AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jeremiah Tolbert

You recently sold a short story to Asimov’s Science Fiction, one of the top short fiction markets in SF/fantasy. How exciting was that for you?

It was very exciting to me because, while I love newer magazines like Lightspeed, my father read Asimov’s when I was a kid. My first encounter with short fiction ever would have been him reading me a story from an old back issue. I can’t recall the story anymore, but I used to pull down the copies he had on his book shelf even before I could read and look at the wild cover artwork and dream up stories of my own to go with the covers. For me, Asimov’s is the first fiction magazine I can remember, and because of that, the sale was special to me.

My dad was responsible for introducing me to science fiction in general, and probably at least indirectly responsible for me becoming a writer. He was always one of the first people to read my stories, and unfortunately he passed away before I saw much success in publishing. It feels like a sale that my Dad would have understood and been really proud of.

You haven’t done a Kickstarter before, but you’ve done some interesting experimental type stuff online, like your Dr. Roundbottom project, and your magazines The Fortean Bureau (now defunct) and The Big Click. What attracts you to those kinds of new publishing opportunities?

I guess if I’m being honest, each of those projects started with the arrogant notion that I could improve on what others have done before me. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I contemplate my next project along these lines. I have some vague ideas but nothing has really become concrete yet.

I’ve always had this deep-seated belief that web can change the way we tell stories for the better. It’s certainly increased our access to audiences, along with creating all kinds of copyright infringement problems, but I can’t seem to shake the notion that there’s something about the web that could lend itself to an evolution of storytelling, a new way of doing things that we’ve never seen before. I’m not talking about hypertext fiction either, which people seem to have experimented with and discarded in the early days. There’s something out there, on the fringes. I can almost taste it.

I guess I’m just arrogant enough to think that maybe I can help find that new way. Ultimately each one of the projects you’ve listed below was like something that came before it, and not this truly new thing I am seeking, but they were educational and entertaining to do at the very least, and I loved my time on each, and still do enjoy working on The Big Click.

What’s the appeal of Kickstarter to you, as a consumer (and as a potential user)?

As a potential user of the service, it appeals to me in the same way self-publishing does—it’s a way of directly involving the audience in the sausage-making, and seems to cut out some middle men that don’t always do a good job of justifying their place in the process (although I do believe they have a purpose, and an important one. It’s just not always necessary as Kickstarter has demonstrated).

As a consumer, see above. I love the idea of helping circumvent gatekeepers for something that really inspires me to support it. Some things aren’t popular enough in concept to appeal on a large scale, but on a small scale, via crowd funding, can be accomplished. I love the old-fashioned video game styles Kickstarter has helped kickstart, and I really love seeing authors whose publishers have lost interest turning to their fans to support the book series to completion.

In general it just seems like a purer form of democratic capitalism, even though Kickstarter isn’t strictly about selling things. It lets you “sell” an idea directly to the people who would consume that idea. And it’s thanks to the web that such things are possible today. So I can get behind that.

In addition to writing, you’re also a kick-ass web designer, who has designed the website for Lightspeed and Nightmare, and a bunch of author sites, as well as other stuff. Does that kind of creative work effect your writing at all? Does it maybe prepare you well for writing a story like the one you wrote for HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, which is at least partially dictated by the format?  

I’m working on a graphic novel script right now with the people at Outland Entertainment, and I’m discovering that layout for a website and layout for the comic page has some interesting crossovers. Both involve grids that are really useful to think about in terms of importance of elements.

The best thing about being a self-employed web designer, as far as my writing goes, is it gives me a more flexible schedule so, ideally, I can get more writing done than I could at a regular 9-to-5. In practice, this isn’t always the case, and some days I feel like I’m getting a lot less writing done than I did before I turned freelance. But on the days when I can kick off around 3 and put in a few thousand words on a new story before my wife gets home from work make me pretty damned satisfied with my life.

What’s coming up next for you?  

Most of my writing energy is taken up with writing NIGHTFELL, the above mentioned graphic novel. I’ve seen ten pages of the pencils so far and I’m ridiculously excited about the process.

I’m also outlining and preparing to write a YA novel about time traveling teenagers visiting the Cretaceous oceans of Kansas. I’m really excited about it, but determined to tell it right, so it’s a very slow project.

And then there are a bunch of short stories I would very much like to write. Now if only I could get four or five more hours in each day… could someone kickstart a device that does that soon? I’d back that sucker in a hurry.