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An Interview with the Editors of Augur Magazine

Augur MagazineToday, I’m very pleased to welcome the editors of Augur Magazine, a new publication of intersectional Canadian speculative fiction. They’re currently running a Kickstarter to fund their first two years of publication. For a taste of the types of things they intend to publish, check out their Preview Issue, which is available for free.

Welcome! To start things off, could you please each briefly introduce yourself and talk a bit about your vision for Augur Magazine?

Kerrie: Hello! Thanks so much for having us. I’m (obviously) Kerrie, cat lover extraordinaire and the Editor in Chief of Augur.

When it comes to Augurian vision, I think we’ve all always wanted to create space for the kinds of stories we wanted to read. For me, it was a matter of time and place. Augur is all about creating space for stories that don’t always have the room to be told—whether intersectional storytelling (something we gravitate towards naturally as a fairly intersectional editorial staff) or stories that fit between genres.

We’ve talked a lot about our goals and wants for intersectionality over the last month on our kickstarter campaign, so i’m going to focus for a second on the second point. We’re really looking for stories that feel like they don’t belong, or that might not fit a single or defined genre. It’s one of the reasons we aren’t limiting ourselves to speculative or realist work—we take both, because we think that they aren’t as different from one another as they’re often treated. That said, we do lean pretty heavily on the speculative fiction side of things. There’s just so much room there to explore the kinds of topics we love.

Alex: We’re thrilled to be here! I’m Alex, the Managing Editor of Augur and a JD Candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law.

Mado: Great to be here! I’m Mado: Senior Editor for Augur and classical pianist who moonlights as a writer (or is it the other way around?)

How did you all meet, and how did the idea to launch Augur come about?

K: A half decade or so ago, I launched a speculative fiction magazine at the University of Toronto called The Spectatorial. This was, in part, a response to something so many spec fic readers are familiar with—how little speculative fiction is in the English Literature curriculum, despite the fact that it’s such a rich literary landscape. The mag quickly became one of the biggest pubs on campus. And, to my surprise and delight, it also became a blissfully queer and intersectional space.

It was easy to make The Spectatorial that kind of space. It happened naturally. We want to bring that sense of ease with us to Augur—we want to be coincidentally intersectional, that kind of space that creates a gravitational force. It will take work on our part. Natural doesn’t mean easy for us. But I remember the joy in the faces of the students who were a part of The Spec—here was a speculative fiction environment that supported them! My hope is that Augur will generate that same kind of joy on a larger scale than a university campus. The Spectatorial was always what I considered a training ground for the magazine-that-would-become-Augur, but it was definitely a force in making us realize how much need remains for spaces that explicitly look to welcome intersectionality. None of those students should have been that happy that they finally felt like they belonged—they should have had that experience much sooner.

As for how we met, we’re mainly school chums. Alex was an editor of The Spectatorial after I was, and Mado and I met online many, many moons ago—but officially met in person in a writing group I ran at the University of Toronto. I’m very lucky to have them on the team.

As editors, I know it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, and sometimes the best stories are the ones you never knew you wanted to read until you’ve read them. That said, do you have any particular soft spots in fiction? Are there are any subjects or styles or types of voices you’re hoping to see in the submission pile, or things that you don’t see enough of in other publications that you’re hoping Augur can highlight?

K: I’m a big sucker for pieces that are only-kind-of-speculative and/or that play with your idea of what a story is meant to do. I like being left with questions and uncertainty when I read, but especially when those questions and that uncertainty is joined with a sense of fulfillment. When you get something from a story, but it takes you some time to realize what you’ve gotten—maybe you never get more than a feeling. This is especially true when the voice and writing are crystal clear—I want to be challenged when I read, but I don’t necessarily like being challenged to read it in the first place. That’s also, of course, highly dependant on each individual piece. Sometimes the dense, difficult-to-read pieces are my favourite. But the above is the easiest way to get on my Yes list.

A: I love stories that have lush settings—I’m always drawn into stories that have a strong atmosphere and some well-placed details about their environment. I have a huge soft spot for urban fantasy. Seeing cities turned magical, dystopic, futuristic, or otherwise speculative enthrals me every time. There isn’t a lot of urban fantasy set in Canada, so I think I would really latch onto stories like that.

I find that lately there’s been a resurgence of stories written from the second-person perspective, and I’d definitely like to see more of these stories coming to Augur. There’s something about the directness and intimacy of this approach that I think can have really fascinating effects on storytelling and on how we experience narratives.

