Boy, I’d be surprised if anyone noticed a new blog post here—it’s such a show of bad faith to any (hypothetical) readers out there, that I haven’t updated this in so long. What THE HELL happened?
Well the plan was to coast at work, in my day job, you know, designing and building avionics for NASA missions, and REALLY LAYING INTO the effort to revise off-tempo but beloved SF story drafts. But it turns out that saying “Yes!” to working on a bunch of NASA missions (Solar Probe, DART, IMAP, and possibly, probably DRAGONFLY, plus etc) is in itself kind of a big commitment. Plus being a parent, an apparent parent, and a husband, etc — it turns out these are all big commitments.
Story idea: single dude finds a ghost on Grindr. An actual ghost. She’s, say, a victim of the Triangle Factory fire, and after they get together a few times, she decides she’s just not into him—so she ghosts him.
Life intervenes, life roars on. I think there have been some minor victories, in terms of my ability to wrestle stories into some facsimile of completeness, of done-ness, but still missing is any kind of assembly-line efficiency where ideas tumble in one end and finished, gleaming stories rattle out the other. Everything, for me, seems to require some kind of creative trauma, some extraordinary amount of effort, to get to Finis.
Story idea: those US postage stamps that say “FOREVER” on them–imagine a scenario where in the far future, someone unearths one, and tries to mail a physical “letter” from one end of a US galactic territory to the other…
One thing that has kept me sane is this notion of stockpiling ideas I’m having but can’t act on in any reasonable time frame. I know I’m not alone in this. If you’re reading this, and you’re a writer, you’ve probably got a list somewhere, or several.
Story idea: a long-distance runner voluntarily has his arms removed in order to radically improve his running time. Nothing in the rules of the sport prevents this. Subsequently his wife leaves him.
Even the nutty ones, even the obviously unworkable ones—just to have some place to write them down, to feel like they’re safe, to feel like I COULD get back to this one or that one, if I really wanted to.
Story idea: what if it required more than two people of different genders to procreate? Would families be more secure, or in some sense richer, if they needed four, or five or seven, genders to make a baby? Imagine a far-flung colony world where the human pioneers were engineered to have this feature, and only several hundred years later discover that original humans only had (and only needed) two genders. Possible title for a story about a seven-gendered family: “ROY G. BIV”
OK, I know that keeping and adding to this list is impractical, maybe unreasonable and a little tragic. I think I read somewhere that William Gibson had said he keeps no such list, because the only really good ideas are the ones that you simply can’t free yourself of, that keep nagging at you until you acknowledge and act on them. That may be absolutely true for him, but with my memory, having an external way to capture them is a big comfort.
Big here’s the thing: several stories I actually wrote and finished and submitted appeared first in this list of ideas. I have the evidence, I can point to actual lines in the file! and I can’t tell you how heartening this is, to be honest.
I asked Neil Gaiman recently, in an AMA, whether he considered himself, in his writerly heart of hearts, a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. Hardcore genre writers won’t need this question explained to them.
Through the miracle of internet telecommunications, Neil Gaiman actually responded to my question. He said that he rejects the dichotomy, and prefers the GRRM formulation that writers are more like architects, or more like gardeners. (He, Neil himself, identifies as more of a gardener.)
And I feel like I’ve been given a great and useful metaphor here, and I’m going to run with it. This ideas list is like a garden, and the ideas are seeds. They need all the stuff, from me or the environment around them, to grow. Warmth, light, water, fertile soil, space, time, fair weather…
I concede that there’s a larger question as to whether these little toenail-sized scraps of ideas are really the best way to go about germinating a story, whether they are capable of developing into something rich and substantive and nutritious. Some of my little idea-seeds are less items or situations, more hints of voices or writing techniques to try, and I think mostly these are the ones that have the most promise, but since I have a lot of space (infinite space) in my little seed bed, it’s easy to just plug one more seed there, and see if it takes root.
Someday maybe I’ll be super-brave and post the whole list right here. After all, lots of writers say, Oh there are no new ideas, Oh everything has been written before, and It’s all about execution and technique. I admit a certain irrational fetish for secrecy here, like, maybe just maybe there are a few good new ideas left to be thought (but that one about the runner though–)
But honestly, for all the depreciating comments about it, I know of very few authors who have ever aired such lists anywhere in public. I think there’s value in believing you’ve got some lightning hidden away in your pockets. Try me at barcons (like, if I ever go to a con again) and maybe if I’ve had one or two, I’ll share some ideas with you.
