Q & A with Keith R.A. DeCandido

Q & A with Keith R.A. DeCandido

 by James A. Bailey (from The Market List #9)


Keith R.A. DeCandido is Editor at Byron Preiss Multimedia Company. I approached him for this interview primarily because of his involvement at all levels in a number of anthologies, but I'll see if I can wheedle some other publishing info from him as well.

JB: Let's start off with a little background. How did you become Editor at Byron Preiss?

KEITH: The same way most people get jobs. There was an opening, I interviewed, they liked me, they hired me. I started out there in September 1993 as Associate Editor under John Betancourt, who was Senior Editor at the time. In August 1994, John left to write full-time, and I was promoted to Editor.

JB: Byron Preiss is best known for the Marvel Comics tie-in novels and anthologies. What projects have you done with them?

KEITH: Well, actually that isn't what Byron Preiss is best known for, but it is our most visible project at present. I am the person primarily responsible for those tie-in novels, however, which are co-published by Byron Preiss Multimedia Company and Boulevard Books. This is a project that John and I got started in 1994 with the novel Spider-Man: The Venom Factor by Diane Duane and the anthology The Ultimate Spider-Man. Then John left, and I took it over completely. Through December 1996, the series now includes four hardcover novels, four trade paperback anthologies, and nine mass-market original novels starring the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. In 1997, we'll have three Spider-Man books, four X-Men books (including one hardcover), a Generation X novel, a Fantastic Four hardcover, and a Hulk novel. The authors of this series have included the aforementioned Diane Duane, as well as Pierce Askegren, eluki bes shahar, Nancy A. Collins, Greg Cox, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Christopher Golden, Jason Henderson, Scott Lobdell, Elliot S! Maggin, David Michelinie, and Dean Wesley Smith, among others.

JB: I'll risk blasphemy by saying that there is more to life than the Marvel Universe (I worked in a toy store and sold the figures, so I know how truly dangerous this is!). What else have you worked on?

KEITH: I was the in-house editor for the second "Brian Froud's Faerielands" book, Something Rich and Strange by Patricia A. McKillip (Bantam), which won the Mythopoeic Award for Best Adult Fantasy Novel for 1995. I also worked with Leonard Wolf on The Essential Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and The Essential Phantom of the Opera (Plume), which are annotated editions of those classic works -- in the case of Phantom, it was a new translation by Leonard. I also did editorial chores on two third books in a trilogy, Isaac Asimov's Utopia by Roger MacBride Allen (Ace) and Triumph of the Dragon by Robin Wayne Bailey (Roc), both of which I inherited when coming on board.

We had a line of young adult fantasy and horror novellas with Atheneum that unfortunately is coming to an end. Some of the best books I've worked on were for that line: Born of Elven Blood by Kevin J. Anderson & John Gregory Betancourt, The Monster's Legacy by Andre Norton, and two forthcoming titles, Monet's Ghost by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and The Vampire's Beautiful Daughter by S.P. Somtow.

Also coming this year are another Leonard Wolf book called Dracula's Legacy: 100 Years of Vampire Fiction (Oxford University Press), a reprint collection; Red Unicorn by Tanith Lee (Tor), which continues from Tanith's Black Unicorn and Gold Unicorn; Millennial Stars, which is a jam novel conceived by Bob Silverberg, and which will come out under our new imprint, Byron Preiss Multimedia Books; and, pending everyone signing their contracts, BPMB will also be doing a line of novels based on a popular role-playing game, which I'll be editing.

JB: On top of all this, there's a special series of releases you've been working on that we should hear about.

KEITH: Why, yes! And it's the project I'm proudest to be involved with. We're packaging the Alfred Bester Library, for Vintage. It began with reissues of The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination last year. This year, we'll be releasing a short story collection called Virtual Unrealities, which will include some unpublished work of Bester's -- along with Robert Silverberg, I got to select the stories that went into that, which was one helluva thrill. And Bester left a delightful novel called Psychoshop unfinished when he died; Roger Zelazny did finish it right before his tragic death, and this year we'll also be releasing what may be the field's only doubly posthumous collaboration (he says morbidly).

JB: What's your procedure for choosing authors and story proposals for your line?

KEITH: It varies from project to project. In the case of the Atheneum YA series, we tried to approach the best and the brightest in the fantasy and horror fields. Besides those listed above, the line included Bob Silverberg, Charles de Lint, Esther M. Friesner, Tanith Lee, Tad Williams, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Tom De Haven, among others. Other times, a person will come linked with a project.

