Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Far Beyond Dragon-Con : An Interview With Claire Eddy of Tor Books

Now that I'm rested from 2014's Dragon-con, I'm ready to look back at some of the Con's wonderful moments. One of those moments was  meeting the Senior Editor of Tor Books Claire Eddy. Sword and Sorcery novels played a big part in why I got into metal as a kid. Before the internet you had to go into record store and search through bins of albums. A few had metal sections, but for every Celtic Frost there was a Bang Tango. It was the album art that most resembled the covers the jackets of Conan novels that caught my eye. From Iron Maiden to Hawkwind to Anthrax and Voi Vod, Sci-Fi and Fantasy have been the subject of metal songs for decades. It's no surprise many of us have turned into avid readers. If you check the spines of many of the books we read growing up, most bear the the Tor Logo. So, as a long-time reader of epic-fantasy and an aspiring dark fantasy writer myself, this conversation was extremely insightful and one of the highlights of this year's Convention for me.

Wil - With the rising popularity of shows like Game of Thrones are you seeing an increased interest in Epic Fantasy?

Claire - I think it's always been there. It's becoming more mainstream. We are going to be seeing more of it. We at Tor we've done...Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind... we've been in the business of epic fantasy for a long time.We are really excited. George is an old buddy of mine. He's an amazing writer and I'm so happy for him. This confluence of events happened and people who have never read epic fantasy are now reading it.

It's like "Yeah, here we've got this guy Robert Jordan,  we've got this guy Brandon Sanderson ..."so it's a whole new audience and that's really exciting. It's like what we were talking about outside with Big Bang, the mainstream in starting to pay attention to genre issues and frankly I think you can also make a case that the explosion of technology has helped. Because Silicon Valley, you scratch them and there's the nerd... and they have lots of money. They are interested in this sort of stuff and then it becomes more and more mainstream when you have people go..."Oh, the cool kids are interested in this, I want to check it out."

Wil - What are some of the trends you guys see selling today?

Claire - Character driven, large sweeping epic fantasy. I was just on an Urban Fantasy panel and someone asked "What do you think the future is going to hold?' I always feel odd when I am on that kind of panel, because the answer is I'm booked solid through 2016. So if I get something right now and it needs work I may not be able to get to it til fall of 2016. So not writing to any particular hook or trend, because in two years it may not be there. But good character driven stories, darker, darker is more acceptable now.

We are actually looking at our back list in a different way, because we published a lot of science fiction and I have been with the company for 29 years. So alot of science fiction and fantasy that when you look at it now, and we can do it in YA. Now more goes, it can be grittier, you can have sex, there's a lot of stuff you can do now that you couldn't do as recently as ten years ago. We are looking at a back list and going"You know what this could appeal to a wider audience."We are looking to piggy back and open those markets. We are also in the process of working on building the brand. Tor has a recognizable image as being one of the premiere publishers of science fiction and fantasy and  we are building the brand with sister companies in Tor Uk and Tor Germany, so that when you pick up a Tor book you kinda sorta know what you are going to get.

So re-branding older titles to a YA audience and growing in other countries. There's a lot of countries that aren't English speaking, but they can read perfectly well and a lot of our stories are broad enough that it can cross the ocean.

Wil - I know growing up there was a Norse Translation of the Hobbit , but not for the other books so that's how I kinda learned the language.

Claire - Wow, we are having the other cultural event where as you know a lot of Americans have English as there first and only language.  I know quite a few people who are studying Japanese , because they want to read the manga in it's original form. I thought "Wow that's amazing", cause it's not an easy language to pick up. But people are dedicated enough to do that because they want the cultural experience. They want to watch anime and not deal with the subtitles, they realize that the subtitle and the actual dialogue can be wildly different. Therefore imparting a whole different world view. I find it fascinating.

Wil - What about steam punk, do you think it's going to lose it's steam or is there still a lot of life left in the cogs?

Claire - I think it does. Somebody asked this question at the panel I was just on. I think it might plateau a little maybe. But in someways it has the potential to become a true sub-genre. I have been thinking about this a lot and I had this idea that there are parallels you can make between the beginning of the 20th century and now. You have got a lot of religious conflict, Looking at the modern news now and  all the things going on with Ebola. You've got the world health organization saying that first world nations must pay attention to this, because if you do not pay attention to this it can come back to bite you in the butt.  We should be doing it for the simple humanity, but you have a clash between first world and not first world. You have got an explosion of technology where people are thinking any thing is possible. You've got stem cells, genetically engineered mice, there's all this stuff going on and there are people who are embracing it and there people who are afraid of it.

