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An Interview with Joanne Merriam and Octavia Cade

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Joanne Merriam and Octavia Cade, two of the editors of Upper Rubber Boot’s Women Up to No Good anthology series. Women Up to No Good focuses on dark, feminist fiction by authors who identify as female, non-binary, or a marginalized sex or gender identity.

Welcome! To start things off, could you please each briefly introduce yourself?

Broad KnowledgeJM: I’m Joanne Merriam, the editor of Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good, and co-editor (with H. L. Nelson) of Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good, and also the publisher at Upper Rubber Boot Books. I started my writing life as the executive assistant and office manager of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (where I’m from originally) from 1997 through 2001. At “Ma Fed,” I absorbed a very writer-focused attitude to the publishing industry, which I’ve carried into my life as a publisher. I’m also a writer, and have been published by Stride Publications (a now-defunct UK small press publisher) who put out my poetry collection The Glaze from Breaking, as well as in Asimov’s, Canadian Literature, Escape Pod, Event, The Fiddlehead, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, On Spec, PANK, Per Contra, and Strange Horizons, amongst others.

OC: Hi! I’m Octavia, I’m from New Zealand, and I am utterly consumed with cake. Well, not utterly, but close enough. Baking is a hobby that I really enjoy—everything from pies to profiteroles—and given that my favourite entertainment genre is horror the two were bound to collide eventually. Sort of by accident I fell into doing a series of columns on Food and Horror for The Book Smugglers. The collected essays were published by them last year, and it was an easy step from there to look at the possibility of editing a food horror anthology (Sharp & Sugar Tooth).

You recently launched a Kickstarter to support Women Up to No Good. I presume this means we can look forward to a new installment in the series soon? Could you tell us a bit about your vision for the next anthology, how it speaks to the previous titles in the series, and maybe a bit about where you see the series as a whole going in the future?

JM: We’re kickstarting Broad Knowledge, the second in the series, which focuses on what women know and how knowledge and wisdom overlap and entwine but aren’t the same, and Sharp & Sugar Tooth, the third, which focuses on our relationship with food and consumption. My vision for the series is that we support the voices of women and others with marginalized sex or gender identities, who we know from projects like the VIDA Count are underrepresented in publishing. I’d like to have more outside editors, and have been absolutely delighted by Octavia’s selections for Sharp & Sugar Tooth. Each anthology will have dark fiction focused on a specific subject, but otherwise they’re all self-contained.

Sharp & Sugar ToothOC: I can only speak to the anthology I’ve been an editor on, but The Sharp and Sugar Tooth is an antho about creepy food. There’s a lot of power in food, come directly from the fact that it’s a simple necessity. We literally cannot live without it, and so the preparation of food—getting the ingredients, preparing it, sharing it—is really a very powerful activity. And yet it’s so often looked down on, almost. Women’s work, kitchen chores… who’s stuck with the potato peeling and dish scrubbing and everyday management of menus, for instance. In that cultural space between “Get me a sandwich!” and “You’d starve without that bloody sandwich!” is an enormous conversation and negotiation with power. I was particularly interested, when pitching this anthology to Joanne, about how women navigated their roles as food producers and food consumers, and I think there’s a fantastic range of stories in Sugar Tooth exploring exactly that. How consumption can break you down, how it can build you up again. How you can use it to make connections with other people… it’s a fascinating thing.

As editors, I know it’s hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, but when you were reading for Broad Knowledge and Sharp & Sugar Tooth, what were the kind of things that made you sit up and take notice?

OC: This is my first go at editing, so again my responses will be restricted to my experience with Sugar Tooth. Voice for me is a big one—as is having something to say. I wanted stories with a point, something with a bit of thought behind them. Something which engaged with the theme in an exciting and original way. I got sent a lot—a lot! —of stories about women eating their abusive husbands. It must have been nigh on 50% of submissions, and it got to the point where if meat was somehow mentioned in the first paragraph or two I knew what that meat was going to be. So yeah, originality was a big one. Another thing I wanted was something too that says to me that the author is familiar with short fiction being written today. I don’t want to be too specific about this as I don’t want to people to think I’m talking about their story specifically, but it’s very obvious if you’re writing about a speculative staple—robots, for instance, or aliens, or witches—and the all the robot or alien or witch stories you’ve read are 50 years old. I’m not saying don’t read the classics, because they’re a necessary foundation I think, but you risk dating your stories unnecessarily if you don’t read contemporary fiction in the genre you’re writing, because often the way we write about these things changes over time.

