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A Conversation with Nicole Kimberling

Our LGBTQ Director, Amanda Jean, sits down with author and editor, Nicole Kimberling. Nicole lives in Bellingham, Washington, with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, and two bad cats, as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mysteries and an editor at Blind Eye Books.

AMANDA JEAN: I remember hearing at Gay Romance Northwest that Blind Eye Books puts out a very measured amount of books each year, which is unusual for an LGBTQ press. Is that because of quality control, or something else?
NICOLE KIMBERLING: Well, there are a couple of reasons we have only a couple releases per year. The first is that, up until this point, we’ve been using offset printing, rather than POD, and so budgeting for that naturally limited the number of books we could publish. But also, I’m a very picky, very hands-on editor (It takes me three to six weeks to edit a book.), so I have to believe in a project pretty strongly to want to put in all that work.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that your editing is top-notch, and having read your writing, I know you’re no slouch there, either. How do you handle the workload for both?
Thank you! It’s good to know that authors speak kindly of me. Normally, I alternate doing editing and writing projects. However, during 2013-14, I had four important editorial projects, so between actually editing and running the day-to-day at Blind Eye Books, I didn’t get to write a story for a couple of years. And it frustrated me. I felt I might be losing my game. After that, I decided to go ahead and make more time to pursue my own creative goals, if only to keep myself sharp. LOL.

Blind Eye is also unusual for its exclusive focus on fantasy and science fiction. Is it difficult to market spec fiction?
It’s not as easy to generate big numbers of sales as it is in contemporary, because the pool of readers is smaller. But I’ve found it’s actually less work to make a spec fic piece stand out in the crowded marketplace. Partially because spec-fic worlds are usually pretty unique and, therefore, easy to differentiate from one another. Recently, though, I’ve become interested in mystery, so Blind Eye Books is going to launch a sister imprint called One Block Empire that will focus on mystery and contemporary stories.

Favorite music to write to? And favorite music to edit to, if it differs?
My favorite album to write to is Broadcast’s Tender Buttons. It kind of puts me into a trance, I think. :) When I edit, I’ll normally assemble a playlist for the manuscript to help me remember the mood or the various characters as I’m working on the piece.

You won a LAMBDA literary award in 2008 for Turnskin—did that change the course of your career at all?
Absolutely. Before that, I had no credentials whatsoever. Once I had the award, people associated my name—and Blind Eye Books—with quality fiction, so I was able to get access to things like reviews, appearances, and readings that I would have never been considered for previously.

I mentioned before that Blind Eye publishes a select amount, and its pool of authors is also necessarily small. What do you recommend to authors submitting to the slush pile that will help them get noticed—and in a good way?
I am average in most regards in that I want to see things that most editors want to see: Intelligible sentences describing likable, insightful characters who are directly engaging with the plot and driving it forward toward an interesting crisis and climax. I can be very put off by dismal, mopey characters who lack agency. One thing I’m always looking for is interesting locations in fiction—either real or imagined. I will always spend more time lingering over a manuscript featuring a complete secondary world (that is: not-Earth) than one that takes place in some American small town. Likewise, on stories set in places other than the U.S. or Europe. I would love to see a convincing mystery set someplace like Brazil.

I’ve recently left Oregon for Los Angeles, so the slightly homesick and nostalgic part of me wants to know what your favorite part of living in the PNW is. You’ve set quite a few stories there, so it stands to reason it’s doing something for your creativity.
Well, the reason I’ve set stories in the PNW is mainly because of my process. I enjoy translating real people and places into fiction, so writing about where I live is the next logical step. But I will agree that the culture of the PNW is very forgiving to the aspirational artist. There’s a strange non-competitiveness that saturates the scene here that’s different than the vibe of other places that I’ve lived. Maybe that’s the reason there are also so many cults around here… :)

Do you have any projects in the works right now?
I’ve just finished writing a sequel to a story I wrote for the Irregulars anthology called, Cherries Worth Getting. This story also features NIAD Special Agent Keith Curry. It’s called “Magically Delicious” and will appear in a forthcoming anthology put out by JCP Books. I love writing that character, so I think I’m going to stick with him for at least one more story.

AMANDA JEAN is a publicist for Alternating Current Press and the LGBTQ Director for The Spark. She is also an editor (and writer) of LGBTQ romance, and when not wrangling manuscripts, she can be found watching space documentaries, looking at pictures of shoes, and attempting to read for pleasure. She has worked with Less Than Three Press, Torquere Press, Athgo International, The Typewriter, and the Seattle-based literary magazine POPLORISH, and has paid her dues writing dreary freelance content. Her latest project is coordinating and editing Silver & Gold, a queer May-December anthology published with Less Than Three Press, and it comes out in October of 2015.

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