JMW: Hello. This Jean Marie Ward, for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is Alex Shvartsman; editor, translator, and game designer. Welcome, Alex.
Alex Shvartsman: Thank you.
JMW: You work in so many areas. Which came first?
Alex Shvartsman: Professionally, game design. I’ve been in the gaming industry for about 15 years, and I’ve worn just as many hats there, including game design, as well as various consulting, retail, and manufacturing; pretty much every aspect of it, mostly in things like trading card games, miniatures, and board games.
JMW: What exactly do you do for trading cards? Before we started, you mentioned something about keeping people buying the games. How does that work?
Alex Shvartsman: That’s right. Essentially what I do is marketing; it’s organized play. Large companies produce collectible games which they can keep selling and selling for as long as a person likes to play the game and continues to be willing to buy it. They’re constantly looking for ways to keep the person engaged and buying the games. A lot of this involves organized play programs. I consult for manufacturers who create such games to figure out what the best organized play program may be for their product.
JMW: Can you talk about some of the products or is that private?
Alex: I can say that I work with companies like 4Kids Entertainment, Upper Deck, some of the larger video game companies. A lot of companies big and small, but mostly these are larger corporations that have the budget to hire consultants at my level.
JMW: How did game design lead to the other areas, such as translating, such as writing, such as editing?
Alex Shvartsman: It’s not directly related, but I have been a science fiction fan my entire life. I grew up in the Soviet Union, so I grew up on reading the translated works of people like Robert Silverberg, Bob Sheckley, and Harry Harrison. I grew up loving those stories and I’ve always wanted to write some of my own. When I immigrated, I didn’t speak any English so I never expected to have the mastery of the language sufficient to write professional fiction. It took a long time for me to actually try my hand at it.
The translation aspect of it comes naturally to me because I am bilingual, and my Russian is a bit better than my English so it’s easy for me to switch back and forth. I thought it would be a really fun project to try to translate some stuff. I got shanghaied into more and more translation projects down the line.
JMW: Science fiction? Non-fiction?
Alex Shvartsman: In Science fiction in particular, I got to translate a story by Sergey Lukyanenko, who is Russia’s Stephen King. He’s the most famous and most prominent science fiction and fantasy writer in Russia. The American audience may be familiar with a movie that is based on his work called ‘Night Watch’. The movie was not as good as the book, as is the usual.
JMW: Frequently the case, unfortunately. How did you find . . . you’ve published two stories in Buzzy Magazine; get back to our home team. How did you find your way to Buzzy?
Alex Shvartsman: As somebody who writes a lot of short fiction, I constantly keep my hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry and keep an eye on the brand new markets that are popping up; researching them, trying to speak to the editors or to people who know the editors to make sure that these are the people I would like to work with. I heard really good things about Buzzy when it was first coming up. I actually submitted before the magazine actually published its first story. Mine was among the batch of the first stories that they bought.
It is a market that I really like working with. I enjoy the interaction, both with the editorial staff and the publishers. I always keep them in mind; I always try to make sure that I submit fairly regularly. So far, they have liked 2 of my stories and I hope they’ll publish more down the line.
Jean: I hope you will keep publishing because you have a decided comic bent. What makes comedy resonate more for you than tragedy, high drama, or just emo in general?
Alex Shvartsman: When I first started writing fiction, I never imagined myself to be a humorous author. I never pictured myself writing humor of any kind, let alone wacky science fiction stories. I have always enjoyed reading them, and I stumbled into it. I kept writing these serious action dramas; some of them would sell and some wouldn’t, until one day, I was feeling particularly contrarian and I decided that I was going to write a funny story. It was surprising to me how much easier it was for me to write that because writing isn’t easy, it’s work. It was so much easier and it came off better. I found over the period of the following year that my humorous stories sell better even though it’s much harder to sell a humorous story to most markets. Perhaps I write better humorous stories than I do morbid ones.
I don’t ever enjoy reading the particularly dark or dark fantasy stuff. Some of it is really good but it’s just not my thing. I write what I want to read, and a lot of them involve snarky pop-culture references and other general various forms of humor. For as long as I can brand myself as that guy that if you need somebody who can provide a humorous story to bookend your anthology, toward the end of the anthology, I want them to come to me.
JMW: I can understand that. How did you get into the other side, the editing side of the editing game? You’re now putting out your own anthologies. How did that happen?
Alex Shvartsman: In my never-ending quest to promote humorous science fiction and fantasy, I found that the list of markets which accept such fare is relatively minimal. A lot of the professional paying markets aren’t interested in humorous stories. They want stuff that’s beautiful, they want stuff that’s poetic, they want stuff that’s dark. They don’t want the wacky. The wacky is what I want to write. I know there are many other writers that gripe about that. As a reader, that’s the stuff I want to read, as well. I started looking for humorous anthologies, and I realized that other than the very specific-themed anthologies, there’s nothing like that out there and hasn’t been for at least decades.
I set out to put together a humorous anthology of science fiction and fantasy called ‘Unidentified Funny Objects’. I collected 29 stories. The response has been tremendous. I’ve got people at the level of Mike Resnick and others that are very well-known, famous, professional writers who chose to participate in this, not because they knew who I was, but because they believed that such a thing should exist in the world. I constantly continue to receive very positive feedback, both about the contents of the book and about the concept of it. I’ve decided that for as long as I can afford to do it and as long as there’s sufficient interest, I would like for it to continue being an annual anthology, something that people can reliably go out and get once a year. Hopefully, it will morph and advance over the years, and change, but continue to be a market to support humorous science fiction; something that is desperately lacking.
JMW: I think so, but I like comedy myself. This is a little bit off-topic, but since you mentioned your translation work in translating Russia’s Stephen King, are there any other Russian writers that you think would appeal to American science fiction and fantasy fans if they could only find their work in translation?
Alex Shvartsman: Absolutely. There’s a number of authors, some of them very established in Russia, or some of them even long-dead, and a number of up-and-comers as well, who write fascinating, different type stories. I think that science fiction and fantasy is very welcoming of translation in general, much more so than the mainstream. I think that there’s a lot of magazines out there who do publish reprints from other languages. Clarksworld is particularly known for that; they’ve publish a lot of Chinese authors, perhaps not so many Russian ones, but they’re certainly open to it. I do plan on seeking stories that might be of particular interest to American readers and translating them down the line.
JMW: Who do you think? Names; so that maybe some folks who might be watching this who might be bilingual themselves could go looking for them.
Alex Shvartsman: Mikhail [inaudible: 08:57] is certainly an author that I would like to see translated and published. Among the classics; Bulgakov, whose ‘Master and Margarita’ is fairly well-known in America, but he has a body of work outside of that. I’m not sure how much of that has been translated. That’s something that I would be potentially interested in doing down the line. For those who do speak Russian, I feel like that’s required reading.
JMW: Great. What’s next for you?
Alex Shvartsman: Right now, I’m working on my first novelette. I’m a short story writer through and through. I haven’t written anything particularly long, so I’m dipping my toe into longer fare. Once I finish this novelette, then that’s where the hard work starts because I’ll begin working on my first novel.
Alex Shvartsman: Absolutely.
JMW: Anything you’d like to add?
Alex Shvartsman: Actually, I do want to say that the novel is based on the same concept and the same characters as appeared in my very first Buzzy Magazine story. If you’re interested in knowing what the book is about, you can go on Buzzy and you can search on ‘A Shard Glows in Brooklyn’.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.