Bewildering Stories Interviews
a.k.a. KJ Hannah Greenberg
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?
In 2008, three years after my family moved to the Middle East, I started thinking more about returning to creative writing and less about mastering sufficient Hebrew to continue to teach university courses such as Semantics, Persuasion, and The History of Rhetorical Theory. I still struggle to order falafel without making grammar mistakes. I can’t imagine trying to convey the meaning of third and fourth level abstractions in the local tongue.
The kind editors at Bewildering Stories were among the folks who initially cheered my return to word fun. Sometime thereafter, those nice people invited me read manuscripts for them. By the time they extended their offer to me, I was feeling so indebted to the Bewildering Stories family that I would have gladly swept their floors, let alone joined their team.
Is there anything you’d like to tell Bewildering Stories authors to do or not do?
REWRITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (excuse me; I think I might have been shouting). Too often, writers submit, to Bewildering Stories, and to other places, work that has not been sufficiently finessed. Forgetting, for a minute, the prize of an electronic byline, people cheat themselves when they share less than their best effort. Consider that writing is experiential. It follows that writers with high standards today will be the most likely to maintain high standards tomorrow. The opposite is true, also.
What are your favorite parts of working as an editor for Bewildering Stories?
I love the freshness of the submissions. Often, intentionally or not, venues get formulaic in their publishing habits. Too much rum raisin ice cream is still too much rum raisin ice cream. Even publications that feature crossgenre or bizarre fiction offer limited reading menus. I wish more outlets improved their selections by interspersing hard science fiction with steampunk, alternate histories with cyberpunk, or weird westerns with space operas.
Look, for example, at the nominations for 2012 Hugo Awards and you will see what I mean: many creators and distributors of speculative fiction find a groove and stick safely to it. In contrast, thankfully, the speculative fiction offered to and accepted by Bewildering Stories is fairly diverse.
I wish I had time to read more manuscripts. Sadly, the rate at which Bewildering Stories sends them to me suits the resources I have for this task.
I also wish writing responses was as simple as is lighting a candle. It’s not. In general, skilled writers know their weaknesses and poor writers (who consider themselves beyond basics like REWRITING — oops, I’m shouting again) don’t want to hear about anything but their strengths. It’s the middling writers whom editors can most significantly impact. For that last group of writers, a few heartfelt, informed comments can change the shape of stories, specifically, or alter their tact, more generally.
What do you do in real life?
I morph. Primarily, I am a wife and a mom, but I’ve also been: a human communications and sociology professor, a science writer and editor, a tone-deaf oboist, a certified herbalist, a ghost writer of psychology and sociology textbooks, a high school chemistry and geometry teacher, a basket weaver, a student of marital arts, an amateur landscape architect, an editor of technical papers on literal brain science, a budding ceramicist, and an avid avoider of PTA meetings and of carpool duties.
What is your occupation?
Wife, mom, writer, teacher. These days, I no longer “frighten” college or graduate students, but conduct writing workshops. As well, I make a habit of counting the cats in the nearest dumpster.
In addition, I send out, into the world, oodles of my own poems, short fictions, essays, and dramas. Mostly, I write speculative fiction, parenting nonfiction (is there a difference between these two types of writing?), religious discourse, and mainstream literature. I also blog for a few international outlets, write books, and edit other folks’ thoughts.
In the past, I wrote about the social anthropology of contemporary medicine, the mores of classical rhetoric (and, to wit, was honored with money from a fancy funding source to research that stuff at Princeton University), the illusion of gender disparity in traditional religious groups, the techne’ of pedagogical communication, and hedgehogs (okay, I am making up the bit about hedgehogs, but the other claims are cold facts).
I also changed diapers, avoided piles of dirty dishes, and joined one of the first community-based agriculture farms in the USA. I was especially fond of the fields of licorice-scented Thai basil.
What do you like most and least about your occupation?
Even though I told them to slow down, my kids ignored me and reached past their teens into their twenties. Whereas watching adolescents grow is in league with watching change in grass (bamboo excluded), I can’t believe that my boys and girls dared to shed their childhoods. On the one hand, I am fortunate to have had multiple kids and to have our home regularly full of them and of their friends. On the other hand, all of those young ones deigned to grow up anyway.
As for my darling husband, my “computer cowboy” (a one time AI researcher, present day manager of software architectures teams) the love of my life, the dude with whom I’ve been bonded since we were both eighteen, he dared to grow up, too! That sweet, patient, compassionate, understanding guy increasingly resists being the subject of my spewing by becoming mellower over time.
As for the rest of my jobs, i.e. my writing and my teaching of writing, I remain entirely convinced that I am replaceable. That said, it’s concurrently true that I have more ideas about which I want to write than I have time to write, b’ayin tova (in a good eye) and that I continue to believe that teaching, at its highest, is the empowerment of “students.”
