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Meet Jay Lake (Q&A about publishing, writing, and reading)

Who is your favorite author?

Gene Wolfe. Especially his works The Fifth Head of the Cerberus and the Book of the New Sun series.

What inspired you to write? What inspired you to get published?

Actually, reading Gene Wolfe at about age twenty, back when the earth was cooling and dinosaurs still roamed. I read Book of the New Sun, and my reaction was, “Are you really allowed to do that with the language?” The getting published part took another seventeen years or so, and wasn’t inspiration so much as years of very hard work developing myself as a writer and learning about the publishing business. (That last bit is a never-ending process, because the publishing business seems to mutate faster that haut couture hemlines.)

What is your favorite moment from working with an editor? An agent?

As for my agent, my favorite moment is probably still first meeting her in a bar at a science fiction convention in Toronto, and me telling her I didn’t really want to sell novels. Idiot. (Me, not her.)

What is your favorite cover designed for one of your books?

That’s a tough one. I’ve been very lucky with covers. Probably Green, from Tor Books, 2009. The cover art by Dan dos Santos is very unusual and striking, and ‘reads’ well even from quite a distance.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers wanting to get published?

Write more. Ask for advice but don’t take it too seriously. Find your own voice and work it. You can’t be anyone but yourself in the literary world. But mostly, write more.

What are you currently working on?

A massively ambitious multivolume space opera series called Sunspin. The first volume just went into my agent in February and is now going out to market. Plus the usual bits and pieces of short fiction that I’m always messing with.

Would you consider writing to be a career or a lifestyle? Or something else entirely?

Both a career and a lifestyle. I absolutely approach this as a profession, but over the years virtually every aspect of my life has been colored if not subsumed by writing.

What would you change about the process of writing and publishing your most recent work if you could?

Nothing, really. My most recent book was Endurance, the second Green book, from Tor Books this past November. I really like the book, I really like the cover, it’s gotten good critical reception and seems to be doing well in the market. So I’m pretty happy right now.

What challenges did you face before and during publishing your first work?

Not having a clue what I was doing. This is of course an occupational hazard of being a first-time author. I’d had some pretty good success in short stories, so publishing wasn’t a complete black hole to me, but shifting from short stories to the world of trade publishing novels was a heck of a transition. Like I said about the copy edit, everything was a surprise. Good surprises for the most part, but definitely a surprise.

How do you deal with negative reviews?

I laugh at them. Usually I post links to them on my blog so other people can laugh at them, too.

While the above is absolutely true, my more serious answer is that stories always belong to the reader. Any review, negative or positive, is a reader reaction, and since I didn’t go to the reviewer’s house with the book to explain myself, the work has to stand on its own. Even a negative review means someone cared about the book enough to comment on it. Beats the heck out of indifference.

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