Alex Shvartsman is a Russian-born writer of science fiction and fantasy who only appeared on the scene a couple of years ago. He was once a professional player of Magic: The Gathering, and now operates King Games, the largest game store and internet cafe in New York City.
- For somebody who has never read any Alex Shvartsman, how would you describe your fiction and which piece would be a good introduction to a typical story?
I’m a newcomer to the field of speculative fiction writing. I wrote my first story in the summer of 2010. When approaching a new story idea, my thinking is often along the lines of “what can I try with this one that I haven’t done before?” Because of this, the stories I’ve written so far are rather diverse and my body of work isn’t grand enough to develop a discernible pattern. My stories slated to be published in early 2012 include a cyberpunk flash, an urban fantasy, a magical realism tale set in Soviet Union, and a tongue-in-cheek space opera homage to Douglas Adams.
I mostly enjoy writing unapologetically pulp stories that are fun rather than literary. I aim for page turners with a healthy dose of humor, snappy dialogue and lots of plot twists. “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” which is forthcoming from Buzzy Magazine next year, is probably the best example of the kind of stories I see myself writing more of in the future. As to recommending something to someone who’s never read an Alex Shvartsman story (i.e. almost everyone), I’d suggest trying “Spidersong” (Daily Science Fiction) and “In Service of a Greater Cause” (Schrodinger’s Mouse). Both are very short stories but they’re different in style and temperament.
- You’ve done some game design work. Do you find that this experience impacts your writing?
Working on game projects has taught me a lot about creative thinking, and about approaching your own work with a healthy dose of criticism. IP (Intellectual Property) development is basically just world building – all of the same rules apply. About ten years ago I used to write a lot of strategy and review articles for gaming magazines. I foolishly expected all that experience to help me write quality fiction from the start. Not so! I had to force myself to relearn a lot of things before I could produce stories that stood any chance of sneaking past the slush pile at quality fiction markets. The one thing I do miss about writing for the game magazines is the pay: $0.10 to $0.25 per word was the norm.
- You have visited 30 countries, and that reminds me a lot of Alan Dean Foster and his world travels. What experience from your travels has impacted your fiction the most?
I was a professional Magic: The Gathering player for a number of years. I competed in tournaments that took place in exotic places like Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, and all over Europe. That was an amazing life experience, getting to make friends around the world and to explore all kinds of different cultures. It helped shape my worldview, my politics, and certainly my approach to storytelling. Being able to visualize first-hand locales from around the world and to have at least some understanding of the outlook and traditions of different cultures is a valuable tool in my writing utility belt.
- Where in the world that you have not already visited would you most like to go?
Egypt. I’m very interested in ancient history and would love to explore the pyramids. I would also like to go back to Israel. I’ve been there before, but there are so many things to see there, so much history, that ten days doesn’t begin to cover it. Fortunately for me those destinations are next to each other. I should be able to kill two birds with one stone, if and when tensions subside in that part of the world to the point where I feel it’s safe enough to bring my family.
- In the last few years you have had some good success, and recently you have cracked some pretty good markets. Which story sale has been the most satisfying to you so far?
Firsts are always a big deal to me. “The Skeptic” was the first short story I ever wrote, and it was also the first to become accepted (but not the first published). My first published story was “Good Advice” over at Every Day Fiction. That story has since been solicited by the NJ Board of Education for use in a standardized reading comprehension test. Then there’s the first SFWA-qualifying sale, which also happened to be a sale to my favorite ‘zine – “Spidersong” to Daily Science Fiction. Right now I’m anxiously awaiting the first printed anthology one of my stories is in – “In Situ” from Dagan Books. It should be releasing very soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!
- Are you considering trying your hand at a novel any time soon?
To be frank, I’m intimidated by the idea. I have several novel length story concepts (which author doesn’t?) but I don’t feel that I have the experience or the skill to write a novel that would actually sell, yet. One of my writing goals for 2012 is to begin outlining a novel. Maybe I’ll even give NaNoWriMo a go next year – but there’s a lot more I’d like to accomplish in terms of short story writing before I move on to the novel.
- What writer do you consider to have been the biggest influence on your work? I’d be interested in hearing this answer in two different perspectives. Which writer influenced you most from his or her writing alone, and which writer who helped you directly has had the most influence?
I grew up in the Soviet Union, reading translations of science fiction short stories and novels by Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Clifford Simak and a number of others. Most of the Western science fiction wasn’t available in Russian and the books that were translated were mostly from 1940s and 50s. Current (this was late ’80s) science fiction wasn’t available in translation at all. Because of this, I love golden age SF and I think it colors my writing quite a bit.
My family moved to the United States when I was 14 and I began to learn English. A year and a half later I read my first full-length book in English: Edmund Hamilton’s “Star Wolf.” I still have that paperback. I’m an avid reader and have sampled writing of all genres and styles, but I always read anything new by Mike Resnick, Timothy Zahn, Simon Green and Peter Hamilton. When I do graduate to writing novels, theirs are the kind of books I’d like Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought…” engine to link my work to.
- You have five short stories forthcoming in 2012. What are you working on now that most excites you?
I’m very excited about writing more Conrad Brent stories. It’s a series of urban fantasy short stories the first of which, “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” will be published by Buzzy Mag in 2012. All the Brent stories are set in Brooklyn, NY (where I live. Write what you know, right?) and each has a horrible pun of a title that plays off a famous book or a movie set in Brooklyn. The one I’m working now is called “Requiem for a Druid” and it pits Brent against a fictionalized version of Donald Trump. This is sort of my baby-steps-toward-a-novel project as the short stories are interconnected.