Wednesday Writer – Christopher Fletcher

Christopher Fletcher is best known for starting the online science fiction magazine M-Brane SF. He was editor of M-Brane through its entire run, and also writes a bit. Christopher and I crossed paths when he published my story Road Rage in M-Brane SF #1. He bought several more stories from me through the magazine’s run, and his M-Brane Press published my anthology 2020 Visions a few years ago.


    For somebody unfamiliar with the work of Christopher Fletcher, how would you describe your fiction and which story do you think is the best introduction to your work?

I really haven’t been widely published aside from occasional small press magazine and anthology appearances, but if somebody wanted to track down short stories such as “The Apprentice” (The Aether Age, Hadley Rille Books) or “The Cairn” (Zombiality, Library of the Living Dead Press), that would give an idea of what’s been on my mind in recent years. But I think I am writing better stuff now, so I think that when new items eventually appear they will be more like what I am aspiring toward than the previously published stuff. Another way to find out what I am about is through my ramblings on my Live Journal. I occasionally stick some first-draft fragments of work-in-progress on there, and sometimes a story that I have no plan of trying to convince someone else to publish (such as the somewhat goofy piece of Exorcist fan fiction that I put up last Halloween). If I were to describe my writing in recent times, I would characterize it as being mostly small-scale stories about a couple of people set against some kind of big, weird backdrop. I don’t think I am very good at epic-scale storytelling with lots of characters and complex plots. At least I have never managed such a thing yet. But I can kind of tell a small story set within an implied big world.

    You are most well known for starting the online science fiction magazine M-Brane SF. How did that magazine come about and what made you want to tackle the dreaded slush pile?

I wanted to publish M-Brane SF for almost as long as I can remember. I don’t know how or why I caught that editing/publishing bug, but I can’t remember ever being without it. I really got sick with it during my freshman year of high school when there was a school newspaper for me to work on. I was also a serious Trekker, and that same year I started a Star Trek fanzine with a couple of friends. This was in the late 1980s when there were really no practical computer aids for kids to easily desktop publish and there was no internet at all for civilians. We literally typed everything on typewriters and then cut and pasted the whole thing together, photocopied it and mailed it out. Because I can’t ever make a plan without overdoing it, I made this a monthly zine and kept it up for two years under the prevailing conditions of the end of the 1980s. M-Brane SF was more or less in the works the whole time since then, but it took many years for everything to come together just right to actually do it. And, as usual, I overdid it a bit and made it a monthly.

    And then, you expanded into publishing and released a number of anthologies, some controversial. Tell us a little about that endeavor.

I love the themed anthologies and I intend to do more because they are fascinating creatively, but I will also say that it is quite nearly a thankless endeavor. It is nearly impossible, as a little-known small press, to sell enough copies to ever make any money for the writers and nearly as hard to get any critical attention. The first one I did was Things We Are Not, which was a specifically GLBT-oriented sf antho, into which I admitted some erotica, though that was not principally what the book was about. It contained a big range of stories and attitudes, was a lot of fun, and it was well regarded in the handful of published reviews it received.

The next couple of stand-alone books that M-Brane Press put out were single-author collections by Cesar Torres (The Twelve Burning Wheels) and Derek J. Goodman (Machina). I selected these projects because these writers have a voice and point of view that really interested me, and their projects each had a very specific angle that I couldn’t resist doing something about as far as promoting their work. As with Things We Are Not, these books are still available today in print and electronically, and I wish more readers would check them out.

Next, I put out an antho called 2020 Visions (edited by the very guy asking me these questions). This is a freaking awesome book, and it is an ongoing pain for me that people refuse to buy it. We are so close to earning out publication cost on it but still not there after two years. Some of the authors bought tons of at-cost copies for their convention signings, but that didn’t get us many further retail sales. Everyone is missing out. It’s on Amazon and B&N in print and electronic. Get it now. Its premise is what may happen in the very near future. All stories are set in the year 2020. It’s already 2013. Start reading up on it fast.

I also did a book in a format copied from the old Ace Doubles. It contains back-to-back short novels by Brandon H. Bell and Alex Jeffers, with covers painted by my partner Jeff, and it is a lovely thing. This was intended to be the first in a series of Doubles, but I haven’t yet put together a second one.

Another project that I am quite proud of is the book The Aether Age. It’s a shared-world anthology that I edited with Brandon Bell and published by Hadley Rille Books. Its premise is that the ancient world rapidly modernized during an era when the Earth was enshrouded in a mysterious medium that allowed for such wonders as space travel in wooden sailing ships. It was a ton of work, very meticulously compiled, but a lot of fun.

