BIOLOG: Dan Reade
By Richard A. Lovett
Many writers start with short stories, then move to novels. Not so Dan Reade. His first forays into science fiction were novels, which, he then discovered, took nearly as much effort to sell (unsuccessfully, he admits) as to write. Then he had an epiphany. “I looked up how to write a cover letter for a short story,” he says, “and it said all you have to do is put in the word count and the title and if you have previous publications.” Having spent untold hours studying up on how best to approach each of the agents he’d contacted about his novels, he says, “that seemed really liberating. I’ve been focusing on short stories ever since.”
Like the vast majority of Analog writers, Reade adds, he grew up on science fiction. “One of my strongest memories is that my father would read to my brother and me every night, growing up: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, classic ’50s pulp sci-fi.” His mother was equally formative. A creative writer throughout her life, he says, she is now one of his first readers. “Almost any story I’ve gotten published, I’ve sent through her, first.”
That said, he didn’t make serious efforts to write his own science fiction for many years. Meanwhile, he got a degree in Japanese history, after which he spent three years teaching in Japan. Where, he jokes, he realized the Japanese didn’t need a white guy from America telling them about their history. “So I started teaching English instead.” That led to an MFA degree at North Carolina State University, where he studied under Nebula winner John Kessel, who “really encouraged” his interest in science fiction, which he now pairs with his day job teaching English and literature at Norco College in Southern California.
In addition to freeing him from the slog of writing long, detailed proposals and cover letters, the switch to short stories freed him to experiment. Novels, he says, are both time consuming and somewhat rigidly constructed, especially for authors without an established following. “With a short story,” he says, “you can put it together, throw it out there, and see what happens.” They are also an exciting challenge, because you have only a few thousand words in which to achieve the desired effect. “I love the freedom of that,” he says. The best short stories, he adds, tend to start with the characters. “Whether I’m reading or writing, it’s always the character that connects first,” he says.
The science fictional element is also important, but in his stories, it serves to underscore something more universal. His story in the issue, for example, is at heart about mother-daughter relationships—a theme nearly as old as time. “What science fiction allows us to do is to take a familiar story and explore it in new ways,” he says. “That is what I love about science fiction.”
Also important to his stories is examining the enduring impact of relationships. “My wife is a marriage and family therapist,” he says. “We talk about parent-child relationships and how they impact us throughout our lives. Relationships can impact us in ways we are both aware of and unaware of, and this has been a motivating force in my fiction for over the past decade.”
Meanwhile, he’s thinking about the impacts he might have on his own infant son’s life. “James is only three months old, but I am looking forward to the opportunity to read to him some of the things my father read to me, and hope that he picks up the science fiction bug,” Reade says.