Exciting news! For some reason (they have not told me, and I have not figured it out, but somebody will probably clue me in at some point), two wonderful speculative fiction venues have invited me to be a guest editor for them this year!
I am thrilled to be invited, and I hope I can take whatever I've learned from thirty-whatever years of writing, five-ish years of publishing, and two-ish years of slushing (for the inestimable Escape Pod, by the way, go listen! And support their Patreon!) and use that experience to help make good decisions that fit with their voices and visions.
It feels fraught to me from another angle aside from my terror of doing a bad job, which is this sensation of, sort of, being (I don't know) a welder or millwright or maintenance guy at my old job, and one day being pulled from the plant floor into an office with someone going "Here, you're management now." I swap my coveralls for a suit and I head back out into the plant and I talk to the guys I've known for years, and what kind of response will I get? Friendly, I hope. Happy for me, I also hope. Will there be guys who didn't like me before (or, hell, did like me) and now try to suck up to me? Or that dislike me on sight, now that I'm wearing the suit? Now that it's perceived that I have 'powers' that they didn't have? I hope not! But what if?
To be clear, I'm still for the most part a first reader for these two guest editing spots. I won't be reading every single submission, although I will be dipping in and out of the general slush pile. I will be working collaboratively with the other editors to help make final decisions, and nothing will happen unilaterally. But I still find myself reeling: I'm a gatekeeper now? I'm keeping the gate? I'm the one standing there holding the keyring, saying to hopeful authors, "You can come in, you can't come in, you can come in, you can't"? OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I BECOME! I AM A MONSTER!
That said, as my therapist and I discussed yesterday (yes, my therapist is a very understanding woman who is learning more about publishing than I think she signed up for), I feel the key to just getting over myself is to acknowledge and accept that I'm anxious because I want to do a good job for these venues. I'm worried about it, yes, but I will be working with teams of enthusiastic, experienced people, and if I'm off-base they will tell me. I was asked to participate for a reason and I hope that reason is because I will bring something useful, unique, or meaningful to their story choices.
And so! With that out of the way, allow me to announce the first open period, which starts tomorrow! Apparition Lit will be opening up between February 15 and 28 for a themed issue, and the theme is 'chance'!
What does chance mean to me or what would I hope to see? As I discussed in today's editorial meeting, to me, chance can mean a lot of things, including:
- Opportunity, the creation of an open door, 'I got a second chance,' 'We've got just one chance to make it,' 'Take a chance on this'
- Likelihood, odds, one outcome out of (hopefully!) many, 'The chances of this happening are,' 'The next turn of the card is up to chance'
- Luck, fate, destiny, a combination of the two things above, sort of
It means different things to different people and I want it to mean different things! I would love to see stories that even combine different aspects of chance. We've all (I think) heard the writing 'rule' that says 'You can use coincidence to get characters into trouble but you can't use it to get characters out of trouble.' I hate that. How often in life has one split second of luck given us a second chance? How often have we gotten an opportunity or an experience because of a coincidence? I hate writing rules and I like to see people break them in creative ways, so I would be delighted to see stories where lucky (but logical, believable, and credible for the world of the story!) coincidences can be woven into the narrative.
I would love to see stories that are fresh and startling and that veer away from the first things people think of when they hear the word 'chance.' I would love gambling stories that aren't tedious retellings of all the rules of Texas Hold'em (or blackjack on an asteroid or whatever). I would love time-loop or second chance stories where I can't predict the ending after two paragraphs. I would love magic, big risks, grand gestures, laugh-out-loud moments. I would like to think as I'm reading, "Never tell me the odds." I would love for an unlikely-sounding narrative to wrap itself together into a neat little package at the end; or, to leave me with a deep, lasting question about the choices the characters made and might make later.
I would also like to see people put as much of themselves into their stories as they feel comfortable with! When did you, as an author, feel that a chance was denied to you? When, growing up, were you given chances? Or watched your brother or cousin or a fellow student get a chance that you wanted? When were you able to create your own luck later? When did you follow a wild intuition that led you to something wonderful or something scary? Something no one else could have experienced but you, because you took that risk? Or what if you simply watched someone get that chance or make that chance? Or take the gamble and fail? How did you feel, how was your life affected?