    M-Brane SF survived some personal struggles and a major relocation, but closed to submissions a while after you settled into your new city. Do you have plans to reopen the magazine in some form?

To make a long story short, my partner and I had a restaurant in St. Louis that failed financially, and we decided to relocate to Oklahoma City for reasons that don’t matter anymore. Jeff hung in there okay, but I was fairly unhappy most of the time we were there. We were quite broke, and I could not find adequate employment there. But I did have what now seems like an astonishing amount of free time on my hands, and it is during this period that I launched M-Brane SF. It gave me something to enjoy doing and fulfilled an ambition I’d had for a long time. In 2010, we moved back to St. Louis, I got a much better job than I’d had in several years, and though I continued M-Brane consistently that year, I found that I had less and less time for it as my paying job got bigger. Eventually I started missing publication dates and finally decided on a hiatus. I would still like to resume publication of it in some form but I haven’t figured out what the best way forward is yet. I have two more projects to release shortly: the long-delayed final issue of Brandon Bell’s Fantastique Unfettered, a very nice contemporary fantasy zine for which I serve as publisher; and a novel by Michael D. Griffiths that we committed to a long time ago and are finally going to see published later this spring. Once those are done, the M-Brane Press docket is empty and I will think about what’s next as far as relaunching the zine or doing another book project.

    Do you consider yourself more as a writer or as an editor?

Currently, definitely more of a writer. It changes from time to time, but I am writing a novel that I feel good about and I don’t really want the distraction of editing a zine. That’s because I like doing zines a lot, too, and it would consume all my writing time, and I really want to focus on that for a while. Also, I need a lot of reading time. I have made sitting still and reading recent fiction (both genre and “literary”) more of a serious priority because I don’t want to fall behind on how other people write stuff. I have decided to leave the zine on hiatus for a while at least until I figure out if my own work is going anywhere or not.

    You make your living as a chef. What drew you into that field?

It was sort of accidental. After college I was without direction and a bit terrified. I thought I wanted to get the necessary degrees to become some sort of college professor. I was living in Iowa City and failed to gain admission to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, so I enrolled in a grad program in history. At the same time, I got a part-time job in a high-end restaurant and somehow gradually got more and more engrossed in that to the extent that I quit grad school and took a full-time post as a kitchen manager. I had some good mentoring during that period which enabled a passion I always had for food. Later I moved to St. Louis and had a succession of positions and promotions. In 2004, I got restructured out of my job and had a spell of under-employment. The next year my partner and I opened our own restaurant and ran that for a couple of years. We had a great time but did not do well financially. I spent a few years after that seriously under-employed, but I have rebounded since and am currently the corporate culinary director for a fairly large local catering and managed services company, which means I am in charge of food for a wide range of special events and several restaurants.

    What would be your dream accomplishment in your culinary life?

People sometimes tell me that I should strive to get on one of the TV competition shows because they think I have those kinds of skills and that I could be personable on TV, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I am not competitive like that. If I ever do anything culinary that would make me known to people outside of St. Louis, I would like it to be a cookbook. I have one that’s been in process for years but it’s not ready. It’s based on my experience with my restaurant—sort of a memoir with tons of recipes and discussions of technique. I like to share my thoughts about cooking, and I think the only way I could do it in a manner that would be at all interesting would be by writing something. I think my TV show would tank instantly.

    You’ve been openly gay since we first crossed paths, and you’re not particularly shy about making your opinions known. Has it always been that way for you, or was there a time you struggled with accepting who you are?

Yes, there was a long period of struggle with it. I more or less tried to deny it to myself and everyone else during my adolescent years, but then I decided to try to be more honest with others and myself during my college years (I went to a small liberal arts college where, even in the early 1990s, it was officially somewhat cool to not be straight). Then I went into another period of repression and denial after college. But for the last thirteen years, I have been partnered in a relationship that substantially resembles a marriage (but my partner’s another dude). The fact that I can be as blunt and outspoken as I want to be now when I talk about this issue in social media or on my sites without much fear of retaliation from bullies is a thing that I owe to a lot of people who came before me and suffered a lot more oppression than I did. Though I am totally at peace with who/what I am now, I think all the time about the kids who aren’t accepted and who aren’t safe because of bullies at school and in their own homes. When I hear about gay kids being mistreated physically and psychologically, it fills me with total rage, and also some helplessness because I can’t figure out what to do about it. But I do some small things: I speak out about it where I can, I contribute money to certain relevant causes, I sign every pertinent petition that I see, I vote against homophobes and campaign against them during elections, and I am even ready to intervene physically should I not like the look of a situation (I’m 6’3” and fairly frightening when I get angry). And just being myself and being public about who I am probably helps a tiny bit. I know that I would have been encouraged by the example of someone like adult-me when I was a kid.