And it should go without saying but sadly doesn’t: stories that follow the guidelines. I wasn’t joking when I said I had no interest in stories about horrible violence against women, or child abuse, or anything like that but I still got bloody sent them. Don’t do that. It wins you no friends.

JM: I want to see an excellent facility with language on a sentence-level, combined with something that makes me say, “wow!”—whether that’s an original twist on a plot idea, or world-building I haven’t seen before, or a character who makes me fall in love. Like Octavia, I also notice if writers aren’t reading contemporary work, or the guidelines.

The thing that surprised me the most this time around was how angry my submitters were. Trump had just been elected, and compared to the submissions for Choose Wisely, we had many more submissions that were either overtly political (many of which we accepted) or straight-up revenge fantasies (which we didn’t).

You have an incredible line-up of authors for your anthologies. Once you have all your stories in place, whether solicited or submitted, how do you go about assembling your anthologies? Is there a certain balance or feel you’re looking to create? Have you ever found themes or conversations emerging among the stories that have surprised you?

JM: I try to balance the stories between genre (horror, science fiction, and fantasy) and feel (dark, light, serious, humorous, arch, and sincere). As a reader, I enjoy variety with some cohesion, so an anthology or collection hangs together but keeps surprising me, and so as an editor that’s what I strive for.

L. Timmel Duchamp’s “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” was the genesis for Broad Knowledge. When I reread it, I was in the process of reading submissions for an unnamed anthology that wasn’t themed yet, with a co-editor who ended up having to drop out of the project due to some issues in her personal life, but who had solicited a few stories, like Angela Slatter’s, that already fit into the concept of a knowledge-focused anthology. Many of my favorites from the submissions also fit the theme, so I reconceptualized the anthology now that I would be editing it alone, and sent out a new call for submissions. Luckily, Duchamp allowed me to reprint her story. In a way, this whole anthology has been a surprise.

OC: I used post-its! Each post-it had the title, author, and word count of one particular story, and then they got stuck to my coffee table for several days as I moved them around and tried to decide line-up. The first and last stories in Sugar Tooth were very easy to pick: they were the two most unlike each other, I think. I arranged the rest of the stories to form a sort of journey—stories of similar themes got grouped together, for instance, and the scale of the story too was also a factor. The earlier stories are often focused more on a relationship between two people, for instance, while the last stories are more often focused at the level of relationships between ecosystems or species.

Could you talk a bit about your Kickstarter campaign, what you hope to accomplish, any cool reward levels you’d like to highlight, and any stretch goals you’d like to reach?

JM: My hope is that the series will become self-supporting after this, so that sales of the first three anthologies will fund the fourth, and so on. In terms of rewards, the best deal is the “Triple Ebooks” (all three anthologies for twenty bucks) and the coolest is probably the “Triple Paperbacks + Recommended Book,” where those who pledge get all three anthologies in paperback and also get to geek out with me or Octavia about books, after which we’ll send some (non-URB) paperbacks that we recommend based on our conversation. For stretch goals, if we reach $30,000, we’ll be able to immediately open to submissions from editors for ideas for a fourth Women Up To No Good anthology, and shortly thereafter, open to submissions for the best idea!

Any closing thoughts you’d like to share about Women Up to No Good, Upper Rubber Boot, the world in general, or other personal projects you’re working on you’d like folks to know about?

JM: Upper Rubber Boot is run in my spare time (I have a completely unrelated day job as a project manager at an academic hospital), so we don’t do too much at any one time. Right now, we only have one other big project: promoting solarpunk. Last August, we published the first general-interest solarpunk anthology in English, Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, and including work by Elgin Award nominee Kristine Ong Muslim, James Tiptree, Jr. Award winner Nisi Shawl (who also has a story in Broad Knowledge), Jaymee Goh, Iona Sharma, and you! Now we’re co-hosting a monthly #SolarpunkChat on the third Saturday of every month, along with Reckoning Press, World Weaver Press, and a growing group of solarpunk enthusiasts.

