Sheila Finch
Questions and Answers

Sheila Finch is the winner of the 1998 Nebula Award for Novella for her story 'Reading the Bones'. Although born in London, England she is a long time US resident and teaches Creative Writing in a college in California.
What are you currently working on?
I'm doing a series of stories about a Guild of Xenolinguists who make the first contacts with aliens and crack their languages. Many of these stories have been published in F&SF. I just finished a second novel set in this same universe, but I've got a lot more material to work with because how languages work and the problems that arise in and between them fascinate me endlessly.

Who or what has been a major influence on your writing and why?
Early influences would have to include Rudyard Kipling, who I still re-read from time to time. Later on I discovered Ursula Le Guin and Isaac Asimov and Gregory Benford, and Ray Bradbury -- who taught me that science fiction prose can still be written as poetry. And then there's Ian Watson's wonderful first novel, THE EMBEDDING. All of these writers showed me secrets of writing science fiction, and I owe them a lot.

With which of your works are you most/least satisfied and why?
I don't particularly feel comfortable with the SHAPER trilogy anymore, although readers seem to like it. I originally conceived of that idea as Young Adult sf for a series Bantam (my publisher at the time) was inaugurating, but when I turned the first book in they wanted me to "adult-size" it for a number of reasons. I think now I should have folded up my tent and gone elsewhere.

Who (Fact or Fiction) would you most like to meet, and what would you ask them?
(a) Shakespeare. (b) Where do you get all your ideas? (Just kidding!)

Is there a book or story you wish you had written?
Scads of them! But perhaps most of all Harry Turtledove's alternate-Gandhi story, "The Last Article," because when I read it I realized I'd often wondered about the same moral question the story explores, but never followed through and wrote

Is writing your full time occupation, if not what is?
I teach full-time at a local college. My schedule includes creative writing and also the literature of science fiction, so the two parts of my career blend into each other quite happily.

What was your first professional sale? How did it feel when you received the acceptance?
I'd had a couple of short story sales previously, but my agent (actually, a succession of agents -- but that's another question) had been shipping the novel INFINITY'S WEB around for many months. I'd given up fretting about it when one day I returned home to a message on my answering machine: "Bantam wants to buy your book. Call me." Book, I thought, what book? I'm not selling off my library. Bantam wants to buy a book from me.... Oh, my god! BANTAM wants to buy my BOOK!

If you could give one piece of advice to a would-be author, what would it be?
There's a big old blackboard up in the sky with every would-be author's name on it, and next to the name is the number of rejections that author will receive before making a first sale. So if you lose heart and give up after 2 (or 20 or 200) rejections, you'll never know that the very next submission was going to sell.

When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author?
When I was five years old. I wanted to be a teacher, too (and I hadn't even gone to school yet!) I wrote little books on folded scraps of paper and taught my teddy bear to read them.

When did you first feel that you were an author?
To me, "author" has a whiff of snobbery about it. I'm a working writer. So as soon as -- and as long as -- I'm working at my craft, I'm a writer.

Are you for or against e-books?
They represent the future and I admit to being excited about them, but right now I'd advise all writers to be extremely wary and read the contract, read the contract, read the contract. Currently, e-books are a good way to keep backlists available for readers, and I'm arranging to have a reprint of TRIAD published electronically. I wouldn't do first publication as an e-book just yet.

Are you a music fan? If so, what?
I have eclectic tastes: Traditional jazz; rock and roll; reggae; the Romantic composers; Elizabethan madrigals; Hildegard von Bingen; Peter Gabriel.

SF, Skiffy or Sci-Fi? What is the correct shortening of Science Fiction and does it matter?
"Skiffy" is an insider's joke; better not let the great unwashed public know about that one. "SF" seems to be the officially sanctioned abbreviation. I've always rather liked Sc-Fi, but as a member of SFWA I keep that opinion to myself.

Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have a little cabin in the San Jacinto, California, mountains that is my ideal place to write; the wind soughs through the pines and at night the coyotes howl, and I don't have a telephone to disturb me. But I can write just about anywhere with my laptop.

Why do you like SF/F/H?
Because it allows me to explore all the really great important questions of human existence. (A radio interviewer once asked in a patronizing tone, "What's a nice lady like you doing in science fiction?" I answered sweetly, "Oh, I'm interested in female things, you know -- the fate of the family in space, what love and sex will be like with robots, what's for dinner and is it us?")

What book are you reading at the moment?
Two (I read one fiction and one non-fiction at the same time:

  Erdrich, THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE. (not SF)
  Nettle and Romaine, VANISHING VOICES: THE EXTINCTION OF THE WORLD'S LANGUAGES.


Plug away - what do you have coming out?
Several short stories in F&SF, and -- hopefully next year -- the novelization of the Nebula winning "Reading the Bones," from a small press in California. (I'll keep you posted.)



Many Thanks, Sheila

Relevant Links

Sheila Finch Bibliography
Sheila Finch Short Story Guide
Sheila Finch's Web Site