15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Interviews with Contest judges, past winners, current winners, and entrants
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Brad R. Torgersen
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15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:56 pm

Like his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith needs no introduction. His roots as a professional fiction writer largely begin with Writers of the Future, to which he has recently returned as a judge. He is also someone I consider to be a mentor, and he's spent a lot of time helping me over the last 15 years, sometimes in ways he's not even been aware of.

And if that's not enough of a bona fide, here's the official scoop:

"...Bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith has written more than ninety popular novels and well over 100 published short stories. His novels include the science fiction novel Laying the Music to Rest and a thriller titled The Hunted . With Kristine Kathryn Rusch, he is the coauthor of The Tenth Planet trilogy and The 10th Kingdom. He writes under many pen names and has also ghosted for a number of top bestselling writers.

Dean has also written books and comics for all three major comic book companies, Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, and has done scripts for Hollywood. One movie was actually made.

Over his career he has also been an editor and publisher, first at Pulphouse Publishing, then for VB Tech Journal, then for Pocket Books.

Currently, he is writing thrillers and mystery novels under another name..."


http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/


Brad R. Torgersen wrote:1. Algis Budrys was integral to the Writers of the Future contest for many years. Are there any nuggets of wisdom that Algis passed on to you, as a mentor, which you think are equally valuable for all new writers?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Algis Budrys was my first instructor at Clarion in 1992 and we became friends over the years. I can’t even begin to describe the vast amount of information I learned from AJ. But story structure I think was the biggest single eye-opening thing I learned from AJ and how stories can be broken down into seven simple points. Every story has a 1) Character in a 2) Setting with a 3) Problem. Miss any of those points the the opening is boring. Character then tries to 4) solve the problem and 5) Character fails. Character must fail, or by succeeding make the problem worse. Then in one final ditch try 6) character either succeeds or fails and 7) there is a validation where the reader is told the story is over in one way or another. AJ did this with his famous “Sarah Jane” lecture.



2. What is it like, having been participants in the original Writers of the Future workshop, as "ground floor" people, now coming back and being judges?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Honestly, coming back to be a judge after being in the part of the contest is really stunning and hard to believe. And it sort of is one of those markers that says “Hey, you’ve been around a while.” I don’t think it has really set in yet, to be honest.



3. In your time as judges for the Contest, are there any shared themes or particular qualities you're seeing in the stories you like best?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:I honestly haven’t seen enough stories as a judge yet to make any conclusions.



4. What do you think winning The Contest doest best, for people who have never been published before?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:As Robert Silverberg said during the awards ceremony the very first year of the contest, “This is the way it should be with every sale, but never is.” And he’s right. When you place in the Contest and get in the book, you not only make a great sale, but also the fantastic workshop and the ceremony that says you did something right. From there it’s up to each writer to keep going on the path they choose, but it sure is a great boost.



5. Back to Algis Budrys, were there any warnings or other things he suggested you shy away from, which have proven true since the very first workshop?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Actually I learned from Algis Budrys things to stay away from by mistakes AJ made, not so much by him telling me to stay away. I watched AJ slow down and finally almost stop writing and that broke my heart because I was one of his biggest fans. He had turned his attention to so many other things, he forgot about his own writing, so after watching AJ and making a few similar mistakes myself over the years, I never let my writing get far away from top priority. A fantastic lesson I’m sure AJ never intended to teach me.



6. What are some of the best habits or truths you think beginning or aspirant writers need to focus on?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Best habits or truths? Wow, pretty simple actually. Habits: You have to write and finish what you write and mail out everything you write to someone who can buy it. And you must do it every day or every day that is possible, without excuses. Truth: You have a lot to learn and sure, you made a fantastic sale to Writers of the Future, but if you stop learning, it might be your last sale. Truth is you have to keep learning and wanting to be a better writer for your entire career. Hard truth for most to grasp.



7. What are some of the worst habits or myths you think beginning or aspirant writers need to jettison?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Worst habits or truths to get rid of. I would change the word “truth” in this to “myth” and go from there. Worst habit is taking your stories to workshops too much and then trying to fix them instead of learn for the next story. Worst myth (or “truth”) is that slow writing and thinking that everything has to be rewritten to death. Horrid and kills more writers than anyone can imagine. Every writer is different, no question, and every writer finds a way to produce fiction, but the human creative brain won’t allow your own voice and personality through with too many rewrites, because to the critical brain, that’s the dull part and it gets taken out. Why is your own voice the dull part? Because you hear it in your head every day, so it has to be dull, when actually that voice that seems dull to you will be what makes your story different and alive.



