Sarah Hans is an author, editor, and educator. About a dozen of her short stories have appeared in print, and she is the editor of the anthologies Sidekicks! and Steampunk World. Her hobbies include crocheting blasphemies and dressing anachronistically. When not writing, blogging, or seeking enlightenment through crafting, she can be found traveling the aether aboard The Airship Archon, which frequently docks at science fiction conventions across the Midwest.
Iulian: Sarah, you are a self-declared Buddhist steampunk horror writer. Could you please break this down for us and elaborate?
Sarah: I’ve been a Buddhist for about 10 years, a steampunk for about five, and a horror writer since I was young enough to tell stories. I mention these things in the bio on my website because they are, in my opinion, the aspects of my personality that most inform my storytelling. There are Buddhist themes, horror elements, and steampunk settings in many, if not most, of my stories.
Please share with us a little bit of the history of Sarah Hans: where have you started and where are you today, and, most importantly, what happened in between that made you who you are?
That’s a tough question to answer. How do I summarize 33 years of living, and learning, and suffering, and heartbreak, and triumph?
Can you recall how you came to be involved in writing? I know for some writers it’s hard because after a while it just feels like you’ve always been writing, but was there a defining moment for you?
Like most writers, I have always been a storyteller. Before I could write, I told stories to my assembled stuffed animals. Because everything was fodder for my stories, I asked a lot of questions. I was lucky because my parents encouraged this behavior. I won a few awards for writing and received a lot of encouragement from teachers in high school, but once I got my first story rejection from a magazine I stopped writing fiction almost completely. I turned my attention to other creative pursuits. It wasn’t until about ten years later that I became interested in writing for publication again. I’d started attending conventions with my steampunk group (The Airship Archon) and I met a guy named Steve Saus. It’s thanks to his encouragement that I submitted the first story I’d written in a decade. Thankfully that story was published, as were the next few I sent out, so by the time I started getting rejections I had already built up enough success that it served as armor against them. Dealing with rejection is a lot easier now, too, because I am a much older and more mature person who has overcome a lot more adversity, and who is on really excellent medication for her depression, and has really supportive friends and writing colleagues. I wouldn’t have the perseverance I have now if it weren’t for those things. And, as any writer will tell you, the writing game is 99% perseverance.
What would you say were the few things that influenced you the most in your writing career? Was there a person, a writer, a set of events, some circumstances?
Joining the Airship Archon, meeting Steve Saus at MARCon so many years ago, those were the events that set me on my current trajectory. Jay Lake has also been hugely influential because he said yes when I asked him to submit a story to Steampunk World, which really opened up the possibilities for me. I am extremely shy and asking Jay if he would submit a story was really hard, because even though he’s such an approachable guy, he’s still Jay Lake. He’s intimidating! But he was so lovely about it, and has been throughout the process of creating the anthology, even as he struggles with cancer, that it made a huge impression on me.
You are also an editor and you recently ran a Kickstarter campaign that was extremely successful. Tell us a bit about the Steampunk World project. What were the challenges of such a project and how did you manage to overcome them?
The hardest part was making sure there was enough involvement from writers of color. This was really important to me. The theme of the anthology is multicultural, and it would be really disingenuous to publish a collection of stories about people of color written by white people. I invited a lot of writers in the first wave of invitations I sent out, but I didn’t get nearly enough submissions from people of color, so then I sent out a second wave of invitations. Thanks to that, I was able to flesh out the anthology with some really amazing, authentic stories by some incredibly talented authors. The other challenge was, of course, getting funding for the Kickstarter campaign, but that ended up being less of a challenge than I thought it would be. I’m still reeling a bit from the overwhelming support we received, not just from the steampunk community, but from the science fiction community at large. I hope that the popularity of this project and others like it, like Mothership and Athena’s Daughters, which celebrate authors who are typically minorities in science fiction literature, will help big publishing houses to see that inclusive fiction is the Next Big Thing. Or maybe the Current Big Thing. And hopefully we’ll see more minority writers receiving awards and contracts with big advances.
What made you chose the particular genre you are writing? Have you attempted to write something else?
I write genre fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror. I don’t limit myself beyond that. I have tried writing literary fiction, because (like many genre writers) I received a lot of criticism from writing teachers and my parents for writing genre. I don’t like reading much literary fiction and I like writing it even less. It’s just not what gets me excited. And if I’m not excited about a project, I won’t keep coming back to my keyboard to finish it.
What is the Airship Archon and how are you involved in this group?
The Airship Archon is one of the oldest and largest steampunk communities in the world. We’re based out of Columbus, Ohio. I’m the communication officer. I try to make sure that the officers are communicating with the crew, mainly, but I also present panels at conventions, manage the Facebook group, and occasionally plan an event. We have monthly events, attend conventions across the Midwest, and have a very active Facebook group. These people are my primary social group, and I love them to pieces. We strive to be welcoming and inclusive, as a group, and this has definitely influenced my fiction.
You mostly write short stories for various anthologies. Do you have any projects for a longer piece?
I am currently writing a novel. I got about 25,000 words into it before I had to take a break to edit Steampunk World. Now I’m student teaching, so I hope to get back to the novel on Spring Break or maybe after student teaching is done. The novel is Young Adult, because that’s the story that I feel compelled to tell.
Who are your favorite contemporary writers and who are your favorite classics?
I adore the contemporary work of Jacqueline Carey, Suzanne Collins, Chuck Wendig, Mira Grant, Carrie Ryan. These are authors who put out a new book and I snatch it up and read it right away. I wish Ann McCaffrey were still alive, because then she would be at the top of that list as well. Is Octavia Butler considered classic or contemporary these days? She’s another of my favorite authors. Her novel Parable of a Sower is one of the first science fiction novels I read as a teenager and was hugely influential in helping me fall in love with the genre. This year I’m trying to read more fiction by people of color, because my reading list has, in the past, been pretty white, so hopefully next year that list will have some additional names. As for classics, I have a secret love of Jane Austen novels (have you read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The zombies really spice things up), and of course Jules Verne. Oh and I have a soft spot for Dickens. I don’t like a lot of so-called classic science fiction novels, so maybe this love of Victorian/Edwardian novels and contemporary science fiction is the root of my love for steampunk.
If any writer (dead or alive) could come to you today and ask you to co-author a book, who’d that author be and why?
Oooh good question. Probably Jacqueline Carey. Her novels have this scope and vision that is something I’ve yet to master, and I think our storytelling styles would work well together. The world needs more epic fantasy written by women and I think she could help me do it right. 😉
Thank you very much, Sarah!
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