimer, women in saris, even a bagpiper in a kilt.
We’ve had our violent tragedy, and nothing can make that scar hurt less, ever. But nothing can take away the morning mist in the mountains and the friends who wave and cross the street to say hello.
Where do you think you might like to live, either in reality or in your imagination?
I don’t want to live anywhere else, but I daydream about taking the occasional adjunct teaching position for a semester in some place I’ve never been: Alaska or Key West or the Pacific Northwest... someplace very different. I’d like to have enough time there to get to know the place, but then I want to come home to my mountains.
Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most?
Ursula LeGuin, Lois McMaster Bujold, James Lee Burke: LeGuin makes myths that are fresh and compelling, Bujold keeps me glued to the book until 3 a.m., and Burke sets a scene so sparely but richly that I can smell the water of the bayou. Also, my favorite is whatever I’m reading at the time... mostly.
How do you think literature might be used in education, especially in the age of the Internet?
My sons learned more American history from Johnny Tremain than from their textbooks. I don’t know why good historical and science fiction are not used in schools to give students lasting memories and detailed, people-enriched understanding of periods and principles, far more than they could get from textbooks and lectures. Literature engages a child’s imagination, which is absolutely necessary for real learning.
Do you write yourself? What kind of stuff?
Fiction: literary, science fiction, and fantasy. Poetry: speculative and non. Nonfiction: am working up to a book on a local family whose past includes Cherokees who did not go on the Trail of Tears and grandparents who were pals with Sherwood Anderson.
How long have you been writing?
I rightly tossed out what I wrote, in fits and starts, from childhood to about age fifty because it was too self-serious. I started writing again in 2003 when a poem was suddenly there in my head, and I’ve been writing, with some publishing success, ever since.
What made you want to start writing?
Where do you write?
In my home office (see above), on my front porch, in my head while washing dishes, riding in the car, and waking up in the morning.
When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you?
I write as the mood moves me, though I like the morning and late night best.
Some writers say that they have to write a certain number of words every day. Do you do this? Why or why not?
No. I’ve never been very routine or self-regulating about anything; it just doesn’t work for me. More power to those for whom it does!
Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block?
Not really. I may not feel like writing one day, so I don’t; no biggie. Sometimes I get an idea that fizzles out after a page: no biggie; I like a few of the lines and have experienced the creative moments.
Once I had promised a novel manuscript to an editor by a certain date and I had about 10K words to go. I knew by then how it would end, so there was no more discovery to keep me interested. But I sort of grabbed a detail and let it pull me into the story again, and that got me intrigued again.
Detail always does that for me: the smell of approaching rain, the cloud shadow cooling across the summer pasture, the bulky silhouette coming into view on the hilltop... hmm... gotta go, there’s a story surfacing.
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