M: The pieces that stood to me the most in our submissions were the ones that were completely unapologetic in their tone. The ones that dropped me in an entirely unfamiliar setting and didn’t spoon-feed me information until I felt comfortable, but instead made me do some of the work of puzzling out where I was and what was happening. (Of course this can only be effective if the writing is excellent!) More generally speaking, I’m always drawn in by stories in a folkloric style, with echoes of oral tradition.

Shifting gears a bit, you’re based in Toronto, which seems to be home to a good number of speculative fiction writers. Do you think there’s anything particularly speculative or science fictional about Toronto? What are your favorite spots in the city, or places you’d recommend to first time visitors?

K: Oh, definitely. But then again, I was the kind of kid that went chasing after rabbits or into forests, convinced magic was just a turn away—I think most of our environments are brimming with the speculative, the what-ifs. It’s one of the reasons we worked with one of our artists, Ann Sheng, to do up a speculative landscape series—a fairytale creature in the rollings hills of Alberta, a dragon in the mountains of the Yukon, and an apocalypse in Quebec City. One of our goals is to make sure we’re recognizing the magic that’s all over our environments and acknowledging all kinds of spaces. And, of course, as we do this it’s essential that we carve out room for Indigenous/Aboriginal creators to engage this conversation, and so we plan on including Indigenous/Aboriginal voices as often as we can.

But yes. I’ve segued. For your actual question. Toronto, specifically…I’d say climbing the hill to St. Clair and looking out over the city is pretty wonderful. You really get a sense of scope, being so high that you can see the lake. Otherwise it’s easy to feel lost. There’s also tons of alleyways behind houses that are covered in street art and have this gorgeous city beauty to them, and it’s easy to imagine slipping between houses and disappearing into another world. It’s also very easy to imagine being spirited away in the city’s ravine—a long, winding stretch of nature and greenery that’s carved throughout Toronto. That’s my stress place, and it has a wonderful calmness to it.

A: I think there’s a diversity of worlds that make up Toronto—it’s a collection of different neighbourhoods, of course, but it’s also an amalgamation of different cities. I’ve lived my whole life in Scarborough, which was originally a separate city but became an administrative district and borough of Toronto. Toronto is utterly sprawling, and many places are difficult to get to even with public transit. I feel like every week I discover an entirely new neighbourhood or area, and this limitlessness has always felt magical.

One of my favourite places in the city is actually the University of Toronto’s downtown campus. It’s a beautiful campus, and lots of sleek, newly designed buildings sit beside castle-like structures that are nearly two hundred years old. This will be a very controversial statement for every University of Toronto student, but I actually love Robarts Library, the largest individual library at the university. Robarts is reviled for being a particularly imposing and unattractive example of brutalist architecture, but it’s also designed in the shape of a peacock! I’m in love with how one of the most ominous, ugly buildings in the city is actually a giant concrete peacock filled with academic books. To me, that’s absolutely wonderful.

But I think the most speculative elements of Toronto are quietly nestled into the background. Kerrie talked about the beautiful street art in the alleys, and I’d like to mention the “Outside the Box” program, where local artists paint works of art on traffic signal boxes throughout the city. I think one of the most speculative things about Toronto is that it’s always trying to transform and represent itself through art.

Some places that I would recommend are the Scarborough Bluffs, Rouge Park, and the beaches. There are countless parks, woodlands, ravines, and trails hidden throughout Toronto, especially in the suburbs, and I think exploring them is a lot of fun.

M: I grew up in a residential area of downtown Toronto, and I’ve always thought there was a kind of fungal quality to the city: the creeping spread of its outskirts, the connective root system of the PATH. There’s an awesome tension between the straight-laced, gridded areas of the city, and the weirdnesses that permeate it, such as the ROM’s crystal growth, the life-sized sculpture of a white elephant in my neighbourhood, and whatever the heck is going on at OCAD. The place is full of great little glitches in what is supposed to be a very orderly, chitinous code. Plus there’s Dundas Street, which makes me very uncomfortable. It’s everywhere you look. You can’t get away from it. It knows all.

For first-timers I recommend Kensington Market and Ward’s Island for great walkarounds.

On a related note, I like to ask my fellow Canadians about the idea of “Canadian Literature”. Do you think there’s a particular theme, tone, or some common unifying thread that makes a piece of writing particularly Canadian and sets it apart from other fiction?

K: I think that there’s a tone we’ve learned to expect when it comes to thinking about what Canlit “is”. There’s a good number of tropey themes—cottages, nature, feeling sad or morose in the city, etc., etc.. When Augur talks about Canlit, that’s not necessarily what we’re looking for. Recently, there have been a number of excellent pieces circulating that interrogate what “Canlit” is and how it needs to be rebuilt in order for it to function as a responsible, representative space. I especially recommend these pieces by Chelene Knight, Alicia Elliot, and Gwen Benaway.