What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?
- In marriage, treat your spouse better than you treat yourself.
- In parenting, keep in mind that children have good reasons for acting “childish.”
- In writing, read a lot, write regularly, and consider that mindful feedback is meant to help, not to hurt. Plus, invite your imaginary friends to share your work space.
- In teaching, regard yourself as no more than a vehicle. Regard your students as possessed of infinite potential.
What do you do in your spare time aside from reading Bewildering Stories stories?
I also read stories for Bound Off and participate, as a commentator, in critique groups. I grow and tincture herbs. I help out as a matchmaker. I host many, many guests. I swim. I wonder when I will be sufficiently healed from a handful of injuries to return to weightlifting. I paint. I hand build pottery. I give my sons and daughters parental grief. I bestow spousal opinion upon my husband.
What’s your favorite book? Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most?
As a teen and a young adult, I was so enamored with European existentialists (who needed goth when Camus and Sartre were available?) that not only did I esteem Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi, The Glass Bead Game, but I also quoted snippets from his novel in my dissertation.
In my thirties, when my personal focus changed from “how can I improve me” to “how can I help the planet,” I was most fond of Susun Weed’s herbal Healing Wise. Before I hit forty, at a time in my life when deeper ethical dilemmas pulled my attention, I got turned on by Chofetz Chaim’s The Concepts and Laws of Proper Speech, a book about the morality of discourse.
In this, my sixth decade, I carry on as an eclectic reader. I’m as likely to poke at Henry Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body as at Garry Kasparov’s Revolution in the 70s (mind you, Kasparov, the chess master, once used a “hedgehog” opening and I am partial to hedgehogs). Yet, I consider the animal behavior book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, written by dolphin trainer Karen Pryor, to be a parsimonious treasury of ideas about interpersonal communication.
I am currently in love, too, with Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein’s To Dwell in the Palace, a book espousing why Jews should move to Israel. I read Ehrlich-Klein’s book after relocating, but smiled and cried over its pages, nonetheless.
If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would ask and why?
When I was younger, I imagined supping with “important” authors, or at least with my professors. These days, I’d rather share words with emerging writers. We can learn from the greats, but we are required to develop ourselves and to assist others in their pursuits of their development.
What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?
Enjoyment is relative. Over the course of my life, one of my all time favorites, the book that got me through a planned homebirth with my fourth child, was Julie Mammano’s Rhinos who Surf. In that tasty picture book, four cute thick-skinned athletes, who are rendered, I think, in ink with a watercolor wash, “get up early, paddle out, and have fun until the sun goes down when they ride the last wave to shore.” Upbeat and easily turned into a metaphor for life, this books champions many other more sophisticated titles.
Do you write yourself? What kind of stuff?
All sorts (see above). My two newest books are Cryptids (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2015) and Jerusalem Sunrise (Imago Press, 2015). The former is a collection of flash and short fiction. The latter is a collection of essays about the holiday cycle.
What made you want to start writing?
You mean I had a choice?
How long have you been writing?
My mom claims that I had an imaginary friend with whom I shared my playpen and that not too long thereafter, I regularly insisted, before consenting to naptime, to giving over stories to my stuffed animals. By third grade, I moved from storytelling in the oral form to jotting down work. Since my writing was typical for an eight-year old, my grandparents’ refrigerators were well decorated.
Some authors have said that, when they were young, their parents were supportive of their efforts, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was the case with you?
My parents loved my early journalism clippings (I was a “teen” correspondent/columnist for two or Pittsburgh’s small newspapers while in high school). They were also proud of the musical, for which I wrote the book and lyrics, and which my university produced, when I was an undergraduate. However, “artsy” meant “wage poor” to my parents, so they insisted that I become a lawyer. In the end, I trained neither to be a lawyer nor a creative writer, but studied to become a rhetoric professor.
Given life’s nonlinear nature, though, after my dissertation advisor read, unbeknownst to me, a lifestyle column I was authoring while a graduate student, he insisted that I transform my academic prose into the language of my less formal scribblings. That smart man’s harangue resulted in my being able to sail my dissertation through committee reviews in near record time, to capture an award for my research efforts from a national scholarly organization, and, a few months after my graduation, to seal a contract for an academic book on a different topic. I was lucky that he had cared enough about his students to speak authentically.
If you could be any character other than one of your own from a book or movie, who would it be? Why?
I’m happy to be me.
How do you think literature might be used in education, especially in the age of the Internet?
Decades ago, I was involved in the early Writing Across the Curriculum efforts in American universities. The trick to building literacy is to see it as an integrated constellation of skills and to make reaching and using that constellation desirable.
Step One: simple math. There is no subtraction without addition, no division without multiplication, and no integrals without derivatives. Analogously, there’s no writing without reading, and no speaking without listening. Writing skills can be transferred to speaking prowess. Active listening is built of the same stuff as is comprehensive reading, etc.
