Interview: Alex Shvartman, editor of Unidentified Funny Objects

ShvartsmanUFOPlease welcome Alex Shvartman, editor of Unidentified Funny Objects, a collection of 29 humorous SF/F short stories by a number of authors. He is also a multilingual world traveler, a Magic: The Gathering Pro, and an entertaining and talented author in his own right. There is currently an on-going, read at your own speed, read along of UFO on Goodreads, if you want to join in the fun.

Your writing has focused almost exclusively on short stories. Do you see this as your happy artistic medium or rather a stage in your writing career?

When I first decided to take up writing fiction, I envisioned myself writing novels. I even began a novel, writing a prologue and the first chapter. And then I realized that I was utterly out of my depth. I simply didn’t have enough skill yet to outline, plot, and write a competent novel. Plus, I had no idea if the words I was writing were brilliant or terrible. So I decided on plan B: Begin by writing short stories and submitting them to markets. Writing a short story is a much smaller time investment and if it happens to be terrible, I won’t be as morally crushed as I would with a novel.So I began by writing short stories. I submitted  my very first story in May of 2010. And I just kept going. Writing short stories is like popcorn. Fun, fast, and impossible to stop. I keep telling myself that I will begin work on my first novel any day now.

On your blog you note several podcasts that you have taken a hand in. How do you see the podcast role in making readers aware of you and your writings in today’s day and age of information saturation?

There are so many great short stories and excellent authors out there, it’s not easy to build a following. I think every format and every means of communicating with the reader (or listener in this case) should be perused. There are many people who enjoy their short fiction via audio because it fits in their schedules. One can listen to a short story while driving to work, during a workout at the gym, or while cooking dinner — times when reading a book is not even an option. So it’s a very important facet of one’s online presence.

Plus, who doesn’t love a well-executed reading of their own story?


How does your traveling experience (over 30 countries!) feed into your writing, both as inspiration, but also do you manage to write while on travel?

I no longer travel much, but it’s an important part of my life experience.
Traveling and otherwise generally familiarizing yourself with other cultures is a must for any writer. I was born in the Ukraine and spoke Russian for the first 13 years of my life. I only learned English after my family immigrated to the United States. Then I was fortunate enough to visit many other parts of the world and immerse myself in their cultures. These things definitely color my writing. It’s easier for me to write believable scenes that take place in remote corners of the globe. But, more importantly, it helped me develop a worldview that isn’t a typical western one, but more complex and nuanced. At least I hope so.
Of course, being well-traveled isn’t prerequisite to writing good speculative fiction. Famously, Jules Verne wrote some of the greatest adventure stories despite the fact that he’d never ventured outside of Europe. And, far as I know, none of us have been to Tycho or Tau Prime. But even those of us not fortunate to be able to backpack through Europe or go on a photo-safari in South Africa should spend the time reading and learning about customs, mythology, and every day life of different cultures.

When I do travel, writing is actually a breeze. You’re stuck on the airplane with no internet and few pleasant diversions that can keep you from writing.

MagicTheGathering
Your short blog bio states that you played a card game for a living. Like you were a successful gambler? Or were helping test a card game out before it went out and became a nation-wide best seller?
I played Magic: The Gathering trading card game professionally for a few years. There’s a Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuits, and being successful at this game is what allowed me to travel to so many parts of the world. It’s not gambling like Poker or Blackjack, but a strategy game that requires quick thinking and considerable preparation. I played for several years in late 90′s and early 00′s and won over $100,000 in that time. For a long time I held the world record for most high finishes on the Grand Prix circuit. In fact, I have a Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Shvartsman
It pains me that no one has bothered to add anything about my writing to this page, and I respect Wikipedia’s rule about not updating one’s own entry. Perhaps some reader of this blog might be interested in updating it? :)
ShvartmanKingsGames

I haven’t played Magic seriously in over a decade, but I still keep up with the game. I also co-designed other games (such as Vs System TCG based on Marvel and DC Comic book licenses) and continue to work in the gaming industry. I accepted a GAMA Award for excellence in Organized Play for my company, Kings Games, in 2011.


