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Editorial Musings-Issue Six

  • Oct. 14th, 2006 at 11:43 AM

Hey Kids,

Another month=another issue of Editorial Musings.  This month's contestant is writer/editor, Tim Pratt:

Bio: Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories: 2005, The Year's Best Fantasy series, and various magazines and anthologies. His first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, appeared in 2005, and his next novel, Blood Engines, will be out in 2007 (lord willing and the creek don't rise). He has a story collection, Hart & Boot & Other Stories coming out in January 2007, and his poetry collection, If There Were Wolves, just came out.


He lives in Oakland, where he drinks margaritas in the summer and wine in the winter.


How did you end up working at Locus Magazine?

I moved to Santa Cruz CA in 2000, and got a nice job there. In 2001, the company I worked for pulled up stakes and moved to Nevada. I didn't want to move to Nevada, so I found myself jobless. By then I'd been dating Heather Shaw (who is now my wife) for a few months. She lived an hour and a half north in Oakland, and we were running back and forth a lot to see each other anyway. I convinced her to let me move into her house (she had a spare room). So there I was, in Oakland, with no job. I heard that Locus was hiring, and they were just a few miles away, in the Oakland hills. So I sent in my résumé, and mentioned in my letter that I'd been to Clarion in 1999. Unbeknownst to me, one of my Clarion instructors is close friends with my boss. He asked her about me, and she vouched for me, so when I showed up at the office for the interview, my boss said "The job is yours, if you want it." He gave me the tour and told me what I'd have to do. (At that point, it was mostly running errands and hauling boxes and organizing the basement.) I took the job!




What are your responsibilities there as assistant editor?


Ahem -- I'm a senior editor, thank you very much. (The difference is, um, mostly just the amount of time I've been there, and more writing-related responsibilities.) My time is split pretty evenly between editorial and production. I do about half the layout for the magazine, which takes a lot of time, and which I love. I'm color blind, so becoming a graphic designer wasn't really an option for me, despite my interest in the field. But at Locus I get to play around with InDesign, and scratch that design-related itch. On the editorial side, I write some of the Data File, some of the main stories, almost all the obituaries, the People & Publishing column, and miscellaneous other stuff as necessary. I also help with editing the interviews. I spend a fair bit of time clicking around online looking for news -- it helps that more and more authors, and even publishing companies, have blogs these days. I also route incoming e-mail, clean the gutters, trim back the plum trees every spring, and do other household stuff as necessary (the office is my boss's house).



What made you decide to start your own small press magazine with Flytrap?

Tropism Press started a few years back to publish chapbooks for friends and family. My wife Heather and I do a holiday chapbook every year in lieu of Christmas cards (and, when we're especially poor, in lieu of Christmas gifts!), and we had a lot of fun putting those together. Before starting Flytrap I was working as editor for Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, which entailed picking and organizing poems, art, and other content. But somebody else did the layout and mailing, and another person handled paying people, and I increasingly wanted to do everything myself, or at least be a more active part of the process. So I talked to Heather, and she agreed that it sounded like a fun project, so I quit Star*Line, and we started Flytrap. I particularly enjoy actually putting the 'zine together and playing with desktop publishing software, so that was a big part of my desire to start Flytrap. Plus the other motivations -- wanting to publish wonderful, weird stories by (mostly newer) writers.




I know that you share publishing and editorial duties for Flytrap with your wife, Heather Shaw.  What is it like sharing these duties with someone else for a magazine? 

It's awesome! It's a project where Heather and I can work very closely together, which is nice. Some couples go ballroom dancing or skydiving together -- we make a 'zine! We swap editorial duties each issue. On even-numbered issues, I edit fiction, and on odd-numbered issues, she does. We swap poetry editing duties the same way. We have considerably different editorial tastes, so I think that makes Flytrap a very lively and varied magazine. And this way, we each only have to read short fiction slush once a year! (I like reading slush, but it's time-consuming. If I had to do it for more than a couple of months year, my own writing might suffer from neglect.) In terms of other responsibilities, I handle the actual layout, with help on design choices from Heather. She handles most of the mailing, distribution, and record-keeping side of things.



What made you decide to go with a print magazine instead of an e-zine?

I like doing layout, and web design doesn’t satisfy me the same way (probably because I lack the skillset, admittedly). Pretty much as simple as that. And having an object you can hand around at conventions and sell at bookstores is very cool. I'm a big fan of e-zines -- I owe a lot of my success to Strange Horizons, and in general the webzines have been very good to me. But doing a print magazine is a different kind of fun that appeals to me more.



