JAYME LYNN BLASCHKE is a speculative fiction writer who lives in New Braunfels and works at Texas State University. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of markets, including INTERZONE, ELECTRIC VELOCIPEDE, and the anthologies FAST SHIPS, BLACK SAILS and CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE. He’s probably best-known for his genre-related interviews, some of which were collected in his 2005 book, VOICES OF VISION: CREATORS OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY SPEAK. When he’s not busy writing, he can sometimes be found working as a second cameraman for Lisa On Location Photography Studio, specializing in infrared images.
Favorite authors, sf/f novels, and comics include: James Tiptree, Jr., Greg Bear, Nalo Hopkinson, Charles de Lint, Clifford D. Simak, LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien, A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller, Jr., BATTLE ON MERCURY by Eric van Lihn, DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis, GREY MATTERS by William Hjortsberg, WEIRD BUSINESS, edited by Rick Klaw & Joe R. Lansdale, GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS by Mike Grell, WATCHMEN by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, THE QUESTION (entire run) by Denny O’Neil, and THE ROCKETEER by Dave Stevens.
You’ve worn several hats so far in your career. You’ve been a fiction writer, editor, reviewer, and journalist. Is this diversity by accident, by necessity, or are you happier when you’re working in various capacities? Which is the role you most enjoy?
I have to confess no grand plan. I got out of college with a journalism degree because writing was the one thing I was marginally competent at. After I sold a few short stories, I had the bright idea that I’d put my journalism background to genre use and do a couple of interviews to keep my name in front of readers. At some point, GreenManReview recruited me to write some reviews, and I eventually found myself writing for SFSite and Brutarian. Then the afore-mentioned Rick Klaw tapped me to take over for him as fiction editor at RevolutionSF. I’ve just blindly stumbled from one role to the next. The two thing I sat down and charted strategies for–editing anthologies and writing comics–have been my least successful endeavours.
I’m happiest and most fulfilled when I’m writing fiction. Or rather, once I’m finished writing a piece of fiction. I’m like a lot of writers in that I don’t particularly like the process, but I like “having written.” Interestingly enough, that’s not the case with non-fiction. With the ever-present deadline looming in journalism, the writing comes much easier, which explains why I tend to produce much more non-fiction than fiction, even though I enjoy it less. It’s a siren song. (Warning: the remainder of this article may contain hazardous photographic material which may lead to your immediate need for vigorous brain scrubbing. Venture below the cut, at your own peril.)You’ve got a story called “The Whale Below” in Ann & Jeff Vandermeer’s 2008 pirate anthology FAST SHIPS, BLACK SAILS. How did that develop?
I’ve got a thing for airships, zeppelins, dirigibles. Love ‘em. I did a story for INTERZONE a few years back titled “Being an Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza,” in which huge dirigibles sail between the habitable moons of a Jupiter-like gas giant. There’s a breathable atmosphere because of a gravitationally trapped gas torus, plus lots of swashbuckling and derring-do. I had a great deal of fun with the setting, so when the Vandermeers announced their fantastic pirate anthology, I knew I had to return to this setting. There was a throwaway line in the story about a gigantic, alien species of whale that was essentially a mobile ecosystem, so I channeled some Melville to come up with what a whaling fleet on these alien worlds might be like, and then I had pirates attack. All of them in airships, of course.
A month before the anthology opened for submissions, there was a Turkey City Writers Workshop in Austin. Jeff Vandermeer was a guest, and so I strategically took “The Whale Below” along for critique. He got about two pages in before he laughed and asked, “This isn’t a pirate story, by any chance?” I answered with a straight face, “Why, Mr. Vandermeer, I do believe it could be read as such.” When he got to the kraken swarm, he accused me of being a “Shameless panderer,” but hey, I’m in the antho.
Do you have a personal favorite amongst your body of fiction-writing?