News: big show coming up at Charm City Spec, with Sarah Pinsker, Arkady Martine, and Justina Ireland, April 24, 7pm, at the Bird In Hand Café in Baltimore. I feel like this event is a culmination of some kind, and I’m sure it’s going to be one for the books. Please come out, come out if you can! (Also, it is likely to be the last CCS to offer free libations, so there is that.)
Also news: I’m writing it here to make it more real, and cement my commitment— I’m applying to Viable Paradise this year. Deadline is the end of May, but I have hopes of having an application together weeks before that date, to give some friends a chance to look at it (and make comments, hopefully.) Super excited about this, and hoping it’s not too expensive/stressful/complicated to make all the logistics work—if they accept me.
Rules are made to be broken, but here’s an attempt to set out a set of writing rules (for me, for a while) and to see what they lead to–
1.) Commit to collecting and working with ‘found objects’ —narrative & non-narrative elements that have a realistic voice because they were found ‘in the wild’ (a.k.a. ‘real life.’) Your own prose may never achieve as much reality as an actual list of cereal ingredients.
2.) Work to surprise the reader at the level of the story and especially down to the level of individual sentences. Create opportunities for the accidental, the flukey, and the fortuitous to find their way into your writing.
3.) Trust and teach readers to accept and appreciate a richer prose (longer sentences, more structured prose, tricks cribbed from classical rhetoric or borrowed from other languages, adventuresome and precise vocabulary, intentional voice choices, etc.) Resolve to write up to your readers.
4.) Write naturalistic stories that don’t reward easy expectations for resolution, arc, or cheesy ideas about “character growth.” Avoid framing devices that point to twists, pat endings, morals. Erase as much authorial stage-direction as possible. Let the reader do some of the work in finding the story in the story.
5.) Find or develop ways to include automation in the writing process. Writing programs can be arbitrary in ways that humans simply can’t. We should concede that, and take advantage.
5.5) Run with the notion that nothing is ever truly random, and we are always in conversation with larger beings and forces beyond ability to perceive them. Even a car-repair manual can be a mantic text if put to such use.
6.) Write stories that exhibit “harmonic” (implications or similes across disconnected threads of a story) as well as “melodic” (i.e. linear and-then narrative) development.
7.) Never write a story in which only one thing is happening, or one thing is the focus. In real life, lots of things are always happening all at once. That’s what life is.
3.1415369) Defy expectations right up to the point required to puncture the suspension of disbelief. Force the reader to take your side of the argument about the plausibility of your story.
9.) Write no revenge narratives. These uniformly stink so badly as to warrant their own item here.
10.) Avoid cheap updating or inverting of myths, fables, fairy tales. It’s some lazy fucking vandalism to scrawl your own message over the top of The Little Mermaid or Samson and Delilah l or whatever. If you’re going to do something like this, you better be so damn innovative as to earn it.
10.1) Stop explaining what everything is. People took the time to figure out what Faulkner was saying, didn’t they?
11.) No unalloyed heroes. Everyone is a person with depth, flaws, history, weak spots, trophisms. Write and imagine your characters with an unflinching eye.
12.) Insist on finding or constructing new words/usages/slang for each piece. Don’t neglect the voice. Don’t repeat the voice. Don’t assume your own voice is good enough.
13.) Every piece asks a question or questions. It’s ok to start writing without knowing what the question is, but it’s not ok to finish a piece not knowing.
14.) Whenever/wherever you write, resolve to free yourself from the room.
15.) Don’t write just about criminals/hackers/mercenaries/spies. Everyone’s life is significant, interesting, surprising. It’s ok for a housewife, a dishwasher, or a dog sitter to go out and have their own Goddamn adventure.
16.) If a character is important enough to be doing some critical thing in your story, they’re important enough for you to give them at least a name and a line of dialog. No redshirts.
17.) Limited perspective is essential for stories about this or other futures. You can’t imagine everything, (especially for a short story) and by not attempting to do so, you invite the reader to add their own imagination into your world.
18.) Give up on any idea of moving the needle in any direction—your writing effecting social, technological, linguistic change, whatever. This is ego. If it happens, it happens, but otherwise, it isn’t worth worrying about. Mostly when it happens, it does so after the author has passed.
19.) Always add the extra SF stuff—some readers are just in it for that. By this I mean, things that are insignificant to the plot but are cool or surprising or just neat ideas. This is a way to be kind and generous with your readers. Also, some small bit of this is legitimate as world-building.
20.) Write first, then figure out what it means, then write it again. If you know before you write it what it means, then you’re not doing the work that people are (ostensibly) paying you for.
Curiousful: Without giving too much away, what is the setup for THE CONTINUUM?
