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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Clarise Samuels

Associate Editor interview synopsis
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?

Clarise Samuels photo
About five years ago I started dabbling in science fiction. My novel Loving Brynhild was fantasy fiction, and it was only a short leap from there to the world of science fiction. I came to the genre late, but once I got hooked, that was it.

I started out writing flash fiction (100 words or less) for an online daily fiction journal called Flashshot. I found that aliens, werewolves, vampires and other creatures were an endless source of possibility for engaging the theme of the outsider, the loner, the stranger who is always suspect, who is not normal, and who feels continually ostracized.

I was writing a lot of these short-short stories in coffee shops. (Jean-Paul Sartre did a lot of his writing in coffee shops, and it does alleviate some of the isolation that comes with writing.) Finally, it was time to graduate into the world of full-length science fiction, and in my naivité, I wrote a story about a professor who builds a time machine to go back in time to assassinate Hitler. I sent the story to Don Webb, managing editor of Bewildering Stories.

What happened then?

Don rejected the story, but he was unusually nice about it. Instead of a brief note, he wrote me a long email explaining that going back in time to kill Hitler had been done so many times, ad nauseum, that no editor in his right mind would publish another story with that plot device. We had a nice discussion about it by email.

I mentioned to him that I should have sent him my story about the charming alien who falls in love with a human. He replied, “A charming alien? I might like to see that. Why don’t you send it to me?” I promised to send it along in a few days after polishing it up a little.

I then had to make a mad scramble to write the story in three days, because I had lied to impress Don. That was how “The Duke of Wunderbar,” my first full-length sci-fi story, got published in Bewildering Stories in 2009. From there I went on to publish two more sci-fi stories in Bewildering Stories.

After that, I had no contact with Bewildering Stories for quite a while, until one day I was browsing in a bookstore and I picked up the latest issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I opened the journal to an arbitrary page, and found myself staring at the title page for a short story written by Don Webb. I thought, “Wow! My old acquaintance, Don.”

I bought the issue, read the story and then wrote to Don to tell him how much I liked it. He informed me that it was a case of mistaken identity. There were two Don Webbs out there in the world of science fiction, and the other one lived in Austin, Texas. I had praised a story by the other Don Webb.

That fortunate misunderstanding served to renew our acquaintance, and shortly after that, Don, the right Don, asked me to become an associate editor for Bewildering Stories. I was extremely pleased to accept the offer.

Is there anything you’d like to tell Bewildering Stories authors to do or not to do?

Bewildering Stories gets its share of neophyte authors, young talent, and I find it very interesting to see their work. I would like to encourage them and hope to see them develop and grow as writers. They are the wave of the future and the product of all the current influences and ideologies.

They are also often straight out of creative writing programs or workshops, and I have begun to recognize stories that have been written in the classroom environment where the assignments are given as technical exercises. These stories often lack three crucial elements: a beginning, a middle, and an end. The clear ending is the biggest problem with inexperienced authors.

I would tell Bewildering Stories authors that fiction should 1) tell a story, 2) tell the story in an artful way, and 3) impart wisdom or knowledge if possible.

There are exceptions, such as surrealism, where the story is disjointed and chaotic, with dreamlike elements, but even then, if it is too off-the-wall, the reader loses interest. In fiction, it is difficult to do the artistic equivalent of throwing a bucket of paint on a canvas. The viewer in a museum can pause for a moment in front of the canvas, and then move on. Fiction requires more of the reader’s time and attention, a greater commitment, so boring the reader is an occupational hazard.

A professor of French literature once told me, “Philosophy educates the intellect. Literature educates the emotions.” I would tell Bewildering Stories authors to remember that the reader wants to get something out of the story, some gem they can take away with them and contemplate, whether it is a life lesson or just a great plot, perhaps an interesting character, something that provoked some thought.

Sometimes one can get swept away just with beautiful prose. When the reader is involved with the story, emotes, reacts, feels something, that is good, engaging literature.

What is your occupation?

I’ve always been a writer at heart. I majored in German literature at Rutgers University, because I love literature and writing, and English literature seemed too easy. Having to read the literature in a foreign language presented another layer of difficulty and challenge.

Then I went on to get a PhD in German literature, even though I knew there would be no job opportunities in that field; nevertheless, it was my “glass-bead game,” the central symbol in Hermann Hesse’s novel Magister Ludi (Das Glasperlenspiel, in German).

In other words, my PhD program was an elaborate and purely intellectual exercise that kept me in an ivory tower, which for some reason suited me.