That’d be “Europa, Deep and Cold.” My all-out, throw caution to the wind, nuts and bolts, take-no-prisoners hard-SF story. Bruce Sterling called it science fiction’s DAS BOOT. I researched for a year, maybe more, pestering NASA researchers and basically turning over every stone I could to ensure it was as technically accurate as I could make it. Incredibly difficult story to write, because I don’t have a technical background. I definitely bit off more than I could chew with it, but I’m very pleased with the end result. Venturing outside of one’s comfort zone can be as rewarding as it is painful. Alas, the story remains unpublished.
You’ve built an impressive list of interviews over your career. A lot of them are packaged in your 2005 book VOICES OF VISION. What are one or two favorite moments from your body of interview work?
My favorite moment has to be my interview with Harlan Ellison. That was my first freelance interview, but not by design. He was scheduled to attend a nearby convention, so I wrote asking if he’d agree to an interview. I had a couple of other interviews line up before that convention, so I figured I’d have cut my teeth well enough by then. Well, Harlan phones me up out of the blue saying he’d cancelled that appearance but if I could come up with a dozen questions he hadn’t been asked a million times before, he’d talk with me. Getting a phone call from that man can be quite intimidating for a wet-behind-the-ears writer, but once my knees stopped knocking I accepted the challenge and a week later we had our interview. In the end, I feel I acquitted myself moderately well.
You’re the Communications and Marketing Director for the Science Fiction Writers of America. How did that come about?
A few years ago, then-SFWA President Robin Bailey posted a somewhat cryptic message on a SFWA newsgroup asking for people with media relations experience to contact him. My background’s in journalism, but for most of the past decade I’ve worked primarily in media relations, so I bit. The next thing I knew I was chair of the SFWA publicity committee. When Russell Davis took over the presidency, he did some organizational restructuring and my chairmanship became a directorship. But there hasn’t been much practical change in what I do.
My position’s a volunteer job–-all the officers and committee chairs in SFWA are volunteers–-and I imagine my reasons for doing this are similar to most everyone else’s. We believe in the mission of SFWA, which is an advocacy organization for writers of speculative fiction. It’s there as a resource, and works to further our interests. There’s nobody else out there looking out for us. SFWA does a lot of good for writers, but much of it is behind the scenes stuff the group never gets any credit for. The grievance committee (GriefCom), in particular, is a wonderful tool for writers who find themselves being taken unfair advantage of. One time, some years back, I was having trouble with a publisher who simply would not pay me. I finally asked GriefCom to get involved, and a check showed up in my mailbox before the end of the week.
When I see all the hard work officers like Russell Davis, Mary Robinette Kowal and Elizabeth Moon invest in the organization, I really feel like a slacker, sending out my little media releases every other month or so. The effort from those folks is inspiring. My serving as media director is the least that I can do.
Part of your personal website is devoted to a shrine to the DC Comics character, the Green Arrow. What is it about the character that resonates so strongly for you?
The first Green Arrow story I ever read was “Manhunt for a Murderer” by Gerry Conway with art by Michael Netzer in WORLD’S FINEST #246. Green Arrow takes down the bad guy by shooting an actual broadhead through his shoulder. Ouch! That was pretty hard-edged stuff for Comics Code super-hero stories at the time, and it made an impression. Here was this guy, Oliver Queen, with no powers other than a nifty Robin Hood outfit, some trick arrows and that crazy goatee. What’s not to like? Having the hottest girlfriend in all of comics sealed the deal. I still have a crush on Black Canary to this day.
I love the fact that Oliver Queen’s a guy with no powers out there mixing it up. He’s deeply flawed. He’s not a great fighter or uber-genius like Batman. He’s impulsive and passionate. He was incompetent enough to get swindled out of his vast fortune. How can anyone not love that? Yet he’s the only one willing to call out the Justice League for becoming too self-important or the Guardians of the Universe for ignoring the plight of the little guy. I worship Mike Grell’s run with the character, but Denny O’Neil’s brilliant work on GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW back in the 70s set the standard.
