Since Sword & Sorceress 22 officially comes out tomorrow, it seems an appropriate time to air our joint interview with Elisabeth Waters, the anthology’s editor, and her co-author Michael Spence. Both have numerous previous publications, and together they wrote “Crosswort Puzzle” for S&S 22.
1.) Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born about ten thousand years ago
There ain’t nothing in this world that I don’t know
I saw Peter, Paul, and Moses
And I’ll whup the guy that says it isn’t so!
I was a big fan of the Chad Mitchell Trio in its heyday. Which probably tells you more than you expected.
If I have any place in SFF history, it’s for two reasons. First, I was there at the first Star Trek convention. Second, the first PhD dissertation to analyze Harlan Ellison’s work came out of an evangelical Christian seminary–I bet no one saw that coming–and I wrote it. (Ellison liked it.)
My specialty–at least it’s what I tell those who ask–is “systematic theology, fantasy, and science fiction.” Currently I teach English composition at the Fort Wayne campus of Ivy Tech Community College, and discussions have begun concerning teaching theology at another school. I also post occasional articles at Brother Osric’s Scriptorium, and am preparing an Ellison-related piece for Jason Rennie’s forthcoming journal on science fiction and philosophy (an outgrowth of his podcast The Sci Phi Show, which I highly recommend).
I have B.A. in Romance Languages and an M.S. in Computer Science. I worked for Marion Zimmer Bradley for the last two decades of her life — a job for which Accounting, Business, Pre-Law, and Pre-Med might have been more appropriate fields of study. I certainly learned a lot while in her employ (oh, no, not another learning experience!). I started working with her on S&S in 1986, so I know how she would edit an anthology well enough to do it myself.
2.) What made you take up writing?
Actually, I’ve been more concerned lately about putting it down–but I can’t seem to find a flat surface that isn’t covered with books. *sigh*
Some people get their start by reading something they consider terrible and saying, “I can do better than that.” I got mine by reading authors I admire and thinking, “This is cool. I want to get into this game.” That began in grade school. By high school I was writing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction and Star Trek takeoffs.
It was at that time that I met Lisa Waters. She had a significant influence on my life in many ways, both personally and professionally. One of the latter, for which I have always been grateful, was when she showed Andre Norton a piece on which we had collaborated. Ms. Norton looked at it and said, “He can write.” Wow. Can you imagine the effect that has on a newbie?
Some time after college we fell out of touch. My professional writing turned toward nonfiction, consisting of Bible study aids–I assisted the translators of the New King James Version and edited several editions–and grant proposals and public-relations pieces for a medical school in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Lisa had continued her fiction career, debuting with the powerful “The Alton Gift” in The Keeper’s Price and going on from there.
We reconnected just a few years ago; I was in my doctoral program and her “The Blade of Unmaking” had just appeared in SS XIV. At one point I e-mailed her saying that I was trying to fictionalize a current problem my wife and I were having: it was time for comprehensive exams, I was dragging my feet in setting them up, and it was driving my wife crazy. Lisa said, “I may have a solution. Would you like to collaborate?” The result was SS XVI’s “Salt and Sorcery.”
I was working for Marion and living in her household. Writing is contagious, and it came in handy when she got stuck (I wrote the first draft of three major scenes for THE FIREBRAND) or sick (I wrote most of LADY OF THE TRILLIUM as well as Marion’s part of TIGER BURNING BRIGHT).
3.) Tell us about “Crosswort Puzzle”.
Ah yes, SS XXII (or, as I’ve called it,(SXI)2 or Sexy Squared). Our contribution, “Crosswort Puzzle,” is the latest in a chain of stories about Melisande; her husband, Stephen; her sister-in-law, Laurel; and the College of Wizardry where they are/have been graduate students. (No reference to Hogwarts is intended. Rather, it’s a magic-mirror reflection of my seminary experience.) Laurel, having completed her course of study, is interning at the Customs Office in the capital city, and in her quest to expedite office routine through her magic she has inadvertently put the realm in danger by allowing in a substance that, if it isn’t controlled, should be. Alas, there’s no time to deal with the threat through official channels, so she, Melisande, Stephen, and her ex-beau Edward (whom right now she considers a lower life form) must go to the rescue themselves.
Let me mention here an issue I’ve noted with both concern and amusement. While I appreciate the pre-pub reviews of SS XXII that you’ve featured on this site, I note that a couple of reviewers frown on the idea of including a story that bears the byline of the book’s editor. This concerns me because Elisabeth is an excellent writer, as longtime SS readers well know (I refer you especially to “Shadowlands” in SS VI and to her award-winning novel Changing Fate), and in my humble opinion she deserves a far wider audience. To be sure, she believes, as did Marion, in encouraging newer writers (which would include yours truly); yet I see the inclusion of veterans Esther Friesner and Dave Smeds in this volume as nothing but positive. The matter amuses me because I don’t recall anyone raising this objection when Asimov included “The Ugly Little Boy” in Tomorrow’s Children, or when Ellison put “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” in Dangerous Visions.
There. Enough said about that.
One other thing about “Crosswort Puzzle”: Those who have followed recent podcast fiction (those who haven’t need not worry; it should make no difference at all in your enjoyment of the story) will notice a surreptitious nod to podcasting’s “Rat Pack”–J.C. Hutchins, Tee Morris, and Scott Sigler (go Krakens!). All three are superb storytellers who also have been quite encouraging to me, and Hutchins and Sigler have even featured my work in their shows. I am most grateful.
“Crosswort Puzzle” started when Michael and I were tossing around ideas about dangerous herbal remedies; he described something and I said “Oh, like an anti-Saint John’s Wort?” It’s a sequel to his story “Pride, Prejudice, and Paranoia” in S&S 19, our story “Salt and Sorcery” in S&S 16, and my story “The Blade of Unmaking” in S&S 14, all three of which are available in ebook form from Fictionwise (http://www.fictionwise.com).
4.) Can you share a teaser paragraph from “Crosswort Puzzle”?
“So,” Melisande shot back, “for a few people this root has the opposite effect–they wind up deeply melancholic, even suicidal. And when it’s grown in Dreismark province, that would be all people, not just a few. This stuff is dangerous–possibly deadly.”
Stephen let out his breath slowly. “Wow. And the Royal Guard ordered this for their Easter dinner?”