Wednesday, April 29, 2009

M-BRANE 4 PREVIEW: Q&A with Robert E. Vardeman


I am thrilled to publish, in collaboration with Zumaya Publications, the first chapter of Robert E. Vardeman’s previously unpublished novel The Genetic Menace in M-Brane #4 tomorrow 4/30! Bob kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me…

CF: I was fascinated to see that you were a nominee for the fan writer Hugo in 1972, but I didn’t manage to learn from research what, specifically, the nomination was for. Was it for fiction published in someone else’s zine, or were you personally publishing a zine?

BV: This was an oddity of the nomination system. Frank Kelly Freas once won a Hugo as best artist in a year where he had nothing published (one of many well deserved ones, I might add). My fan writing the prior year was probably what got me onto the ballot. I did a bimonthly fanzine Sandworm for several years. The title, of course, is taken from my all-time (still) favorite sf novel, Dune. I also wrote extensively for other fanzines, mostly LoCs (letters of comment) but also some articles. I miss a lot of the silly camaraderie of fmz days. There are still echoes, though, that I appreciate. Not a month ago I received a 1973 copy of Michael Dobson’s Random Jottings that had an article I had done. Like an old Ace Double, on the flip side was the explanation—The Alternate History Issue, March 2009. Dobson and Jim Young have actually gone back into print fmz or rather “The fanzine you hold in your hands doesn’t really exist.” Great fun.

I started a monthly apa (amateur press association) with Ed Smith back in 1969. SLANapa is still publishing and on the same schedule, though my activity has fallen to zero except when my turn as editor comes around every eighteen months or so. Forty years of a monthly apa is pretty amazing, at least to me. Besides myself, there are three other original members still cranking out monthly zines alongside 10 “newcomers.”

CF: Who were the writers that most impressed or inspired you as a young man? Also, what might we find you reading today?

BV: When I was eight, I had a Cub Scout project of reading a book. Argh. My mother bought the first three Tom Swift Jr. novels for $1 (a deal intended to get poor unsuspecting kids hooked on the series…sounds like a pusher, right? The first is free, then you pay and pay and pay) I loved the books and started haunting the bookstore every 6 months for new titles. I noticed other gaudy-covered books. SF. I read the Hardy Boys, of course, but sf was the drug of choice.

It’s a cliché but Robert Heinlein was and is the premier influence on my tastes in sf. That’s RAH prior to (and including) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The more popular he became, the less I could stand his books. The solipsism he toyed with in early titles predominated in his bestsellers. Asimov was never quite the favorite Clarke was, but I loved space opera. And still do. Later writers I found impossible to put down included Silverberg, John Brunner, a lot of fantasy writers like Fritz Leiber, Thomas Burnett Swann and authors with small sf/f exposure but huge production outside the field like John Myers Myers and George Stewart. Myers is a particular favorite since I got into writing westerns. I still specifically chase down his books. The Last of the Bravos was the last one of his I read. Fabulous history.

Today, I have drifted from sf, though I still meander back now and again (ok, it’s more than a meander), but I read a lot of mysteries. My favorite writer died in January (Donald Westlake) and Tony Hillerman who helped me as a writer and gave me great enjoyment as a reader died late last year. Lawrence Block and Robert Crais are both top-shelf writers, and I love the Kaminsky’s “Toby Peters” books. Being a fan of the Monk TV show, I picked up Lee Goldberg’s tie-in novel and discovered a new writer. Oldies but goodies have to be John D McDonald, Chandler and Hammett. I never had much liking for Agatha Christie or cozies.

CF: When I was a young kid, I was a huge Trekkie, and so my first encounter with your work was the Star Trek novels back when they were new. How did the opportunity to write those come about? I’m aware that at least a couple of the other 1980s-era novelists found their experience with the Trek franchise less than pleasant. Did you have a good time with it?

BV: The Star Trek books with Bantam were less than successful, in my opinion. They had the feel of failed novels with the original characters erased and ST ones penciled in. When S&S got the franchise, David Hartwell looked around for writers. I loved ToS, proposed two novels, he bought one—the first one bought for the series, by the way. Roddenberry’s novelization of the first movie and Vonda McIntyre’s novel killing off Kirk (got great ink in, so help me, The National Enquirer) were both published before mine for obvious reasons. A year or two later, Hartwell told me he wanted the second proposal I’d done. This was a real surprise, but I jumped at the chance. Over the last 25-plus years, these two books (The Klingon Gambit and Mutiny on the Enterprise) have sold steadily and well and both are still available as e-books.

Hartwell is a top editor and working with him was an experience I would jump at if the chance repeated. I suspect problems with authors/editors came later. I’m not sure how many editors have worked on all the various series, but sf is not a big S&S priority. Is there any sf other than ST there? My ST experience was great with one minor thing—some flunky at the studio (the movie folks had the right to copyedit) kicked back Klingon Gambit with the rather snippy note: there are no chairs aboard the Enterprise. There are only seats. I had never heard it referred to as the captain’s seat but I went along. I refrained from having the Seatperson call a meeting to order, also.

