Last year, Upper Rubber Boot Books ran a Kickstarter for an anthology of solarpunk stories, and backers (like me!) got to see the cover art before the rest of the world. If you saw my announcement last Monday, you'll understand that I have a very strong interest in this emerging science fiction subgenre.
There's a lot of discussion about what solarpunk is or isn't, but the truth is there just hasn't been enough written to set the tropes and expectations yet. Some of what has been called "climate fiction" could be called solarpunk as well, if it presents an optimistic view of the future (which much of it does not). How do Sunvault editors Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland define solarpunk? Here's from the Sunvault website:
Solarpunk follows in the tradition of steampunk and cyberpunk as the embodiment of a counterculture ideology: innovating a way of life that is better for the present and ultimately better for the future. Concepts like clean energy and sustainability are integral to solarpunk as they are outlets for societal reform. The fight for positive change is where -punk comes into play.
Sunvault will contain stories by Jaymee Goh, Lev Mirov, Kristine Ong Muslim, Daniel José Older, Nisi Shawl, Bogi Takács, Lavie Tidhar, A.C. Wise, and a whole bunch of others.
Ready to see the cover? Here it is:
As part of the Apex Revive the Drive subscription drive campaign, I have the privilege of interviewing Apex Magazine managing editor Lesley Connor. I'll admit I haven't read every issue of Apex, but every time I dip into it, I find a new favorite, and some of my all-time favorite short stories have been published there, stories such as "Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon, "Frozen Planet" by Marian Womack, "Paskutinis Iliuzija (The Last Illusion)" by Damien Angelica Walters, and of course "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky. Apex stories are always dark and gorgeous, and stay with you long after you hit the end.
The Apex Subscription Drive runs until April 17, 2017, and features some very cool perks. See the full details here.
Sarena Ulibarri: The aesthetic of Apex Magazine has surely changed and evolved over the years and under different editors. What are some of the stories you feel best define the current Apex aesthetic?
Lesley Conner: This is a fantastic question! And also a really hard one to answer because it isn’t as simple listing personal favorites. Apex Magazine is striving to publish stories that are dark and surreal, stories that push boundaries, that blend genres—or throw genre out the window entirely. We want real human emotions in fantastical worlds. Give us outrage, desperation, sorrow, and then twist it into something new and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. We want stories that introduce us to new worlds, that stretch our imaginations.
None of these are things that are easily defined. But I will give it a shot!
Stories I feel best define the current Apex aesthetic:
This is a pretty fair mix of stories. Different genres, different subject matter. Authors from different backgrounds. But all of these stories have something that says “Apex!” to me when I read them and I think they’d be a good place for new readers who wanted to sample what Apex is about.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in the magazine?
LC: We are looking for stories that are pretty close to being ready to publish when we buy them. We do a light copy editing and then a second pass proofreading, but that is basically it.
Saying it that way, it sounds like we should be publishing a story the issue after it’s accepted, but that isn’t the case. We typically have several issues worth of content scheduled at one time. This means when we accept a story, it can be a while before we have the chance to publish it. Which is a good thing for us as a publication, because it allows us to select stories for an issue that fit together. Rather than simply publishing all the stories that we really liked—with no thought or consideration to theme, or pacing, or all the other things that make stories work together—having a cushion of already scheduled content gives us time to make sure we’re publishing a story in the correct issue with other pieces that will compliment it.
SU: Jason is editor-in-chief and Lesley is managing editor—what's the difference in your roles?
LC: Jason would tell you that I’m the one in charge and he just writes the checks. This isn’t true.
I manage things. I know, I know, a really imaginative way to explain what a managing editor does—way to not really say anything, Lesley!—but it’s true. I make sure we have all the pieces we need for each issue: Have the stories been copy edited? Do we have author bios? Have I gotten the interviews back? What is the nonfiction for this month? Did we sell ads for the issue? I make sure that authors have been paid, our slush readers are getting through all the submissions in a timely manner, and handle queries from writers, artists, and readers.
Jason does in fact send all the checks and payments, but he does much more than that. As editor-in-chief, he has the final say on what is going to be included in each issue of the magazine. He selects all the fiction, finds nonfiction, decides which authors we should interview and which story to podcast. He also builds the eBook editions of every issue. While I’m handling all the details, he has to deal with more big picture, long term issues that come with running a digital zine.
Basically, Jason makes all the decisions and I organize the shit out of everything!
SU: Apex Magazine always has fantastic cover art. How do you decide what image will grace each new issue?
LC: Thank you! I love hearing that people enjoy our covers!
