LIVE FROM THE BRAIN PLANET: WRITER
Brian Plante has plenty of talents besides coming up with anagrams for his name: he's also starting to raise a few eyebrows in the world of speculative fiction. After cutting his teeth in the esteemed, but late lamented, small press magazines Aberrations, Fantastic Worlds, and Keen SF, he worked his way into the professional markets, with recent appearances in Amazing Stories, The Age of Reason anthology, and Analog. Brian now has evidence that he is actually a Writing Somebody: he appeared in the "Biolog" section in the November 1999 issue of Analog. He also writes some of the most humorous non-fiction articles found in the genres. Brian lives near Charlotte, NC.
Q: How did you get started in writing, and why did you find yourself in the speculative fiction fields?
Plante: I guess I started as a reader. I wasn't one of those people who knew at an early age that he was going to be a writer. I was one of those brainy kids who would rather stay at home and read some science fiction novel than go out and play ball. And I read tons. In college, I tried a couple of times to write fiction, but at that point I had neither the patience nor the typing skill to finish anything. Instead, I turned my creative urges to playing guitar in several rock bands, and when my band days were through I composed and recorded electronic music with the help of some early computers and keyboard synthesizers.
Eventually I settled down and got married, and then had kids, and it became increasingly difficult to justify the money I was laying out for music gear. I still wanted some creative outlet, so I thought about taking another stab a writing. At that point in my life I was more patient, and those computers that I was using for the electronic music also worked just fine for word processing, which alleviated the problem with my poor typing. So I started writing, very deliberately with the goal of selling work. I have scarcely picked up the guitar or plugged in the synthesizer since then.
Why SF? Well, back to that ton of books I mentioned earlier, most of my favorite reading was science fiction, fantasy and horror. So when I decided I'd give it a shot, what am I gonna write, romances? It really wasn't a difficult choice. Hey, if I'm going to receive contributor's copies, I want them to be something I like to read, you know?
Q: One theory of career-building is that a writer shouldn't submit stories to the small press because he will be typecast, and that writers never work their way up from the "minor leagues." Yet you've done exactly that, and are now breaking into the larger markets. What's your theory?
Plante: Theory? You think I have a theory? It never really occurred to me that selling to smaller magazines might hold me back at the pro markets. Of course, I sent those early stories to the big guys and earned my share of rejection slips, but you can only go so long at something without success before giving up in frustration. Um, did I mention that I'm impatient? I think if I hadn't sold those early stories to the small press, that I'd have given up at some point and turned my attention to something else. Those early sales gave me enough encouragement to keep going.
I also think that the credits from the small press are better than no credits at all when you're submitting your work to the pro markets. Sure the editors will tell you that the story must do the talking, but a few credits to put on your cover letter couldn't hurt. I think that the editors at the better magazines appreciate that you're working you way up the ladder, and they can see the number and quality of your credits improve over time. The credits won't sell your story, but they might get you a slightly better read than all the other manuscripts that come in with no pedigrees. And the editors don't want to buy just one story from you --if they let you into the club, they want writers who can be depended on for future stories as well. A few good credits on your cover letter show you're not a one hit wonder.
Q: How did the Writers of the Future contest affect your writing career?
Plante: The contest was an early goal. Hey, there's no entry fee, big prize money, generous anthology payment, a professional credit, a free trip to a writing workshop -- what's not to like?
I got a lot out of the WotF workshop. Besides some practical advice from instructors Dave Wolverton and Algis Budrys, the story I wrote there became my first sale to Analog. I think the best thing I got from the WotF experience, though, was meeting the other beginning writers and pros at the workshop. It gave me a feeling of community with other writers.
One other benefit from all the attention was a bit of respect at home. My wife is not a reader of SF, and was a bit dubious when I decided I wanted to become an SF writer. I know she resented my spending so much time in front of the computer instead of with the family. Winning a prize in the contest went a long way to convincing her that I might actually be onto something, and not just wasting my time on some screwy hobby.
Q: You write horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Do you consciously change gears, or just run to wherever the idea leads?
Plante: Lately I've been concentrating more on science fiction, but I bang out a horror story now and again to give myself a break. Not that horror is necessarily any easier than science fiction, but it's a change of pace for me. Science fiction is concerned with creating a believable world, a clever central idea and an interesting plot, while the horror story is more about evoking feelings in the reader. Sometimes I write science fiction with horrific elements. Or is it horror with science fiction elements? And my fantasy work is usually on the dark side, so I guess I have a bit of a horror streak running through that too. Um, yeah, what you said about just running wherever the idea leads.
Q: Since you work in computers, how do you think the telecommunications age will affect publishing?
Plante: I don't see e-books really catching on just yet. I just can't imagine too many people wanting to cuddle up with an electronic screen like we do with paper books. But future generations will grow up doing the majority of their schoolwork on computers, so to that generation of readers, a screen instead of paper will seem more natural than it does to dinosaurs like me. I suppose the rise of the e-book is inevitable, but dead tree books are going to be around for a while.
As for electronic publications replacing traditional magazines and newspapers, yeah, that's probably going to happen. I already get most of my daily news from internet versions of print newspapers. I still buy the Sunday newspaper, but mainly so I can clip the coupons. The big problem with e-zines, on the other hand, is there is so much out there that you have to wade through an awful lot of crap to find anything worthwhile. With the price of computers dropping, almost anybody can become an instant publisher, and it shows. Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of SF is crap, but that 90% of everything is crap. If Sturgeon had been around to see what's happening with e-zines, it would have been a lot higher than 90%.
Something that's going to be a problem for editors is voice recognition software. Just as word processing ushered in a whole new group of wannabe writers (er, like me), voice recognition software is going to lead a large number of people to believe that they can suddenly "write" stories, just by talking to their computer. Pity the poor slush-pile readers.
Q: You're becoming a regular contributor to Analog. How did that relationship with Editor Stanley Schmidt develop (or has it yet)?
Plante: The old fashioned way -- through the slush pile. I haven't gone to many SF conventions, so I'm really kind of an unknown in most SF circles. I certainly didn't sell anything because I knew someone. Just as I did with all the other major editors, I regularly sent Stan story after story, and received rejection after rejection.
But as my list of semi-pro credits grew, my stories became more polished and Stan eventually gave me a shot. And then another. So now I've sold him five stories, one of which won the Anlab award for best short story of 1997. Stan still rejects some of my stories, buys some, and makes suggestions for rewrites on others. I met him at last year's Nebula Awards weekend, and he's a nice guy. I'm very grateful for his help.
Q: Any novels in the works, or anything special we should know about?
Plante: Novels? Um, did I mention that I'm impatient? Nope, never written a novel. Yet. I've made a few abortive starts, and every New Year's Eve I resolve that this is the year that I actually finish one of the suckers. I also resolve to hit the lottery for $20 million, but that one never happens either. Next year, for sure.
Q: If you could be the "----- of the 21st Century," who would that ---- be, and why?
Plante: The Robert Heinlein? The Stephen King? The Pee Wee Herman? Honestly, I'm a fairly modest guy. I just hope to be a good husband to my wife, a good dad to my kids, a good son to my parents. If I can also be a good writer, great, but it's not that high on my list of priorities. The writing is for fun, not fame and fortune. The family is for keeps.
-Copyright 1999 by Scott Nicholson
For more on Brian, visit his home page
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