Saturday 28 September 2019

Lie to me beautifully!

TFF #53: the LIIIES issue

For the fifty-third issue of The Future Fire (# LIII, due in April 2020) we will be publishing an issue in which every story, poem or essay is masquerading as something else. We would like to see book reviews or nonfiction essays whose content is fabricated, an excuse to tell a story. Invent a writer, artist, movement, activist, performer or studio, and write a short political-critical account of their life or work. Write a guest preface or glossary/appendix from an epic series that hasn’t been written yet. Write about a little known (because nonexistant!) historical artefact/archaeological site, or event, or culture, or mythological monster. This piece doesn’t need to be a narrative story told via the medium of letters or articles; the article or review itself is the story.

Alternatively if you could write an article masquerading as a piece of fiction or poetry, we’d love to see how that works. Or any piece of speculative fiction or art concealing itself in another form, like postmodern ekphrasis or an erudite party game.

Note: the difference between this call and any other story told through the medium of a letter or essay or review, is that the (fake) nonfiction piece should be both believable and something it would be reasonable for us to publish if it were real. (No speculative and/or social justice content, that's a harder sell…)

Given the uniqueness of this call, it’s probably best if you contact us in advance to pitch your lie before you spend the time writing it, and we can discuss it in more detail.

Deadline: December 31, 2019 (possibly earlier if the issue fills up already)
Pay rate: flat $10 (USD) per piece
Submit or query:, subject line: “LIIIES” + your title.

Friday 20 September 2019

Interview with Siobhan Logan & Darragh Logan-Davies of Space Cat Press

Interviewed by Shellie Horst.

Siobhan Logan and Darragh Logan-Davies brought together their joint experience as author and editor to create Space Cat Press earlier this year. With a promise to bring readers “Star Struck Stories” Space Cat’s focus is space exploration. They are in the process of releasing their first publication, Desert Moonfire: The Men Who Raced to Space.

Shellie: With small presses reporting difficult times, why do you feel now is the right time to start a new press?

Siobhan Logan: Is there ever a right time to leap off the cliff and try the small press adventure? Yet 2019 is exactly the moment to publish a book about the rocketeers behind the first Space Age. Our first title, Desert Moonfire: The Men Who Raced to Space, is launching our list. I’ve been a huge admirer for years of the role small presses play in the publishing industry and especially in writer development. They offer an important space for new voices to emerge and be supported. I don’t underestimate the challenges. But the presses that stick around do seem to find their distinct niche and forge a close bond with their readership. There’s a dialogue where readers tend to buy a particular kind of book from your press and that shapes your output over time. Quite a few indie presses are run by one or two people on a shoestring budget in a corner of the kitchen. We’re not approaching this on a commercial basis. It’s very much a passion project where we aim primarily to meet our costs and pay our writers. We have a modest Three-Year Plan, to schedule maybe two books a year, one of which will be an anthology. At each stage, we learn what’s working and tweak or jettison, exactly like rocketeers test-firing their engines. The more it takes off, the more we can vary our output and deliver what our readers enjoy.

Space Cat is to follow a non-profit business model. How and where do you plan to re-invest receipts and what does that mean for your readers?

Darragh Logan-Davies: I feel I need to explain the financial side of things a bit more. When I was at States of Independence Publishers’ Fair last year, I asked writers and indie publishers what would be the one thing they would change about the publishing industry if they could. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the answers I kept getting was money. Publishers on the whole are just not paying authors enough to survive on their craft alone. I understand why but it still doesn’t make it okay. So, we aim to pay everyone we publish a flat rate upon acceptance into an anthology.

What is the inspiration behind Desert Moonfire: The Men Who Raced to Space?

Siobhan Logan
SL: I wanted to get to know the individuals behind the century’s great adventure, the quest to turn humanity into a space-faring species. For me, the natural way to do that was to blend a historical narrative with a poem sequence that relives key moments and humanises the rocketeers’ story. I was surprised to discover how dark a tale that was. The space rockets were rooted in military technology and the rocketeers’ personal stories take us into concentration camps and gulags as well as the fields of war. The Space Race was very much another expression of the Cold War yet it galvanised thousands of people to achieve this extraordinary feat. Not just the Moon but from Sputnik and Gagarin through to the ISS and space probes, these missions pushed far into the solar system and opened a new chapter of the human story. I was especially intrigued to learn the role that science fiction played in inspiring the rocketeers and space theorists and eventually winning over the public to take fantasy for possibility. That cultural response to space exploration is a good starting point for Space Cat Press too.

Space Cat Press’s submission page lists a broad selection of forms: Poetry, Short stories, Creative non-fiction and Flash fiction. Is Space Cat Press aimed at any particular type of readers?

