Q&A: Catherine Lundoff, Queen of Swords Press

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?

Queen of Swords Press Logo

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?

Out of this World

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.

Thank you so much for all your great questions!

Queen of Swords Press:

Website: https://queenofswordspress.com/

Email: info@queenofswordspress.com

Twitter: @QoSPress

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofswordspress/

Catherine Lundoff

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.

Apex editors, interviewed!

 These guys rock. 
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!! 

Jason: Thank you.

Lesley: Yes, thank you! This has been a blast!

 Here below are bios of Jason and Leslie. Please give Apex your support! 

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Jason Sizemore

 

Jason Sizemore – Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

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.

Managing Editor
Leslie Conner

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.