Jul 15, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Ted Kosmatka

For my debut interview in the Keeping An Eye On series (and for this blog), I had the pleasure of running a few questions by Ted Kosmatka. Mr. Kosmatka is primarily a short story author, selling pieces to Asimov's, F&SF, and Cemetary Dance among other places but he also has a couple of novels in the works for those editors looking to buy. Several of his stories have been reprinted in various Year's Best anthologies in the past few years; probably why he was nominated to the list by Niall Harrison and Jonathan Strahan, not to mention being the first author mentioned by Gardner Dozois himself. Besides his genre work, Ted has also written some normal, boring literary fiction if you are into that non-genre trash. I've found that Ted likes to take a slightly darker tone than most authors, as evidenced by some of his answers found below, not to mention the fact he sent a picture of a skull for use in the interview.

But before I lose any more people to failblog.org, here's the interview:

If we are "Keeping An Eye On" Ted Kosmatka, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

I have new stories forthcoming in both Cemetery Dance and Asimov's. I also have stories in four Year's Best anthologies this year which have either just come out, or will be coming out in the near future. Lately I've been working on a longer project, so I don't have a whole lot of new short stories in the pipeline right now.

YetiNote: For reference, those anthologies are Year's" Best SF 14, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer; The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois; The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 3, edited by Jonathan Strahan; and The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2009 Edition, edited by Rich Horton.

If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) you would like them to read?

The story I'm best known for is probably "The Prophet of Flores". It was originally published in Asimov's, but was reprinted several times last year and ended up on the long-list for the Nebula Award. (It was cut from the short list.) Another story I particularly like is "Deadnauts," which is available to read for free at the Ideomancer website. http://www.ideomancer.com/main/vol6issue3/kosmatka/one.html

Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

rhythm trumps grammar
info, how shall I dump thee,
Comma, what comma?

To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several excellent shorter works. Will we see a full-length novel from you some time soon?

I'm really not sure. I used to think so, but my confidence has eroded quite a bit since I first started writing. I've actually finished two novels already-- the second of which I still really like a lot. It's been in submission for years now. I'm currently working on a third novel but live in fear that I'll actually finish it. The idea of having to find a publisher for it, while still looking to find a publisher for the other one... well, just the thought of that makes my eye twitch.

What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

I like post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I also really like lab opera. Lately I've become much more interested in video games as a medium for sci-fi stories. Valve Software in particular has had a slew of really good science fiction games that I think push the boundaries of what video games can be.

What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)

I used to have writing habits. Now I have both a two-year-old and a two-month-old at home, so any writing habits that I used to have went out the window. My day job keeps me pretty busy as well, so I write when I can in the evening. Between diaper changes sometimes. I actually do some writing in my head during my drive to and from work, little bits of prose which I scribble down when I get out of the car. Somehow-- and I'm honestly now sure how exactly-- I still manage to accumulate a weekly word count, even if it tends to be small.

An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

Probably a car accident resulting from me spacing off while driving. Or maybe it'll be something totally off the wall. I've always had this weird feeling that I wouldn't live to be old. My father died relatively young, so when I look into the future, I just see this gray area past the age where he died. That's coming up soon, too.

Oh, there are a bunch of writers who could fill my empty magazine pages if I died. I really like Joy Marchand's stuff; it's every bit as dark as mine. I also think Maya Lassiter is an amazing new writer, and I'd really like to see a publisher snap up her novels. Eric James Stone is also writing some great stories, and he and I explore similar themes. Another writer, Rick Novy, has written dozens of really good stories, and I'd love to see him get more recognition. Rick and I have explored common territory in that we've both written stories about Neanderthals.

During your life it sounds like you’ve worked quite a diverse range of jobs. How has your work experience influenced your writing?