You are the editor on the recently published Unidentified Funny Objects. Please tell us how this project came about.
This was a project born out of my frustration to find quality, pro-paying markets that accept humorous speculative fiction. There are some excellent humorous stories being published, but when you take a careful look at the list of SFWA-qualifying markets you’ll realize that many of them don’t even consider humorous stories, and the ones that do might only offer one such piece occasionally. As a writer, I love writing funny stories, and I know for a fact that this frustration was shared by many of my peers.
I’ve been wanting to try my hand at editing/publishing, and this seemed like a perfect project. I researched it and found that no similar anthology has been produced in the 21st century. There are some much older volumes of humorous fantasy and themed anthologies (such as Deals with the Devil), but nothing that attempted to collect a great sampling of contemporary humorous SF/F.
The community agreed. Despite my obvious inexperience as an editor (first attempt at it, and all) and lack of any sort of clout in the field, I was able to get some truly awesome writers on board as they saw value in this sort of project. I ran a Kickstarter campaign which raised $6000 from over 200 contributors. When the submissions opened for this project, I received over 900 stories during the 3 month window. In the end, I collected 29 stories and the book released in December. It enjoys favorable critical and reader reviews — so far no one threw any rotten vegetables at me.It was also very important to me to treat writers well. Despite this huge volume of submissions we responded to all subs within a few days (and often within a couple of hours!). Only the stories held for final consideration had to wait longer than a week, and those authors were kept in the loop on what’s happening every step of the way. I had a group of associate editors that read all round 2 stories anonymously (so the unpublished writer had the same chance with them as an award winning one; only the story itself mattered). I also tried to provide at least a little feedback with as many of the rejections as possible.
I spared no expense to make this the best possible book I could. That meant hiring professional illustrator, copy-editor, typesetter, etc. So, despite the money raised via Kickstarter, I’m still pretty far away from breaking even. But I’m glad I did it: the book looks great and people keep asking me when the second volume will come out. So I must’ve done something right with this.
UFO is currently available from Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. But you can also order it directly from www.ufopub.com — there are also free sample stories you can read at ufopub.com. One one of those stories appears in the book itself. The rest are bonus content, something I was able to offer thanks to the money raised via Kickstarter. But if you like those, it’s a good indication that you will like the book. One story I’m especially proud of posting online is Jake Kerr‘s yarn told through a Twitter feed. We coded the page to look like Twitter and posted it online:

www.ufopub.com/twitter

ResnickGalaxy'sEdgeOf course I must pry: What current writing projects are on the table for you that you’d like to share?

In January I finished writing a steampunk/adventure/humor story where H.G. Wells, who is a Bond-like secret agent, goes on a mission to Russia, teams up with Anton Chekhov and together they set out to foil an assassination plot against Prince Nicholas Romanov. Many other historical personages make appearances in this story and I have a ton of fun with cultural references, strange history tidbits, and my characters saying some of their own historical quotes via dialog. This setting was too much fun to waste on just one story, so I’m already plotting out a pair of sequels.
In addition to the H.G. Wells stories there are three other fictional universes in which I’ve written at least two stories each and plan on writing more this year:
The Conrad Brent stories is a noir/urban fantasy/humorous adventure stories often compared to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. The first story, “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” is available as a free read at Buzzy Magazine. The second, “Requiem for a Druid” is forthcoming in the premier issue of Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine next month.
World Burner” is a series of space opera politics stories set against the background of total war. The characters are diplomats, not fighters, and often have to find creative solutions to recruit various alien races to their side of the conflict. “The Dragon Ships of Tycho” was published in the Galactic Creatures anthology last year and I’m currently shopping around the sequel.
HammondGalacticCreatures
And my current favorite is “The Magic Pawn Shop” stories. Think the “Pawn Stars” series on the History Channel, except in a shop that deals in magical items, with a healthy dose of snark, humor and sarcasm added in. I finished two stories so far and think they’re some of my best work written to date. They haven’t sold yet, but I’m probably more excited about them than about any of my other unpublished stories.
For anyone who’s interested in my writing, I’d say “A Shard Glows in Brooklyn” is the best place to start. If you like that, chances are you will enjoy much of my other stuff.

8 thoughts on “Interview: Alex Shvartman, editor of Unidentified Funny Objects

  1. lynnsbooks says:

    Very interesting interview. I like the sound of the Conrad Brent stories – sound just like my type of read. I only cracked UFO open last night – the twitter story is great so hopefully its a taste of things to come.
    Plus – I love the cover.
    Lynn :D

  2. TBM says:

    I didn’t know you could play Magic professionally. Interesting.

  3. [...] recently made appearances on two blogs.  Susan J Voss was kind enough to interview me on her blog, Deb of Darkness and  I wrote a mini-essay about the slush-reading process for Unidentified Funny Objects for Anne [...]

  4. debs says:

    So much interesting stuff here. I’m hopping over next to read Alex’s story at Galaxy’s edge.

    I know all about UFO anthology ‘cos I’m in it, and Jake’s story is great. I thought that the slushing protocols were very cool.

    That’s an interesting point about podcasts, I haven’t really done as much as I can in that area.

    And as for the Wiki entry. Yes it’s a travesty. I shall have to see what I can do about that.

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