A Day in the Life with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer, Alan Ira Gordon

 

Terrie Leigh Relf: What types – and forms – of writing do you do? If you’re also an editor, what is your niche?

Alan Ira Gordon: I mostly write science fiction and fantasy poems and short stories, with an occasional light horror or mainstream story or poem in the mix. And I write some historical articles and occasional essays or columns. I’ve done some guest editing in the genre, both Issue #24 of Eye To The Telescope, the on-line electronic quarterly journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) and Strange Summer Fun, a short story anthology from Whortleberry Press.

Terrie: What is your area(s) of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?

Alan: Professionally, I’m an urban planner and urban planning instructor at Worcester State University, but I’ve been writing for a lifetime. For a long time, I just wrote short stories, but about a decade ago I realized that so many of my ideas worked better as poems rather than stories and my creativity was better channeled and took off from there.

I’m very intrigued by the challenge of writing within the structure and brevity of a poem while getting across to the reader a theme, storyline and point-of-view. It’s like doing a puzzle every time and I love it!

Terrie: How do you balance your creative and work time?

Alan: I’m very fortunate to be semi-retired at this stage of my career, teaching part-time. That frees me up for plenty of time for writing efforts.

Terrie: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?

Alan: One tip was given to me a long time ago by the great science fiction writer, Jack Dann, when I met him at one of the annual ReaderCon conventions. He told me to consider going back to draft stories even years after you’ve put them aside and giving them another go. Even though he was talking about story-writing, I think it applies to any form of writing (poems, etc.). He said that your new, fresh perspective, or time passed, will help finish the tale and sure enough, he’s right-it’s worked for me well. A second tip is to not be afraid to re-draft and re-write. So many writers I’ve met feel that an initial draft or two is always the finished product and that’s not so. I know a very literate, accomplished mainstream poet who had a wonderful poem recently published in a very prestigious journal, and she had revisited and redrafted her poem over a two-year period. It takes a confidence and patience that many writers aren’t comfortable with, but it’s so worth it at times.

Terrie: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?

Alan: I think that every person’s creative process is different and unique to their own personality, style and experiences. While folks can get lots of “how to write” or “how to be creative” advice, take it all with a grain of salt and just do what feels right for you. My own process keys-in on being patient, taking my time as I think about a plot line, start drafting and keep re-drafting, and not rushing to a premature wrap-up.

Terrie: Where do your ideas come from?

Alan: It’s funny; they come from everywhere! I’ve had poem and story ideas pop into my head from conversations with people, from reading and watching TV, seeing or reading the news, etc. This past year, I’ve actually gotten good ideas for poems just from reading an on-line “Word of the Day” website that I like to check-out. Steve Martin says it best when he says that “you are an idea machine, with a million thoughts a day, each representing a story idea.”

Terrie: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?

Alan: My short stories have been published more so in anthology collections than magazines. Quite a few have appeared over the years in collections from Alban Lake Publishing, Whortleberry Press and Hiraeth Publishing, to name a few. My poems have a much wider publication range, from the more known genre magazines such as Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Star*Line, to some wonderful smaller publications including Illumen, Disturbed Digest, Pedestal Magazine and Outposts of Beyond. I enjoy it when my writing is published in unexpected publications such as Dog Eyes Magazine and Worcester Magazine.

Award-wise, my poetry has received five SFPA annual Rhysling Award nominations, one Dwarf Star nomination and won an Analog Year’s Award (second prize). Last year, my science fiction/fantasy poetry collection, Planet Hunter, received an annual Elgin Award nomination. One of my mainstream fiction stories won the annual Worcester Magazine story competition and another story won the annual Whortleberry Press Year’s Best Science Fiction Award. Many years ago, I was humbled that the late great editor/writer Gardner Dozois gave one of my stories an Honorable Mentions’ listing in his eighth annual Year’s Best Science Fiction story collection (St. Martin’s Press).

Terrie: What are you working on now?

Alan: I always have a few different drafts in the mix. Right now, that includes a fantasy short story, a few science fiction poems and a mainstream essay. I’m also writing a book review of a new urban planning textbook for a publisher to use in the text’s on-line marketing.

Terrie: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did they make you a better writer and/or editor?