Wendy Nikel: THE CONTINUUM follows the story of Elise, who is a professional time traveler. She works for the Place in Time Travel Agency, which, aside from running a normal travel agency as a front, also secretly provides clients the opportunity to travel into the past on historical vacations. Her job is to retrieve them if things go wrong, and in this story, things definitely go wrong.
Curiousful: But beyond that, what is the book “about”? What made it irresistible for you to write?
Wendy Nikel: I wrote this the first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and above anything else, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a book, since up until that point, I’d started a couple but never managed to finish them. I’d heard the advice to write the story that you would like to read, and that’s really what THE CONTINUUM is about. It’s the kind of story, the kind of characters, and the kinds of twists and turns and struggles that I enjoy reading, which I hoped other people might enjoy as well.
For me, the revision phase is always where the real themes start coming out, and it’s then that I realized I’d written a story about belonging, about finding your place in the world and about how we — collectively and individually — learn from the past.
Curiousful: Talk a bit about the research that went into this, please. Was that the most fun, or the least fun, part of the process for you? What surprised you the most?
Wendy Nikel: As you can tell from the cover, part of this story revolves around the Titanic disaster. I’ve always been fascinated with this bit of history, and already had a hoard of resources on the topic that I could dig into with gusto.
The more difficult research came when I began writing about what life might be like in the future. I took a bit of a solarpunk approach (without realizing it at the time), which focuses on what a better, more optimistic, eco-friendly future might be like, so I had to research what technological advances were in development and what might be possible in the next hundred years.
Curiousful: Is The Continuum part of a larger work, or a series?
Wendy Nikel: THE CONTINUUM was always meant to be a stand-alone. However, over the last year, I’ve drafted a couple other novellas in the same universe which may also make their way out into the world someday…
[*Editor’s note: the publication of this interview has been delayed so long that it is now public knowledge that World Weaver Press will be publishing a sequel to THE CONTINUUM, in late 2018. THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX is a 26,000 word novella that takes place about a year after the events of the first book, following one of the side characters (no spoilers here!) on an adventure back in time to the year 1893, to rescue Elise’s grandmother. Congratulations, Wendy!]
Curiousful: Who do you count among your strongest influences, and why?
Wendy Nikel: Particularly for this book, the works of Jack Finney were a huge influence. I’ve always enjoyed his take on time travel in its various forms, and many of his stories were written in the same era that I placed the beginning of THE CONTINUUM.
I love seeing what’s fresh and new in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, but in general, the stories I come back to again and again tend to be classics: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Daphne du Maurier, H.G. Wells, Alexandre Dumas. I think it’s partially because I enjoy history so much, and reading books from decades or centuries ago provides a little glimpse into the mindset and culture of people at that time, so it makes reading itself a bit like time travel.
Curiousful: What should we expect from you next? Are you working on something now?
Wendy Nikel: I am always working on something new. Usually multiple things at once.
I have a few short stories that will be published over the next few months that I’ll be posting about on my Facebook page when those are available.
Curiousful: Finally, are there public appearances or conferences coming up that we should look for you at?
Wendy Nikel: I plan to attend Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) conference in Provo, UT in February. More details will be available on my website at wendynikel.com as it approaches!
Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. For more info, visit wendynikel.com or sign up for her newsletter HERE and receive a FREE short story ebook.
As of October 25, 2017, THE CONTINUUM is available for pre-order via World Weaver Press. Release date: January 23, 2018. (LINK)
Queen of Swords is an independent small press specializing in swashbuckling tales of derring-do, bold new adventures in time and space, mysterious stories of the occult and arcane and fantastical tales of people and lands far and near.
Catherine Lundoff is its founder and publisher, as well as an editor and a vital writer in her own right. Her debut collection with QoS, Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, is some sharp fun, and you owe it to yourself to get a copy! When she graciously agreed to answer my questions here, I was thrilled —
Curiousful: Why “Queen of Swords?” Is there a connection to the tarot card, or is there a broader meaning?
Catherine Lundoff: It is connected to the tarot card in the sense that the Queen of Swords is “my” card. It’s generally the one I get as a signifier card when I get or do a reading and it’s certainly the one that I relate to most. In many interpretations, this card signifies a woman who is not to be messed with, one who is smart, strong and straightforward. In short, all the things I like to think of myself as being! I will also admit to a certain fondness for a TV show of the early 2000s about a female Zorro, also called “Queen of Swords.” That said, the Press will not be focused on tarot-themed fiction or how-to books on the tarot, just FYI. I do, on the other hand, hope to publish lots of books with interesting and complex female characters, so I like to think of the name as inspiration for that too.
