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Ed McFadden Interview

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    Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 9:00am
An Interview With Ed McFadden
by Daniel Blackston

Fans of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination have good reason to cheer this Summer - and beyond. If the following interview with that pub's resourceful, philosophical editor is any indication, many bright days (and star-streaked nights) of SF lay ahead for the Fantastic fan, whose quota of McFadden-made speculative manna recently doubled with the advent of a new, free SF ezine, Cosmic SF.  In this business, longevity often seems as scarce as innovation - and, as surely as the former virtue fails to ensure the latter, inspiration continues to trump the fiscal fickleness of the short SF marketplace, although editorial dreamers, like McFadden, are often derided by SF's more cynical observers as being overly ambitious, or even naive. It was my distinct pleasure to spend a couple of hours chatting with one of SF's well-recognized "movers and shakers", whose wise and candid responses are more than enough verification, in my regarded opinion, that McFadden is, indeed, at the top of his SF game.  

Tell us a little about "Deconstructing Tolkien".  How did this "Fundamental Analysis of Lord of the Rings" come about? What's the general drift of the book?

Deconstructing Tolkien is a book of essays and fiction that explore influences on Tolkien and how The Lord of the Rings has influenced genre fiction and looks at many "below the surface" points in the classic story. Examples: Sex, Drugs and Social Stagnation, which looks at smoking, drinking, the lack of sex and social progression in TLotR. When Gandalf Talks, People Listen, which looks at life lessons in TLotR.

DT is a crossover book - a fine, I hope, compromise between often dry academic writings and bad commercial books. It was really a labor of love. I have been a fan of Tolkien since childhood and TLotR has significantly influenced my writing and editing styles. I have done significant research and writing on Tolkien over the years and the book is a compilation of much of that research and writing. DT is perfect for people who love Tolkien, but never really studied the work, but want to know more about where the story came from, how it came to it's end and what influenced Tolkien as he wrote it.

Have you seen, do you like the LOTR movies; are these covered in "Deconstructing Tolkien"?

Yes, I have seen the films and yes they are covered in Deconstructing Tolkien. There is a lengthy chapter called The Death of Tom Bombadil and Fatty Bolger that puts the narrative and films side-by-side. I am particularly harsh in my criticism of the films because when it comes to TLotR I am a purist and I disagree with many of the decisions Peter Jackson made with respect to what he choose to cut...and add. I felt the final film was a disaster.

An example: Jackson choose to cut the confrontations between Saruman and Gandalf as well as Gandalf and the king of the Ringwraiths. Yet he found time to push the absurd plot twist of Frodo and Sam splitting-up because Frodo felt Sam had tried to betray him. All that being said, the films were well done and I enjoyed them greatly. I would have done things differently, but the films were true to Tolkien's words most of the time.

Tolkien represents one aspect of speculative literature "High Fantasy" or even "classic" fantasy, while little of the fiction published under your editorship at Pirate Writings/Fantastic Stories seems to be directed toward this particular sub-genre. Is contemporary High Fantasy passe nowadays? Do you think short fantasy fiction is more difficult to pull off than novel length works in the same genre?

In Fantastic Stories I do occasionally run a Sword & Sorcery story, but I do think High Fantasy has become somewhat passé, and that is due in no small part to Tolkien and TLotR films.

In Deconstructing Tolkien I talk about how hard it was for me to see my literary guidepost, TLotR, on the side of Happy Meal boxes. For that reason I try to stay away from High Fantasy in Fantastic Stories. Fantastic is about pushing the envelope and printing different and innovative stories-yet the occasional classic fantasy or science fiction tale finds its way in-my readers demand it.

I think High Fantasy is harder to accomplish in the short form then in a novel. So much of High Fantasy is scene setting, image building and history. Short stories are all about story and Sword & Sorcery tales don't read particularly well without the history and scene building. However, I have printed some great High Fantasy short stories in Fantastic Stories. In fact, there are several in Deconstructing Tolkien.

You recently launched a new, free-subscription e-zine Cosmic Speculative Fiction. The premier issue featured some very good science fiction stories, with an emphasis on idea, setting and 'traditional' plot.  Where do you weigh in on the question of 'literary' SF? Is there a type of style-centered fiction that fascinates you, or is it 'the sense of wonder' of SF?

Clearly I'm story driven. My own writing is this way and most of what I print in Cosmic SF as well as Fantastic is that way as well. The sense of wonder is what brought me to the field and what keeps me here.

I have nothing against literary SF, yet I do not enjoy it. I rarely read Asmov's and the like because so much of what they print fails to please even the most basic SF/F reader-which is why their circulation numbers have been dropping for years while mine have been going-up. I look at SF/F as entertainment-not that we can't learn something as well-but attempts to impress the literary world have no place in F/SF. Reading stories that are different and can't be broken down into the standard cookie-cutter molds is what I'm after. Style plays a secondary role for me.