8. In your time as editor, what are some of the most painful mistakes you've seen new writers make?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Oh, if there’s a mistake, a new writer will make it. Far too many to even think of describing. I’ve seen new writers do silly things like tell me how bad my magazine is and how their wonderful story will improve the quality of my magazine. I’ve had new writers threaten me in letters. I’ve had new writers send along cobwebs because there were spiders in their story. You name it, after fifteen years of editing, I’ve pretty much seen it all.



9. Does judging for the Contest mirror at all your time spent editing for anthologies and magazines?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:The contest is nothing like editing for a magazine at my level. I’m sure the first person to see the manuscripts deals with all that, but by the time the stories get to me, they are the top of the top and all the silly stuff is gone. This is wonderful editing. No comparison at all.



10. What kind of "homework" reading would you recommend for people entering the Contest?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Homework reading? Oh, my, if you haven’t read at least the last ten years of the Contest books, you have no business even submitting work to the contest. That’s just basic and critical.



11. For people scoring regular Honorable Mention or Semi-Finalist, how best might they "amp up" their future entries so as to put themselves into the coveted Finalist circle?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:If you get an honorable mention or semi-finalist, that means the story wasn’t quite right for the judge to pass on. Fine, the best way to get better is just keep learning all the craft you can and write a ton of stories. I wrote a short story per week. Some of the other judges in their early years wrote a lot more than that. Write a lot and keep learning and keep sending stories in and eventually your skill will connect with the right story and the first judge will pass it on to the rest of us. It really is that simple.



12. Another Algis Budrys related question -- what kind of legacy do you hope to leave for future writers just coming in, or about to come in, or who might come in during the next couple of years?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:I can’t hope to give future writers more than opinions and maybe something said at the right time that a writer is ready to hear it and move forward. It’s the contest itself that helps the writers jump forward. I’m just been honored to be a part of it off and on over the years and to be in that very first volume.



13. What are your thoughts on the emergence of electronic self-publishing? Are new writers jumping too soon, or not soon enough?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:I think any new writer coming into this new world of publishing must remain balanced between traditional publishing and indie publishing. I think many new writers put up stories far before their skill level will allow those stories to be read by more than their family and friends. But no harm done, just as there is no harm done sending a story to an editor. Editors will reject the story just as easily as readers won’t buy it. But the best approach now and for the near future is do both.



14. Should new writers "target" stories to markets, or find markets to fit their stories?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Should writers “target” stories? Oh, heavens, NO!! A writer needs to write what makes them passionate, what they love, what scares them. After they are done with a story, then they look for a market. Never before. Besides, to be blunt, newer writers who try that never have the skills to even write a sellable story, let alone hit a target and write a sellable story. Early on sales come from passion in the writing. Has to be there. Ignore all marketing while writing.



15. Are there any last thoughts, messages, or ideas you want to plant into the brains of all the entrants and other aspirant writers who are reading this?

Dean Wesley Smith wrote:Overall advice? Write a lot and keep learning. Write what you are passionate about, what you love, and then finish it and mail it, no matter what you think of it. Let those of us who are editors decide if it is worth buying or not. And for heaven’s sake, if you are eligible for Writers of the Future, don’t miss a quarter. It’s the best market out there. Period.


There you have it. Mega-kudos to Mr. Dean for sparing time to answer these.

Moreover, the first professional writing workshop I ever did, was not Writers of the Future. It was the Kris'n'Dean Show two-day weekend whirlwind workshop over in Lincoln City, Oregon, featuring Mr. Smith and his lovely wife Ms. Rusch. That was one heck of an eye-opener for me, and I credit that experience with jolting me out of some comfort zones and getting me to the next level. I've since gone back to Lincoln City for second and third helpings, and cannot say enough good about the workshops that Dean and Kris run.

I am also not sure you can find two more splendid examples of what a person can do with their writing, before, during, and after winning the Writers of the Future contest. Dean and Kris both have fashioned successful, lucrative, professional careers for themselves, using the bedrock tools they picked up during that very first WOTF workshop over a quarter of a century ago.

Thank you again for passing along the hard-won wisdom, Dean!

:D
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Alex Kane
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Alex Kane » Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:44 pm

Great points. And you've just gotta love Dean's no-bull attitude toward the industry.

He knows what he's seen, and he'll tell you all about it. It's up to you to listen and apply.