Work has always been a huge part of my life. A lot of my stories revolve around work-- sometimes in ways that are obvious, sometimes not. My upcoming Asimov's story, "Blood Dauber" is a collaboration with a friend of mine, Michael Poore, and it basically started as a conversation about past jobs. I was telling him about my experiences as a zookeeper, and he was telling me about some stuff going on with him, and one thing lead to another, and the next thing you know we were writing stuff down on post-it notes, and we had a rough outline. My stories "Divining Light" and "The Art of Alchemy" are both loosely based on my experiences working in laboratories. (As is my novel manuscript, THE HELIX GAME.) Some earlier stories of mine draw from my experiences working in a steel mill. My story "Bitterseed" has its genesis in my experiences working as a corn detassler in Indiana at age fourteen. If I dug hard enough, I'm pretty sure I could come up with a story about being a paper boy.

A couple of years ago I did my very first reading at the Bauer Museum of Art. I'd written a short literary piece about my experiences working as a laborer in a sinter plant, and the theme of the new exhibit was Big Steel. Someone in charge of the exhibit had read my story and asked me to do a reading opening night. I get nervous in front of crowds, so the experience almost killed me. I literally didn't know if my voice would even function when I got up to the podium. I somehow managed to get through the reading, and the applause afterward was this strange experience for me. I didn't expect it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, really. Maybe crickets, or silence. Maybe a few polite claps. An older gentleman from the audience, a retired steelworker, came up to me later and shook my hand and said about my story "that's exactly how it is in the mill. That's exactly it." It was the best compliment anyone had ever given me. That story later ended up as part of a spoken word CD put together for a national workers' conference and you can listen to it here:


Along the same lines, what is your advice to young (teenage/early 20s) authors who feel frustrated with the publishing world? Do you think that significant life experience is necessary to write well?

Well, if you're frustrated, it means you're paying attention. But you aren't the only one. The editors are frustrated, too. And the agents. And the established writers. It's not easy in the publishing industry right now. It's actually pretty bad. Most publishing houses have slush piles years and years deep. The only advice I could give... and I'd hesitate to presume to give advice to anyone as I doubt I'm worthy to give it, but since you asked... I'll say this: write if you love it. As you accumulate stories, send them out. Keep sending them out even after the rejections start to pile up. If you do that for long enough, then good things might happen. By the time I sold my first story, I'd been rejected so many times that I'd long ago given up. I just couldn't stop writing though, even though I'd lost hope of ever selling anything. I used to joke that I was going to wallpaper my bathroom with rejection slips; I certainly have enough to do the job.

Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

My favorite word is redemption. It's not a fancy word, but it can mean a lot of different things to different people, and a writer could spend his whole career writing about redemption and never repeat himself. The obscure word that seems to keep wanting to make its way into my stories is "periphery," for some reason.

What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Marc Laidlaw had a story called "Flight Risk" that was podcast on Tony C. Smith's Starship Sofa that completely blew me away. I also really liked Camille Alexa's debut collection this year, PUSH OF THE SKY. Jeremy Lewis also had a great new novel out, REVAMPED. Jack Skillingstead has his first short story collection coming out soon, and I know there are some great stories in there as well.

[Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

Ted.kosmatka.com has links to several of my stories. You can also listen to a reading of "Indiana Harbor Jones" HERE.

I would just like to say thanks to Ted for taking the time to answer my questions. I encourage everyone to go out and read Ted's stories to see if he's an author you want to add to your Watchlist. Hopefully, we can get that novel sooner rather than later.

I'm contemplating doing some companion pieces to these interviews, spotlighting a few of short stories mentioned if I can find them, so that might be coming down the pipeline if I find enough reading time. Also, I must say that the whole interview process is quite fun. I love hearing from people who are passionate about genre topics and are willing to talk about it. For the longest time, I always considered authors to be people too busy/important to talk to a simple fan like me.

Come back next Thursday (or as often as you can) for the next Keeping An Eye On interview.


  1. Ted is a fantastic writer, one of my favorites among the genre's fresher faces. I look forward to years of good work from him.

    I've often wondered how my corn came to be detassled. Sounds rather vulgar now that I write it.

  2. I'm not the best judge of short fiction but I would agree. I hope he can get the novel monkey off his back and give us something sooner rather than later.


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