Justin Stanchfield Interview
Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 7:15am
An Interview with Justin Stanchfield
by Dan Blackston
Justin Stanchfield won our first Fiction contest with an emotional Science Fiction piece, "GRAVID". No stranger to the trials and tribulations of the struggling fiction writer, Justin holds down two jobs in addition to his excursions into creative writing A father of two young children, a rancher, and an active member of local theatre productions, Justin also holds a private pilot's license, snowboards, cross country skis and rappels . One advantage of living on the Continental Divide, he informs us, is "plenty of cliffs and snow."
Justin's first short story sale was to Boys' Life in 1996. He's published five more with them, with one pending late next year. He's also sold kid's stories to Cricket, Jack & Jill, Children's Writer and Spellbound. His mainstream SF has been published in a dozen or so semipro pubs, such as: Indigenous Fiction, Anotherealm, Electric Wine, Ideomancer, Planet Relish, Fiction Inferno, and Black Gate. An active member of SFWA, Justin received a Nebula Award recommendation for his short story, "To the Sea, Our Tears Returned", which was published in the SFF.Net anthology, "Bones of the World". He also appears in the recent IDEOMANCER UNBOUND anthology, right alongside yours truly, and SFReader's Master of Ceremonies, David L. Felts.
We enjoyed running the fiction contest and were delighted with Justin's entry. His interview proved to be equally enjoyable -- and thought provoking.....
What's it feel like to actually win one of these fiction contests, anyway?
It feels great!
How long have you been writing? What started you out on the path of a SF writer?Not counting the Johnny Quest rip-off I dictated to my mom when I was five, I've been writing and submitting short stories for about eight years now. The first writing I did, though, was for a theater group I'm in. We put on a play every year to raise money for the local grade school, and discovered that the royalties were eating up most of our profit. So, my brother and I started writing the scripts instead. It was a short hop from there to writing short stories.
As far as writing SF, there was never any real choice in the matter. I've been a SF addict since I was a pup, and it just seems like anything I write winds up having a spec fiction element to it.
Is there a particular emotion or theme you especially favor in the fiction you write? How about the fiction you read?
I love fiction about opening up new frontiers, especially worlds that are wide open. Maybe it's something about growing up out west. And I've noticed a lot of things I write tend to be about facing up to a fear or challenge. I'm sure I gravitate to the same sort of things in the fiction I enjoy reading, though to be honest, my reading tastes are all over the place.
"GRAVID" embraces themes of personal responsibility and what one might call altruism. Did the story create itself in your mind form a thematic point of view, or was it a vision of character? Setting?
"Gravid" grew out of an idea of two people who should have been enemies sacrificing something important to both to protect an innocent life. I had a picture of the two characters trapped in orbit, and wanted them to be opposed biologically as well as politically. So, one became a pregnant human and the other a pregnant alien. That's the great thing science fiction. The possibilities never seem to end. I don't suppose it hurt either that when I first had the idea for the story my wife was nine months pregnant!
You've done some writing for children and young adults. Is there a special "knack" for writing good fiction for younger readers? Special hurdles?
Writing for kids is incredible. You get to be twelve years old all over again. As far as the actual writing is concerned, I really don't adjust my style to any great extent. Kids like to be challenged by what they read, just like adults, and if you try to 'talk down' to them it shows. Probably the hardest part about writing for children's markets is the word length. It's tough to establish character, setting and plot - and keep it interesting - in a story that's between fifteen hundred and a thousand words.
One of my pet peeves are writers who complain about the graying of science fiction, but would never think about writing something for young readers. Why is there a separate category of Nebula for screenplays, but none for kid's stories? It's a vital link in readership that is, sadly, ignored by most writers.
There's always much discussion about whether or not people should write fiction. You know, "most of what is written is rubbish", or "you can't make any money" writing short fiction. So why do you do it, Justin? What special pleasure or gratification does writing fiction offer you?
