This, the second part of our memorial to Christopher Stasheff, is tangential to the man. It’s a measure of his legacy, which was not only the immortal books he’d written, but the children he’d raised. One of those, Edward, became a writer as well, and here my First Reader interviewed him about living in the shadow of a legend.
(Originally published at Otherwhere Gazette March 2015, written by Sanford Begley)
I met Edward Stasheff last year at Millenicon in Cincinnati. When I ask people about what they want to hear about on this blog a perennial favorite is “What is it like living with a writer?” Since I knew Ed would be back for Millenicon again this year, I thought I would go them one better “What is it like to grow up with a writer?” This is the result.
Believe it or not, this has been edited for brevity and to remove things that were not germane. You get 2 men with shared interests together and the conversation can wander far afield. Wander Hell! It Galloped!
SB: Your father, Christopher Stasheff, is one of the best known names if SF/Fantasy. How did he feel about you becoming a writer?
ES: He encouraged his kids to write if they showed an interest in it, but he didn’t if they weren’t interested. And even the kids who did show an interest in writing, his response was great, go ahead, do it, but what are you going to do for money? Get a bachelor’s degree too?
SB: What do you write? With your father such a famous writer, do you write in the same vein or run away from it as hard as you could? And do your siblings write?
ES: I write primarily SF or F, although I do my best to incorporate a good romantic or mystery subplot, if you do that you can appeal to a broader audience. All four of us kids wrote, although only two of us went on to try it professionally. My eldest sister wrote plays, my middle sister wrote one romance novel, got it out of her system and went on with her life. Me and my youngest sister Eleanor, we are still writing fantasy.
SB: Do you think you would have become a writer if your father had been something else like a normal professor or executive?
ES: That is a really hard question to answer. I probably would have been interested in doing so, but without the encouragement, and frankly, mentoring, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to make it.
SB: Every SF writer has a strange work background, it is a cliche to have weird jobs, how about you?
ES: Typical high school/college jobs. Then I planned to be a high school teacher, did my student teaching, and left it to promptly train for the IT market, doing various IT jobs while also trying to write on the side.
ES: I’ve been getting my dad’s out-of-print backlist up on the ebooks site, but I’ve only got about a quarter of his books up so far.
SB :I think a lot of people think Chris is dead. I did when we met him last year.
ES: He used to do the con circuit quite a bit, and then he dropped off. Once you stop appearing at cons, people don’t know what happened, and his sales started to slowly go down, when you aren’t out there and meeting people.
SB: I didn’t realize a lot of his stuff was in print. If the bookstores and libraries didn’t carry it, I didn’t see it.
ES: I think the last book published was in 2005, nothing since then until ebooks.
SB: When did you publish your first?
ES: In 2007, a horror short story for a magazine that no longer exists. It was probably the biggest high of my life, some perfect stranger saying yes, you are good enough to put in print.
SB: I know that feeling…
ES: For people like you and me, there’s like this built-in thing, we don’t want to think too highly of our ourselves, we don’t want to get obnoxious. So that external validation thing saying ‘yeah! You’re good…” That’s wonderful.
SB: Most writers have a problem not having enough ego.
ES: Those who do stick out, they are rare.
SB: Do you prefer long form or short form?
ES: Long form. I start off with a short story and realize I’m writing a novella. Actually, novellas are great for self-publishing. You can put one out there, charge a couple of bucks and people still read it. I’ve been doing this backlist ebook publishing for four years now, and it’s fascinating to see how ebooks and independent publishing is transforming the entire profession.
SB: People ask how do you do this or how do you that? I tell them what my experts tell me, whatever you do this week won’t work next week, it’s all in flux.
ES: There’s a couple of blogs you can keep an eye on, the Amazon blog, the Kobo blog, to try and see what’s coming out.
SB: Did you father every try to use you and figure what teens think of things?
ES: He never tried to use us as a potential audience. He never encouraged us to read any of his books, if we did he was thrilled, and I think two of my sisters have never read anything of his.
SB: So did he use his children as characters?