Thank you both for dropping by! I can’t wait to see what the future of Women Up to No Good has in store!

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An Interview with Sean Wallace

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome the publisher of The Dark, who is currently wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign to publish even more excellent fiction, increase pay rates, publish a special double issue in December, and possibly even launch a regular podcast.

The DarkWelcome! To start things off, could you please briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Sean Wallace, co-editor and publisher for The Dark Magazine, and I work hand-in-hand with Silvia Moreno-Garcia to select and showcase great fiction every month. I’ve essentially been onboard since the first issue, so about five years now, and thirty-five issues later.

You launched The Dark in 2013, and you’ve been going strong for five years now. How did the idea or the vision for the publication originally come about? What’s changed between Issue 1 and Issue 35?

I would say not much has really changed, as the focus has always been on character-driven stories from all around the world, bringing unique mythologies, perspectives, and more, to the magazine. This is something to be proud of, as we have accomplished that to a large degree, with the help of Jack Fisher, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and many others. And last year was our best, yet, with over forty-percent of our authors being people of colo(u)r. We could always improve, though!

However, in other ways, The Dark has indeed evolved. For example, when we added the award-winning Kate Baker to our masthead, to narrate the occasional podcast adaptation throughout the year. There was also the time we dropped from four original stories down to two, and brought in two reprints instead. Or, over the years, opening up and exploring revenue streams by offering Patreon, Amazon subscriptions, and more. Publishing online is always a challenge, so we have to change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow.

As an editor, I know it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, but how would you generally characterize a story that has the right feel for The Dark? Is there anything you don’t see enough of in the submission pile that you’d like to see more often?

You have to remember that between Silvia and myself that we are pretty well read, with a combined thirty years of editing experience, so, honestly, what we react positively to basically boils down to: surprise us with something we haven’t seen before, right away, because you only get that one chance, for the most part. And since we process about three or hundred stories a month, that first paragraph really has to do the heavy lifting, almost always, in order to convince us to go any further.

Could you talk a bit about your Kickstarter campaign, what you hope to accomplish, and particularly the stretch goals you’d like to reach?

It takes time (and energy) to grow a magazine and make it sustainable. Ever since I bought The Dark entirely a few years ago, it has been resource-starved, in a number of ways. So we are hoping that the kickstarter campaign allows us a bit of breathing space to grow everything at a pace that we’re comfortable with, without worrying about the finances underpinning the entire business model. But, also, and just as important, we wanted to bump up the pay rate for our authors, to properly compensate them for the great work they do. We couldn’t do it without them.

With regards to stretch goals, the first is if we reach $13,500, it essentially boils down to having a podcast every month, instead of every other month. Why? Because people want to process their short fiction fix in a number of ways, not just online or in print, but also in audio. You have to go where the readers are, in this.

We also thought that an one-off Spanish-language edition might be really cool, to partially reflect the interest worldwide in our stories, so we mocked up the cover, came up with the title, La Oscuridad, and we really hope to get a chance to do this in time for World Fantasy this year. After all, there shouldn’t be any reason why there shouldn’t one, in a country where Hispanics and Latinos represent the largest ethnic / racial minority. So, in this, we need to do more.

And the second and last goal is for $15,000: at which point we increase the pay rate from five cents to six cents a word, making the magazine SFWA qualified. Which would make a lot of people very happy, including us!

You’ve worked as an co-editor elsewhere in addition to The Dark (Clarkesworld Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and more). How have those experiences influenced (or not) the way you work with others on this publication?

I do think that working on all those other magazines has meant that I look at The Dark with a realistic perspective, knowing that I will lose money on the venture for the first two or three years, but with a game plan in mind to at least break-even or make some money down the road. Because, ultimately, there is nothing in this world I love more but publish short stories and have readers enjoy them as much as I do.