I co-operated the Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite with a talented artist and writer named Scott McCullar for a long time, but a few years ago we decided to shut it down because out career pursuits–he in comics and me with science fiction–were demanding too much time. I set up the Shrine on my homepage intending to re-post the hundred of issue reviews I’d done for the Fansite, but I never quite found the time for it. A few months ago the hard drive I’d stored those reviews on was damaged, so now I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to recover them.
But I still love the character deeply.
You’re currently working on a non-genre project, a book about the Chicken Ranch. What’s the latest with that?
This is a book that I never wanted to write. When Marvin Zindler died a few years ago, it struck me as a shame that nobody had ever written a book about the events surrounding the closure of the Chicken Ranch with input from everyone who’d been involved. “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is great fun, but it tells the story in broad strokes at best. It’s entertainment, not history. Zindler was dead, and Sheriff Jim Flournoy had died back in the ‘80s. I went around for a year complaining that if somebody didn’t write the book, there wouldn’t be anybody left to talk to. Finally, my wife got fed up and told me to shut up and write the damn book myself.
This project has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. I’ve talked with people who were inside the brothel the day it was closed for good. I’ve learned that La Grange wasn’t unique by a long shot–there were lots of brothels in small-town Texas throughout the 20th century. The Chicken Ranch just kept its nose clean better than the others and cultivated a network of friends and allies throughout the state.
I’ve interviewed some former clients, and am currently talking with the son of a Texas Ranger who used to place as a source of intelligence. The only real dead end I’ve run into is finding women who are former employees of the brothel to interview. They’ve pretty effectively covered their tracks in the intervening decades, but there’s bound to be some out there willing to talk with me. Their part of the story is very important.
What’s next for you as far as genre-related works?
I’m working (or not, as the case may be) on several short stories, including another airship piece set in the milieu of “The Whale Below,” but the Chicken Ranch book is demanding so much of my time that I don’t know when they’ll be finished. My main ongoing fiction concern right now is a serialized experiment I’m publishing via a group blog I belong to, No Fear of the Future. The idea is to write and publish a story in 1,000-word increments without any preplanning or post-publication edits. I’m writing live, without a net, as it were, trying to replicate the Dickensian seat-of-your-pants creative element. When I sit down to write, I normally have no idea what’s coming next and this has led to some interesting twists. The tale–titled “Memory”–has become something of a Moorcockian universe-hopping adventure featuring a Scottish refugee from the battle of Culloden and reality-bending flying serpent. I think there’s a good bit of Jack Vance influence in there as well. It’s proven to be an interesting experiment, even if I don’t publish as regularly as I’d hoped. The first chapter of “Memory” can be found here.
Favorite San Antonio place?
San Antonio Homebrew Supply on St. Mary’s Street. It’s not the best homebrew supply store there is, granted. Their inventory can be spotty at times. But it’s a dingy, cluttered old bar with checker boards and disc golf equipment on the main floor. They serve ultra-microbrew at the bar and shut the place up as soon as the sun goes down. It’s unbelievable. Rationally, they should’ve gone belly-up long ago, yet they’ve persisted for years. I’m convinced there’s sympathetic magic at work there. It feels like a place with magic lurking in the walls. I love it.
Favorite food or drink that can be found nowhere else but SA?
This might be a cheat, but I’m going with Kiolbassa Sausage. It’s not found only in San Antonio–thank goodness–but it’s made in the Alamo City. I’m very picky when it comes to sausage. I don’t like it greasy, and by golly, I want it to have some flavor. We used to process our own venison sausage growing up that bordered on an out-of-body experience, and my grandmother in Cuero got this incredible melt-in-your-mouth pork sausage from a local meat market. Kiolbassa is the only mass-market sausage I’ve ever had that even comes close to those ace sausages. My family background’s got a lot of German, Polish and Czech there, so we don’t heap praise on sausage indiscriminately. Kiolbassa’s some good stuff.