Exploring the eFrontier: A Strangeways Interview with James Patrick Kelly

People who know James Patrick Kelly know he’s always up to something clever and new – a sign that we’re talking about a creative science fiction writer, if ever there was one! A couple of years ago, Kelly took the audio industry by storm. Now we find him reaching back into the past to rescue some of his best loved literary gems from the dark realm of Out of Print Fiction, giving them a second life in his new ezine Strangeways, available for the Nook and Kindle.

Because this is such a hot topic, Underwords had to sit down with James Patrick Kelly, the story master himself, to find out more about his new project – Strangeways.


Strangeways, your new ezine, hit the eMarket on June 30, 2011. For people unfamiliar with your new project, how would you describe it?

Strangeways is a mini-zine in ebook format.  Each issue will feature two reprint stories, one reprint essay and an original essay, along with some other bonus material, all of it written by me.   My idea is to pair a well-known, award-winner or nomined story with a personal favorite that I would like my readers to know better.   I have been writing a column on science fiction on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine for more than ten years now, and have been casting around for some venue to bring these essays back under the light of readers’ eyes.  I’d been thinking about approaching a small press, but then I hit upon the idea of Strangeways.

We’ve seen authors publish their short stories and novels, but nothing quite like this seems to have been done for a collection. What inspired the idea? And how did you go about bringing it to fruition?

I guess my first step into these waters was my podcasting career.   I started my FreeReads podcast back in 2005; it featured me reading my own stories.  Of course, I releasing those podcasts under a Creative Commons license, so there wasn’t a whole lot of money changing hands, although many loyal listeners did donate to my PayPal account.  That lead to Audible asking me to do a for pay podcast called James Patrick Kelly’s StoryPod.     By the time I finished that project I had pretty much podcast all of my stories (that were any good).   So I had been out of e-publishing for a while, but I certainly had my face pressed up against the window of the various ebook stores, wondering how to get my stuff displayed there.

For years I’d had joked to friends that what I really wanted to do was start James Patrick Kelly’s Science Fiction Magazine as a companion to Asimov’s.   And until recently the proposition was absurd on the face of it.  But thanks to the magic of the internets, my wildest dream was suddenly within reach.  Lots of people were e-publishing individual stories for $.99 and collections for $2.99 and more.  I thought that there might be a niche in between these two that I could fill, which is why I’ve set the price for two stories and two essays low, at $.99.  We’ll see!

You’re stepping into a new medium here. What part of the ePublishing process has been the most rewarding or challenging?

I knew right off that I didn’t want to design these books myself.  I love to play with tech: I designed my first webpage in the mid ‘90’s.   I learned the intricacies of podcasting.  I designed and burned promotional CDs and gave them away at cons.  But this was a geek too far for me, and if I was going to splash my name all over this project, I wanted it to look professional.   My podcasting guru and pal Mur Lafferty http://murverse.com  recommended ebook designer Pablo Defendini, who had been doing ebooks for her.   Pablo is an amazing talent; no matter what you think of my ToC, Strangeways Number 1 is gorgeous.  But I also knew that in order to attract readers I needed a great cover.   The featured story in the first issue is my Nebula nominated (lost), Locus nominated (lost) and Hugo nominated (see me August 20th) novelette “Plus Or Minus” which was the cover story of the December 2010 Asimov’s, that cover being by one of my favorite artists, John Picacio.   I approached John for the rights and we were able to reach an arrangement.    Understand that all of this talent did not come cheap;  lots and lots of readers are going to have to download Strangeways for me to recoup my investment!    But I’m not really doing this to get rich; thirty-some years as a short story writer has disabused me of the notion that this particular career leads to fame and/or fortune.  What I want to is reach new readers, and I’m thinking there are a lot of folks out there in ebookland who might like my stuff, if only they could get their hands on it.

The real challenge in this project is getting the word out.  I know that I am not an early adopter, as I was in podcasting.  There are a lot of really great short story ebooks out there already, and, alas, even more ordinary or downright bad ebooks.  I’m still trying to find a way to let people know that my stuff is in that store window, even though it is way, way, way in the back.  All I can do is shout at my computer screen like this and hope that my voice carries.

Also, I can’t figure out how to get Strangeways up on iTunes without sacrificing Pablo’s stellar design.  Help, anyone?

Although you have technically “self-published” your ezine, how do you see it as different from the general definition of “self-publishing”?

One of the job descriptions of a science fiction writer is that she must be a chronicler of change.  When I was coming up as a young writer, “self-published” was a dirty word. (Or was it two dirty words?  Never mind.)  Now it is the wave of the future.  These stories are not self-published in the old sense of the word, in that they have seen several print incarnations.   But in the shiny new sense of the word, they are indeed self-published because they come to you exactly as I want them to.   Any virtues – or flaws! – that you see in them are mine and mine alone.

What pieces are you particularly looking forward to rescuing from the “Out of Print” filing drawer by giving them a second life in Strangeways?

Strangeways Number 2 will feature my 2001 Hugo winner “1016 to 1” and a quirky little story called “Unique Visitors.”   Matched with “Plus or Minus” in Number 1, is another odd story, “The Propagation of Light in a Vacuum,” the only story of mine to feature a recipe!  I am going to run out of award winners pretty quickly, but there are a lot of nominated-but-lost stories that I am very proud of.  But to some extent, I think the most pleasure I will get from this project will be bringing the “B” side stories back into print.

When is the next edition due to come out?

I need to write the introductory essay and send it off to Pablo, so maybe a couple of weeks?  I have high hopes that the cover will be by another fantastic artist friend, Bob Eggleton.


James Patrick Kelly has had an eclectic writing career.nbsp; He has written novels, short stories, essays, reviews, poetry, plays and planetarium shows.  His fiction has been translated into sixteen languages. In 2007 he won the Nebula Award, given by the Science Fiction Writers of America, for his novella “Burn” and the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award twice: in 1996, for his novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and in 2000, for his novelette, “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and has two podcasts: Free Reads and James Patrick Kelly’s StoryPod.

He is a member of the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He is the Vice Chair of the Clarion Foundation, which oversees the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop at the The University of California at San Diego. He served two terms as a councillor on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and was Chair of the Council from 2003-2006.  He has also served on the New England Foundation for the Arts.

You can also follow James Patrick Kelly online via his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

About Erin Underwood

BIO: Erin Underwood is the senior event content producer for MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology events. On the side, she reads, writes, and edits SF.
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2 Responses to Exploring the eFrontier: A Strangeways Interview with James Patrick Kelly

  1. Ooh, sounds like a neat project, and I like how James is bringing back some of the classics to a whole new generation. Best of luck with Strangeways!


  2. I agree, Lori. I hope it’s a trend that we see continuing with other authors. There is so much fantastic fiction out there that has gone out of print. I’d love to see some of it dusted off.


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