Curiousful: What prompted you to start your own press?
Catherine Lundoff: It was a combination of factors – some issues with my previous publisher that led me to move on, a near miss on a three book deal with the now shuttered and infamous erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave (unlike a lot of unfortunate authors, I had a lawyer look at their contract and declined the offer), not seeing some of the kinds of stories I wanted to read and so forth. It went from being a fantasy that I was going to try to start my own small press “some day” to entering the planning stages about two years ago. Planning encompassed everything from getting a lawyer, an accountant and a bank account to having logo designs done to getting edits and a cover completed for the first couple of books.
I had been planning to launch in 2017, but after the election in November, I decided that it might be now or never. So in January 2017, I released my first book, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. As of June, QoSP released its third title, a new edition of my novel Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf’s Point Novel.
Curiousful: What do you envision QoSP will become? Will it branch out, or keep to its initial focus?
Catherine Lundoff: In the short term, I’m releasing my backlist in new editions, as well as some of my new work, as a combination of learning to be a publisher and financing the press. So far, that’s three books this year, with four more in various stages of planning or creation for the rest of 2017 and 2018. By next year, I’m also planning on putting out an anthology with a co-editor. We’re in the very early stages of planning and discussion, looking at crowd funding options and the like.
In a perfect world, I’d like to publish an additional title in 2018, one by an author who is Not Me, along with the anthology, but we’ll see how my learning process and sales go. I really want to make sure that I have a reasonable idea of what I’m doing and that the Press is viable before I start pulling other folks into it. I’d rather err on the side of caution, all things considered.
My long term plans for 2019 and beyond are to focus on science fiction, fantasy and horror with historical elements: mannerpunk/fantasy of manners, steampunk, alternate history, time travel, etc. I’m thinking of works like Panshin’s Villers novels, Carey’s Kushiel series, Wrede and Stevermer’s alternate Regency books, Kushner’s Swordspoint novels, Shawl’s Everfair, just to name a few titles I’ve enjoyed reading. I am anticipating multiple imprints, however, since some of the work I’m publishing now doesn’t fall into these categories; I’m hoping to publish diverse and interesting voices in Gothic horror, fantasy and sf as well as some erotica and some romance. So we’ll see how all of that goes.
Curiousful: Genre fiction is always in need of places for new voices to be heard. Is there any chance Queen of Swords might someday publish anthologies with open calls?
Catherine Lundoff: Why, yes! I’m anticipating that we’ll be doing an anthology next year. There is a Queen of Swords Press monthly newsletter, as well as a Facebook page, Twitter feed and webpage, so the call will go out there, as well as to some of the standard options like Market Maven and some Facebook groups. My hope is that we can do one anthology a year. Stay tuned for details!
Curiousful: I want to say, I’m enjoying Out of this World immensely! The writing is brilliant, and especially the varied range of voices is making for a tasty read. Congratulations on creating such a rewarding collection. Is there anything distinct about your writing process that brought these stories forth?
Catherine Lundoff: Thank you so much! The book is something of an archive of my writing life because the pieces in it were written over the course of 12 years or so. Each one was written for a specific market (some of which no longer exist or are long out of print). I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my early 30s, but once I did get started, a lot of my work was deadline-driven. I got into a position early on where I started getting anthology invitations, so I had a lot of incentive to practice writing short fiction and try to get better at it.
I will note that I am somewhat jealous of authors who wrote novels when they were starting out, thus getting a lot of practice writing in long form. Even if those books never saw the light of day, learning how to structure a novel length work is pretty critical to one’s writing career these days. I love the craft of short fiction but I’m definitely trying for longer work more often now.
Curiousful: Any news about Queen of Swords going forward? Are there new releases in the works?
Also, can we plan to see a QoS presence at future events? (It would sure be great if Queen of Swords could appear at World Fantasy 2018 in Baltimore, for instance.)
Catherine Lundoff: Definitely! I’m working on a sequel to Silver Moon, my werewolf novel, as well as a couple of new collections of short fiction. There’s a new Emily L. Byrne novel in edits, and the anthology that I noted above is in the planning stages. There’s a monthly Queen of Swords Press newsletter that folks can sign up for on our website: http://www.queenofswordspress.com to hear about new and forthcoming books, events, author news and soon.
I’ll be attending Diversicon 25 in St. Paul as a returning Special Guest, Worldcon 75 in Helsinki as an attending author, Sirens Conference in Colorado and World Fantasy in San Antonio this year. Queen of Swords Press will have a table at the Twin Cities Book Festival as well as an upcoming event later on this year at Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis. I haven’t started to plan much for next year yet, but I hear good things about Baltimore conventions. I haven’t been to one yet, so I will definitely take a look at WFC in 2018.
Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning writer, editor and publisher from Minneapolis. Her stories and articles have appeared in such venues as Respectable Horror, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror and SF Signal. Her books include Silver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, both from Queen of Swords Press.
Sorry, I can’t believe this blog has been in stasis for so long. Some news:
My story “Emerging Grammars” was accepted for the anthology CAT’S BREAKFAST. I’m thrilled, because that was among the very first stories I wrote, back in 2015, in an attempt to write something for the BSFS Amateur Writing Contest. I’m glad it found a good home!
CAT’S BREAKFAST is a tribute anthology, published in memory of Kurt Vonnegut on the tenth anniversary of his death. I’m a big fan of Vonnegut! (without exactly having read very many of his novels.) I think as a writer you grow up with Vonnegut out at some middle distance, and a lot of his quotes from outside his novels serve as street lamps and signposts. Especially, his rules for writing are trustworthy tools and instruments that have seen a lot of use. I’m grateful to have the chance to contribute to such a volume. I didn’t write “Emerging Grammars” with Mr. Vonnegut in mind, but when I read the story to myself in his voice, in his cadences, it made a new kind of sense to me.
Also, the May-June issue of Interzone is out, and oh, it looks gorgeous:
(I have to wonder though, if the face in profile there doesn’t look somewhat like a very familiar contemporary political figure. I’m sure it’s just my imagination.) That’s my name, right there, on the cover! (Squeezing, Muppet-flailing, general cavorting about.) I can’t wait to have actual copies in hand, to share with lots of great folks who helped out with the story, as well as those who expressed interest. They should be here soon!
Jeremy Gottwig, friend and fellow writer, interviewed me about the Rushford story, and was totally indulgent about letting me blather all over his blog about my internal issues and mess-of-a-writing-process. The results turned out pretty great (all due to him) and I strongly encourage you to take a look on his website, here. Many thanks to Jeremy, and I hope to be able to return the favor on his next publication.
Last up, I’m going to Nebulas! Very excited to be carpooling to Pittsburgh with a bunch of BSFS friends. It will be my first time, and I’m looking forward to meeting so many fine folks that I hold in such esteem. If you spot me there, please introduce yourself!
Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Amateur Writing Contest is open for entries!The contest is open to residents of Maryland ages 18 and older who do not yet have a professional writing credit to a speculative fiction market. Current students at Maryland colleges and universities aged 18 or above also may enter.
There are cash prizes and perks for winners. The contest is free to enter. The deadline for entries for this year’s contest is June 16, 2017. Winners will be announced at Capclave 2017.
Each entry should be an original short story that includes some speculative element. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, weird, cyberpunk, steampunk, and your fabulicious uncategorizable imaginative fictions are all welcome!
Further details and instructions for entering can be found in the link below. We’re looking forward to reading your story!
Just a quick blog post to say that the Campbell Award anthology, EVENT HORIZON 2017, is available in paperback (for a limited time, I gather.) Shirtsleeve Press is the publisher, and the editor is the amazing Jake Kerr!
The cover art looks amazing! This will be the first time a story of mine will be in hard-copy print (or close to it, depending on when the Interzone story comes out.) Also in this same edition are stories by my colleagues at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Critique Circle: Karlo Yeager Rodriguez, Jeremy Gottwig, and David Vaughan.
Please tell your friends! I will send a copy to the public library in the town where I grew up, as someone there suggested it.
So I feel guilty for ignoring this blog for so long — I apologize to readers having dropped by hoping for thoughtful writing, for slapdash updates or even just signs of life. The new political regime has conspired with my own busyness to keep me away. So I apologize.
First, I’m extremely pleased to announce that my story “Rushford Recapitulation” (beta readers may remember it as having an even longer, more awkward title) will be published by Interzone! Andy Cox, the editor, thought that if all went well, it would appear in the May-June issue: #270.
I’m thrilled and humbled. Interzone is Britain’s longest-running speculative fiction magazine. It has published an astounding list of talent: J. G. Ballard, Ian M. Banks, Angela Carter, Greg Egan, Tanith Lee, William Gibson, Gregory Benford, Stephen Baxter, Brian Aldiss, Terry Prachett, Charlie Stross, Aliette de Bodard, and on and on. Also, the physical magazine is gorgeous — hands-down the most handsome SF mag being printed today.