SL: Many writers dip in and out between different genres and forms. Magazines will often mix stories and poems say, but not poems and non-fiction. Space Cat Press is happy to ‘cross boundaries of genre’ as long as the wider story benefits. I’ve always loved mixing storytelling forms—fiction short and long, poems with non-fiction, performance and imagery, print and media. I really like the conversations that emerge when they are yoked together by a theme or narrative. And there is an audience for that if you find the right places and approaches to share those stories. Probably a niche audience but one that is enthusiastic and curious. So I’d say we expect to draw readers from three different but overlapping markets: science fans who like a narrative approach, poetry lovers who like to mix it up and readers from the SFF community who are inspired by space exploration.

DLD: We did the same thing in the literary journal I was involved in during my masters. ROPES accepted poetry, art, short stories, essays, and plays—even more forms than SCP. We had a great time arranging the various submissions so there would be something for everyone. Because SCP books will be a mix of genres and forms, we hope our readership will be similarly diverse.

Darragh Logan-Davies
Editor Darragh will be looking at a wide range of sub-genres across all these formats, is there a particular thing she’s looking for?

DLD: Well first off, everything we do here at Space Cat is a collaboration so we will both be reading the submissions. As for what we’re looking for, I’d like to see how far contributors can push the boundaries of speculative fiction and other genres. Do you write poetry about steampunk goblins living on Mars? Excellent, send it to us. Do you write short stories where damsels in distress turn badass and lead intergalactic raids? I, for one, would love to read it. Step outside the box and see where your imagination takes you. Rather than one specific voice, we’re looking for as many diverse voices as possible. We’ll release more information on our website closer to the submission call but take the Space Race theme as a prompt rather than a set of instructions.

The first submission call will go out in November. What kind of voice will you be looking for?

SL: I think the key to a good anthology is a strong theme and then let multiple voices speak to each other in interesting ways. The first anthology will be literature that is inspired by the Space Race. But we want writers to interpret that widely. There might be memoir pieces that evoke that moment of 1969 as children experienced it. Poems about the moon or astronauts. Pieces that explore what the Space Race means to young people in 2019. We want very diverse voices and stories. I’ve been reading SFF authors like Tade Thompson, Jeannette Ng or Aliette De Bodard. Through alien xenospheres, missionaries in the land of the Fae or Vietnamese water-dragons under the Seine, they’ve subtly deconstructed sci-fi’s colonialist mindset whilst having huge fun. I see poets too reflecting on our ecological moment or strewing collections with apocalyptic dystopias and rogue robots. Collections that are both intimate and social. You can get an idea of our tastes by reading Space Cat blog Reviews. But it’s down to what writers send us and how we arrange a narrative out of disparate pieces. We definitely want new voices to make it through. To that end, we’re offering a free Space Cat workshop as part of Leicester’s Everybody’s Reading festival in October.

What has been the biggest challenge so far with regards to Space Cat Press, and how does that compare to your experiences as writers/editors?

DLD: The biggest challenge so far has been simultaneously handling so many parts of this project at once. When I’m editing, I can just focus on the text and how I can help the author make it as readable as possible. With Space Cat, I will take a break from typesetting to talk to printers, or I will finish up some complicated work on the website and reward myself by designing new merchandise. It has been a bit insane but thoroughly enjoyable and having Siobhan to soundboard ideas with has been an immense help.

SL: There’s no point in undertaking a small press adventure if it’s not enormous fun. The collaborative nature of Space Cat Press means we play to our strengths and combine different tastes. So we do content-edits together. Then Darragh brings her copy-editing skills to bear and she’s also done the cover design and typesetting for Desert Moonfire—everything needed to get the book print-ready. Afterwards, I come in more on the marketing side. But we learn from each other, and from other small presses, at every step of the way. Lots of café meetings with the laptop!

There’s been faffy technical things which Darragh is great at fixing. She’s the Kaylee to our Firefly. But looking ahead, the major challenge is to find our readership. And begin a dialogue where we listen to them and become responsive to who our audience is and what they want. For me, that’s been the same challenge I faced in publishing poetry collections or stories with small presses. I knew then my main sales would be face to face by going out to events and engaging readers. We plan to take Space Cat Press to book fairs, poetry events, libraries and SFF cons, as well as into on-line spaces. It’s about connecting our passions and obsessions with yours. We can’t wait to hear from you, both writers and readers.

And returning to space at last—if you could own any planet, which would it be and why?

DLD: Hmmm, I am generally against colonisation, but I would have to say that if I could, I would own Earth just so I could make climate change the number one global priority.

SL: I agree. We had enough of that with the military impetus behind the Moon Race. I’m more interested in exploring imaginatively and vicariously through space missions and fiction. But I’d love to write about Pluto—that drop-dead gorgeous planet (yes, you heard me) and the mysterious rock-worlds of the Kuiper Belt. Or the Voyager space probes. When you see their mind-boggling images, you know we could fix our planetary mess. We have the ingenuity. We know our blue dot in the dark is unique and precious. We can do it and it’s all to play for.

Thank you for answering our questions, Siobhan and Darragh, and good luck with your explorations into publishing, Space Cat. 

Space Cat Press can be found on Facebook, their website or on Twitter @SpaceCatPress.