I’m less concerned with what Canlit has been and more concerned with what we can make it.

A: If you ever take a course on Canadian literature at a university, there will always be a student there who summarizes Canlit as being “about nature”, or about the tension between rural and urban life. The prof will then spend the rest of course trying to show how there is so much more beyond that, haha.

Nature is of course a major element of CanLit, but I think that a more important thread of themes in contemporary Canadian Literature is the struggle between the old and the new. There’s a very palpable and vivid tension between the historic, nostalgic, and somewhat inaccurate sense of what Canadian literature was—stories about small towns and the encroaching wilderness—and emerging Canadian literature, which explores immigration, cultural diversity, poverty, and the continued destruction of Indigenous/Aboriginal communities. Matched with these I think is the struggle to reconcile ideals and actuality. What excites me the most is that there’s a flux of exciting emerging writers expanding the conversation of what Canlit is and could be, and I think Canlit is going to open up to whole new worlds in the near future.

M: Three words come to mind: anxious, jealous, and funny. At least that’s for the CanLit I’ve read, which for a long time was dictated by Giller frenzy and Book City tables. I’m really excited to see where CanLit is going, and from what I’ve read more recently, I’m hopeful that it’s going towards a space with fewer guardians and more chaos.

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

K: I’d love to mention the Augur Magazine Preview Issue! Our inaugural pre-issue (a collection of reprints) was published at the end of August, on the same day that we launched our kickstarter, and is free to read on our website. It’s a collection of reprints, spanning fiction, poetry, and comics, and features both established and emerging creators. We had an amazing time working with our contributors, and we really can’t express enough how happy we are to have been able to produce this first collection. It’s a good starting point to see what we’re going to be looking for in the future (and, if we fund we’ll open to original submissions October 1!), and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we felt very lucky as we hemmed it together. We can’t wait to produce more like it.

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

K: Thanks so much for having us!

A: Thank you so much!

M: Thank you!

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An Interview with Djibril al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan

Accessing the FutureDjibril al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan co-editors of the new anthology Accessing the Future, were kind enough to stop by today to chat about their work. I’ll start things off as I usually do by shamelessly cribbing from their bios…

Djibril al-Ayad is the nom de guerre of an academic historian and futurist who has been editing speculative fiction for a decade, reading it for two, and writing it for three. He is the editor of The Future Fire magazine, and the owner of Futurefire.net Publishing.

Kathryn Allan is an Independent Scholar of science fiction and disability studies (specializing in cyberpunk, feminist SF, and SF TV & film), Editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (2013), and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. She writes for both academic and fan audiences and has been published in such places as The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 7: Shattering Ableist Narratives (Ed. JoSelle Vanderhooft) and Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media (Eds. David Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta Niu). She blogs and tweets as BleedingChrome.

ACW: Welcome! First off, let’s talk a bit about Accessing the Future. Where did the idea for the anthology originate, and how did the project come together?

Kathryn Allan: Thank you for having us! I first pitched the idea for a disability-themed anthology to Djibril because I was tired of seeing terrible, stereotypical depictions of disability in the SF I was reading and watching. Djibril had previously invited me to be a reader and associate editor for The Future Fire, so we already had an understanding of our general likes and politics when it comes to SF. Once I read the wonderful We See a Different Frontier (which Djibril co-edited with Fabio Fernandes), I knew that the timing was right to make my pitch. Happily, Djibril was on board and we both dove right into writing up our call for submissions and planning the crowdfunding campaign. It was amazing to see how our collaboration shaped the focus of Accessing the Future—I brought in my disability experience and scholarship to the table, and Djibril brought in his dedication to boosting intersectional stories from international authors. In the end, our Indiegogo campaign raised $8,300!

ACW: What was your process like for putting together the anthology? You had an open call for submissions, but were any of the stories solicited in advance? How did you go about selecting the stories and creating a balance in terms of theme, tone, etc.?

Djibril al-Ayad: We were very clear from the start that we didn’t want to commission or solicit any stories—partly because we wanted people to bring themselves forward as interested in the theme, and didn’t want to prejudge that; we wanted authors from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible, especially people whom we wouldn’t have known about in advance. And of course, we prefer not directly to solicit stories when we can’t make any promises about including them. Instead we made sure we got the word out as widely as possible, both in the usual SF circles, and in specifically activist, queer, feminist, international and disability-focused fora, to be sure of receiving stories from the full spectrum of backgrounds, themes, styles and areas. What made it possible to select as balanced and inclusive a table of contents as we did was the fact that when we had shortlisted all of the stories that we both absolutely loved, that we were willing to go to the wall for, we still had more than twice as many as we had room for in the volume. So we picked stories that included a good mix of physical disability, anxiety, chronic illness, deafness, autism; happy stories and sad stories; light hearted stories and fierce stories; adventures and dystopias. By the time we’d agonized over the last few pieces to include, I think we ended up with the best selection of stories and artworks we possibly could have.

