Editor Interview: The Future Fire

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.

A: Political speculation

Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?

A: Not One of Us; M-Brane; The Harrow; Alternative Coordinates; Ideomancer; Escape Pod; GUD; Crossed Genres; Sein und Werden.

Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?

A: Fiction: Ursula Le Guin; James Tiptree jr.; Nalo Hopkinson; Nisi Shawl; Ekaterina Sedia; Nancy Kress; China MiƩville; Richard Morgan; Vernor Vinge; Ted Chiang; Vandana Singh; Poppy Z. Brite; Nnedi Okorafor; Isabel Allende; Philip K. Dick; Pat Cadigan; Octavia Butler; Elizabeth Vonarburg.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: As a small magazine, I think we have a niche for a particular flavour of political speculative fiction and cyberpunk flavoured stories. We work very closely with authors and artists and produce regular, very tight issues of the best content that we can find. We tend to be proactive in looking for certain kinds of story, themes and flavours of writing, and we try to be as helpful to authors as possible.

Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?

A: As always, the best way to get a feel for what we're looking for is to read a couple of issues. Guidelines matter. There really does need to be some kind of speculative or progressive social/political element in the story. We've turned away some absolutely amazing horror or high fantasy or military sf stories because they didn't have the speculative features we're after.

Also, proofread. And read the story out loud to yourself--or better, get someone else to read it aloud to you. Nothing is more off-putting that unconvincing dialogue, cheesy prose, or text littered with typographic or punctuation errors.

Q: Describe the ideal submission.

A: I'm not sure what you mean by "the ideal submission". The stories we publish are only the very best we find, so one answer is to look at any story we've published recently, and that's what I'd call ideal.

But in very broad terms, it would be a story that tantalizes with the beauty of its prose, the music of the language; a story that surprises with the depth of the characters and the non-linearity of the plot; a story that is not afraid to shock the reader (but doesn't try to do so with sex, gore or violence for the sake of it); a story that challenges the norms of commodified society. In other words, a piece that would be beautiful even if it weren't useful; that would be useful even if it weren't beautiful; that would be a damn good plot even if it were neither of the above; but is all three.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: Many don't include their names and titles in the subject heading, which is inconvenient. Some try to submit multiple pieces or offer us pieces that are simultaneously being submitted elsewhere, which is more serious, but rare. It's pretty easy to tell who hasn't read the guidelines, not just by the format of the email but by the inappropriate kind of story they send.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: I don't really need to know anything. A cover letter is nice if it gives your real name and where you live (we won't share these, obviously), but we anonymize all stories before our referees read them, so it doesn't matter if you don't tell us anything. Cover letters and publication credits don't affect our decisions at all. We do like to know if the author is from any group under-represented in speculative fiction (women, non-anglo-, people of color, queer/trans, etc.), but this won't make us buy a story we wouldn't otherwise.

Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: We usually read a whole piece before making any decision. Content and theme is as important to us as style and quality. A very few pieces are so badly written or obviously mis-targetted that we can stop after a few pages. After one reading, some stories can be rejected quickly. Others are read by a second editor, and anything that is going to be bought will be read by several people.

Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?

A: (see above)

Any story that is being considered for publication will be read by several people, all of whom will give feedback if they think it needs revision, for example. We like to work very closely with authors, and perhaps half of the stories we accept go through some iterations of revision--although we are careful to stress that they are of course the authors, and they have the final say at all times.

Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?

A: For me it involves reading one or two stories most evenings, and occasionally passing them on to other editors to look at. Every couple of weeks or so we have a discussion about whatever we've looked at recently; and once a quarter we have a more intense period of working with artists and putting together an issue. We get to read a lot of great stuff, even stuff that we don't end up publishing.

Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?

A: I think it's important to have an idea of what your audience want. Some readers just want a magazine printed on paper, and that's fine. Others want PDFs, online reading, audio fiction, social networking, enhanced e-books, audio-visual media that would be impossible in print, etc. We have always been an online magazine, and very keen to embrace the possibilities of the technology (although we've been very traditional in format up to now). We're still waiting for someone to surprise us, propose something that hasn't been done yet. We're willing to experiment.