My story may get an illustration! That would be a first for me — though, I can’t imagine what the image likely would be (somebody cradling a bloody cellphone?) Thinking further, maybe the ring-of-fire scene? The confrontation at the clinic?
Second, I’ll be joining a carpool of BSFS Writers-Circle folks headed to the Nebula conference, in Pittsburg, early in May. That’s another first; hopefully more to come. (It’s definitely a different sort of conference than the Balticon that I’m familiar with.) I’ve volunteered through SFWA to help assemble the Nebula Awards website — I’ll get to interact with a lot of great writers that way, I figure, and/or vastly annoy at least a few of them. Here’s hoping for the former.
Oh, I’m a member of SFWA now! So that’s cool.
Also, I’ll be going to a critique group of Codexians, in DC next month, if I can line up kidsitting (or if I’m gutsy enough to drag my son along. I’m sure he’d be bored before too long — there don’t seem to be other kids expected there.)
I put up a story on Codex to be critiqued, and got back some pretty fabulous and insightful (and candid) comments. I will surely do that again.
Finally, I had a bunch of ‘business’ cards printed for my writing persona. Maybe ‘cards of introduction’ is more accurate. It seems as though you’d want something, when you meet someone interested in your work, that you could hand them, to direct them where to look for it.
I can’t tell, subjectively, if these are cool or just embarrassin, but I like them. I actually met the owl that’s pictured, not at the center of the Andromeda galaxy, but at a kind of Chesapeake Bay awareness day field trip I went on with my daughter’s second grade class. The “Galactic Owl” has a kind of a Roger Dean proggy feel to it, and I hope it will stick in people’s heads. But also, I did it as a kind of a writing challenge to myself; I promised myself I would write a story for which this would be an accurate and literal illustration.
Anyway, you’re welcome to leave your impressions of it, good or bad, in the comments!
I surely wasn’t expecting to be writing this, but the news is, my short story “Monstrance of Sky” is online now at Escape Pod. So it is, at least technically, eligible for awards for the year 2016.
This is my first fiction sale, and a pro sale at that. I am as thrilled as if you’d thrown me from an airplane. I’ve joined Codex, and I’ll be sending an application to SFWA some day soon.
More importantly, please go over to Escape Pod and give it a read, or better yet, a listen. The reader for this story, Alethea Kontis, just crushes me, her reading is dead-on, it grapples with all the nuance and competing emotions, I couldn’t have asked for a better reader. I’m very fortunate.
I was trying to sum it up, blurb it, encompass it somehow, but I felt like anything I came up with was selling it short. But the tags Escape Pod applied to it are terser and more immediate — I think that, cut free of surrounding context, they give a better sense of the themes and the emotional desperation Evelyn, the point-of-view character, is falling through: “aliens, clones, God, love, ocean, post-apocalyptic, religion, science, sex, war, women.” And pie, I should add. Please go read it, I’m very proud of it.
Thanks to Divya Srinivasan Breed, at Escape Pod, who edited and championed my story. Thanks also to Benjamin C. Kinney, the reader at Escape Pod who (bravely) first pulled this story from the slush. Thanks surely to Alethea Kontis who gave what will undoubtedly become the definitive reading of this work.
Extra thanks to all the first readers and critiquers who slogged through various unpolished versions of this work, and all contributed thoughtful suggestions and comments. Jeremy, Karlo, Sherry, Doug, Becky, Kat, Dave, Gail, Neal, Mike, Meg, Sarah, Terry, Eric, and my wife Olga. You know who you are. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone.
Finally, thanks to the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, and especially the BSFS Writers Circle. Without them, I would have had no inspiration, no place to read my work, and surely not had such fine people to share it with.
I was fortunate to interview Lesley Conner and Jason Sizemore, editors of Apex Magazine, on the eve of their current subscription drive. Read on, to discover all their fabulous secrets (well, probably not all) and — spoiler! — find out when the next open submission periods will be!
Curiousful: First of all, let me congratulate you both. Plenty of speculative fiction magazines fold after a handful of issues. Apex Magazine is more than a survivor, it’s flourishing. It’s publishing excellent stories that people want to read, new material is coming out every week, there’s a podcast, poetry, wonderful artwork, and fans who really care about Apex. And, you’re rounding on publishing your 100th issue.
Did you envision all this when you started Apex Digest? To what degree has what’s happened with Apex been consonant with your initial vision for the magazine, and what has been a surprise?
Jason: I started Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest way, way back in 2005 as a print publication. It wasn’t until 2007 that I recognized the oncoming digital tsunami that would take out most print periodicals. At that point, I transitioned our business plan toward a goal of being online and eBook only.
