Oct 7, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Jason Stoddard

This week's Keeping An Eye On author is poised to have a big 2010. For the past few years, Jason Stoddard has been slowly building a very respectable portfolio in the science fiction circles. His work was impressive enough to catch the eye of Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, and Gardner Dozois and to stick out in their minds when asked to name the writers of the future by SF Signal. After making a splash in the short fiction markets, Stoddard is publishing not one, but two(!) novels next year. And that in addition to his usual short fiction output. Stoddard is also a member of the generation of authors who have at least partially used fiction websites, blogs, and other forms of internet publishing to establish their name within the genre market. That's not suprising given his day job which he still maintains despite a blossoming writing career.

To find out just what Stoddard does for a living and how it affects his writing career, read on...

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

JS: The big news is that I have two novels coming out in 2010 from Prime Books: Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise. The titles sound familiar, don't they? More on that later.

As far as what I'm working on, ha! Most is work-work. But, with luck, I'll soon finish the rewrite of my new near-future novel Hello World, and I'm working on a script based on my short story Willpower--which appeared in Futurismic--and you'll be hearing about another story or two soon.

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

JS: Actually, Willpower is a good place to start. It was originally published by Futurismic, and will show up in Rich Horton's anthology Unplugged: The Best of Online Fiction, and it's had some (tiny) love from the Hollywood crowd. Here's where you can read it for free:


Your day job involves working with social media and virtual worlds. Can you expound on this a little more? Is it as interesting as it sounds?

Yes! And, well, no!

In a broader sense, what my day job involves is marketing. Frequently we work on the bleeding edge. Frequently we work for companies doing interesting stuff, like nanotech or mind-controlled toys or kids' virtual worlds. This is the exciting part--getting to see a broad swath of what's happening tomorrow. Getting to have drinks with some of the people who are shaping the future.

But, guess what? It's always still about results. The campaign has to get results. The site has to work. So there's plenty of detail work, plenty of keeping-up stuff, plenty of grind. Not complaining--it goes with the territory.

SoY: How has your experience with social media influenced the content of your writing? The way you market yourself to potential readers?

JS: Ha. Yeah, I write what I know, and you could look at a lot of my recent output--especially the story Monetized, which appeared in Interzone this year, and the upcoming novel Hello World--as taking social media (and monetization of social media) to logical extremes. Social media is so powerful on a personal level, it's a fairly profound change.

As far as social media for marketing myself, sure, but tempered with a huge dose of lack-of-time, and another strong dose of caution. People don't want to be marketed to when they're hanging out with their friends. It's like me coming into your house with a sandwich board and bullhorn, saying. “Buy my book!” Because of this, I concentrate mainly on blogging. Facebook is more or less for friends, Twitter is dedicated to one-line wine reviews.

That said, I do have some interesting ideas for marketing the book when it comes out--but they aren't entirely social. I'm going to keep my hat on these for now.

SoY: What's the most innovative example of “social media” you've come across this year? What's at the bleeding edge of the market?

JS: When we're talking social media, I think we need to concentrate on “most relevant,” rather than “most innovative.” And only one thing really comes to mind as an example of a company doing it right. Google “Extreme Shepherding” and watch the video. This is the way to do it. It's so well-done I didn't think to ask myself “Hmm, did they really just find these guys and pay them to do this, or did they engineer the whole thing (maybe even to the point of CG?)”

Bleeding edge? That's easy. Augmented reality is the bleeding edge. It's kind of a marketing fad at the moment--only Ray-Ban has a good use for it, which allows you to model virtual sunglasses via your webcam. But augmented reality is going to mature, it's going to be big, and it's going to be pervasive. But before that, it'll have to go through its Second Life moment, where it's savaged by the press.

SoY: What's been the highlight of your career so far? What would you have to do to consider your writing career a success?

JS: The high point was getting contacted by Sean Wallace of Prime Books. The conversation went something like this:

Sean: “So, are Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise available for publication?”

Me: “Well, uh, yeah, but I've released one as a Creative Commons PDF and one's being serialized on my blog.”

Sean: “Doesn't matter. More publicity for the physical product.”

Me: “!!!”

So there you go. Two novels, both released into the wild. Now both will be hardbacks. From an unknown author. Or, in other words, what a whole lot of people said could never happen. I'm very happy about that.

And, as far as long-term success goes, I'll be thrilled if I can just keep writing stories and books (and, hopefully, screenplays) that people like. Everything else will come.

SoY: Like Cory Doctorow, you appear to be a proponent of Creative Commons, giving away PDFs of your first novel, Winning Mars. You are also serializing your second novel for free on your blog. How has the free revolution worked for you?

JS: I'm absolutely all about Creative Commons. Giving away my stuff got me a two-book deal from a reputable publisher!

SoY: Combining your career in new marketing techniques and your experience in short fiction circles, do you have any idea on how to modernize/fix the genre short fiction market?

