Reality Skimming

Interview with Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm’s stories have appeared in On Spec, TransVersions, Neo-Opsis, Challenging Destiny, Talebones, and on CBC radio. In 2008, he won the Canadian Science Fiction Aurora Award for Like Water in the Desert. He won a second Aurora in 2011 for his short story, The Burden of Fire. His first SF novel, Defining Diana, (Bundoran Press 2008) and sequel, Steel Whispers, (2009) were nominated for Aurora Awards. Stealing Home, (2010) received an Aurora and a Sunburst Award nomination. He won the 2013 Aurora Award for editing the anthology, Blood and Water. He is the managing editor of Bundoran Press, and recently edited the anthology: Strange Bedfellows.

Interview by Sarah Trick

You took over Bundoran Press back in 2012. Since then, what are some of the challenges you've faced in being a publisher? What parts do you like best?

There have been a lot of challenges. Although I have accumulated a lot of skills over the years, I had never run my own small business. I initially thought I would 'do it all' but soon realized that wasn't sensible. So I had to find people to do what I couldn't or didn't want to do.

Many are the same people who did the work before I took over and others are new. I hired layout designers and cover artists and e-book formatters. Recently I've taken on slush readers and publicists. Finding the right people is always tricky and then it becomes a matter of managing -- something I am good at. Setting and keeping deadlines, planning timetables and cajoling and rewarding people to give their best efforts. And occasionally being tough when things don't go perfectly. That's a big part of what I do.

The things I keep for myself include the most enjoyable aspects -- finding and buying fiction, editing, working with writers (and parties!) -- the fun but sometimes tedious parts -- working with distribution, social media, blogging -- and the just plain hard work -- accounting, inventory control, dealing with customs, selling books at Cons, etc.

You launched your crowdfunded anthology Strange Bedfellows last week. I've been following the updates you posted about the anthology on the Bundoran Press Facebook page. Now that it is out in the world, care to reflect on the experience?

I love all my books but I'm particularly proud of Strange Bedfellows. It was challenging to raise the money but I've done plenty of arts fundraising so I was pretty confident. Once we got the funding I put out the calls and stories flowed in from around the world. There were a lot of good stories -- I think more than the usual amount for open submissions. I think the specificity of the anthology inspired writers to send their best work.

Selecting the stories and working with a lot of great writers was a great experience -- they all were cooperative and open and stood up to me when they thought it was right. I loved working with Dan O'Driscoll on the cover and getting David Brin to blurb the book was tremendous bonus.

Anthologies are more work and more expense than novels but I loved doing it.

Why are anthologies more work to publish than novels?

It is a combination of factors. The first is the depth of the slush pile. With novels, the submission window is narrower. Writers have already completed their drafts and can fit their submissions (3 chapters or roughly 6-8000 words) into a six-week time frame. Typically I get 35-50 submissions out of which I might ask for 2 or 3 full manuscripts. Total words of slush to read = 600,000 all of it done over a 3 month period.  For an anthology the submission period is longer because people are writing specifically for the theme. I received 271 stories for Strange Bedfellows, averaging about 5000 words each. That's 1.3M words. To buy 18 stories I had to read twice as much as to buy 2 novels. And in addition to the initial read, I read about 50 stories a second time which I don't do in selecting a novel (I do wind up reading the novel about 6 times during editing whereas total reads for each story is about 4).

The second is the decision making process. Deciding to buy something -- whether a novel or a short story -- takes a specific amount of time and the length of the work doesn't increase that time by much. In fact it is easier to buy a novel because the initial financial commitment is less. With an anthology you have more decisions to make -- 18 stories instead of 1 novel -- and generally the final cuts are much harder. For Strange Bedfellows I took two more stories than originally planned but could have taken another 4 or 5. You seldom get that level of choice in novels -- where you read 3 and take one or two.

Once you've bought the stories, you are dealing with 18 individual writers as opposed to one. As an editor, you have to constantly change your approach, trying to make all the stories the best they can be while honouring the individual visions of the writers. 18 styles instead of one. At the same time you are trying to create a consistency of quality -- which again takes 18 different levels editing. Editing a novel is a lot more work than say 10 stories but not more than 15. As well you are dealing with 18 personalities which again is more effort than one. And you have 18 contracts to issue and all the related communication.

Finally, you have to organize the anthology which is a separate editorial task which doesn't come into play with a novel. And write an introduction, organize bios and so on. And this doesn't count the tremendous amount of work required for the crowd sourcing campaign and subsequent donor relations.

I actually had two people (on honorariums) helping but Strange Bedfellows was at least double or maybe triple the work.

But I really enjoyed it.

What do you need to do to edit an anthology well?

A clear vision of what you are trying to present. The more precise the theme you have, the clearer your vision has to be. At the same time, you need to be open to the 'story.' With politics as a theme -- I had to turn my own politics off and make decisions on two criteria: is it a good story and does politics drive the action?

You also need to be conscious as an editor that your job is not to re-write someone else's story. The job is help make it the best story you can while refining but not changing the author's voice.

