An Interview With Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl Morgan is a science fiction critic and publisher. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press and editor of Salon Futura. Previously she edited the Hugo Award winning magazine, Emerald City (Best Fanzine, 2004). She also won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer in 2009. Cheryl is a director of San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions Inc., and of the Association for the Recognition of Excellence in SF & F Translation.
I first met Cheryl Morgan at last year’s National Science Fiction Convention, ConScription, in Auckland, and I know her as the non-fiction editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, a regular attendee at science fiction conventions around the world, and the winner of last year’s Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. (Just a hint—the Hugo Awards are like the Oscars of the world science fiction-fantasy community.) Cheryl is back in New Zealand for Au Contraire, this year’s National Science Fiction Convention over 27-29 August—and when I found out she had a new venture on the go as well, I thought it was time to request an interview.
1. Cheryl, you have impressive credentials in the world of science-fiction fandom. As mentioned in my introduction, you travel the world extensively attending scifi-fantasy conventions, are the non fiction editor for Clarkesworld magazine and have won a Hugo Award for “Best Fan Writer.” So when did you first get involved with SFF fandom?
I first attended a convention in 1984. Martin Hoare and Dave Langford encouraged me to attend an Eastercon in Brighton. Martin was my boss at work at the time, and he knew I read SF&F so he figured I would fit right in. He and Dave had been friends at university, so I got in already knowing fannish royalty, so to speak.
However, I didn’t get seriously involved until 1995. I had just started a job in Melbourne, but was in the UK to ferry some stuff out, and I saw that Worldcon was in Glasgow. I thought I might find some Australian fans there, and that might help me make friends in my new home. Of course the Melbourne fans were bidding for a Worldcon at the time, and I got sucked right in.
2. So what’s “true north” for you in the SFF world—is it the conventions, the writing and interviewing, or simply the people?
Can I say “all of it”? I suppose if I had to give up everything else I would still want to be able to read books, but really I wouldn’t want to do without any of it.
3. Being so deeply involved in the SFF world, do you ever get jaded, feel like there’s “nothing new” anymore?
There’s always something new. New writers come along, new fans turn up online or at conventions, the community is always changing. The one thing that doesn’t change is that every time something new comes along someone complains that it will Destroy Fandom because things are Not Like They Used To Be. I get very tired of that.
4. So have you seen many big changes in fandom since 1984, or is more a case of incremental evolution? And what have been some of the more significant changes from your point of view?
I think that there have been two major changes. The first is that the Internet has made it vastly easier for fans to communicate. It used to be that we had to send letters and fanzines to each other by snail mail, and could only see each other at conventions. These days we chat via Twitter on our phones and have video calls on Skype. The main result of this has been that as long as you can afford an Internet connection it doesn’t matter where you live, you can still be part of fandom. People like Lauren Beukes in South Africa, Glenda Larke in Malaysia, Jonathan Dotse in Ghana, Tero Ykspetäjä in Finland, Charles Tan in the Phillipines, or Fábio Fernandes in Brazil, and everyone in New Zealand, can be active members of the world-wide fan community.
The other change is that we really have won the Culture War. Back in 1984 it was still (just about) a Proud and Lonely Thing to be a Fan. But even then us noisy youngsters had grown up on Star Trek and Star Wars. These days the Moon landings are ancient history, most of the top-grossing movies are SF or fantasy, and politicians crack jokes about Kirk and Spock. There might be a few crusty old fools who think that SF is “bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other” (to quote one of last year’s Booker Prize judges), but actually almost everyone reads or watches it in some way or another.
5. And what are some of the highlights—the moment you’ll always remember?
I have been lucky enough to have won two Hugo Awards. It doesn’t get any better than that. But for personal reasons I will always have fond memories of the Glasgow Worldcon in 1995. I made lots of new friends there, but in particular I met an American fan called Kevin Standlee who has been a very important part of my life ever since.
6. You have recently embarked on a new project, an e-publishing venture called Wizard’s Tower Press and Kevin is one of your business partners in that, isn’t he? Can you explain what Wizard’s Tower Press is all about?
It is a long story, but for complicated reasons involving travel to the USA I found myself needing to have a real business that involved going to conventions. Publishing seemed to be the obvious route to take, but I had no money to invest so I had to find some way to do it that didn’t involve potentially bankrupting myself. As a result I am getting involved in ebooks. Kevin, as always, is my sounding board, moral support, and detail-oriented nag, but I have many other fine people working for me as well, including Anne Gray who did such a wonderful job of fixing my grammar for Emerald City.
Mostly what we will be doing at Wizard’s Tower is finding books that are long out of print that the big publishers are not interested in, and making them available again as ebooks. I’m not expecting to grow a huge company, or discover the next William Gibson, or anything like that, but I do hope I can help out the many mid-list authors whose careers are stagnating because the publishers and bookstores are increasingly focused on best sellers.
We will do some print books too – mainly specialist anthologies – but they will be few and far between because small press anthologies tend to lose money. My friend Colin Harvey is currently editing an anthology for us called Dark Spires. It will feature stories set in the Wessex region of England, written by authors who live in that region, and we’ll be launching at at the local convention, BristolCon, in November.