I know that you’re doing some interesting stuff with chapbooks through Tropism Press, your publishing company.  Can you tell us a little bit about this?

We do our little holiday chapbooks featuring work by Heather and me, and that's fun, but we've become more interested in publishing other people in recent years. We saw the awesome chapbooks published by Small Beer Press and some other publishers, and it looked like something we could do. So we got in touch with Jenn Reese, and asked her if she'd like to do a chapbook of her Tales from the Chinese Zodiac stories (a dozen short-shorts published in Strange Horizons). She liked the idea, and wrote some new stories to include. Part of the appeal of that project was the illustrations. She did wonderful drawings of the Chinese Zodiac animals for Strange Horizons, and she did variations on those illustrations for the print chapbook, along with some new ones. The chapbook was published in May 2006, and it came out beautifully. More recently we published a collection of Greg van Eekhout's stories, Show and Tell and Other Stories. Greg is one of our favorite new writers, and we thought it would be fun to do a whimsical sampler of his stories, with some SF, some fantasy, some funny stuff, some sad. He's an exceptional doodler, and we convinced him to provide some doodles for the book, which really liven it up. The chapbook includes a new story, too, about broken robots and quests and dragons and such. Next spring we're doing a collection of Heather's stories (at my insistence! I want to design a chapbook of my wife's awesome fantasy fiction!), tentatively titled When We Were Six.




What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting his own small press magazine?

Have reasonable expectations! Heather and I don't even expect to break even. We figure the money we spend on the 'zine is just part of our entertainment budget -- if we weren't making the 'zine, we'd spend the money on going to movies or riding roller coasters or drinking in bars or something. I've gotten good advice over the years from Gavin Grant (of LCRW), so, my more practical advice would be, approach people in the community you're trying to be part of, and ask for help. Most of us are happy to talk about the subject, in my experience.

Personally, I love to blab on and on about my slush discoveries.  What about you?  Any authors or stories you and the Mrs. have discovered that you’d like to mention?

I publish Michael Canfield's stories whenever I can. He went to Clarion with me, and his short stories just blew me away back then, and they still do. I've published him in every issue of Flytrap I've edited, and he has a great story, "419 Memoirs", coming out in issue #6. As for stories from people I didn't know until I encountered them in the slushpile, I really love Rudi Dornemann's work. We published his "Walking the Labyrinth" in issue #2. I was pleased to publish a story by Sonya Taaffe in issue #4, "On the Blindside", which has gotten some good reviews, and was reprinted in a year's best. I fell in love with Sonya's work back when she sent me poems for Star*Line, and I published her constantly there. She kept sending me work when I started Flytrap, for which I'm grateful. I had the opportunity to write an introduction for her story collection, Singing Innocence & Experience, which was a real pleasure.



Who are some of your favorite authors, both in and outside of the genre?

Perennial favorites are Charles de Lint and Jonathan Carroll. Of newer writers, Joe Hill is wonderful (I recently read an advance copy of his first novel, Heart Shaped Box, and it's very fine). Poppy Brite's Liquor series is phenomenal (I like it even better than her supernatural stuff!). Caitlín R. Kiernan's collection Alabaster is the best collection (really it's a story suite or mosaic) that I've read all year, and her novel Daughter of Hounds is my favorite novel, her best yet. Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword is pure pleasure, and is a "fantasy" only in the sense that it's not set in this world; there's no magic in it, but it does have the feel of taking you to another, fantastical place. Tom Piccirilli is a marvelous writer, and underappreciated. Jenn Reese's first novel, a fun ass-kicking fantasy martial arts romance called Jade Tiger, is coming out this fall. I could go on and on and on, of course.



What is your favorite part about working on Flytrap?  What about Locus?

: Discovering great fiction in my inbox, and the pure Zen joy of laying out the magazine. Locus: Having a day job that's devoted to a subject I adore: SF and fantasy publishing.



What are your pet peeves as an editor?

People who argue with rejections. That's pretty much the only one. Anything else, I can forgive.



Flytrap isn’t open to subs on a monthly basis, but during those periods you are open, can you give us an idea of about how submissions your magazine receives each month?

Hmm, I don't keep the rejected subs, so I can't go back and count, but I'd guess we get a couple hundred stories per reading period (though we accept multiple submissions, so some of the authors send a few stories each). And we usually have a couple of solicited stories each issue -- things we've read in writing workshops, or heard performed at conventions, etc. So there are only 4 or 5 slots open per issue, really.