Finding cover art is one of my favorite Apex tasks. We don’t try to fit specific artwork with certain issues/stories; I’m more thinking in terms of the other artwork we already have scheduled. I want to make that I’m not focusing too much on a particular color palette or a similar focal point in the image. The last thing that I want is for our covers to become predictable. So it’s a balance of finding artwork that fits the aesthetic Apex desires, while at the same time making sure that view doesn’t become stale.
Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
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S.D. Grimm is another of the amazing writers I know from PitchWars, a mentorship and agent-pitching program I participated in a couple of years ago. She managed to snag a publishing deal with Gilead Publishing for her young adult fantasy novel Scarlet Moon, which was just released. She's stopping by my blog today to talk about her book and her path to publication.
Sarena Ulibarri: What was your inspiration for writing Scarlet Moon?
S.D. Grimm: I love animals. The novel I wrote prior to this one (which sits in a proverbial dark, secret drawer) was about animals. All the characters were animals. And one day I decided to get serious about publishing. Then I decided I was going to write about people. I still wanted animals to be a big part of the story so I chose to write about a race of people who can commune with nature. These people basically get certain talents or abilities from animals—and they reciprocate, giving animals certain abilities too. Then I researched some really cool animals, including mythological ones, and the story world really grew from there.
SU: What has your journey to finding an agent and the road to publication been like?
SDG: Hard. Crazy. The thing about this business is it’s not for the faint of heart. You better your craft all the time. You build your social media presence. You try to send the right work at the right time to the right people. You attempt to stay ahead of the curve without knowing where the curve is. You survive getting your heart broken again and again and again. You don’t give up. You make connections. Friends. Partners in writing who help and encourage you. You have fun. You learn a lot about writing and about yourself. And when something good happens and you take another step forward down this path, all those people celebrate with you. You find community. You work your heart out and wear it on the pages of your work. People will crumple it up, step on it, and some will even use it wipe the snot off their own faces. And then there will be those who feel what you’re trying to say. They’ll cherish it, and they’ll recommend that others read it. Some will misunderstand it. Others will get it. And still that journey—probably on the road less traveled—is just beginning.
SU: How many books did you write before being published?
SDG: Three. They’re each part of a trilogy I started when I was in middle school. It’s about a dog of magical heritage who’s supposed to save the world, except he got hit by a car and now has amnesia. They live in a proverbial drawer and who knows, maybe someday they’ll see the light of day, but I’m not holding my breath.
SU: What kind of things did you learn from your PitchWars mentor when you were getting your PitchWars manuscript ready to query?
SDG: So much. Molly Lee was my awesome mentor, and she was amazing with big-picture edits. She took knowledge from her critiques with agency sibling writers and applied those tips to my story so I could see what was working and what wasn't. She was fabulous at brainstorming and always let me bounce ideas off of her. I loved that not only was she willing to help me fix what wasn't working, she was also quick to tell me what was working and why. The why part was invaluable. I actually learned a lot about my strengths as a writer from her.
I would say the most helpful thing I took away from her advice will be applied to all my future stories is don't try to force something into the story that's not working. I had this relationship planned between these two characters and it just ended up being uncomfortable. On paper, for my plot outline, it worked. But once those characters actually had personality and were interacting, it flopped. So be flexible and willing to change what's not working in the story instead of trying to force it because it looks good on paper.
SU: I loved seeing the video by your cover artist about all the work that went into creating the cover art! Did you have any input on the cover design, or did you just see it in its beautiful final form?
SDG: It was amazing wasn't it? My cover artist, the amazing Kirk DouPonce, actually read the story so he could get a feel for the cover and characters. He then talked with me about the idea he had. I was over-the-scarlet-moon excited because I wanted Jayden (my main character) to be in the woods with daggers and a wolf. And that was exactly his vision. And then he said he was going to make the dagger glow with the blue mist and I was jumping up and down, because it was so perfect. So he asked me what Jayden looked like and I sent him some awesome photos (taken by my dad) of my sister wearing a costume my mom made that portrayed my character. He loved the costume and asked me to mail it to him for a photo shoot! So the costume the girl on my cover is wearing? Yeah, my awesome mom made it. Cool right? I was really excited to have that much brainstorming input into the cover. And guys, I've seen the cover for book two already. And can I just say SQUEAL! That is all.
S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and her debut novel, Scarlet Moon, is slated to be published in October 2016. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), making clay dragons for her Grimmlies store on Etsy, practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and doing anything outdoorsy with the family. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.
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