Beyond that the more I work at this, it is clear that I work best at co-editing, that it balances out my own editorial inclinations, which can be sometimes good or bad, really. And whether it is with Neil Clarke, Jack Fisher, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Cat Rambo, Paul Tremblay, or any others I’ve forgotten to list, they help me be better. As it really is a team effort.

Any closing thoughts you’d like to share about The Dark, the world in general, or other personal projects you’re working on you’d like people to know about?

Just to repeat what we stated on the campaign itself: we don’t just like dark fantasy, horror, or weird fiction . . . we love it. And we hope to keep doing it for years to come, with your help.

Thank you all for dropping by! I can’t wait to see what the future of The Dark has in store!

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An Interview with Scott Gable

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Scott Gable, publisher of Broken Eye Books, and editor of many of their fine anthologies, including the upcoming Welcome to Miskatonic University.

Scott GableWelcome, Scott! To start things off, would you care to introduce yourself and tell folks a bit about Broken Eye Books?

So great to be here! I run the indie press Broken Eye Books out of Seattle. We’ve been going for eight wonderful years, publishing the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction. We love to blend genres and blur the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, and the weird.

You’re currently running a Kickstarter for two volumes of Welcome to Miskatonic University. Could you give readers a taste of the sorts of stories they’ll find in its pages?

We asked authors to envision a modern-day Miskatonic University, that institution from the Cthulhu Mythos that always seemed to be at the center of all things strange and magical. And as we read through the slush, an interesting pattern developed. There was a shift in the types of stories we received that fell along a spectrum: on one end, the setting and mood of the weird fiction typified by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, albeit modern, and on the other end, we see where weird fiction starts to blend with other speculative genres (fantasy and science fiction, though largely fantasy in this case with stories more akin to Grossman’s The Magicians or a more adult Hogwarts). This was fascinating and presented a great opportunity to more deeply explore weird fiction’s relationship with other genres, so we split the project into two anthologies—the first consisting of the fantastically weird and the latter of the weirdly fantastic.

The first, Welcome to Miskatonic University, represents the first half of that spectrum. These are the tales with the unknown at their core, where relatively normal people in a relatively normal world come face to face with the unknown, and we get to see what happens. These are the stories most tightly anchored to our reality, to what we now. In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood change a bit. And this isn’t a binary—not an either-or; it’s a spectrum with gradation in how these elements change. In these tales, that next layer of secrets have been stripped away. (It makes perfect sense that, after a century of uncovering secrets, a college might not be the same as it was.) In these tales, at least some of the unknown is stripped bare for the characters. This appears in two different ways: either 1) what was once unknown is now known from the start by either the main characters or the setting as a whole or 2) the protagonist is themself the “unknown,” being privy to the secrets—whether a Deep One trying to save her human girlfriend or a powerful sorcerer on a mission—and thereby becoming a direct window to that unknown for the reader. These are the lands where weird fiction blends with fantasy and science fiction. When the unknown has been revealed, accepted, and possibly even incorporated into the setting, we are flitting across weird fiction’s borders with other speculative fiction. And it makes sense that after some time at MU, as in the second anthology, you might learn a thing or two.

Past Broken Eye Books anthologies have explored Lovecraftian mythology in the future, and mashed up Lovecraft and space opera. This time around, you’ve asked authors to tell stories set in the modern day. What appeals to you about Lovecraftian mythology colliding with our current day world? Overall, what sparked the idea behind the anthology?

Well, there’s the easy answer that we just love mashing together two seemingly disparate things to get something hopefully greater than its parts. (That’s how you get peanut butter cups!) Before Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, for instance, we did the anthology Ghost in the Cogs, combining steampunk and the supernatural—which was crazy amounts of fun, by the way. So really, that ethos of experimental “what if we try this?” is very much a part of our books.

As for the Cthulhu Mythos, it’s always taunted me, from that first Del Rey collection that inaugurated me as a kid who liked weird fiction. I would be all “Yeah! And then what?” and always wanting more. The “terrible crushing dread of existence” didn’t have to end in the 1920s. Everyone at some point in their lives knows it’s still kicking around in their closet. So why not bring it into the modern world? And as a gamer, the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs were already planting such wonderful seeds for how a modern Mythos might take shape.

