The science fiction community recently mourned the death of Charles N. Brown, who turned Locus into the SF book industry's publication-of-record. Now it's time to look to the future. We talked to new Locus editor-in-chief Liza Trombi about what's next.
I sat down with Trombi and managing editor Kirsten Gong-Wong at the busy Locus booth during Worldcon to talk about how they got involved with Locus, how the magazine is run, and where they're going next.
io9: How did you start at Locus?
LT: I've been at Locus for 6 years. I was a science fiction reader forever, and saw the ad and barraged them with emails and insisted that they hire me. There aren't a lot of opportunities to work in publishing, or SF publishing, on the West Coast. And I've always been a hardcore reader of science fiction.
KG: I've been here since 1993. Before that, I was an attorney doing litigation. I saw an ad at [Berkeley SF bookstore] Other Change of Hobbit. Charles expected me to leave and I never did. Why would I?
How do you plan your cover stories and pick which authors you're going to feature?
KG: The cover is always the main interviews we've done. Or if there's been a Worldcon – an event. Charles believed that interviewees sold magazines. Especially if it's an important interview, that's what we want spotlight.
LT: We go through a list of potential interviewees, and we try to balance big names with up-and-comers. All interviews are done in person, so it also depends on who is around. You have to be physically there.
KG: We are more than happy to have authors come by the office in Oakland.
How do you know which authors are up and coming?
LT: We look at awards and talk to editors.
KG: We hear the buzz.
LT: Often it's people who've been recognized for their short fiction. A lot of this is word of mouth – Charles spent a lot of time on the phone, talking to people about who was standing out. I'm on the phone a lot too. So that's still happening.
What kinds of trends do you see emerging in the publishing world? Is online publishing changing anything from your perspective?
LT: Authors write what they can write, and the commercial end of writing is still based in the long form. If you want to be a full time writer, you can't just write short stories. E-fiction is becoming monetized but it's hard to see people making a living at short fiction.
I don't see people changing what they're writing. Cory Doctorow and Catherynne M. Valente are serializing their novels online, and I do think Cat's online success is exciting. She's mixing other media into her publicity, doing a road show. That's an exciting idea but I don't know how replicable it is.
Another trend obviously is that young adult fiction is expanding more into SF and horror and the whole urban fantasy category has been co-opted by young adult fiction even though it's not officially a YA category.
The zombie zeitgeist is here too, and I'm not sure if that success can and should be replicated. I don't think we should be creating a category of inserting monsters in older creative works [like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies]. That to me is like digitizing old characters and putting them in commercials – it's fun to look at, but I like the old-fashioned straightahead of 'I wrote the whole thing.'
KG: The thing is that we're a news zine and a lot of what we do isn't trends - it's just reporting on what's going on in the SF world. A lot of what we do happens on a yearly schedule, like forthcoming books, foreign SF, and conventions. In the book world, we're the publication of record – if it's listed in "books received," it's real.
Locus has always been more than a magazine - it's a community of people. Tell me about that.
LT: At Worldcon [where we are right now] everybody comes by the Locus table in the dealers room. Have you seen the Locus Salon? You can go to the Locus table and there might be 4 or 5 authors there at any given time. Working at the Locus table is a fun experience. At some point everybody will come by during the convention. It's nice – stuff comes to us.
Robert Silverberg sat here for fifteen minutes next to Mary Robinette Kowal, who just won the Campbell Award. Publishers and editors just come by and sit down.
KG: It's people who care about SF. People also come here because they knew Charles. Charles never got stale. He always kept in touch. He's gathered new people around himself. He knew who won the 1950s Hugo Awards, and had read everything coming out in the next 6 months.
LT: We're not exclusive – everybody's welcome to come and sit as long as they have good conversation to share. The conversation about SF and fantasy, about possibility and opportunity in the world, is what fascinates readers and writers. As long as we have that conversation we're going to have that community.
So what comes next for Locus?
LT: Our systems have been set up for a while, and the people who [help put the magazine together] are still there. Charles had pulled back into the final edit role.
KG: He was the Supreme Court – the arbiter of last resort.
LT: We've gotten a lot of questions about what happens now and here's the deal. Charles set up a foundation to take over ownership of the magazine and its primary mission is to keep the magazine going. And we have people like Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis on our board - it's a celebrity board, but it's also a group of people who were friends with Charles and know what he wanted to do with Locus. So we have good advisers.
We also have a huge SF book collection, Charles' collection, that we'll run as private library. It's in Oakland - he actually carved it out underneath his house and it's packed with archivally-bound SF first editions. He's been collecting since 1947 and he was a completist.
The most important thing is that the magazine will keep going – the staff is in place. This is what we do. People worry that if Charles dies, Locus dies. That's ludicrous. He wouldn't have wanted that.
When can I come visit the library?
It won't happen for a while – we have to settle his estate first so it passes to the foundation. There will be an index available. His collection is what he considered core to the field, and it also includes other collections like Robert Heinlein's personal book collection that he left to Charles when he died. We have a collection of photographs, too.