Finally you have to be attentive to the arc -- balancing out things like style, mood, lightness/darkness, even relative story strength -- to guide the reader from beginning to end.

You work in politics, have just launched an anthology of political SF, and have had quite a bit to say on the subject in both your blogs. What do you think of the relationship between politics and literature? What inspires you to tell stories featuring it?

Politics for me is a very broad topic which relate to identity, family, community and the interactions of them all. So I view all my writing as essentially political. But of course not all literature is political -- though I sometimes have difficulties naming any non-political literature of any great merit. 🙂 Even writing that avoids political issues generally winds up accepting and promoting the status quo -- traditional gender relations and identities, implicit racism, entrenched power structures and so on. In some ways avowedly apolitical literature is the most deceitfully political of all. By refusing to recognize the constant interplay of power and privilege it becomes a sometimes unwilling support for what is rather than what could be.

Making power and its consequences -- whether between individuals or within societies -- and making them transparent is what motivates most of my own writing.

You chose to focus Bundoran on science fiction rather than SF and fantasy. Was that because of personal interest, market factors, or both? What is it about SF that excites you?

When I was younger I read widely in both SF and fantasy but as I got older I was less and less interested in escapism and more in exploring the possibility of change. Fantasy isn't purely escapist but it provides no clear path from here to there. SF does propose those paths.

If it was market forces -- I'd be publishing YA fantasy I expect.

You wear so many hats it is intimidating to all us regular people. How do you balance being a publisher, being a writer, your full-time job, and your life? What is it like to suddenly take over publishing your own writing? Seriously, do you ever sleep?

First off, I don't publish my own writing -- I just sell what other people published. The only writing of mine that Bundoran publishes or will publish going forward are the introductions to anthologies. My wife jokes I bought a publishing company but lost my publisher.

I've been doing the same day job for 12 years now (twice as long as any other job I ever had) so while it can be challenging at times, I know my files well and can work very efficiently. As for work-life balance, I learned to make that separation back in my 30s and have always reserved time for my personal needs and those of my family. So the rest is a matter of being organized, delegating, working extra hours only in emergencies, and not trying to do too much to waste time or energy worrying.

The biggest impact was on my writing and after I finished my work in progress last April (a novel) I took a bit of a break but I've finally gotten back to doing that more regularly. My wife, who also writes, agreed we would put in 40 minutes right after work at least 3 times a week before we have a glass of wine or settle in for the evening.

I've learned to listen to my 'accomplishments.' If I really want to do something it gets done, if it doesn't get done, it probably isn't important to me.

And I sleep 7 to 8 hours every night.

What made you decide buying a publishing company was worth 'losing your publisher,' as your wife put it?

Timing is everything. I had finished my Steele Chronicles trilogy and had recently completed editing the Blood and Water anthology. I wanted to do Strange Bedfellows which taking over the company allowed me to do. At the same time the novel I was working on currently (see below) wasn't SF but historical mystery. Knowing I would have to find a different publisher for that book made it easier to lose my SF publisher. Now that I've started work on a new science fiction novel... well, I'll deal with that when the book is finished.

Could you tell us a bit more about the novel you're trying to sell?

Here is the elevator pitch for the first of my Max Anderson mysteries (I've also writen a second called By Dawn's Early Light. I'm currently working on a third with a working title: Glimmers of a Greater Truth as well as an as yet, untitled SF novel set 150 years from now.)

In the Shadow of Versailles is an historical murder mystery set against the backdrop of the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.  Max Anderson, former Lieutenant in the Canadian army, wounded physically and emotionally by the war, has chosen to settle in Paris rather than to return to his troubled family in Nova Scotia.  By chance, he rescues Havel Barzani, a Kurdish ‘freelance diplomat’ operating in the interests of the Arab-Jewish compact, from a beating at the hands of three masked thugs.  Max finds Barzani charming, intelligent and funny and they form a fast friendship.  But Barzani is murdered in a bathhouse and Max discovers that no-one – not the police, not the Arabs and not the Zionists – seems to care.  If Max, beset by his own demons and fears, is unwilling to solve the crime, then no-one else will.  As he investigates, he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a world of international intrigue as the four big powers each vie for supremacy and factions from across Europe fight – sometimes violently – for the interests of their own nations.  Relying on his wits and his moral courage, Max faces down danger to discover Barzani’s killers and bring them to justice.

And finally, what's next for you and Bundoran?

I have three novels coming out this year -- Al Onia's Javenny which we just finished editing will come out in August. Falcon's Egg by Edward Willett and Children of Arkadia by Darusha Wehm are scheduled for November (if a tree doesn't fall on me).

I'll be launching a new crowd-source funding campaign in the next few weeks for an anthology called Second Contact. That will come out next year along with book 2 of Alison Sinclair's series.

I'll be writing a lot more of my own fiction and will concentrate on getting my novel sold. And I hope to have a few surprises as the year unfolds.

Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm

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