Mike Justman is a writer, editor, and filmmaker living in Chicago. He posts photos of his pulp sci-fi collection at @itcamefrombeyondpulp.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
The first time I remember writing was in tenth grade, when my biology class tablemate and I would write silly poems in our notebooks. People liked them, so I went through a silly poem phase. I wrote some creative humorous nonfiction, also in tenth grade, but my English teacher hated all of it, which was ironically an important part of my drive to become a writer—I needed to show that asshole that he didn’t know what he was talking about. In college I was in a poetry group and so I wrote serious poetry, some of which was OK. Then in grad school I tried to start a horror and sci-fi writing group, so I wrote a few genre stories. But I went years and years without writing anything after I left school. I’ve only been writing “seriously” for a couple years.
What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I read a lot of different things. I’ve been reading a lot of pulp sci-fi, including my first J.G. Ballard, who quickly became one of my favorites. I love Samuel Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin (RIP). I have a huge collection of pulp sci-fi magazines. I also love mysteries, especially ones with social conscience like Walter Mosely and Ross Macdonald. Oddly enough, I hardly ever read horror anymore—I need to get back into it.
How do you measure success when it comes to your writing?
Feeling like something is actually finished is my main measure of success. I tend to work things over endlessly, revising them, completely rewriting them, abandoning them for months or years. A lot of things still exist as just the initial notes I wrote down when I first had the idea. Polishing something to the point where I’m ready for other people to read it—that’s success. Being published is nice, but for me just finishing something is the best.
What tips do you have for finding time to write?
My main tip is not exactly about finding time, but about being productive during whatever time you find. And this is what I need; your mileage may vary. It’s this: Turn off your wifi. Leave your phone in another room. Maybe you need a travel laptop that’s just a word processing program. It’s so easy for me to get distracted that even if I have an hour or two of “writing,” I’m really spending about ten minutes actually writing and the rest of the time looking things up on Wikipedia, checking hockey scores, looking to see who’s liked my latest Instagram post. Even when it’s supposedly “research”—like maybe I need to know what kinds of trees might grow on the side of an extinct volcano in El Salvador—it’s not necessary for the actual writing. Just make a note to look it up later, and write the actual story. And even things like finding the right word—my drafts are full of “FIND A BETTER WORD FOR THIS” notes to myself. You can open the thesaurus later.
What do you think the publishing industry will look like twenty-five years from now?
I have a feeling there won’t be much of an “industry,” except for maybe the top-tier literary writers. When you look at someone like Kealan Patrick Burke, a horror novelist I’m into right now, he sells a lot of books and wins a lot of awards, but his novels are self-published. I’m guessing that means he gets more money from each sale, so why does he need a publisher? Eventually the bestseller-writing machines like James Patterson are going to realize that they don’t need a publishing company anymore, which will quickly turn the publishers into boutique companies.
How do you deal with rejections?
I go through a nonstandard process that includes feeling like a complete failure, cursing out the publishers who rejected my work, obsessively reading other things they’ve published and comparing it unfavorably to what they wouldn’t take from me. Then I go find somewhere else to submit it. You were the tenth place I submitted Z Scale.
What books are you reading right now?
I usually have a few books going. I just started Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I’ll be reading for a long time. I try to read for at least 30 minutes before bed, and lately I’ve been working through back issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. And I just finished The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, so I need to pick another nonfiction book.
Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
I post photos of my pulp sci-fi collection on Instagram at @itcamefrombeyondpulp