In a way, the digital paradigm has enhanced my initial vision for the zine. I wanted to do something that would make a positive difference in the world. Being online opens channels to virtually all potential readers, casting a wider net of individuals for Apex Magazine to service.
The biggest surprise is how much the publication has grown in the last two years. A big part of that can be tied directly to the current boom in online publications. But a little part of me believes it is because we might be doing a few things right!
Lesley: Haha! I hope we’re doing a few things right! More than a few!
I wasn’t lucky enough to know Jason when he first started Apex Digest, so I came into the Apex fold a little later – first working on the book side of the company and then expanding my role to include managing editor of Apex Magazine. During that time my goal has always been to make sure we are publishing the best magazine possible: from the stories, to the cover art, to making sure that every piece has been proofed and polished to a shiny gleam.
It’s not exactly a surprise, but the most thrilling part of working on the magazine is when readers get just as excited about certain stories as I do. I love all of the stories that we publish, but sometimes there comes a story that really gets me excited. Stories that have me texting Jason at 5:30 in the morning, saying, “Just read a story that made me cry! It is gorgeous! Read it now!” – which is ridiculous because I can tell you that Jason Sizemore is not up at 5:30 am. When we publish those stories and readers comment about how wonderful they are, I get a little thrill. A recent example of such a story would be “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad. I’m absolutely in love with that story.
Curiousful: When I look back through issues, I see that there were editors in prior years – Catherynne Valente, Lynne Thomas, Sigrid Ellis. Those are some big names. Do those editors’ choices then influence the magazine today? Or is Apex now strictly your own thing?
Jason: Absolutely. Cat, Lynne, and Sigrid all played important roles in shaping what Apex Magazine has become. As far as influencing my choices, that’s a less concrete connection. I have my own tastes and style (as they did, too), and I want the zine to reflect my vision as editor as much as possible.
Lesley: When reading stories, there’s a certain something we’re looking for that says Apex. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is, but when I find it, I just know. This is something that has been cultivated and built over years – through every editor-in-chief that Apex Magazine has had. The perfect blend of dark, surreal beauty.
That being said, the zine is definitely Jason’s vision. He has this history to build off of – a history he started as editor-in-chief of Apex Digest – but he’s selecting stories that are steering the magazine toward his vision of what we’ll be years from now.
Curiousful: Let me say, Apex issues have had some killer cover art over the years. They’re really gorgeous, and the website is also. How are these decisions made? There’s nobody on the masthead whose job is ‘make the magazine beautiful,’ but it’s true.
Lesley: Thank you! I guess we could add ‘make the magazine beautiful’ next to my name in the masthead. At least as far as selecting cover art is concerned. I find 95% of Apex Magazine’s covers. It’s a job I sort of fell into because right after I stepped into the role of managing editor I realized we didn’t have many planned out beyond the issue we were working on. I asked Jason if he’d be alright with me searching for more and he said yes. Luckily for me, Jason seems to like the pieces that I select and he keeps letting me find more!
A lot of different thoughts go into my selections. I never want our readers to begin to get bored with our covers. I don’t want them thinking, “Mmhmm, that’s nice. It looks exactly like last month’s cover and the month before that.” So I look at things like color palettes, technique, the focus of the image. It’s an interesting balance to come up with pieces that consistently get a “Wow! That’s gorgeous!” reaction, but that are all striking and unique. It would be very easy for me to continuously select similar images, ones that I know our readers enjoy, but that isn’t what I want to do. I want to find new artist to work with, experiment with different art types, and maybe – just maybe – push the boundaries of what people think is beautiful
Curiousful: What can you say about the relationship between Apex Magazine and Apex Publications? Are they entirely separate, or are there fruitful connections between them?
Jason: The fruitful connections are plentiful!
But to back up … Apex Publications, LLC is comprised of two entities: Apex Magazine and Apex Book Company. I think the book side benefits the most from the relationship. The magazine functions as a wonderful platform for promoting our books. Having said that, the magazine benefits by grabbing stories from our many anthologies and contributions from our family of authors.
Curiousful: My favorite Apex Publications books are the Apex Book of World SF series [There are currently four volumes.] What is Apex Magazine’s take on diversity and inclusion?
Jason: Lesley and I both share the idea that diverse fiction makes for more entertaining fiction. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are about presenting ideas that appear to be impossible and dealing with consequences of these ideas being possible. Bringing in fiction from all over the world, from different nationalities, race, gender, etc. means encountering ideas outside the boundaries of our specific sphere of life.
Diversity and inclusion makes the world a better, smarter, and more interesting place.