ES: That is one of the bigger topics of debate among us kids. His family has three girls and one boy, the Gallowglasses is three boys and one girl, but they are based on the four archetypes of intuitive, intellectual, active, and emotional. But there are elements of us in those kids, so we try to figure out who is who. Best guess is that my middle sister Genevieve, who is organized, she would be the intuitive, I would probably be Jeffery, the intellectual. My oldest Sister Isabel would be the active, she doesn’t stop to think, and she just acts. My Younger sister Eleanor who has a huge heart, very empathetic, she would be the Cordelia character. She is also a writer.
SB: Have you ever written a collaboration?
ES: Yes, both were short stories for anthologies that ultimately fell through. More recently I have been working as his editor.
SB: Does your father point out flaws in your writing?
ES: Actually it’s the exact opposite. I can give him the worst piece of dreck ever written and he’ll still say it’s wonderful. If I want someone to point out flaws, I go to my youngest sister Eleanor, she will actually tell me if I’ve gotten something wrong. I think my Dad just doesn’t want to hurt his kid’s feelings.
SB: Have you run into anyone in your non-writing life who knew of your father.
ES: Only once. I was working for a small computer start-up in Champaign IL, and my boss suddenly burst into the room one day with a copy of St Vidicon, and said is this your dad? And I said yes, and he said ok, and I honestly couldn’t tell if he thought that was cool or a huge joke. In my circle of friends, I occasionally get oh, your dad wrote this? But in my professional life it just hasn’t happened.
SB: Which one of his books would you say had the most influence on you.
ES: My favorite of his is definitely Wizard in Bedlam. The use of history and myth in futuristic revolution… but what had the most impact on me… Yeah, probably the same. I actually ran down the hall and said “Dad this part is awesome!”
SB: You grew up living with a writer, is that like living in a normal household?
ES: It was definitely not the normal lifestyle. If it was like growing up with maybe a modern fiction NYT bestseller list writer maybe it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but when you grow up as a SFF fantasy writer going to SFF cons, it’s definitely a different world. Instead of going to ball games, we would go different places. We grew up going to cons, my mother was a costumer, so she created costumes for us, and we were in masquerades. Unfortunately it had a dark side. I wasn’t socially savvy enough to understand the concept of the geek closet. You know, you might love Star Trek and Dr. Who, but don’t talk about it at school or you’re going to get pounded. And you know, I didn’t get that. Within the SF universe it was wonderful, outside, I got bullied a lot.
I should also point out, me and my youngest sister, we loved the SF community, always did and still do, my other two sisters were always a little weirded out by it, and they are the ones who went a more mundane direction with their life.
SB: You father, in Her Majesty’s Wizard did a lot of questioning about being religious in a fantasy world, was your family strongly religious?
ES: Religious? Yes, strongly, no. We were raised Catholic, went to parochial school up through middle school and then to a public high school, but he allowed us to question, to explore. My eldest sister ended up converting to Judaism. My middle sister converted to Lutheranism when she married a Lutheran. I’m kind of agnostic, and my youngest sister went pagan for a couple of years and eventually came back to the Catholic Church. We are all religious, just not necessarily Catholic.
SB: What is a wandering catholic, do you understand that?
ES: Yes, he was a teenager and suddenly the Catholic Church he’d been raised in, that had been stable for centuries, was very different. If that doesn’t kick off a round of questioning and doubt, I don’t know what would. I think he’s still trying to figure out, what is timeless and eternal, what is just tradition, stuff like that. There is a lot of stuff in Catholicism that is just traditional, from writings of the church fathers and it’s not actually in the Bible. Like Purgatory, for example.
SB: Do you feel like you will always be in his shadow?
ES: Oh, Absolutely, yes of course I will be in his shadow. If I don’t want to be in his shadow, use a pen name, but I am using my own last name. In the hopes that people will think that if you like Chris’s work, you’ll like Ed’s.
SB: If they don’t like Chris’s work they haven’t tried it.
I am providing a link to Ed’s book, Predatory Practices, and one to his father’s book, The Warlock In Spite Of Himself. Do yourself a favor, try Ed’s book and if you haven’t tried anything by Chris, do that as well.