What percentage of submissions is science fiction vs. fantasy (vs. others, if applicable)?

Well, we do publish non-genre work, but most of what we get is fantasy. I'd say, of the genre submissions, the overwhelming majority are fantasy, probably 70 or 80 percent. Which is no surprise -- I'm a bigger fan of fantasy, especially contemporary fantasy, and say as much in my guidelines. Heather likes science fiction more than I do, and tends to publish more if it in her issues, I think.



Can you give us an idea of what percentage of science fiction vs. fantasy is being accepted for publication (and others, if applicable)?

For my issues, probably 80 or 90 percent fantasy over science fiction. For Heather, it's probably more like 60/40 fantasy/SF.


What sorts of stories would you advise writers to send along to Flytrap?  What kinds of stories would you advise against?

If I'm editing fiction, don't send hard SF. Do send oddball stories that deal with offbeat emotional truths. (Is that vague enough? I want to draw a big box for people to scribble inside.) Traditional horror is likely to make me yawn, because I read a lot of horror. If Heather's editing the fiction, you probably won't have much luck with erotica (she edits erotica at her day job, so she doesn't really want it for Flytrap), and horror doesn't work for her.


 Do you have additional editorial aspirations?

Lord, no. I'm perfectly content where I am, doing half the work on a micropress 'zine, and having an editorial day job. I don't want to edit a professional periodical or anthologies or anything. My aspirations are more toward becoming a full-time novelist, and making editing strictly a hobby.



Besides your assorted editorial duties, you’re also building an impressive career as a speculative writer.  Do you feel your editorial work has helped you along with your writing, or perhaps vise-versa?  

Well, practically speaking, working at Locus has helped my career a lot. My boss pretty much introduced me to my agent, and I've met lots of editors and publicists and other publishing types. Which isn't some magic key to success, but it can't hurt to be on friendly terms with the editor who's reading your manuscript, you know? 

More practically, I've always written very quickly, and produce relatively clean first drafts, which is a useful skill when writing heaps of copy for a monthly magazine. So I'd say both careers have helped one another.


Does the writer in you have any non-editorial advice to offer the hordes of scribes out there?

Write your heart out. Don't worry about how much stuff your friends are selling, or if you're getting Honorable Mentions or winning awards or any of that. Accolades are nice, but they're fleeting, and they don't help much when you get up the next morning and stare at a blank page. At the end of the day, all that matters is you, and what you put on the page. Write good stuff, and you'll get published. It might take years. I've been writing -- writing hard, writing lots -- since I was eight years old. I didn't sell a story professionally until 2002, when I was 25. So, you know. Be patient, and love your work, because there's no other reason to do it, as far as I can see.


Thanks so much for your time.  

Links of interest:

Tropism Press: http://www.tropismpress.com

Flytrap: http://www.tropismpress.com/flytrap.html

Blog: http://www.journalscape.com/tim

Big thanks to Tim for a great interview . . .and my apologies for not realizing he is the Senior Editor over at Locus.  That's what I get for not renewing my subscription!  Unforgivable if this were an interview for a periodical of some sort.  Thankfully, this is just a blog interview, so I get to make as many mistakes as I want.  Anyway, go check out Tim & Heather's magazine & chapbooks, and be on the lookout for Tim's next novel.  And tune in next month when I interview . . .???


coppervale wrote:
Oct. 15th, 2006 12:13 am (UTC)
Nice, nice, nice.

Another good read, man. Thanks.
douglascohen wrote:
Oct. 15th, 2006 05:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you much.
(no subject) - ericmarin - Oct. 16th, 2006 10:52 pm (UTC)
douglascohen wrote:
Oct. 16th, 2006 11:10 pm (UTC)
I assure you I'm doing it for purely selfish reasons. I tell these editor types I have a series of editorial interviews going, would you care to participate? And they say, "Sure." So then the writer in me asks them all the questions I'm dying to ask. And they answer me! This scam is gold, baby! :) Editorial Musings! Ha!

No, seriously. These are fun to do, for me and the editors, and helpful to the writers that read them (I hope). One of these days I'll stop running these because I'll run out of editors to interview. :( But fear not, this time is a while off yet . . .
(no subject) - ericmarin - Oct. 17th, 2006 02:22 am (UTC)
douglascohen wrote:
Oct. 17th, 2006 04:38 am (UTC)
Editor, eh? I shall file this information away for future reference. ;)
(no subject) - ericmarin - Oct. 17th, 2006 05:08 pm (UTC)


Douglas Cohen

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