Step Two: make reading fun and accessible. At home, “fun and accessible” might look like a parent “fussing” that a kid has a flashlight and a stash of books hidden under the covers or might look like Mom or Dad framing weekly library jaunts as being better than a run for rum raisin ice cream. At school, “fun and accessible” might look like: “bonus” time granted, before the end of a three-hour lecture, for students to read class-related pages; “spontaneous” emails to students of quirky, pertinent lists of URLs; or “unexpectedly” deciding to award extra credit to students willing to complete additional research on relevant topics (Gosh! Where was Karen Pryor’s book when I needed it?).
When lecturing, I’ve used fiction to illustrate staid points and nonfiction to ground “ethereal” revelations (In perspective, I’ve addressed my students while walking on their desks, and opened a lecture on cause and effect in ancient manuscripts, at a stodgy gathering of National Endowment for the Humanities scholars, by tossing cereal at my audience).
In brief, if one skips the bells and whistles of the Internet and takes the time and care to teach users to question the validity of sources, cyberspace is at once a paintbox, a toy store, and a place from which to derive creative and critical thinking goals. The Internet’s application to literacy is limited only by instructors’ imaginations.
Where do you get your ideas?
Dreams. Waking life. People I know. People I imagine. Nature. Technology. Per my bewildered perspective, the kernels of narrative can be found almost anywhere.
Where do you write?
On napkins, inside of the jackets of some of the books I own, on many, many maddeningly tiny scraps of paper, on unused tissues or toilet paper, and on my computer.
When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you?
I write as many hours per day as I can, religious holidays and Sabbath excluded. Those hours usually add up, most optimally, to no fewer than one and no more than ten. My other professional responsibilities, e.g. promoting books, responding to manuscripts, teaching courses, and the like, and my personal responsibilities, which I am fierce to not shortchange, like ducks, nibble up my time. Sometimes, I can run days or, horribly, weeks, without time to record or to REWRITE ideas.
Some writers say that they have to write a certain amount of words every day. Do you do this? Why or why not?
That’s like saying “wait to push until you have a contraction.” I never waited to push, so excited was I to see my sons and daughters. Likewise, I only count words when shaping a piece for publication specifications. That counting, though, is a pruning, rather than a stoppage (REWRITING is an amazing concept).
Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block?
Who has time for such balderdash? When I “get stuck,” I push through on the project in front of me, switch projects, change attack modes, or otherwise get a (new) grip. I do, however, have a lingering problem with pudgy, imaginary hedgehogs. No matter how many times I remove their marshmallow fluff, they find more.
Who proofreads and critiques your work?
Mostly editor and writer friends. I cherish their feedback. As well, my participation in informal “pay it forward” circles has yielded kind individuals who know a thing or two about words and who are willing to share that knowledge with me.
More rarely, my family gets coerced into reading my pieces. That sourcing takes place less and less often, all the same. My family has grown numb to my efforts. They’re confused, as well, as to why my latest book has associated swag. None of them ordered “the T-shirt” and they cringe at the clock with the book cover on it, which I mean to hang in our salon.
Do you have a favorite among your works?
Does a mother love certain offspring more than others? I update my website, at random intervals, to include genre-sorted information on which of my short works tickle me. Since I evolve, so too do those choices.
Do you have a favorite character? If so, who is it, and what makes it your favorite?
Various critters populate my works from lops to counting machines, hedgehogs to robots, aliens with two heads to chimera with three. Depending on the status of my hormones, I like certain creatures more or less.
Who drives a story: you or your characters?
The amount of green tea I’ve sipped during any particular morning impacts my foci. Sometimes a theme is my impetus. Sometimes I challenge myself to generate the texture of a certain mood. Other times, I want to fashion a particular character or to snip at a particular type of plot. One size does not fit all in my approach to writing. Would you believe me if I suggested that I believe that REWRITING is the core of good work?
What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written?
Once in a while, I write a horror story. I prefer luminosity to dimness, so it still shocks me when darkness creeps into my texts. Even though I have written many pieces in which joy and verve dress up in the clothing of shadow, and even though I have deconstructed my share of socially or psychologically difficult topics, I retain brightness in the former and I use an upbeat voice for the latter. I’m more a “sweetness and light” sort of writer than a “doom and gloom” sort of one.
Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found?
Good stuff; breathing, ambulating, parenting, and partnering. Then I fill in the details using my overactive imagination.
Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying?Jerusalem!
Where do you think you might like to live, either in reality or in your imagination?
Reality! I consider myself fortunate to live where, with whom, and how I do.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m thankful to be part of Bewildering Stories. Don and Bill have much to teach the greater writing community, Those gatekeepers temper and urge their team to temper feedback such that words given over to writers are used only to elevate.
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and Bewildering Stories