As for the science fiction elements, there’s never really been a shortage of weird horror to go around, but it’s always felt that the weird science elements would get overshadowed by the supernatural. And to me, the two are both vital for weird fiction. “From Beyond” is one of my favorite highlights from the Mythos of weird science. These are those crazy, “misunderstood” experiments that start from scientific principles but quickly go off the rails into realms that science just has no answers for (like Frankenstein before it). That’s the key: it’s still unknown, the narrative just pokes that unknown with a “scientific” stick rather than a “supernatural” one.

As for the modern world, that’s where I live. I want stories that spin off from that world and with more relevance to the modern human condition, stories that shine a light on the unknowns of today and that embrace both the supernatural and the weird science. I want inclusive stories that represent our modern sensibilities, and I want to hear it from lots of different voices. I want all of us to be excited to explore and experiment, to take those bits we like and forge something unique and all our own.

If you were enrolling at Miskatonic University yourself, what courses would you be most interested in, or what would your major be? Would you try out for any sports? Join any clubs?

Tough call. I’ve always been torn between the sciences and the humanities. And though I’m sure I could fully redeem Tillinghast’s and West’s experiments—what could go wrong!—I would likely find myself drawn to library sciences, instructing students on the proper care and maintenance of those dangerous words. Books are a responsibility, you know, requiring a commitment of both time and intention, an understanding of the preventive safeguards and reparative ministrations for the physical and mental wellbeing of both you and them, and a dedication to their proper socialization and training and mental stimulation. Countless are those hurt by a book’s misuse.

And I would definitely take a yoga class, or tai chi. Something for stress management. (I wonder if there’s a non-Euclidean yoga?)

TentaclesAs part of the Kickstarter, you have some pretty awesome swag to offer including university bumper stickers, hand-bound books, and custom art. Could you talk a bit about the art and design aspect of the anthology, how you identify artists, and how you work with them to bring unique visions of the eldritch and squamous to life?

I have a big list of authors and artists I’m itching to work with. As I discover a person’s work, I often know immediately that they’d make a great fit for some project percolating in the gray matter—and often, I know exactly what I’d want them to work on. I find artists online and from their work on other books and games, but most notably, I find them at the conventions I attend. (I stumbled upon the cover artist for Pretty Marys All in a Rowgawki—for instance, at Emerald City Comic Con 2017. I enjoyed their work so much and knew they’d be a perfect match for the novella.)

For book covers, I generally try to have a very rough idea (or several possible ideas and often will chat with the author—for the single-author works—to get their feedback) of what I’m thinking about for a book so that the artist has something to latch onto and expand on. But I don’t want to tell these artists how to do their jobs, so I leave as much detail to them as they’re comfortable with. We typically go through a round of low-res mockups of possible ideas, and then once we’ve settled on something, I typically back away. They’re artists and know what they’re doing.

For the Kickstarter, I wanted to offer something special beyond the core books, and Near Mint (the bookbinder for the deluxe edition) and Merle Rice (creator of the fleece squid hats)—both local artists that I met at conventions—seemed a wonderful fit, as did Frank Casey who’s slated for the second anthology’s cover. And of course Yves Tourigny and Michael Bukowski I’ve worked with before on the Ride the Star Wind illustrations. And if we unlock that particular stretch goal, even more artists will be added.

And the bumper stickers are largely my own designs (with assistance from Jeremy Zerfoss and Michael Bukowski for some of the illustrations), and I’ve had a blast making them.

After Welcome to Miskatonic University, what’s next for Broken Eye Books? Any other upcoming projects you’d like folks to know about?

There are a couple novellas coming next that I’ve already announced and a couple that I haven’t. There’s also another novel slated for later this year along with a new publishing imprint. And of course, I wouldn’t be me without the next few anthologies in mind. Our online magazine Eyedolon will be the next big thing to watch from us as that’s where the next pebble drops.

We’re a small press, so we can adjust our course with relative ease, embracing the chaos of book publishing. But always spinning new tales and hopefully not taking ourselves too seriously.

Thank you for dropping by! I can’t wait to see the finished anthologies!

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