ACW: I agree! On a somewhat related note, you both come from academic backgrounds, did that factor into the creation of the anthology at all? Kathryn, your academic work specifically is focused on disability in science fiction, so I’m sure you must have had some strong feelings about helpful narratives versus harmful ones, and the kinds of stories you wanted to see. Were there any particular gaps in the literature that’s out there that you hoped to fill with the stories in this anthology?

KA: My academic background—having completed a PhD (on the vulnerable body in feminist post-cyberpunk SF) while dealing with chronic illness—definitely factored into my desire to see an anthology like Accessing the Future come into being. I read and watched so many SF narratives where a person with a disability, if they are even in the story in any significant way, are simply cured by technology, or, even worse, disability is completely absent from the future (because of genetic engineering or other such technological interventions). I really wanted to see stories where people with disabilities get to be the hero as they are; where they get to be active participants in their medical care; where disability isn’t some sort of awful, tragic thing. I so wanted to see stories about the future that include people with disabilities in realistic and complex ways because we do exist and our experiences, hopes, fears, and dreams for the future matter.

DaA: My own scholarship hasn’t really fed into my editing directly (except through giving me the discipline and eye for detail to treat texts seriously). Perhaps surprisingly the movement has been in the other direction: involvement with socially conscious SFF and literary movements has enriched my understanding of postcolonial history, feminist informatics, disability and other access issues in conferences and classrooms. Academia is several years behind the SF convention on the subject of codes of conduct, for example.

ACW: Djibril, you co-edit The Future Fire, and you’ve also co-edited several other anthologies prior to this one. Is your process more or less the same across projects, or does it change each time? Was there anything different or surprising about working on this project you hadn’t encountered in your other editorial projects?

DaA: In a sense the process is very similar every time: we divide up stories to filter out the obvious non-fits, then rank favourites, and shortlist all the stories that we both love, as I said earlier. With the magazine it’s a little bit different, because individual editors can to an extent make decisions by fiat, although in practice 90% of stories we publish are seen and discussed by at least 2 or 3 people. But even with the anthologies, as I’ve had a different co-editor each time (now on the 4th), the actual process of making up our minds can vary quite a lot. In one case we had to discuss quite a lot what our criteria were, but when it came to discussions of quality, we were almost spookily in agreement; another editor was so passionate about shortlisting stories that that part was very easy, it was drawing up the final table of content that took a bit of strategic decision-making and sacrifice. With Kathryn, in contrast, we both had so many ideas and such different perspectives that we had some real fights!

KA: Friendly fights, I should add!

DaA: Absolutely, yes! We weren’t squabbling; we were both just so passionate about these stories. I think we both learned a lot from hearing about why the other loved a story that we were at first cool about, and I know I learned a lot about disability politics from talking over a few stories that were very good fiction otherwise, but not quite appropriate for this venue for that reason. I expect the experience with the next anthology to be different again…

ACW: To switch away from writing and editing a little bit, what pastimes do you turn to when you need to recharge your creative batteries?

KA: I really love gardening and just sitting outside watching the birds and bees. When I’m able to get out and garden, it creates a contemplative mental space—I’ve done some of my best thinking while pulling weeds! Otherwise, honestly, I’m usually just consuming more SF.

DaA: Heh, editing speculative fiction magazines and anthologies is actually my down-time… Reading and writing about SF is how I unwind and recharge from teaching and grading papers; but to some degree vice versa as well—I unwind from reading and editing hundred of stories by going to overseas conferences and teaching workshops on new media, digital publishing or archaeology.

ACW: Last, but not least, now that Accessing the Future is out in the world, what other projects do you have coming up, or that you’re currently working on, that you’d like people to know about?

DaA: From the TFF perspective we currently have an open call for stories for an anthology titled Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, which aims to bring together horror and wonder from Southern Europe, North Africa and the Near East—especially including authors from the region, and microfiction in languages other than English. This year we’re also celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Future Fire, and hope soon to announce details of a fundraiser and a celebratory anthology.

KA: I have an essay in Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein’s forthcoming Letters to Tiptree anthology (from Twelfth Planet Press) that I’m super excited about. Coming out of my Le Guin Feminist SF fellowship research, I’m working on an academic essay on disability in Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle. And my big on-going project is a writing a book on disability studies and science fiction.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by! I’ve been reading my way through Accessing the Future  this week, and I have to say, it’s a very strong anthology. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

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