For the Marvel books, it can get tricky. Not everyone is cut out for this sort of thing; it needs to be someone who can write prose who also knows the characters. I've been lucky in that I've managed to find a good bunch of people like Greg Cox and eluki bes shahar and Pierce Askegren and Jason Henderson and Christopher Golden and Dean Wesley Smith and so many others who are excellent writers and also big super hero fans.

We do one Marvel anthology a year (in 1996 we did two, but that was exceptional), and the anthologies have proven to be excellent breeding grounds. Over a dozen of our novelists started out writing a short story, which led me to ask them to do a novel.

JB: Let's talk about those Marvel anthologies. Who makes the decisions on the editor and theme?

KEITH: Well, Stan Lee is the Editor of the Marvel anthologies, for reasons that should be obvious. The exception is the '97 anthology Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which is co-edited by Stan and Kurt Busiek, who writes the Untold Tales comic book. I still do a good deal of editorial work on these anthologies; only a part of this is the actual picking and editing of stories. There's a great deal of traffic managing, with production, with artists, and with Marvel, who has to approve everything. I handle all of that.

The decision as to which anthology to do is done in-house by myself and Byron. We started with The Ultimate Spider-Man for obvious reasons. Next was The Ultimate Silver Surfer, a favorite character who we thought was best suited to the anthology format. We were told that Marvel would be doing a major super-villain theme in the summer of 1996, as well as releasing a CD-ROM, so we did The Ultimate Super-Villains neither of those projects materialized, but we still did the anthology, and it's one of our best. Also in 1996, we acquired the X-Men license, so we did The Ultimate X-Men.

In 1998, we'll be doing The Ultimate Hulk, with Untold Tales of the X-Men very tentatively planned for 1999.

JB: On projects like these, what is your working relationship with the editor of the anthology?

KEITH: Pretty good. I also worked behind the scenes on Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House, which was edited by Nancy A. Collins, plus the aforementioned Dracula's Legacy with Leonard Wolf. On that type of project, the in-house person still has to arrange the stories, deal with contracts, deal with artists, etc.

But Stan, Kurt, Nancy, and Leonard have all been joys to work with.

JB: You also have done work editing some theme anthologies like the recent OtherWere: Stories of Transformation with Laura Anne Gilman (Ace) and the upcoming Beneath the Night: New Tales of Urban Fantasy with Josepha Sherman (Baen). First off, how do you choose the subject for these?

KEITH: We don't -- they choose us.

In both of those cases -- as well as two others I'm in the process of developing -- they're ideas that came to us at conventions. The creation of OtherWere is spelled out in the introduction to that volume, and Beneath the Night (which is not our title, by the way -- Baen chose that, and we're stuck with it, grump grump) grew out of a discussion of urban legends that Josepha, Christie Golden, Laura Anne, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and I were having in the bar at Disclave 1995. Somebody said, "this should be an anthology!" (because someone always does), and I was one of two people who really and truly followed through.

In both cases, we put together proposals, and started shopping them around. Ace took OtherWere, Baen took the urban legends anthology proposal, and that was that.

Mind you, for every success story like those two (and, e.g., Weird Tales from Shakespeare, which had a similar genesis), there are about sixty ideas editors and authors come up with in bars where someone says, "this should be an anthology!" and it doesn't go anywhere.

JB: Here's the big question that I'm sure everybody is really interested in: How do you pick your slate of authors for these anthologies?

KEITH: We draw straws.

Okay, we pick names out of a hat.

Would you believe a lottery?

Seriously, it varies from project to project. In addition to the ones that I have cited so far, I also co-edited The Ultimate Alien and The Ultimate Dragon (Dell). In those cases, there was a more-or-less open call, and I had to wade through a slush pile.

In every anthology, there's always a group of people you contact who you think might be right for it. Sometimes it ends there. Sometimes you put out an open call amongst a limited group of people -- say, only members of SFWA. And sometimes, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden has done with Starlight, it's open basically to anyone who sends him a story. Ultimately, it depends on how much time you have. If you have the time to plow through a huge slush pile (as I did for Alien and Dragon), then you make it more open. If you don't, you keep it to a limited group of authors whom you think would be right for it (as we did for OtherWere).

The sad truth is, the best way to get into an anthology is to know the editor, though there's more to it than that. The editor has to respect your writing, or at least be willing to give you a shot. Speaking for myself, I'm always willing to -- I've published several first sales, and hope to continue doing so. And every editor gets to know more and more people all the time, so even the pool of people the editor knows can get damnably large.

