AUTHOR OF The Guild of Xenolinguists (Golden Gryphon Press, 2007); and other works

Interviewed via e-mail by KAREN MacLEOD

Sheila Finch

Your story STRANGER THAN IMAGINATION CAN is nominated for the Short Story Nebula Award which is given by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Do you know how it came to be nominated?

First of all, don't jump the gun! The story hasn't been "nominated"; it has qualified for the preliminary ballot, that's all. That means ten readers liked it enough to tell others that they should take a look at it.

You created a very rich set of worlds and characters that could go even further than a short story allows. Do you have further plans for this work to be expanded on?

The story is part of a large sequence of stories and novels about the Guild of Xenolinguists and their adventures around the Orion Arm of our galaxy. Atpresent, I have no plans to write more about Sorel, but sometimes the author is the last to know. {g}


When did you start writing?

My mother used to say I began writing "books" for my dolls to read when I was five. So I've always known I wanted to publish. I wrote for the literary magazines in high school and college. And I've been sending stories out for a very long time.

How would you describe the writing that you are doing?

I write science fiction, particularly stories about the difficulties we'll experience when we first meet aliens and try to communicate with them.

Who or what would you say has influenced you the most?

I have a number of influences and mentors, living and dead. As a child, I devoured H.G.Wells, H.Rider Haggard, and Rudyard Kipling. Living mentors include Ursula Le Guin and Gregory Benford.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I encountered linguistics as a graduate student at Indiana University while I was majoring in Medieval Literature. Later, I lived in Germany for two years and my love for languages and the way they develop and change over time absorbed my reading. Plus I taught for twenty-five years on an urban, multi-cultural college campus, surrounded by exotic (to me) tongues. Watching the original Star Trek series made me know I wanted to write SF, but I was puzzled by the Universal Translator. I wanted to know who programs the computer that forms the UT? That's a topic Star Trek never touched.

How many books/stories have you written so far? (Please include titles, publisher, date of publication and a brief description of the book/books.)

I've published eight novels so far, and a collection of short stories. Other short stories -- about thirty -- have appeared in the major SF magazines and a number of anthologies. (See my web site bibliography for all this info and my blog site is: My most important work includes the novels TRIAD (Bantam, 1986), and READING THE BONES (Tachyon Publications 2003),


and the collection, THE GUILD OF XENOLINGUISTS (Golden Gryphon Press, 2007); these contain the stories of the 'lingsters,' the xenolinguists who decode alien languages.

Do you write every day?

Not always; sometimes life intervenes. I try not to be obsessive about it. The days I do write, I often spend six to eight hours at the keyboard.

What will your next book be about?

I've no idea. But at present I'm writing another novella about the xenolinguists, this one set at the very end of the cycle. And I'm working on a collaboration with another writer for a story mid-cycle. So I won't be done with the lingsters even after I write "The End" on the novella.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The work I'm most proud of is the series of novels and stories about the Guild of Xenolinguists, and the collection that came out last year of all the short stories about these lingsters that appears in THE GUILD OF XENOLINGUISTS, Golden Gryphon Press, ISBN 1-930846-48-7

PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY said of this collection, "Much as Asimov did with the Three Laws of Robotics, Finch creatively examines the conflicts stemming from the [Guild of Xenolinguists]'s strict rules .... The stories ... present their protagonists with morally difficult situations -- tortured prisoners, conflicting religious beliefs, abortion -- that hold significant contemporary resonance."

Is writing your career, or do you have another occupation that presently pays expenses? Tell us a little about Ms. Finch the person.

I'm retired now, but for thirty years I was a full-time college professor on an urban campus in the Los Angeles area. These days, I teach an occasional seminar and run a private, monthly workshop in novel-writing for advanced students. I volunteer at a local hospice, and I try to help out with Greyhound Rescue events. I have two of my own adoptees, former racers, Annie and Jack. And I probably should mention the cat, Nicky, who thinks he's their boss.

What's your opinion on the direction of the publishing industry, especially the influence of e-publishing?

I think e-publishing will become increasingly important as the years go by, and writers should do all they can to learn to use it to their benefit. Whether we like it or not, that's the way publishing is going, especially the magazine field.

Of your characters in STRANGER THAN IMAGINATION CAN, which is your favorite?

Sorel. This isn't the first time I've written about a young, retarded man. One of my early (and few) fantasy stories featured Thomas who saw dragons ("The Seventh Dragon," in FANTASY BOOK.)

Do you believe its possible for authors to write characters opposite their own gender, successfully?

Obviously! Some of the world's greatest female characters were created by male authors, and vice versa. (Remember Frankenstein?)

How do you control your characters? I know of several authors who are driven to write 'what their characters tell them.'

My characters frequently take over the path of the story -- as well they should.

Do you have any goals in life you have yet to meet? If so, would you like to elaborate some on them?

Not much to say here. I'm doing what I love doing on all fronts.

Regarding when the book is complete, or ready for editing -- At one point, you have to 'let the baby go.' What do you feel then? How do you know it is ready for the next step?

It's ready when I've re-written it so many times that I grow tired of it. Then I send it off to an editor and only re-write again if he/she asks for revisions.

Answer this one in any way you wish.... What advice do you have for potential authors?

Write, revise what you write, send out what you write, write again. (I think Heinlein covered that.) Don't obsess over your rejection letters -- you'll get plenty. I know a writer (later published) who papered his guest bathroom with his. Caused quite a traffic jam at party time! Writers' workshops can be invaluable aids; I depend even now on the Asilomar Writers Consortium. But be sure that the members are working writers not just wannabes. You can't trust the critique of someone who isn't actively working at the same craft you are, someone who knows the problems you face from the inside. Family are an unreliable substitute; either they love you too much to tell you the truth, or they have hidden agendas.