JS: Oho, wow. That's a loaded question. The short answer is, “Yes, I have some ideas, but . . .”

On the “Yes, I have some ideas,” side, the publishers can go a long way to improving their fortunes by taking a lesson from niche marketing: take care of your fans, actively. You do this by keeping people informed, holding special events, and encouraging people to tell their friends. There's no magic here. I'm talking newsletters and Q&As and giveaways and contests. There's no need to go out and have a Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr presence and frantically post and fan and friend. Though Facebook ads would be an interesting test. A more interesting test would be a more visual magazine targeted at people who hang out on i09 and BoingBoing (amongst others), but that takes much deeper pockets.

The “But,” comes from the fact that I've never done a mile on a publisher's Segway, so I can't claim any great expertise. And, like all marketing, any program would take testing and optimization--which means it could end up somewhere very different than where it started.

SoY: 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)?

JS: I'm an isolationist. I can't write in a coffeehouse. I can't write while listening to music with lyrics. I also frequently don't remember big pieces of what I wrote a week before, so the first rewrite can be a big surprise (both good or bad.) Is this weird?

SoY: 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?

JS: If I'm removed, it'll probably be due to me skewering some sacred cow of science fiction groupthink. I'm amazed at how such a forward-thinking group of people can sometimes seem so sad and morose. Maybe it's because I'm in contact with a lot of leading-edge technologies and the people who are creating them, but I'm hugely excited about the future. I think that yeah, there's some scary stuff, and yeah, it ain't necessarily going to be easy, but, I think it'll work out in the end. And it'll work out better. Which some people simply don't want to hear.

The person I'd nominate? The guy who skewered the sacred cow of the reputation economy. Currently with only one Futurismic story to his name, this is a name to watch: Adam Rakunas.

SoY: What are your opinions on eBooks? Are they the future of publishing? What's the biggest deterrent toward eBooks changing the market the same way digital downloads changed music?

JS: Having your whole library in one device beats “the look, the touch, the feel of paper.” Wireless distribution beats shipping slabs of wood pulp all over the world. Yep, ebooks are what make sense for the future.

What doesn't make sense is the pricing. Sorry, big publishers, knocking three bucks off the hardcover price for an ebook simply doesn't work. eBooks make sense at $1-5. Just like iPhone apps.

When the upward pricing pressure falls away, then ebooks take over. It's that simple.

SoY: Your fiction has some interesting ideas about funding the future of spaceflight. What's your opinion on the current state of the Space Program? Where is it going to be in 20 years? Where should it be? What needs to be done to get from where it is to where it should be?

JS: Even when hamstrung, the US space program has achieved some very cool stuff. That said, we're hamstrung. The news of water on Mars could have come in 1976. It took an Indian space probe to confirm water on the moon.

The future, at the least, should look a lot like Zubrin's presentation to the Augustine Commission: Reclaiming the American Spirit Through Mars. In short, he's proposing that we go back to being destination-based, and the destination is Mars. The push is for a number of missions, run continuously, which would put a largely self-sufficient, permanent presence on Mars. And it would be done fast. And it would pay off in terms of a new frontier, and a new focus on science and engineering.

Beyond that: multiple private companies competing to build the first space elevator. When we get low cost to orbit, then everything opens up. Everything changes. And even our biggest fears suddenly seem very, very small.

If we wanted to, we could have Zubrin's Mars presence, workable space elevators, and a lunar colony in the next 20 years. Remember, the original plan for Project Orion was to be on Mars . . . in 1965. I'd love to see some of that spirit back, whether it's in the public or private sector--but, ah, with less nuclear weapons involved.

SoY: If you were offered a one-way ticket to be the first human on Mars, would you go?

JS: Yes. Even if I am The Man Who Lost the Sea.

SoY: You get to choose a single SF/F author (can be living, dead, or zombie) to write one additional book. Who do you choose and why?

JS: I'd love to see what Cordwainer Smith would do if he was living today. His work was so off-path from, well, almost everything else at the time, I used to think he must be a time-traveler hiding in the past.

SoY: What's the best thing you've read this year?

JS: You're assuming I read. Kidding. Though time has been at an extreme premium. And perhaps that's reflected in how long my backlog is--the best thing I've read this year is Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge . . . which yeah, I know, I should have read in 2007.

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

JS: You can usually keep abreast of what I'm doing at http://www.strangeandhappy.com/ (that is, provided I'm not buried in work and unable to update it!) There's a ton of links to free stories and social media-y stuff, as well.

That's it from Jason. He had a lot to say on a number of interesting topics (ignore the fact I was asking the questions) and if this interview got your brain whirling, you should definitely check out his fiction. Even if you don't I'd keep an eye out for the name Jason Stoddard, by the end of 2010 you're most likely going to see it whether you want to or not.


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