"Interview with Don Webb"
Bewildering Stories Issue 818 (July 29, 2019)
John Thiel, a veteran contributor to Bewildering Stories and Head of the Bulletin of the National Fantasy Fan Federation’s Fan-Pro Coordinating Bureau, has kindly published an interview about the history, nature and purpose ofBewildering Stories.
Our thanks to John for posing very thoughtfully designed and productive questions. Our apologies to 17 years of Bewildering Stories history for not having the space to cite everybody of note!
The interview can be found at John’s publication: Ionosphere 18.
Don Webb is the managing editor of Bewildering Stories, a netzine which was first put forth in 2002 and has been and continues to be run continuously to the present time. It has been highly successful in building itself up and maintaining a steady success, proving Don to be a master at the computer and the keyboard. Those having a few problems understanding all this will find the matter clarified in this interview.
IO: Bewildering Stories has now been on the net for seventeen years, appearing on a weekly schedule. This seems like a fantastic accomplishment. To what would you attribute this longevity?
DW: Picture Sisyphus not pushing his rock uphill but chasing it as it rolls downhill. And remember one of our mottoes: “Everything we perceive comes to us from the past. Everything we do goes into the future.” Bewildering Stories puts us into the future. And picture a kid who gets to go to a brand-new circus every week. As that figurative kid, I must set up the tent and sideshows, but I have plenty of help, for which I’m very grateful. And the circuses are permanent. Visitors—the readers—can time-travel; they can attend any performance at any time.
IO: Yeah, if they go back far enough in your annals they’ll find mystories.Bewildering was first announced on the Analog forum. Did you announce it anywhere else also at that time?
DW: Our original publisher, my friend the late Jerry Wright, and our original website designer, the Invincible Spud, did so. And I made announcements at various forums in the early years. I’ve often wished we had a Public Relations Manager to advertise us on forums and social media, but we count on the authors themselves to do that. We encourage self-promotion; as we like to say, “Who else will do it?” And it benefits both the authors and Bewildering Stories.
IO: Can you give us some insights as to how Bewildering was born? What were you setting out to accomplish, and what hopes did you have for the publication? Were there any problems in getting it together?
DW: In late June 2002, some Analog forum participants were discussing the state of science fiction publishing. The consensus was that the genre was concentrated in a handful of print magazines and specialty books, and the editorial gateways were few and narrow. What might we be missing? We sensed that there was a world of fresh, new writing out there, waiting to be discovered and explored.
I proposed a website with a name that was unconventional at the time; it would invite new and as yet unrecognized writers. Jerry Wright loved the idea and had the means and expertise to provide a server. Spud—we never learned his real name, and he never used the same pen name twice—provided creative enthusiasm and start-up material.
Our original website design used frames, which, I learned, were impenetrable to indexers. It was a blessing in disguise; we had to “go frameless” and, to do that, I had to learn a lot of HTML and other basic coding in Year 2.
As a result, Bewildering Stories has always been produced “old-school”, by hand. It’s even been called “old-fashioned”. That’s an unwitting compliment, because many newer websites make BwS look avant-garde in its sheer practicality. The format has nothing “bargain-basement clearing table” about it; it’s a kind of online bookstore or library. Our contributors and their works are easy to find, and we offer them permanence as long as we have it.
Our astronomical motif is Jerry Wright’s original idea; it reflected his love of science fiction. Over the years, Bewildering Stories has become increasingly eclectic; our motif now represents a universal vision: science fiction, fantasy, lyric poetry, social realism and non-fiction; we’re open to it all.
IO: Where do your contributing writers come in from? There’s a sensational number of them.
DW: Our contributors number about 2000 as of mid-2019. They come from all over the world, but I don’t know how they find us. Duotrope has been a big help and, I suspect, word of mouth plays a significant role. I enjoy welcoming new contributors in our regular issues. I want them to know that real people have been paying serious attention to their poems, stories and essays.
IO: How about the events occurring along the way after you had the publication going? What would you describe as the major developments in the course of its history?
DW: Aside from the website’s concept and format, there have been basically two major and very distinct developments.
First, I translated Cyrano de Bergerac’s novel THE OTHER WORLD in Years 1 and 2. It has been one of the most widely referenced and yet least read works of early modern science fiction. Its literary history is tragic. It has been better known as VOYAGE TO THE MOON, which was expurgated by a friend of Cyrano’s in order to avoid persecution in 17thcentury France. I worked with Cyrano’s original.
The object was to make this lost work accessible to students of literature at all levels, from high school through university. The extensive annotation in hypertext makes best use of the Internet but comes at a cost: the translation cannot be issued in print; it’s simply impossible.
The second development: The Review Board was formed in the early years. It now consists of twelve veteran contributors, including myself, some of whom have been with us for a very long time. They are responsible for the Quarterly and the Annual Reviews; in short: the quality of Bewildering Stories.
Initially, the Review Editors helped in vetting subscriptions. But increasing traffic has called for even more help. Now we have three Coordinating Editors, two Special Editors, and about twenty Associate Editors.
Writers can speak for themselves; editors are the readers’ only voice. We like to tell writers, “We want to help keep your readers on the page with you.” To that end, we provide critiques that we hope will be useful. And we have a large library of “self-help” topics ranging from audience choice to plotting to characterization and advanced grammar. We even have the briefest and most informative article on commas to be found on the Internet!
If we can’t accept a submission, we always say why and try to encourage our contributors. And I see everything. Retirement has not changed me; I’m still a professor.
IO: In what ways are you satisfied in the way Bewildering has gone along?
DW: I’m very proud and fond of our editors, whatever their official function. They’re a great help to our contributors, and I enjoy hearing what they think; I’m always learning something.
We can all be especially grateful to Michael E. Lloyd, first for his science fiction novels and, over the years, for his comprehensive indexes to Bewildering Stories. Both are invaluable. He also set a standard for proofreading, a task that has since been taken up by another accomplished author: Charles C. Cole. As one of our official mottoes says, “Proofreading never ends”. It can’t be underestimated; it ensures the quality of publication in terms of language.
IO: There’s an increase in the things BwS is doing. Can you give a description of all that Bewildering is doing at this time?
DW: Our collection of reviews and excerpts has become very extensive. In addition, we have works in translation from many different languages. For example, a long-term veteran, Bill Bowler, has translated a Kremlin official’s essay about Russian history and politics, and he is currently translating a novel by the same author. No easy feat! We’re looking forward to it
As for myself, a review article of Jane Jacob’s DARK AGE AHEAD became a special project. It has been succeeded by four other review articles in the collection CASSANDRA’S VOICES: WARNINGS TO THE MODERN AGE. From the end of the Bronze Age to the foreseeable future, it shows how history is, in many ways, all of a piece.
IO: How would you describe the present position of Bewildering Stories in the science and fantasy world?
DW: We haven’t left science fiction and fantasy behind; quite the contrary. The genres occupy a place of honor because we feel they expand the imagination: “the sky’s the limit”.
As long as we can help authors, as we say, “dress up nicely and put on a good appearance” and “keep the readers on the page with them”, we can give their works as permanent a home as Bewildering Stories itself is. We continue to chase Sisyphus’ rock downhill, rolling into the future.