JB: Closely related question: What makes you want to see a particular author on your project?

KEITH: Ye gods, what an impossible thing to quantify. In the case of the Marvel books (and for any tie-in project), knowledge of the characters is crucial. It's even more important for these than it might be for other tie-in projects because we're dealing with characters with up to 30 years of history.

For example, the Hulk. The same guy has been The Incredible Hulk for a decade, and he's also a New York Times best-selling novelist. So who, other than Peter David, could we possibly ask to write the first Hulk novel? And he wrote a great one in What Savage Beast.

For the anthologies, you look at what a particular person would be good at. We knew certain people would come up with potent stories in a particular theme. To give another Peter David example, I knew Peter had wanted to do a sequel to his original novel Howling Mad, which featured a wolf who'd been bitten by a werewolf, and so turned into a human being on the night of the full moon. So, when we were putting OtherWere together, I approached Peter to do that sequel.

Sometimes an author will say, "I always wanted to do a story about..." We got a bunch of those for Beneath the Night, in fact. Also, eluki bes shahar -- a writer I have always enjoyed reading, and who is also a friend -- has wanted to write the X-Men for ages, and now she had the chance when I hired her to write Smoke and Mirrors, which will be out in the fall.

JB: Is there anything in particular that you think a newer writer can do to increase his/her chances at being invited aboard one of these anthologies?

KEITH: Go to conventions. Talk to editors. Read the market reports -- Science Fiction Chronicle and Locus publish market reports, and there's also the Gila Queen's Guide, which is very valuable. And submit to magazines. Getting published in magazines is one way to attract people's attentions. That's where we found Michael Burstein, who has a fabulous story in Beneath the Night.

Another approach is to write a best-selling and/or award-winning novel, of course....

JB: To bring this across the full spectrum, you've even had your own stories published in different anthologies. How did these come about and what was your experience like?

KEITH: Again, networking enters into it. I've known the folks at Wizards of the Coast for a while, so they sent me the guidelines for submitting to their anthologies. I then came up with a story and sent it in -- that became "God Sins" in the second Magic: the Gathering anthology, Distant Planes. I'm really proud of that story, and that experience was very good. I was nervous at first, since my story technically broke one of the rules in the guidelines, but did it in a way that the editor really liked, so it all worked out okay.

And being an anthologist helped me get into the Doctor Who anthology Decalog 3. One of the editors, Andy Lane, is someone I'd bought a story from for The Ultimate Dragon, and he also had a story in The Ultimate X-Men, so we were already in contact. He mentioned that he was putting together a Who anthology, and -- having been a Who fan since I was eight -- I jumped at a chance to submit an idea to it. Luckily, I came up with something that fit the theme -- the Decalogs are very structured anthologies -- and they took it.

What was funny about the Decalog experience was that Andy and Justin Richards sent me a very detailed revisions letter, preceded by an almost abject apology, and all I could think was, "This is nothing! I write harsher revisions letters all the time!" Made me wonder how the other authors were responding to their revision letters...

JB: Since you brought up the subject of revisions, how often does the need arise? I suppose it would too much to expect that a writer's story can make it through the entire process without some editorial input, particularly with licensed subjects.

KEITH: It is extremely rare that the manuscript I am handed looks exactly the same as the manuscript that is typeset. I am very much a hands-on editor, and am a firm believer that no one is above editing.

Having gotten up on that high horse, I have to add that reality does enter into it. Sometimes one is not permitted to change things, whether due to supervisory instruction or to it being a deal-breaker with the author or to lack of time. It's maddening, but one is sometimes stuck.

Still, if a story has made it through the entire process without some editorial input, then the editor hasn't done his or her job.

With licensed books, of course, there's the whole issue of how the characters and situations must play out. Marvel has a department whose sole function is to vet licensed properties, and there's one guy whose primary function in life is to approve our novels and short stories. His comments tend toward things like, "Spider-Man wouldn't do that" or "that was done in this issue of X-MEN" or somesuch.

JB: Thank you very much for your time with this. Anthologies sometimes seem like such a mysterious, behind-the-scenes endeavor; it's nice to get some information that can help a writer lay the groundwork toward appearing in these collections.

KEITH: You're quite welcome. Hope I didn't depress too many people...

Copyright © 1997 by James A. Bailey. All Rights Reserved.

  • Posted by Admin
  • August 16, 2012 5:31 AM PDT
Interview with Keith R.A. DeCandido by James A. Bailey from The Market List archive




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