Lesley: I completely agree! We want to publish stories from around the globe, written by people from all walks of life, people with different perspectives, different voices, and different styles. How boring would it be if we limited ourselves to reading/publishing stories only from one group of people! I’m not interested in that.
Curiousful: Has the kind of story that succeeds at Apex Magazine changed over the years? What are you looking for now, in terms of new material?
Jason: We have always liked stories that question our morality and the choices we make. Recent examples of stories that hit on these themes are Sam Fleming’s “She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow” and “Lazarus and the Amazing Kid Phoenix” by Jennifer Giesbrecht.
Lesley: And I get really excited when I come across a story that has a huge emotional impact. Stories like “The Old Man and the Phoenix” by Alexandria Baisden, “I Remember Your Face” by E.K. Wagner, and “Aishitero Means I Love You” by Troy Tang. If I finish a story and either immediately want to read it again or have to text Jason about it, then I know it will be a hit in the magazine.
Curiousful: Are there opportunities for slush readers at Apex?
Lesley: Not at this time. We currently have 26 slush readers who do a great job of keeping up with our submissions. That being said, we are currently closed to submissions. Typically when we’re closed for a while, I will have a few slush readers contact me to let me know that they aren’t able to come back when we reopen. Which is completely cool. Reading slush is not for the faint of heart. It takes time and dedication, and after a while even the best slush reader can get burned out
My suggestion to anyone interested in slush reading for Apex would be to follow the Apex Magazine Twitter account (@apexmag). Hopefully I will know by January if we’re going to need new readers and that will be where I put out a call
Curiousful: This isn’t a question, but I wanted to thank Apex for its commitment to publishing poetry in the magazine.
Jason: Thanks for saying so.
Bianca Spriggs deserves the love. She’s the poetry brains.
Lesley: Yeah, Bianca is the best! She finds amazing poetry month after month!
Curiousful: It must have been gratifying to have two Nebula winners published in Apex recently – “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, and “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky. Had you known, at the time, that these were going to be special?
Jason: The first time I read “Jackalope Wives” I knew it was award worthy. We put it as our podcast fiction and placed it in our 2014 sampler issue to give it maximum exposure. Rachel Swirsky’s story caught me by surprise. Its speculative elements are light, and it is a very short piece. But the story is so powerful and speaks to so many, that it works.
Curiousful: People I know love Apex, and are so excited to participate. Any word on when fiction submissions might be open again?
Lesley: That is a hot question right now! One I hear repeatedly any time we close to submissions. Luckily, I have the answer!
Maurice Broaddus is guest editing the April, 2017 issue and he would like to have an open submissions period. We will be open December 1st to December 16th exclusively for his issue. If you have ever wanted to work with Maurice, this is your chance! Don’t miss this slim window! His submissions will go through our online submissions system, just like all other submissions.
For all the poets out there, Bianca Spriggs will be reopening poetry submissions beginning in December! More information about that will be coming out in November.
As for short fiction, we are reopening to submissions on January 15th. I know that seems like it is very far away, but it gives Jason and I a chance to catch up on all the stories held for further consideration from our last open submissions period and gives our slush readers a much deserved break.
Curiousful: Are there any changes or new projects in the works for Apex? Do you have anything special planned for issue 100?
Jason: Two exciting projects are our guest editors Maurice Broaddus and Dr. Amy H. Sturgis. Maurice will be taking the reins in April. Dr. Sturgis will edit our August issue (a special Native Peoples/Indigenous Peoples themed issue). We’re always looking to bring new voices to our readers and Amy and Maurice are up to the task!
Lesley: We’re currently running our annual subscription drive – subscriptions fund future issues! Plus, our flash fiction contest will be open to submissions November 1st to November 30th. This year we’re taking on Valentine’s Day and letting our readers loose to see what sort of twisted romantic flash pieces they come up with. Both the subscription drive and the contest have been very popular with our readers in years past.
Like Jason mentioned, we have special issues guest edited by Maurice Broaddus and Dr. Amy H. Sturgis lined up for next year. Other than that, we’re going to focus on continuing to publish amazing fiction month after month. And who knows what we’ll cook up for issue 100. I’m sure we will do something memorable.
Curiousful: Thanks to you both! I appreciate that you took the time. Best wishes for continued success!!
Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (real school with its own vampire) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2004, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, and usually can be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food.
Lesley Conner, Managing Editor
Lesley Conner is a writer, social media editor and marketing leader for Apex Publications, and Managing Editor for Apex Magazine. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling slush, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. Her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, was recently published by Sinister Grin Press. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.