Fantasy Scroll a blog for writers

Interview with Science Fiction Author Alex Shvartsman

Science Fiction Author Alex Shvartsman

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer. His adventures so far have included traveling to over 30 countries, playing a card game for a living, and building a successful business. Alex resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and son.

I met Alex at Lunacon 2012 and later he joined the same critique group I belong to– Writers of the Weird. He’s a prolific story writer and an entrepeneur who recently took on a publishing project. I wanted to get some insights into his life as a writer and a publisher as well, so the idea for this interview emerged. Please enjoy, and don’t forget the links at the bottom where you can access some of Alex’s stories.

Q: How and when did you get started as a writer?
A: I wrote my first science fiction story when I was eleven years old. It was about five hundred words and probably much worse than I remember, but I was very proud of it at the time.

Then I took a brief twenty-four year break from writing fiction.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010. For years I’ve been telling myself that I will get around to writing science fiction when I have free time. Summer of 2010 was when I finally realized that I will likely *never* have free time. I’ll either get my butt into a chair and begin writing, or I won’t.

So I did.

It took me about three months to make my first short story sale. In the following two and a half years I sold about thirty short stories, including nearly a dozen to pro paying markets. I still feel like a bit of a pretender when hanging out with “real” writers but SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) considers me a “pro” now, according to their guidelines, and who am I to argue with an opinion of such an illustrious organization?


Q: How do you usually find your ideas?
A: I steal them from South Park.

Twice I’ve had stories published which, readers would point out, use plots similar to something that was done on South Park. I don’t even watch that show!

In all seriousness, ideas are easy. Every writer has a ton of them, way more than they can ever hope to commit to paper. Turning a cool idea into an engaging, interesting story with three-dimensional characters and original plot, that’s the hard part.


Q: Did you ever get any rejections? If yes, give us your advice on how new writers should handle them.
A: Every writer gets tons of rejections. Even the really good ones, let alone someone like me. In 2012 I made approximately 150 submissions to date, and sold about 15 stories (including reprints). That’s 135 rejections right there.

You have to develop somewhat of a thick skin when it comes to rejections. It’s especially important to remember that the editor is rejecting the story, not you as an individual. Good magazines may read 300+ stories for every one they buy. By necessity they will turn down lots of perfectly good stuff. Don’t get discouraged, and keep writing, improving, and submitting.

I’ve had a number of stories that sold (some to pro paying markets) after receiving 15+ rejections. Just because a number of editors didn’t buy your story doesn’t mean the next one won’t, either.


Q: You write a lot of short-stories, what makes you enjoy them more than a novel?
A: I love reading short stories and enjoy writing them. Part of it is time commitment. I write part time (a few hours a week, really) so the ability to complete stories and see some of them published goes a long way in the instant gratification department.

I especially love flash (stories under 1000 words in length). My writing style is very laconic and is well-suited to this format. While many writers I know have a hard time keeping the word counts down, I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum – I find it much more difficult to write longer stories.

Even so, I have a number of novel-length ideas and hope to begin working on a novel sometime in a near future.


Q: Could you tell us the challenges that you faced as a writer whose first language is not English, and how did you manage to overcome them?
A: First, a little background for those of your readers who are not familiar with my history (aka almost all of them): I was born in the former USSR and my native language is Russian. I moved to the United States at the age of 13 and only then began to learn English.

The greatest problem is confidence. Is my command of the English language sufficient to write quality prose? Will potential readers and editors take me seriously? Do I dare take chances and push boundaries in my writing that someone might misconstrue for lingual faux pas?

These are issues I’ve had to struggle with and, to some degree, still do. As with most writing problems, the right answer seems to be to just keep writing.

Also, I do make annoying mistakes with my tenses and misuse “a” and “the” a lot. To this day. Thank God for the copy-editors.


Q: You recently took on a publishing project called UFO. What prompted you to start it, how did it go, and will it continue?
A: I grew frustrated with the lack of quality humor markets in SF/F, so I set out to create one. I’m no expert. This is my first project as an anthologist and a publisher. But I do have an extensive business background which I relied on to make decisions for creating this book. The result is Unidentified Funny Objects, an anthology of 29 humor stories including tales from Mike Resnick, Jody Lynn Nye, Ken Liu and Lavie Tidhar. I’m very pleased with how the book turned out.

As to whether it will continue – I hope to make it into an annual anthology. But it will come down to money. If I’m able to sell enough copies to cover my costs and the copious amounts of time I had to sink into the project, then there will be plenty more where this one came from. So if you want to see more humor anthologies, please visit http://www.ufopub.com/ and pre-order a copy of the book.

Right now is good. I’ll wait here until you get back.


Q: Where do you see the traditional publishing going in today’s world?
A: Digital publishing will continue to grow, which will make it easy for anyone to become a ‘published author.’ It takes minutes to format your manuscript and begin selling it on Amazon and other such places. Because of that, curated content becomes more important than ever. As readers, we will have to rely on the publishers and editors we trust to identify quality content. So in that sense respectable publishers will remain crucial going forward.

Q: How many revisions do you usually go through with your work? Do you find it easy to let a manuscript go to the publisher?
A: I write relatively clean first drafts (so I’ve been told) though I write them very slowly. A few hundred words per hour, typically. Even so, I meddle with the story endlessly and will typically send it out on submission because the deadline is approaching, or because I’m just sick and tired of the story and want to move on to something else, even though I know that I could keep playing with it for weeks on end.

In most cases I’ll do dozens of minor tweaks but rarely any major revisions. Much of it depends on the feedback from the critique partners and beta readers.


Q: How much importance do you put on the online writer’s platform in today’s social media world?
A: Social media is hugely important for getting your name out there. But, ultimately, the quality of your work speaks for itself. No matter how loudly you self-promote on Twitter, a single publication in a top magazine will probably do more to raise your profile than months of self-aggrandizing online.

Of course, the optimal strategy is to do both. Did you hear about my story on Nature.com


Q: What is your advice for new writers?
A:
  1. Keep writing. It’s a craft and it takes enormous amounts of time and effort to master it.
  2. Join a critique group. Don’t rely on your friends’ opinions of your writing. They’re biased and usually too kind. Get competent strangers to rip your manuscripts into shreds and then rewrite them to be so awesome that even the crankiest critics will have no choice but to love the end result.
  3. Keep submitting. Don’t give up. It may take days or it may take years, but not sending a story out there at all is the one way to guarantee it won’t get published.
  4. Support the markets you want to be published in. Buy anthologies. Subscribe to the magazines you submit to. Donate to the online ‘zines which post fiction up for free.
  5. Go to ufopub.com and order a copy of Unidentified Funny Objects. Because of all the reasons in the bullet point above, but mostly because it’s an awesome book made of awesome and covered in awesome sauce. Trust me. I’m a writer.

Science Fiction Author Alex ShvartsmanAlex, thank you for answering my questions and for the helpful tips you gave us. Good luck with your next project!

 

To check Alex’s works, use the links below:
http://alexshvartsman.com/
Alex Shvartsman Bibliography
http://www.ufopub.com/

 
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Iulian Ionescu