Paper Tyger’s Juliet Ulman: Editor Extraordinaire

I’ve run an interview/feature on Juliet Ulman at the Omnivoracious book blog. Juliet now runs Paper Tyger, but for over a decade she worked for Bantam Spectra. In the process, she was responsible for editing and publishing a slew of amazing books. She also provided a great U.S./NY publisher home for Veniss Underground, City of Saints & Madmen, and The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases. I always thought she was a great editor, but she was good at the small grace notes, too–like sending me odd gifts or funny emails. In this business, those touches make a big difference to a writer. She also did a wonderful job of making sure City and the fake disease guide got reproduced and marketed correctly.

Below find some quotes from her writers that I couldn’t fit into the piece. (Please feel free to spread the links to the feature and to this post–it’s a substantive interview.)

CHRISTOPHER BARZAK: Working with Juliet Ulman on my first two novels was not just a process by which those books became much better, clearer versions of themselves but an experience that ultimately led to me becoming a better writer. I learned a lot from her keen eye and her searching questions. Juliet has an ability to find any possible false panels in the walls of a book, and she knows how to talk about those flaws in such a way that, after discussing issues or problems she’s located, I found myself excitedly pushing further and further, to make a better book, and to make the next book a better book before I even started writing it.

Along with this, she’s one of the most friendly people I’ve ever had the chance to work with. When Juliet bought my first novel, One for Sorrow, I was living in Japan, in the midst of writing my second book, and making arrangements to come back home to America after two years away. When I did reach home again, just days after my return, a welcome home gift arrived on my doorstep: a Catbus music box that plays the theme music for My Neighbor Totoro. (She and I share a love of Miyazaki’s animated films). And when I first met her in person in New York City, she had made plans for a wonderful Japanese lunch, so that I could have a little bit of my home away from home again. She exhibits a rare and special thoughtful quality that goes beyond personal interactions, that is displayed in relationship to the books she edits as well.

K.J. BISHOP: Juliet was my second editor on The Etched City. What I remember was her attention to detail, coupled with a willingness to let the book be its own creature. I learned how much you sometimes have to polish and repolish — until you have to let it go, even though there are still things you’d like to fix! I think she strengthened my own internal editor and made me better able to see a work from a reader’s point of view. I also appreciated her involvement with the cover and marketing. I think she has a lot of knowledge about how to target a book towards the right readers. She also sent me an awesome Cthulhu plush doll for Christmas. He’s guarding my bed at my parents’ place back home. I spend one month of each year with him, like a variant of Persephone with Hades.

FELIX GILMAN: Others may speak of Juliet Ulman’s qualities as an editor–they may speak of her ingenuity, acuity, tact and good humour. And yes, yes, that’s all very well, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. But too few these days recall her greatest accomplishments–I refer of course to her career as America’s foremost independent airship aviatrix. Who but Skycaptain Ulman could have discovered the route through the Hollow World, which connects the North Pole and the Grand Canyon?–and how impoverished our spice markets would be without it! Who else could have uncovered the migratory patterns of the noble sky-porpoise? If not for her steady hand at the tiller, would we ever have discovered that inaccessible territory known as Brooklyn, with its gentle and musical natives, who have so much to teach us?–surely not.

TIM PRATT: The first thing Juliet told me about the first novel I sold her, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, was that it was Not Her Sort of Book. It was a fantasy with a magic door that goes to another world, after all, and she was so not a fan of magic fantasy doors–but the way I handled it won her over. Weirdly, that gave me a much-needed shot of self-confidence; it told me I was doing something original and weird enough to beat the well-honed crap-detector of a very experienced editor and reader. As the years of our relationship went past, I came to relish our visits together where I’d tell her the ideas I had for my next books, things like giant frog monsters and sentient cars and the revivified mummy of John Wilkes Booth, and I took her sidelong glances and raised eyebrows and “Oh, really?”s as a challenge to prove to her that I really could pull off whatever bizarre thing I had in mind. Finally, not too long ago, after I unloaded some oddball idea on her, she told me “You know what? I trust you. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.” I never felt happier about myself as a writer than I did at that moment. Over the course of a handful of novels and a handful of years, I’d earned her trust, and that meant a lot — because she never hesitated to call me on my bullshit, and she put me through the wringer on a few of those books, and always made me question the unexamined moments in my work. She never let me get away with being lazy or taking the easy way out. I’d always heard that editors these days don’t really *edit*, that they just acquire, but Juliet put the lie to that cliche. She showed me how to be a better writer, and I did my best to write books that wouldn’t just satisfy her, but actually impress her….Honestly my favorite moments with Juliet run together into a kind of convention-continuum of memory, mostly taking place in hallways and parties and cafes at Wiscon (with a couple of restaurants in other cities thrown in)–a never-ending conversation about art and life and audacity and balance. What can I say? She’s been more than my editor. She’s been my friend.

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