    Going back to fiction now, you are a fan of the classic science fiction tales from what might be called the golden age-the ones we find in used book stores with yellowed pages and crumbling covers. What is it that draws you to material from this era?

It’s actually kind of love/hate with the Golden Age stuff. A lot of the actual writing from the dawn of what we’d think of as science fiction through to the 1950s and ‘60s is really pretty bad. As an editor, I am always amazed when I read or re-read something from decades ago by someone “famous” and feel that there is no way that story would be accepted even for my ten-dollar-per-story zine or antho because the writing is so clunky and superficial, even deliberate in its lack of craft. But at the same time, I can easily recline for hours into a lot of the stuff from that era and love the ideas and wonder and strange ease of it all. Nobody can honestly assess the great Asimov’s Foundation as a truly fine piece of literature in the sense of “literature” being great writing. It’s totally not up to current par as a piece of writing and wasn’t serious lit even then…but it sure can be engrossing somehow anyway. I revisit it every few years even though on each successive look it becomes more apparent that it probably wouldn’t get published today if an unknown newbie wrote something like it now. Other old favorites include Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars stories (the kids nowadays would find him as unreadable as Chaucer). And there’s the very interesting and rather weird A.E. Van Vogt. I read The Mixed Men when I was a very young tot and became obsessed for a long time with “Galactic Empire” sf. When I was a teen, I read Slan and fell in life-long love with Jommy Cross.

    What writers and editors were the most influential in forming your style over the years. both as a writer and an editor?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing that I always call up stuff from decades ago. Harlan Ellison® became my favorite writer and editor when I was in high school when I checked out from the public library a lot of his short fiction collections and the Dangerous Visions books. Unlike a lot of the older Golden Age stuff that I’d sampled already, this New Wave fiction was much more challenging reading. Also, I was at an age where it was very interesting that there was real-life stuff, like sex, depicted in science fiction and fantasy contexts. I wanted to write stuff like that, stuff that Ellison or the Dangerous Visions writers would have done. I also had a phase during high school of being really into Vonnegut, and when I’d try to write I’d find myself being very imitative of that style. Which was annoying and embarrassing. I was deeply devoted to Frank Herbert’s Dune universe during my teens and would occasionally practice fiction writing by attempting Dune fan fiction and trying to somehow copy Herbert’s way of showing things. I was a Lovecraftian for a while, and still am sometimes, because I spent some of a lonely summer during the college years reading at night all the HPL stuff and letting it creep me out. I adored reading his horror descendants such as Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker and Poppy Brite. In fact, my first ever published short story was a splatter/body-horror thing inspired by that kind of fiction. The Earth-bound Gibson-type cyberpunk didn’t click with me, but I was fascinated by the weirdness of the Sterling and Swanwick stuff (Schismatrix and Vacuum Flowers respectively) of that period, and I think Ian MacDonald is kind of a fascinating successor to that now. Those are a few of the writers that I sometimes examine carefully to try to better grok how they put together their fiction. Later on in life, I spent a lot of time with Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss, all of whom amaze me. In more recent years I became a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, though I would never aspire to write the kind of things he writes. And eventually I fell under the spell of Samuel Delany, and it is he who most occupies my writer’s-mind attention even now, even though he hasn’t been as prolific in recent years. His work is something that I don’t merely read but rather study.

    What projects do you have in the works or in the planning stages that get you excited?

Currently the focus is mostly on my own writing, particularly a novel-length item that is about two-thirds finished now, and I am keeping an eye open for interesting themed anthos to aim some new short fiction at if I come up with something appropriate. I find that I do pretty well with themes and deadlines. But I suspect that the editing/publishing bug will return soon enough, and when that happens I would love to do a second Aether Age anthology, and I might try to round up some cool novellas to do another Double. I’d also like to do another concept antho like 2020 Visions or possibly another gay thing like Things We Are Not, but I haven’t settled on an angle for anything like that yet. Also, I’m not quite ready to contemplate the slush again! So it’s likely that we won’t have any big news of upcoming stuff from M-Brane Press very soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the year I have something new cooking.

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2 Responses to Wednesday Writer – Christopher Fletcher

  1. anderalert says:

    Hi guys! I might change one thing in this most excellent post. I would say that you moved to Oklahoma to be near to very close friends that love you very much! not “reasons that don’t matter anymore”. We can romanticize the past…

  2. You are indeed correct. That was a big reason and the only one that did matter after all.

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