I think there's a lot to be said for the point about passion selling a writer's early stories. When it becomes subliminal, personal, writing takes hold and breathes -- it grows into a creature all its own, wonderfully relentless. The story that is labored over, given critical thought rather than artistic passion, tends to collapse under its own weight. Speaking from limited experience, but my first two sales were for stories that literally frightened me to write, and that haunted me for days until I finally wrote them. Catharsis and passion really are key components to the art. If one manages to combine those with discipline, one surely becomes unstoppable.
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Mon Jan 10, 2011 10:36 am

Having gone to a workshop in Oregon with Kris and Dean, I would highly recommend it as well. The energy, the learning and the people were fantastic. I loved it so much I'm headed back up at the end of Feb for the novel workshop again and the Denise Little workshop.

As a bonus, the area is beautiful. I took a run every morning along the beach and got to watch the seals play as I ran. And the pancakes at the Anchor Inn were delicious. :)
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby izanobu » Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:46 pm

Ha! I told you to eat the pancakes ;)

The workshops are amazing, I third this.

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Brad R. Torgersen
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Mon Jan 10, 2011 2:24 pm

Well, it may be that I will be coming out to Lincoln City in February for the short story workshop. I had not expected to be able to do this, but things always seem to have a way of working out.

Just have to confirm some details first. If it can happen, it will be nice to see both familiar and new faces.

:)
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby ThomasKCarpenter » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:18 pm

That would be great, Brad. Hope it works out. Would be good to meet you.
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:24 pm

Thomas and Ms. Nobu, see U both in February!

:D
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby izanobu » Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:31 pm

Woohoo!

Hmm. I should uh...start that novel. You know, the one due the 1st...

I got tons of time!

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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Tue Jan 11, 2011 2:48 pm

Naw, wait until the 15th, you'll only need five or six days anyway, right?

LOL!

:mrgreen:
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby izanobu » Tue Jan 11, 2011 2:51 pm

Hahahaha *ahem*.

First I have to finish this current novel. 24k left to go. Then 90k on the next one. If I start by the 17th I should be fine. Right? Right? I don't need wrists. That's what painkillers and ice were invented for!

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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Wed Jan 12, 2011 9:20 am

When you hands fall off, there is always voice recognition software. When your tongue falls out, you can learn to type with your toes.
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby AdamP » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:33 pm

Really good interview. It got me thinking about taking one of the workshops. Where is a good place to get information about the one in Oregon, or any other good ones anyone here knows of? Thanks!
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby kyle » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:38 pm

AdamP wrote:Really good interview. It got me thinking about taking one of the workshops. Where is a good place to get information about the one in Oregon, or any other good ones anyone here knows of? Thanks!

I wouldn't swear to this, but I think Dead Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch run one in Oregon...

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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby izanobu » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:25 pm

"Dead Wesley Smith"? Typos are funny sometimes ;)

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=50

That's the workshop link for the ones in Oregon run by Dean and his wife Kris Rusch. Word to the wise though, if you aren't ready for the workshops, he won't let you in, so be prepared to answer some questions about yourself as a writer and your career goals etc.

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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby kyle » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:45 pm

izanobu wrote:"Dead Wesley Smith"? Typos are funny sometimes ;)

DOH!

I'd fix it in the original post, but you're right, it's funny!

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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby soulmirror » Thu Jan 13, 2011 4:45 am

"Dead Wesley Smith"


Well, he told us all the secret to being a great writer, above:

And you must do it every day or every day that is possible, without excuses.


Deadlines? I got yer stinkin' deadlines right here! :o

Great interview, very valuable insights! Thanks!
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby nodehead » Sun Jan 23, 2011 9:11 am

Brad R. Torgersen wrote:When you hands fall off, there is always voice recognition software. When your tongue falls out, you can learn to type with your toes.


I feel an Isaac Asimov quote coming on:

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.


Great interview. In fact, all of the interviews have been great so far. They're a really nice addition to the forum.
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Brad R. Torgersen
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Sun Jan 23, 2011 7:52 pm

I shall work to keep doing them, then!
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Alex Kane » Sun Jan 23, 2011 10:15 pm

Brad R. Torgersen wrote:I shall work to keep doing them, then!

I vote for Sean Williams and Tobias Buckell. Just sayin'. Not only are they past winners of the contest, they've also achieved a lot of recognition for their contributions to the field... And space opera is awesome.
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:39 am

Roger that, Alex. I will see what I can rustle up.
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Re: 15 Questions with Dean Wesley Smith

Postby izanobu » Mon Jan 24, 2011 10:40 am

Jim C Hines is also a winner, I believe. Throwing in my suggestion :)


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