What else should we know about Cosmic SF? Have you had a good response to the free sub offer?

The response has been tremendous. I have over a thousand names in my database and I estimate more than fifteen hundred people have seen the first issue of Cosmic Speculative Fiction-not bad. Cosmic SF is what Pirate Writings used to be: a venue for new and established writers to appear side-by-side. My hope is I'll have five thousand subscribers by the end of '05. What do you have to lose? My format is easy, accessible, and it's free!

How about the explosion of e-zines, e-publishers, POD's and all the rest? Is this an exciting time to be involved in SF publishing or is there too much 'white noise'?

Well, clearly e-zines are much cheaper to start and run then a traditional print magazine. However, there is allot of 'white noise.' Because it's so easy to set-up a web page and get stories, there is allot of garbage on the web. To me, if you don't pay for fiction you're 'white noise.' Yet that is somewhat of a snobbish view given Pirate Writings started-out as a non-paying market. I guess we'll see. Quality e-zines will survive and all the rest will fade away.

You have two other books forthcoming: Epitaphs, co-edited with Tom Piccirrili, and Catching the Big One -- details, please!

Epitaphs is a horror anthology edited by Tom Piccirilli and myself and contains 20 stories from some of the best horror writers in the field today. The book should be available September 04. Catching the Big One is slightly more complicated. Catching the Big One will be comprised of: Year one: A time of Change which is a short book Tom Piccirilli and I did years ago that didn't get much exposure. Destroy All Brains! by Paul Di Filippo and Under the Lizard Trees by Sue Storm. Those two books were Pirate Writings chapbooks and also did not get much distribution.

The last piece of the book will be Catching the Big One which is a chapbook containing four stories by yours truly. So I guess you could say Catching the Big One is an omnibus collection of early Pirate Writings Publishing books, all of which had very small print runs.

You and your daughter Samantha looked great on the cover of CHRONICLE! Most of the hard-working writers and editors in the SF field that I know have families in addition to their literary careers. Most also have 'day' jobs. How do you achieve a balancing act? Any advice for the rest of us?

It's very hard and involves excellent time management. I'm currently finishing the first draft of my first novel, Echoes of Chaos, and that really required a balancing act. The biggest point, however, is that your family must support your efforts. If your family fights you every step of the way it's next to impossible to be successful in F/SF as your "second job." I would not be able to complete all the projects I take on if my wife, Dawn, didn't support me and understand my late nights and my constant reading while the family is watching TV.

People reading this interview will want submission tips! I know Cosmic SF isn't currently open to submissions. How about Fantastic? Any particular kind of story you're really looking for?

Cosmic SF and Fantastic are both currently closed because I'm WAY overstocked. However, my tips are the same as most other editors: 
  • Know the market. To do this you must read the magazine. You would be surprised to see how many MS I get that are totally inappropriate for Cosmic SF and Fantastic.
  • Follow the standard MS submissions guidelines: double-space, include a SASE and always send a cover letter unless a particular editor requests that you do not.
  • Stay away from the well-trodden plots; no Adam and Eve stories, no it's really Earth stories, etc.
  • Make sure your MS is clean and proofed. There is no faster way to get rejected than to have typos in your MS. If you don't care enough about your story to polish it, then why should I waste my time with it?
I'm one of those pain-in-the-ass editors who never really knows what I want until I read it. Fantastic and Cosmic SF both focus on fantasy and science fiction, but you an see from my definitions of F/SF in Deconstructing Tolkien that what I consider to be F/SF is very broad. I look for stories that entertain and put a new spin on old ideas-because we all know there is nothing new under the sun.

Why do most SF pubs fail?

Most SF/F publications fail for two reasons, and they are the same reason's most businesses fail: (97% of all new businesses fail within their first three years of operation.)

Unrealistic expectations. Most folks who start a F/SF publication overestimate the response to their new venture. F&SF and Asmov's are having a hard time holding on to subscribers, so any new F/SF publication has a tough road today. Under financed. You need to have a years worth of operating capital because magazine cash flow is the worst I've seen in any business, and I've seen most businesses (I used to be a public auditor).

In five years, which will have a bigger circulation -Fantastic or Cosmic SF? Why?

Wow-a very good question. My sense is it will take years ... twenty-plus ... for print media to totally die. That said, there will always be books and magazines, but I don't see fiction magazines weathering the storm. I hope I'm wrong because I love working on Fantastic, but I think as technology makes it easier for people to read on their handhelds and computers get more advanced you'll see the death of print F/SF magazines. So to answer your question, Fantastic will have a larger circulation five years from now, but in fifteen or twenty years all bets are off.

copyright ¬© 2004,  Daniel Blackston

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