Then there will be the magazine …
7. OK, tell me about the magazine …
The magazine is called Salon Futura. Given Wizard’s Tower’s focus, it will be available as an ebook (DRM free; iBooks and Kindle to begin with), but like Clarkesworld it will also be available for free online. It is a literary review magazine, so it will talk a lot about science fiction and fantasy, but it won’t carry fiction.
We are open to submissions, but we won’t do huge numbers of reviews. In the same way that Clarkesworld focuses on a small number of high quality stories, we will focus on a small number of high quality articles about books. However, we will pay for those. I firmly believe that non-fiction writers deserve paying just the same as fiction writers do.
8. How does Salon Futura fit with the rest of the Wizard’s Tower Press project?
Salon Futura will give us an opportunity to remind people that Wizard’s Tower exists. When we bring out new books, we will mention them in the magazine. But along the way I hope to promote a lot of other good books as well. Indeed, once we get our online shop up and running we’ll be happy to sell anyone’s ebooks as long as they are of good quality.
9. And it’s launching at Aussiecon4, the World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne from 2-6 September, is that right? So what are you planning—a big party or something different?
Sorry, no party I’m afraid. We can’t afford it, and from experience of 1999 I know that trying to run a party in a Melbourne hotel is massively expensive. But the first issue of the magazine should be online during the convention, and hopefully people will talk about it.
10. So the approach is low key—no event at all, but just relying on word of mouth?
You may find me shoving my iPad under people’s noses and saying, “look at this”. Also most of my news reporting will go out via the Salon Futura from then on, so if we can get an Internet connection from the Hugo ceremony the coverage will be Salon Futura branded. That might be something of a virtual party.
11. I’ll be attending the Hugo Awards ceremony in person—for the very first time—but otherwise I would definitely be up for the virtual party! But sticking with Wizard’s Tower Press & Salon Futura, do these new projects mean that you will be quitting your editorial role with Clarkesworld?
I’m definitely staying with Clarkesworld. As I said, Salon Futura is a literary review magazine. The sort of non-fiction I buy for Clarkesworld tends to be very different. Indeed, Clarkesworld has a firm policy of not publishing book reviews at all.
12. Can you tell me more about what being non fiction editor for Clarkesworld involves? For example, you’ve just said that you buy non fiction for the magazine?
That’s right. Clarkesworld is primarily a fiction magazine, but it carries some non-fiction as well. There is a regular series of interviews, conducted by Jeremy L.C. Jones, and then there is the column I manage, which covers a whole range of material. We have done science, history, art, music – basically anything that touches on the science fiction and fantasy field, but is not an interview (that’s Jeremy’s territory) and not a book review or con report (which we don’t publish).
I’m very pleased that Clarkesworld pays the same rates for non-fiction as it does for fiction. You can get 10c/word, up to $250, writing for us. I’m really surprised at how few submissions we get. (Hint, the submission guidelines can be found here.)
13. Another one of your “hats” is as a member of the Association for the Recognition of Excellence in SF & F Translation. I am very interested to know more about the Association’s work and your own part in it?
This all came out of my work with Science Fiction Awards Watch. As you know, we track awards from all around the world, including the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and also many sets of awards from non-English-speaking countries. I very quickly noticed that in those countries where English was not the first language, be it France, Germany, Japan, Russia, China, or anywhere else, there was always an award category for translated fiction. And that category was almost always won by a work translated from English. But in the entire English-speaking world I could not find a science fiction group anywhere giving awards to translated fiction. This seemed wrong to me, so I decided to do something about it.
Thankfully other people also thought it was a good idea, and the Association is now an official non-profit organization (though we are still waiting on our tax exempt status from the IRS). Gary K. Wolfe of Roosevelt University in Chicago (probably better known to your readers as the lead reviewer for Locus) is our President, and we have two other academic experts: Rob Latham and Melissa Conway, from the University of Riverside in California. Kevin, as usual, is on hand to help with the legal stuff. Our first jury should be announced by the time this interview goes to press, and the first awards will be presented at the Eaton Conference next year.
I’m very pleased about this. There are huge amounts of science fiction and fantasy being published in languages other than English. Some of those writers are undoubtedly superb, but we English-speakers hardly ever get to hear of them. If our Association can do a little bit to change that we will have done a very good thing.
14. Coming back to your visit to NZ, you are here for Au Contraire over this coming weekend—are there any events that will be a particular focus for you in any of your many roles, including the new Wizard’s Tower venture?
Well I will certainly be reporting once more on the Sir Julius Vogel Awards – live if I can get an Internet connection. I have asked been asked to be on a few panels, but the programme hasn’t been finalized yet so I can’t commit to anything there. I may also be rather distracted as I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the first issue of Salon Futura, but I’ll do my best to be available at the convention. If nothing else I shall continue to blog about my travels and introduce the rest of the world to all of the good things that New Zealand has to offer.
I may also pop into Te Papa to get some squid stuff for my fellow cephalopod fans.
Cheryl—thank you very much for doing this interview. I am very impressed by your long contribution to fandom and your many achievements, not least winning not just one—as I first thought—but two Hugo Awards. I wish you all the very best for the new Wizard’s Tower and Salon Futura projects and a successful launch at Worldcon.