I made my first professional appearance at Millennicon this weekend. In between panels, walking through the halls, I happened to glance at the name tag of a passing man. I did a doubletake, then caught my First Reader, who was serving as my escort, and brought him back to where the gentleman was now standing looking at the table of bookmarks and promotional goodies. It was Christopher Stasheff, who I knew was my First Reader’s favorite fantasy author, and neither of us had any idea he would be at the convention. Nor, as it turns out, had the concom; he had decided to attend with his son on the spur of the moment. We chatted briefly, and after I got home and was talking online about meeting this living legend, I came up with the idea of asking him for an interview.
You see, while we were chatting that first time, he had responded to my question of “are you still writing?” with “yes, but no one is buying.” He went on to tell us that his son has set up a website for him <http://www.christopher.stasheff.com> and they are beginning to release both his recent work, in snippets, and past work which has reverted to him. I’d instantly thought of doing a review and promo push on my personal blog, and then Sarah graciously offered to host it on her blog as well.
It seems that despite the man’s fame – my First Reader wasn’t the only fan to light up and rush to meet him, I noticed, and the online reactions were enthusiastic – that editors are turning him down. Why? Well, as we talked to his son Edward Stasheff, he offered his thought that part of it may be that although when Stasheff began his career in the 1960’s, he was considered a feminist writer, he is now considered old school. I know from my personal observations that in the last twenty years for certain, the borders of that movement changed, from seeking equality to supremacy, and Stasheff’s work most likely became not enough ‘me-female-me-first’ for the bossy sorts. I am hoping that we can assure Chris Stasheff – as the concom did, in asking him to please return next year as a guest – that he is still honored for his body of work.
I was tickled, nervous, and delighted to sit with him in a noisy hotel lobby and talk with this lovely man. He made me feel at ease, as though I were a friend he had just met. When I was transcribing the interview, I realized that we share initials, and so I have referred to the alternating QA format with first names, an informality I hope he forgives.
Christopher Stasheff: Well, you know I write fantasy, science fiction, a fusion of both, right?
Cedar Sanderson: Why don’t we start from there? What made you decide to write that?
Chris: I wrote what I wanted to write. I didn’t think I could sell it. But by then, fandom was into the second generation, and they were becoming editors. It goes in cycles, writers, then editors, then back to writers again. Lester Del Rey had been an editor, and would be again, but I got lucky, he was in a fallow spot and was being a critic. He reviewed The Warlock in Spite of Himself.
In the very first sentence of his review, he said it was the worst title ever. My heart sank, I was sure my career was over and it had just begun. But then in the second sentence, he said ‘but somehow Stasheff makes it work.” And then, at the end of the review, he said I’d left it open for a sequel, and that he hoped I would write one. So I did.
Cedar: So what are you working on currently?
Chris: I am using the Voltaire system, and working on three projects. He had a study with seven desks in it, and he would come in in the morning, look around, and decide which suited him today. I do that, only with disks… well, disks are so old-fashioned now! But you know what I mean. I do what I feel like working on.
I have two that are finished, but I haven’t been able to sell them yet, so I am rewriting them. The fourth Starship Troupers book is one of them. The Frog in the Grog is another. It’s about a village wizard, he’s so overworked, and he just can’t get away from all these people with their penny-ante problems. He wants a vacation. So he changes himself into a frog, because who talks to frogs? But just then a fad for frog-legs sweeps the kingdom, and the wizard realizes he’s trapped, because he can’t cast a spell when he can only croak. And of course there is an evil duke usurping the throne, a young boy trying to make good, and a girl who is willing to defy the bad king.
I’m also working on the Asteroid War, it’s a territory fight for the mining asteroids. I based it on the Lincoln County War in New Mexico. I’ve wanted to tell this story for twenty years, and just didn’t have time. Now that I do…
I’m also working on the final volume in the Wizard in Rhyme series <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/AWizardInRhyme?from=Main.AWizardInRhyme
>, just ideas, right now. I may use three-fourths of the ideas in the final book. Someone is gathering all the bad guys from all the books, and the good guys need a cause to band them together, but they are terribly outnumbered, so they retreat to the Alps. Mantrell, my hero, calls upon his ancestor, King Hardishane, who wakens from his enchanted slumber and rides forth with the paladins… the good guys win, of course, but I haven’t yet decided how.
Cedar: I know we had talked before about how you aren’t selling to publishers, and you told me your son was helping you release books independently. What titles are out there that I can point your readers to?
You know cats are capitalist, right? Dogs are happy to serve, but cats want to live the good life.
Cedar (laughing): We are the cat’s staff, I think.
Chris: I grew up with dogs, my wife introduced me to cats. They have a very different attitude to life than dogs do.
Cedar: Thank you so much for sitting down with me.
Chris: Thank you for wanting to talk to me, young lady.
UPDATE from Sarah: A couple of minor corrections, from Edward Stasheff, Christopher’s son. I understand that the lobby was very noisy when Cedar conducted the interview:
There are two minor details I do need to correct in your interview, though –
(1) We’ve released seven of his backlist novels as ebooks independently, but on Amazon (among others), not CreateSpace (for complicated legal reasons that are too boring to go into, he has the electronic rights, but not the print rights).
(2) The fan fiction story is “The Apprentice Wizard,” not “Apprentice Required”.