I started writing poetry when I was 15. When I realized I had to make a living, I enrolled in computer science courses and recycled myself as a technical writer. I had jobs with Fortune 500 companies both in New Jersey and here in Quebec, where I moved because I married a Canadian. I eventually left the field of technical publications to stay at home and raise two children, who are now both in college.

What do you most like to write?

My first book was actually a scholarly study based on my doctoral dissertation on the Holocaust poet Paul Celan. For a long time, I was primarily interested in writing and studying poetry.

But over ten years ago, I had an idea for a novel that was kicking around my head: I wanted to write a novel from the perspective of Sleeping Beauty. It seemed like a perfect framework for a philosophical novel. Unfortunately, on paper it just didn’t work. When the protagonist is asleep for a hundred years, nothing is happening, and it’s a real tour de force to write 100,000 words when there’s no action. All the action is in the backstory.

But my research on Grimms’ original fairy tale uncovered that “Sleeping Beauty” was most likely a corrupted version of the mythological story of the Norse goddess Brynhild. After being evicted from the heavens, she lies in a coma on a mountaintop surrounded by a magical ring of fire, waiting for the one knight in all the land who can rescue her. The Norse hero Sigurd is the real Prince Charming.

The Brynhild story was, of course, far more complex than the fairy tale and provided better opportunities for a literary exploration, and so Norse mythology became the basis of my first novel, Loving Brynhild.

Has the novel been published?

Loving Brynhild is now being serialized in a literary/spiritual journal called Goddess Pages, based in Glastonbury, England. The last installment will be out this summer.

The editor of the journal, Geraldine Charles, said that when she read the manuscript, she couldn’t put it down. But many other publishers rejected it out of hand because the novel was cross-genre (fantasy, mythology, philosophy, and spirituality). One publisher wrote to me, “We would have no idea how to market this!”

Hopefully, after the serialization is finished, a print publisher will be willing to take a chance with it. I have also written a few dozen short stories, and my second novel, which is about a clandestine population of vampires from another planet who reside here on Earth, is in progress. I never seem to stray too far from philosophical issues, and I have taken up a utopian theme with this novel.

Where do you write?

Mostly in my basement office, but sometimes in the library and sometimes in coffee shops.

Where do you get your ideas?

From reading a wide range of fiction and philosophy. Sometimes randomly from thoughts or dreams. Sometimes I don’t know where the ideas come from.

Do you get writer’s block?

All the time. It is intimidating to face the keyboard having written perhaps a thousand words for a novel and knowing you have eighty or ninety thousand more to go before you finish. Sometimes I clean the whole house because I have writer’s block.

I constantly struggle with the fear of running out of ideas. I try to break everything down into small chunks and tackle one part of one chapter at a time. Sometimes I find re-reading what I’ve written and editing what I’ve already written breaks the writer’s block syndrome.

Do you give yourself daily word quotas?

Ideally, I would like to write 500 words a day, five days a week, which would be 2500 words a week or 10,000 words a month; that makes a first draft of a novel after ten months. But it never works out that way. Some days I write nothing. Some days I write 1500 words in one sitting.

Woody Allen says he writes for three hours every morning and that it’s the steadiness of the work that counts. He’s right. But then, he doesn’t have to walk the dog, do the laundry, go to the bank, or worry about dinner. And quantity is only part of it. You can make your daily quotas and have the quantity, but there also has to be quality, which only comes from constant rewriting and revising.

In addition, I have interests and hobbies. I do art work, I take jewelry workshops, I’m always striving to improve my French and German, and ten years ago, after a bout of illness, I got involved with volunteer work as a patient advocate at a major hospital, which I still do today. When my kids were younger, I was the chair of the governing board of their elementary school, a position I held for five years.

So, unfortunately, I can’t devote myself exclusively to my writing, because of my obligation to family and community as well as other areas I consider to be important. And although writers have to spend a lot of time writing in solitude, they also have to spend time with other people to get some stimulation for ideas. Otherwise, writing is too isolating.

If you could be any character from a book or a movie, who would it be?

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be Juliet, because she was so passionate and defiant. I memorized whole passages from Romeo and Juliet, because I wanted to become Juliet.

Apart from that, I think I would want to be a female James Bond, again, because of the defiance but also because of the complete control that Bond displays over every situation, without anxiety, and without a thought for the possible consequences.

The historical Bond persona has a take-charge, no-nonsense attitude; he lives for the day, and he does not try to avoid risky situations. He seeks out danger and tackles it head-on, always with a strong sense of ironic humor. He’s a protector, and he’s a master of his emotions, a master of self-control. We could probably all use a little of that!

Copyright © 2012 by Clarise Samuels
and Bewildering Stories

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