James Van Pelt is joining us today to talk about his short story collection, The Best of James Van Pelt. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Signed and numbered by the author. This hardcover with dust jacket will be limited to 200 copies. Nearly 300 thousand words of fiction, and 700 pages!
From a giant spider that can’t be ignored in a high school classroom, to humanity facing a mutagen plague, to the last two robots witnessing the end of the universe, this comprehensive collection includes sixty-two of the best stories from James Van Pelt’s fertile and wide-ranging imagination that have appeared over the last thirty years in Asimov’s, Analog, Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, Talebones, and numerous other science fiction and fantasy publications.
Included in this collection is a Nebula finalist, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award Finalist, numerous stories that were recognized by Analog or Asimov’s readers as among the best of the year, along with titles that were reprinted in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction, and other year’s best anthologies.
Frightening or thrilling or uplifting, each of these stories is an exploration into the unknown. Take up a journey now into The Best of James Van Pelt.
What’s James’s favorite bit?
JAMES VAN PELT
Whenever there’s a list of anything, people ask, “What is your favorite?” Fairwood Press published my debut collection, Strangers and Beggars in 2002. At my first signing, the lead person in line asked me to personalize the signature with the title of my favorite story in the book.
I wish I remember what I chose or how I chose.
After thirty years of publishing short stories in many of the genre’s major markets (and quite a few of the smaller ones too), publishing four other collections, and now gathering the best stories from an entire career so far, answering that question hasn’t grown easier.
In one way, my favorite bit is the creating stories process. I love opening a new document in Word, typing my contact information in the upper left corner, and then skipping down a few lines to type the story’s title. One advantage of writing short stories instead of novels is how often I get to luxuriate in that rush. Just as enjoyable, knowing I’m writing the first draft’s last paragraph, floating deliriously toward a culminating line.
In 1989 when I made my first sale, I loved frequent trips to the post office with new stories printed and tucked into manila envelopes along with a cover letter and SASE. Sending a finished story file to a publisher’s online address doesn’t have quite the same ecstasy, although it’s still fun. In the same sense, for a long time I’d go to the mailbox like it was Christmas. There could be a story acceptance in there!
Still, opening an e-mail to realize the editor wants to publish the story instead of refusing it feels just as good now as when the physical news came in the publisher’s envelope or in my self-addressed one, but with extra postage because it contained a contract.
Then, the stories themselves. I remember in elementary school, the librarian decorated a bulletin board with book titles and in big letters the message, BOOKS, YOUR TICKETS TO OTHER WORLDS. She was right for me as a reader. Even better I found that through writing I could create those worlds. In “O Tannenbaum” I crossed into no-man’s land during the 1915 WWI Christmas truce. In “Saturn Ring Blues” I flew a racer around the ringed planet. I retold The Time Machine in “What Weena Knew.” In these stories I visited a radio magician’s show, I overheard a conversation between two robots at the end of the universe, I walked on a barely frozen lake at midnight to become an unexpected hero. I became old and young, switched gender, changed culture, demonstrated bravery and cowardice, lived as an alien, loved, hated, forgave and condemned.
My elementary school librarian had no idea how literal her tickets to other worlds were.
When I come down to it, getting to this point in my career has to be my favorite bit. To publish a “best of” collection, you have to have a lot to choose from. I sold my first story at thirty-six. I’d grown serious about publishing before turning thirty, submitting work regularly to the magazines. At the time the dream was to tell just one story well enough that a stranger would pay for it. Since then the magic has happened 170 more times.
Other writers have sold much more, but writing isn’t competitive that way. I can’t really compare myself to anyone else. What I can do is hold this big book in my hands, enjoy the gorgeous cover art and know that the little kid who was myself, who wandered into the science fiction section of the public library, and then found which two authors his books would be shelved between has told some stories.
That authors were Jack Vance and A.E. Van Vogt, by the way.
James Van Pelt is a full-time writer in western Colorado. His work has appeared in many science fiction and fantasy magazines and anthologies. He’s been a finalist for a Nebula Award and been reprinted in several year’s best collections. His first Young Adult novel, Pandora’s Gun, was released from Fairwood Press in August of 2015. His latest collection, The Best of James Van Pelt will come out in November and is available for preorder at www.fairwoodpress.com.