I changed agents between the first and second book and my career moved in a different direction. In 1984 I began writing westerns and let the chance to do more ST books slip away.

CF: You’ve written prolifically in several different genres. Creatively, do you find that you move easily among them or do you have phases where you lose interest in one for a while?

BV: I’m not sure that I lose interest in any one as much as deadlines from others elbow those aside. I’ve been doing a lot of westerns, some under my pen name of Karl Lassiter (Drifter was published in February by Avalon—my first hardcover western after 20 years of mass market pbs).

Having Zumaya reprint series of mine that were only partially published has sparked my interest again in both space opera and heroic fantasy. I can indulge some of this through the iTunes store for the iPhone and the iPod Touch, where Legends is publishing not only a new serial sf adventure Collider but also a new fantasy series, Along the Feathered Road. One sf short story, “Burn the Sky,” triggered a need to write more in the same transhuman universe and “On Wings of Plague” was published a couple months ago. In addition, five of the nine s&s novels I co-authored with Geo. W. Proctor are being reprinted there. Through the vagaries of publishing, only the first six were printed in the US but all nine were printed in the UK. The advent of e-books might be the best thing that’s happened for writers (and readers) since the printing press.

Along the way, I find my time to write is being eroded by various editing projects. I edited a local bimonthly magazine until it folded last year, have done five annual fantasy football magazines for years and recently was offered the chance to edit a major sf anthology. The contracts are still in the pipeline, so hatching your count before he chickens, etc. But I am really excited about working with all the authors in this one.

CF: What about the pseudonyms? It’s no secret, of course, that you are also Karl Lassiter. Does it help with marketing in the sense that your sf/fantasy readers are probably different people than your western readers?

BV: Donald Westlake pretty well explained the use of pen names, even in the same field. Using Karl Lassiter keeps sf fans from being startled if they’d pick up, say Sword and Drum or First Cherokee Rifles. But Westlake used different names in the mystery field since his Dortmunder books were wildly different from his Parker novels. He compared it to looking for a Mercury or a Ford. Same company, different product, different market. My f/sf pen names were used for a different reason. When I was turning out a lot of sf, there would be times where I had two or three titles coming out in the same month from different publishers. I put the Star Frontier series under a pen name for this reason (ditto with the fantasy series After the Spell Wars). This difference in pen names soothed publishing feathers that I wouldn’t be competing with myself. “I’ll buy one Vardeman book this month, but two? Never! I’ll buy that Edward Hudson book instead. Maybe the FJ Hale book, too.”) I have no idea if this is reality, but the publishers liked the notion.

Zumaya Publishing is reprinting both Star Frontiers and After the Spell Wars under my name. Of the two trilogies, two in Star Frontiers were never published and the final one in After the Spell Wars never saw the light of day (complicated story but it had to do with antitrust violations on the part of Waldenbooks and losing the lawsuit—I think the Morton Salt decision entered into it, for you law wonks.)

CF: Your bibliography is quite lengthy. Do you have a particular personal favorite among your series or stand-alone stories? Or do you love all your “children” equally? Also, what new projects do you have in the works? Or anything that you are particularly excited about that we should be looking forward to?

BV: The Swords of Raemllyn series is special for me since I got the chance to work with my best friend on it [novelist George W. Proctor]. We were about as opposite as two people could be and yet were friends for close to 40 years. Geo. died unexpectedly last August, so getting these reprinted on the iTunes store as e-books is something of a tribute to him as much as a chance for me to remember how much I love s&s. So, lots of emotional bindings on these.

The usual answer to a question like this is “my favorite is what I’m working on now.” Which is accurate. I usually look forward to new projects rather than back on what I have written. I have agreed to do short stories for a Jean Rabe anthology about a tourist time travel agency (look for Jean’s anthology Terribly Twisted Tales out in a couple weeks—it was a theme anthology doing a turn on fairy tales. My story, “Jack and the Genetic Beanstalk,” was, of course, sf.), I am working on a new story for the next MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthology, though I might be pushing the deadline a bit too much there, plus a new zombie story for James Lowder. A friend and I are working on a mystery story using a technique impossible without the web, and I have a new story in the “Burn the Sky” universe bubbling up that fascinates me, not to mention plotting out a new hard sf near future novel. And and and….

I am delighted that Genetic Menace is being printed. The Black Nebula will follow, completing the trilogy. Likewise, after Ogre Castle in the After the Spell Wars trilogy, In the Sea Nymph’s Lair will be followed by the still to be printed The Wizard’s Spell Mirror. I had no expectation of these books ever seeing the light of day until now. Modern technology is wonderful.

E-books are also great for keeping work in print—all over the world. It is easier for fans in Rumania or Indonesia or New Zealand to buy a story now than for someone who has to go to a bookstore. I have 14 short stories and six novels (fantasy, sf and mystery) on the iTunes store, with more (both reprint and new) coming all the time. Check out them along with my blog there, plus other New York Times bestseller authors, at .

Find Robert E. Vardeman online at, which contains links to his blog and many other items of interest. —CF

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. It made for great reading.


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