Alan: Two challenges immediately come to mind. When I was writing a gothic horror story (“Vincent and Paul In The Yellow House” published in The Night Café anthology edited by Tyree Campbell, Alban Lake Publishing), I needed to be as historically accurate as possible within my fictional setting, regarding the lives and times of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. I learned to be patient and research, research and research. I spent about two years researching prior to going beyond a very preliminary story draft and it was well-worth it.

The second challenge was as a guest editor a few years ago for Issue #24 of Eye To The Telescope, the on-line quarterly poetry journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). The challenge was to go beyond selecting poems for that issue based on what I personally enjoyed. Instead, I focused on selecting a wide variety of poetry as well as choosing poems based upon what I believed reader’s would want to have the opportunity to read. I focused on those criteria I would hope made me a more responsible editor.

Terrie: Are you plotter and planner or a discovery writer?

Alan: Actually, I’ve been each at different times and with different projects. I think it depends on the nature of the plot or story/poem/essay idea.

Terrie: Are you currently a writing mentor? 

Alan: No. I’ve been mentored myself at times, but never had the experience of being the mentor.

Terrie: Are you currently, or have you ever been, in a writing group? Your thoughts?

Alan: I’m in a wonderful monthly poetry group at Worcester State University which includes faculty, students and folks from across the community. It’s on hiatus now with the pandemic, but I hope it comes back eventually. My thought is that it’s wonderful to be exposed in such a group to such a diverse array of people, points-of-view and types of poetry. I cherish every moment in the group and highly recommend the experience!

Terrie: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.

Alan: I’ve gotten great writing and marketing advice from conversations with writers and editors whom I’ve met over the years at various ReaderCons. Such folks who’ve given me worthwhile advice and direction over the years include Jack Dann, Glen Cook, esteemed editor/writer Mike Resnick, F&SF publisher Gordon Van Gelder and Robert Sawyer, to name a few. My advice is don’t hesitate to ask for tips from such experienced writers and editors. Don’t be intimidated. These folks are approachable and are very willing to talk shop at these writing and/or convention events.

Terrie: Your thoughts on having an agent?

Alan: I’ve never done so. I think it’s only worthwhile if you’re trying to get a novel published with a major publisher.

Terrie: Your thoughts on self-publishing?

Alan: I don’t think much of it. I’ve read that the average self-published novel or anthology is lucky to sell about 40 copies, and those are mainly to the author’s family and friends. The only time it seems worthwhile is when the author is a very established best-selling professional who is balancing their publications with a few self-published efforts to by-pass their usual publisher middleman.

Terrie: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked? For example, where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Alan: Just one piece of advice to add: Trust in and work with your editors. I’m been blessed with some great editors over the years who not only have published my writing, but when appropriate, have worked with me with revision/re-write suggestions and ideas. It’s not easy to accept those critiques of our work, but in the long run, it’s made my products better and much appreciated. So a quick thanks to some of those past and present editors including Tyree Campbell, Gordon Van Gelder, Marge Simon, FJ Bergman, Vince Goleta, Emily Hockaday, Jean Goldstrom and the late great Gardner Dozois.

Your questions have been far-ranging and excellent for both writers and readers. I guess in the next year, 5 years, etc., I see myself happily doing exactly what I’m doing right now: Reading, thinking about ideas and writing, writing, writing (and occasionally guest-editing)!

Terrie: Thank you so much for creating the time for this interview, Alan! Be sure to read his bio below – and his work!

Alan Ira Gordon is an urban planning professor at Worcester State University and writer of science fiction/fantasy short stories and poetry. His fiction has been published in various magazines including Starshore Magazine, Worcester Magazine, Disturbed Digest, Dog Eyes Magazine, Outposts Of Beyond and The Martian Wave, as well as various short story anthologies.

Alan’s science fiction/fantasy poetry has received five Rhysling Award nominations, a Dwarf Star Award nomination and an Analog Magazine Year’s Best nomination (Second Place Award). His poetry collection, Planet Hunter, was nominated for the 2018-19 Elgin Award. He’s a frequent contributor to Star*Line, the quarterly journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). Alan guest-edited Issue #24 of Eye To The Telescope, the on-line publication of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA). His poetry, short stories and articles have been published in various genre magazines and anthologies, a partial list of which can be found on his website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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