Interview with Eileen Gunn

Short story writer Eileen Gunn (author of the collection Stable Strategies and Others which you should read) was recently kind enough to do an interview with me for the SFWA Bulletin.

We didn’t end up using anywhere near enough of her intelligent commentary in my article which had a specific focus as a compare/contrast between the SFWA experiences of brand-new SFWA member Adam Rakunas and established member Eileen Gunn.

Luckily for readers everywhere, Eileen consented to having the interview published in Q&A form on the SFWA website.

Eileen is a Nebula Award winner and a fantastic writer. She has supported the science fiction and fantasy community in numerous, important ways, including her hard work with the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I’ve been lucky enough to know her since I started out and benefit from her knowledge and general awesomeness.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview that I found particularly useful/interesting/exciting:

I’ve never been a huge fan of the “mentoring” concept, as it describes itself – it seems patronizing and self-aggrandizing. We’re all adults here: let’s treat one another as equals. However, I’ve benefitted enormously over my writing life, including in my advertising/marketing career, from people who have shared their knowledge with me when I needed it. In offering advice, there’s a fine line between being descriptive and being prescriptive, and a not-so-fine line between advising from one’s experience, and simply nattering on. I try to return the favors I’ve received without crossing those lines.

My father was a successful graphic designer in Boston, and he always made time to see students and new graduates of design schools. He’d meet with them, review their work, tell them who was hiring, and generally encourage them. I worked for my father for eight years, during high school and college, and scheduled those appointments for him, usually during his lunch hour. He set me a very good example, as did Kate and Damon, Joe and Gay Haldeman, and editors such as David Hartwell, Gardner Dozois, and Sheila Williams.

There are certain kinds of writers I’m particularly concerned about: writers who write slowly, or who deal with difficult subjects or subjects outside the mainstream – writers who deliberately choose, for whatever reasons, to write outside the marketplace trends. These writers are the potential heirs to Octavia E. Butler, Ted Chiang, Howard Waldrop, and, strange as it may seem, William Gibson and George R. R. Martin. I think SFWA and the Clarion and Clarion West workshops, indeed speculative literature in general, have historically supported those kinds of writers by providing community, feedback, and role models. SFWA has honored those writers with Nebula awards and nominations. I hope that, as it widens its reach and relevance, SFWA will continue to attract and support the wildly original writers, the writers with limited patience for advance marketing, and the brilliant but stubbornly self-effacing writers. They give energy to the entire field, and we need to save them some seats at the awards banquet.

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2 Responses to Interview with Eileen Gunn

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    In offering advice, there’s a fine line between being descriptive and being prescriptive, and a not-so-fine line between advising from one’s experience, and simply nattering on.

    One of my jobs in Scouting is specifically to visit people and units with the purpose of advising and counseling. What I have found is that a good way to stay on the right side of that line is to ask more than you tell. Don’t tell someone “Do this.” Ask “What do you think you should do?” If they give you a specific course of action, ask “Why?” If not, ask “Well, what are your alternatives and what do you think will happen?”

    Sometimes people need to know specific facts. But more often they need help in thinking the situation through for themselves. It’s not the facts that are in dispute, it’s the right process for how to apply them that they do not understand. By forcing them to verbalize it clearly they are forced to think clearly. Once they think clearly, they can generally come up with the right answer themselves.

    If you’re advising, and you’re not asking questions, it’s my NSHO that you’re doing it wrong.

  2. 2
    Elusis says:

    The link to the Q&A format is malformed here and on your LJ post. :-/