Nick Mamatas Author Interview
Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is writer, editor and Capclave guest of honor, Nick Mamatas. Welcome, Nick.
Nick Mamatas: Hi. Thanks for having me.
JMW: Our pleasure. You edit the Haikasoru line for VIZ Media. Could you tell our viewers a little bit about the line?
Nick Mamatas: Sure. Haikasoru is an imprint for Japanese science-fiction and fantasy in translation. Soon we’ll be branching out to some English language original material, too. Basically, VIZ Media, as you may know, is a huge company for anime and manga. Pokemon and Naruto were theirs. A few years ago, they thought, “We’ve had some success bringing over anime and manga from Japan. Why not start bringing over [inaudible 00:00:52] fiction from Japan, as well.”
JMW: That includes things like, “Battle Royale,” which some people say, was the basis for the “Hunger Games”.
Nick Mamatas: Yes, some people do say that. The author, Koushun Takami himself, doesn’t actually say that. He says that every book has something to offer. But yes, “Battle Royale” is a huge hit.
JMW: What are your current titles?
Nick Mamatas: Currently we have a few books out that I’m really excited about. One is “Genocidal Organ,” by Project Itoh.
JMW: What’s that? That sounds kind of insane.
Nick Mamatas: Everybody dies, so it’s one of those feel-good [inaudible 00:01:28] readings.
JMW: Oh, good.
Nick Mamatas: A couple of years ago we put out this book, “Harmony,” which won the Philip K. Dick Award, or a special citation for the Philip K. Dick Award. “Genocidal Organ” is basically about [inaudible 00:01:42] society, in a future where someone has determined that there’s a glamour to genocide. You say the right words and the right kind of political propaganda, and it could cause a genocide, and one man’s trying to stop it.
JMW: I hope so, I hope somebody’s trying stop it.
Nick Mamatas: Here’s the visual aid portion.
JMW: We like visual aids.
Nick Mamatas: Coming out this month is “Belka, Why Don’t You Bark?” by Hideo Furukawa, which is a secret history of the Cold War and the Space Race, as seen through the eyes of dogs. Belka, of course, is the first Soviet dog in space that came back alive.
JMW: That sounds cool and a lot more, shall we say, optimistic than the other title. What’s involved in editing a translation?
Nick Mamatas: Well, sometimes it’s easier than editing a normal manuscript and sometimes it’s harder.
JMW: How so?
Nick Mamatas: Well, it’s easier because you don’t deal with the author, but you deal with translator. So all the decisions are already made. I can’t go to an author and say, “You know what this needs? Another 25,000 words,” or “Can I please remove 25,000 words?” So a lot of the decisions are already made for you because the book has already been published in Japan and it’s a set product.
It can be difficult because things can be very difficult to translate culturally. Even things like certain names mean a variety of things in Japanese. Certain numbers may mean a variety of things in Japanese that are utterly lost in an English translation. Even the first person pronoun, I, exists in very different ways in Japanese. You have the casual I, the I of a person to mean superior or inferior, or the Imperial I, all sorts of things that totally get missed.
That’s one reason why, for example, there’s very few speech tags and dialog in Japanese fiction, because we know automatically from reading [inaudible 00:03:25] or [inaudible 00:03:26], that kind of thing, who is speaking. We don’t have that context in English. We have to add speech tags.
JMW: Do you speak Japanese yourself?
Nick Mamatas: Not a word. My boss says I’m her English language brain.
JMW: Okay. Sometimes that’s very helpful, having the outside eyes. Which gets into my next question, actually. Does working as an editor make it easier or harder to write for yourself?
Nick Mamatas: Easier, but not because I’m working for [editor] but just because I have a job, at all. Back when I was a full-time freelancer, you’re always running around for the next job. I would need $50 for an electric bill, so can I do somebody’s resume or write some cover letters for somebody? Can I just get on the phone and beg the person to send the check today, not this afternoon, so it could get out in the morning mail? Can I go sell some blood or do some lab rat experiments at Harvard? That was when I was in Boston, for example.
Now with a real job, I have a lot more time to do real writing. It’s just that I’ve gone from writing a novel every three years, to writing two novels a year, because I have had the extra time.
JMW: That’s great production. In fact, getting into the novels, your latest is “Bullet Time.” It was released earlier this year, 2012. What exactly is “Bullet Time”?
Nick Mamatas: If you remember the movie, “The Matrix,” bullet time was the bullet very slowly coming toward the camera, then Keanu Reeves and missed the bullet. “Bullet Time,” the book, is about a kid who shoots up his school or maybe he doesn’t shoot up his school. Basically you see alternative realities where he makes the decision in different ways. It’s all based around this idea where he’s about the pull the trigger, and whether he does or not. That slow bullet time allows us to explore different, alternative universes. The book itself has three first-person narrators, all the same person, and a third-person narration, leading up to this bullet time, where he decides to, or not to, shoot up his school.
JMW: This book, like most of your novels, is published small press, yet, you edit for one of the larger presses. Why do you choose to go the small press route for your own fiction?
Nick Mamatas: Political reason, mostly. I like independent presses. I spent a long time working with them and working for them, and I appreciate them more than New York presses. I think a lot of New York presses have sort of cookie cutter modes. They can make cookie cutter decisions. There are some great things from New York, obviously, but almost everything, in the past decade or so, that has come from New York, has been great, like anime and manga. If you went to Barnes and Noble or Borders 20 years ago and said, “Oh, we want to put up these comic books, but they’re in black and white, they’re for girls, they aren’t superheroes, and we want to print them backwards,” they would’ve laughed you out of the store. But now, anime and manga are huge because of companies outside of New York Publishing.
Same thing with urban fiction. Urban fiction is black authors writing about the black street experience. Those authors all were self-published, originally. Only after years of making money and selling 25,000 or 50,000 copies can New York say, “Oh, we should be less racist and publish some black authors.”
Romantic is the other big one, romantic-erotica, a lot of sexy stuff. That was the huge e-book hit, back before the Kindle. That was the only thing the e-books were selling and those all came from outside of New York. Now all of New York lines have sort of this hot, spicy, romance lines. Of course, the biggest book of the year was former fan fiction, 50 Shades of Grey. That also came from outside of New York.
So things happen outside of New York and that’s what I like. I also like, on a [inaudible 00:06:54] level, just having my editor on G Chat, as opposed to having to call and leave a message and get a message back two days later. I like getting paid, actually, on time. I can tell the editor, “Please send me my money,” and they will say, “Okay. I’ll make sure it happens,” as opposed to saying, “Okay. I’ll send a note to accounts payable, and in six weeks, you’ll get your money.”
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