And keeping all of this in mind, I don't have any rules for what a good story will sound like to me. I basically just have two rules, because it is a spec fic venue and because it is a theme:
1. The speculative fiction element, whatever it is, must be an integral, meaningful part of the story. If it can be removed without affecting the events of the narrative, it almost always will not work for me.
2. The element of chance also has to be an integral, meaningful part of the story. No matter how it is expressed and interwoven, chance has to hold the story up. My criteria again will be 'If I remove the element of chance, can the story still happen as it's written?' If the answer is 'Yes,' that won't work. I am hoping for a really strong connection to the theme!
The second item is the Interstellar Flight Press novella call for BIPOC authors! This will be open February 15 to June 30, 2021. I am super excited for this one as well! I'm such a fan of novellas these days, it's a length I find myself writing to almost intuitively (for which my apologies to my lovely agent: I swear I haven't forgotten how to write novels!).
A novella is such a great, underrated length (17.5K to 40K), and when I read something that I think fits that length perfectly, I just love it. "This wouldn't have worked as a novel and it also wouldn't have worked as a short story" is the feeling I get.
Some novellas I've loved from my (ineptly kept, admittedly) book list from the last few years:
- The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle
- The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker
- Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw
- The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander
- The Murders of Molly Southbourne, Tade Thompson
- The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe (this is actually three novellas, related to each other but can be read alone)
- Prosper's Demon, KJ Parker
- The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo
And I also have three novellas coming out this year! One is already out, 'These Lifeless Things,' which is the first offering from new novella-only imprint Solaris Satellites. The other two are 'And What Can We Offer You Tonight' (from Neon Hemlock, summer) and 'The Annual Migration of Clouds' (ECW Press, September).
As there's no theme, I am wide open to looking at all kinds of novellas for this call! Just going entirely off vibes, if I'm going to be honest. But what I want to feel, mainly, no matter the genre, is that the writer has thought carefully about the length. A novella is not just a truncated novel or an overgrown short story! It contains a number of scenes needed to tell a story with more than one pivotal moment, but just one overall narrative arc.
What I hope to see is that the story feels self-contained, cleanly wrapped-up, packaged, whatever: it starts with an appropriate 'Why us' 'Why now' for the characters, and the questions it poses can be answered, using fewer than 40K words, in a meaningful, satisfying way. I'm hoping for graceful exposition (although I don't mind infodumps in the least), concise and meaningful dialogue (even more so than in a novel!), and character relationships that change, deepen, break, or grow because of the events of the novella.
"Okay, but what do you want though?" Honestly, truly, whatever. I read in a wide variety of genres. I love sci-fi, fantasy, horror, weird, thriller, mystery, mash-ups of all these, sub-genres of all these, stuff with the barest hints of these (but where it is necessary to make the story work!) and stuff where I'm not even sure that these are in it (but the uncertainty is fascinating and deliberate!).
I'm not hung up on 'traditional' narrative structures and if people want to get way out there with what's in their novellas, I am open to it! As long as I feel the story gets from a beginning to an end that works for the characters and the readers, I'm not going to obsessively sit here screeching "BUT WHERE'S THE INCITING INCIDENT!?" and "THIS DOESN'T FIT INTO FREYTAG'S TRIANGLE!!!" And when I say 'works' I mean generally 'has an internal logic that fits together in a way that makes sense' and 'has enough consistency that the reader is both drawn to continue out of curiosity, but satisfied with the pace and amount of information already provided.' Where the characters, setting, or plot surprise me, I'd like to see that in a way that makes sense given what's come before. (I love surprises!)
And as with the Apparition Lit call, I would love to get the sense that people feel safe enough to put themselves, their experience, history, family, flaws, culture, background, travel, customs, and language into their novellas. I know that I, being a cishet western-raised person of several diasporas, will always miss some context, but I promise I will read every story with time, attention, and respect, and will discuss it thoroughly with my fellow editors, and that no story will be disregarded because it contains elements that I am unfamiliar with.
So yeah! I'm sorry this is so long, but this is something I feel passionate about, and I hope it helps orient people at least a little bit! (Get those subs ready, polish them to a high gloss, and submit submit submit!)