The stories are running through my head anyhow... I might as well write them down. But seriously, I love the process of creation, building worlds and characters and turning them loose on page. Fiction is the storyteller's art, whether it's on a computer screen or a printed page or told around a campfire. We're the enchanters. We get to work magic every time we snare a reader into one of our tales. Coyotes can sing, but only homo sapiens have the ability to tell a good story. And I think that in itself is justification enough for writing fiction.
What do you like to read, especially in the area of short fiction. What writers you admire...
Reading has always been my escape hatch, a way to get out of reality for a short while. I'd be hard pressed to name any one favorite short story writer, but outside of genre it would most likely be Mark Twain or Patrick McMannus. In SF/F I'd probably pick Ray Bradbury, but here are so many others. Stephen King, Jerry Oltion, Bruce Holland Rogers, Brian A. Hopkins, Jim Van Pelt, Robert Reed, James Gunn, Bud Sparhawk.
I just read "Soul Pipes" by Ray Alderidge (From F&SF Dec. 2002) and was completely blown away by the story. I've noticed that most of my favorite short fiction is written by men, while a lot of my favorite novelists: C.J. Cherryh, Ursula LeGuin, S.L Veihl, Holly Lisle -- are women. Like I said, my reading is all over the place.
How important is it for you as a writer to be in close contact with nature? Does ranching offer you much inspiration for fiction?
It's very important. I can't imagine myself working at an indoor job, and if I did, I'm not sure I would be writing anymore. You can't imagine how many stories have come to me while I was cleaning ditches or riding horseback, or when I was checking the cows at 2:30 in the morning.
What's the definition of success or writer?
I think success is a moving target. When a writer starts out success means just getting published, then published in a major venue or sell a novel, and after that to build an ever increasing reader base. For myself, I'd say it has less to do with money than with connection. While I certainly don't consider myself a successful writer, I have had people tell me things I've written have brought tears to their eyes, and I have to admit I'm pretty proud of that.
If you had the choice between reading a really kick-ass short story in a science fiction magazine or watching a really cool movie with kick-ass special effects, which one would you choose? What do you think most people would choose?
Give me the short story any day! Reading is so much more vivid than anything Hollywood can offer. With a movie you have to settle for someone else's vision. With the short story, you are there. You experience it with the protagonist. When I was eleven or twelve I fell in love with the old Star Trek adaptations that James Blish wrote, although I had never seen a single episode. When I finally did see the show it could never live up to the version I had in my mind. Sadly, I think a lot of people today, adults as well as kids, would opt to watch the movie instead.
What would you like to accomplish as a writer over the next few years.
Well, I've written three novels and I'd dearly love to see one of them in print. And, I'm still trying to sell a short story to one of the major SF magazines, though to be honest I really don't think that's in the cards. Still, hope springs eternal. In the meantime, I'll just keep plugging away and maybe someday I'll get this stuff right!
Why do you feel that selling to one of the major pubs is probably "not in the cards"? What separates a fine semi-pro writer from a successful "pro" anyway?
If you'd asked me this six years ago after I sold my first story I would have had a different answer. I sold four stories, three to pro kid's markets, in seven months, and I thought 'Hey, this is easy!' But now, umpteen words and stories later I can't help feel that if I was going to connect with one of the big four or five SF magazines it would have happened by now. Still, I'm stubborn, so I keep on trying.
I really can't say what separates a semi-pro writer from a pro. Sometimes, I'll pick up a story in a small press magazine and think: okay, this is a good plot, but the characters are a little two dimensional, or, nice characterization but the style is a little rough. But, having said that, I'll find the same thing in any given issue of Analog, too. I do know that it's easier to pick out what's wrong in a story than what's right in one, especially if it's your own. Maybe that's the secret of writing well. Know your strengths and have the confidence to capitalize on them... that and a bushel basket full of pure dumb luck!
copyrightt © 2003, Dan Blackston
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