There's this possibility of endless wonders, coupled with, watching the problem of an empire that's going through the evolution stage and we don't know what will happen. I adore my country, I'm as patriotic as the next person, but there are problems and how we react to those problems. People are going around saying this is wonderful this is incredible. So when you see people dressed in steam punk, I'm not at all surprised seeing them wearing Victorian London clothing. humans are humans, our reactions to stressors are sometimes pretty predictable. I have to wonder if that's a fuel. One of my colleagues, Diana Pho is doing some marvelous academic work. You should go to some of her panels she is talking about the non Victorian. There are a lot of people doing really fine steam punk stuff, in a non-European, non Victorian atmosphere. There are a lot of parallels between the beginning of the 20th century that I think are drawing people to this sort of fiction.  I don't think its going to go away any time soon.

Wil - Who do you think are some of the up and coming horror authors?

Claire - I don't do a lot of horror and the horror I am doing is more established authors . I just bought a Ramsey Campbell I'm loving to pieces called, "The Kind Folk".

Wil - What about dark fantasy ? Where do you think the lines are drawn between dark fantasy and horror?

Claire - That's a good question. You can have elements in dark fantasy, that you wouldn't have in horror. One of the things that appeals to me in horror, and I do read quiet a lot of horror, is the ambiguity. Some of the best horror is where you are left wondering. Is this all in the guys head ? or in fact a ghost, a possession, or is he off his nut and it's a serial killer. With dark fantasy it's not as ambiguous. With horror you can kinda of play around.

Horror, which was very big in the 80's and 90's, you can have splatter punk. A lot of blood and guts and thunder, but horror can be very cerebral as well.  Fantasy can be cerebral, but I often think it's a little more straight forward.

Wil -Yeah, and some of the cerebral element got added from people who take influence from Hp Lovecraft. What elements do you think make for great epic fantasy?

 Claire - World building and more of a sense of scale. The difference between regular fantasy and epic fantasy is it's all about the journey, but with epic fantasy so much more is at stake. I don't know if you have ever watched the Kevin Smith Clerks movie, but there is a scene where Randall is working at a fast food place. He's a Star Wars fan and he gets into with a Tolkien fan. The Tolkien fan says,"No, No Star Wars is this silly little thing."  Randall says "This is the Lord of the Rings...and we're walking and walking and walking. Book two and we're walking and we're walking and we're walking. Three and we're walking and we drop the ring in."

Yeah, but there's all the other stuff, there's the clash between the various cultures, the whole rise of the human genome, the political battle between that. At one point Tolkien even gets the p.o.v of one of the orcs, this poor grunt. You've got the elves who are failing and fading and their time is ending. It's a great big epic sweep. Some people gravitate towards Aragon and some people will gravitate towards Frodo, there is something in it for every one. You may be wedded more to one particular storyline but you are along for the whole ride. Its lush and complicated.

To talk about George Martin's books. George is an amateur, and I'm using the term amateur as someone who has a passion for a thing. He's an amateur historian, that is not to say he is not as good as some professional historians, he's a voracious reader he's taken bits and pieces of cultures and ideas and practices and made them his own. It's not stealing if you make it your own. So he created this amazing world that also happens to have a climate hook and dragons. People will root for various different characters. People who read the book know that x character is going to die. People who watch the show are like "Oh my god, you killed so and so"... Because in true history not all the good guys win. People die. People who you really care about die. By doing that it takes you on an emotional roller coaster, because you don't know who's going to live. You have got to read that next sentence. General fantasy can have those components but epic fantasy its a hundred times more.  Its bigger it's more. I've had conversations with authors, where they thought they were writing epic fantasy and I was like "No not so much". Its not a smaller story. Its not simple story. Its one level of the journey but when you add on all the other things, and you do it well, then it becomes epic.

Wil - Tolkien was a mythology professor before

Claire - Yes, and in many ways he was writing the books because he was fascinated by the language. The idea of language, of the Icelandic, tale how could take that formula and bring it to a modern sensibility. He was coming at it from some levels from an academic prospective and it grew and grew and grew.

Wil- What is the quick nickle advice to someone trying to break in the business ?

Claire - Read in your genre, decide on your genre, and have an avid curiosity. Talk to other writers, go out in the world and live, don't have a tunnel vision, and be fascinated by the world. One of the cornerstones of every author I have ever worked with is they are fascinated by the world

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