Saturday 14 September 2019

Interview with co-editor Regina de Búrca

For the occasion of our fiftieth issue, we’re joined by TFF associate editor Regina de Búrca, who looks both back and forward, as we do at milestones like this. We’re having this chat to think about where we have come from, and what social-political and speculative fiction might be in store for us. Regina’s been co-editing for about ten years now, so she knows where a lot of the bodies are buried…

Regina de Búrca is a writer and editor from the West of Ireland. She is interested in feminist speculative fiction, especially for young adults. She's currently experiencing a resurgent Gothic literature phase and is working her way through the works of Ann Radcliffe for the second time, after a gap of twenty years. Her biggest influences remain Ursula le Guin and Isabel Allende but in relation to TFF stories loves to see authentic and strong voices, coupled with fresh ideas. She can be found procrastinating on Twitter @Regina_dB.

TFF: How did you first get involved with The Future Fire magazine and Publishing?

Regina de Búrca: In 2009, I started a job in Dublin where I met then TFF co-editor Leoba, and we quickly bonded over our love of speculative fiction. Leoba introduced me to TFF and I enjoyed reading through back issues. Before long, Leoba asked if I’d like to help out with the slush pile. At first, I was a bit daunted by the idea; back then I was writing for kids but had little commercial success—who was I to judge anyone else’s writing? But I think it was because I took the submissions so seriously that Leoba and Djibril wanted me on board. The first story I gave feedback on was Frank Ray Ard’s “Wings So Foreign” for issue #16. Since then I’ve read through hundreds of stories; and have been rooting for their authors. Speculative fiction, in the broader sense of the term, is a tough genre. There’s nowhere to hide when you have to craft new worlds, as well as structure compelling plots and create engaging characters. There’s nothing like the feeling of identifying a powerfully resonating story and then watching its journey from my inbox to the magazine. It’s been a privilege to read authors’ hard work and I’m enormously proud of TFF’s high standard.

Illustration for “Wings So Foreign”, © 2009, Arianna Ciula

Has editing, revising and slushreading had a measurable impact on your own writing in the meantime?

RDB: Not so much. I think it’s because I work in very different genres. There is a connection between my writing and the work of TFF writers, though. My own adventures in writing and submitting impact my approach as an editor. I’m often on the querying side of the equation, and like most of our writers, I work full time while trying to improve my fiction. So, I know firsthand how much work is involved in crafting stories and what if feels like to put your writing and hence yourself out there. I understand what it’s like to be limited to writing in short bursts while on work breaks or commutes or whatever. I get it! Because of that, I’m a slow reviewer. When I get pieces to review that don’t immediately resonate but I can see what the author is trying to achieve, I tend to err on the side of ‘maybe—let’s find someone to take a second look’, rather than ‘didn’t do it for me, let’s pass.’

If you could run a themed issue or anthology, what topic or slant would you pick?

RDB: I’d really like to see an anthology with a considered and sensitive focus on common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It would nicely counteract the media’s portrayals of people experiencing issues—research shows that’s at least one in four of us!—that depict MH experiencers as dangerous or weak. I think an exploration of issues would be very interesting in a speculative fiction framework: how much does discrimination and inequality in society impact our cognitive wellbeing? How much does politics? Economics? I reckon this theme would make a super interesting speculative fiction anthology. I’d love to see what our writers could come up with—the level of innovative thinking that I’ve seen from our anthology submissions is staggering.

You also collect rare books. Do physical books, especially old books, have a particular life that can never be replaced by any other medium (audio, e-book, even film)?

RDB: There will never be a digitized / digital version of a rare book that excites me as much as the original. Sorry! (*Ducks and runs from digital humanities community*). It’s the tactile, multisensory experience that makes reading a rare book far more pleasurable for me than spending time on its digital equivalent. I also find the story of the physical book itself interesting—where it started from, whose collection it belonged to. It’s rarely possible to trace these histories, of course, but I do marvel at how some of these works have survived. I’ve often bought a book for its journey as much for its content. Inscriptions, doodles, newspaper clippings—all things I’ve found in rare books that have taught me something, given me a glimpse into someone else’s past. Also, on a more prosaic level, I spend most of my time staring at a screen at work, so I don’t find the idea of engaging with screens in my spare time very appealing.

What else are you working on at the moment?

RDB: I’m in between drafts of a novel for adults that explores complicated friendships at the moment. My story has had four beta readers and I am at the point where I am not sure whose feedback to follow in the broader sense of theme. Clarity always emerges eventually between drafts eventually, though. As my story progresses, it gets harder to stay motivated. My absolute favourite part of writing is the first draft, the one only I ever see, where I get to call the shots!

Thanks for joining us, Regina!

Tuesday 3 September 2019

TFF #50 author and artist microinterviews

As you may know, after each issue of TFF we like to post a series of micro-interviews with the authors and artists—just a couple of questions each, and short answers of 2–3 sentences. Because not all of you use or follow FB where these go up in the first instance, I’ll collect here links to a few of the posts as they go past. I'll try to keep it updated. It’s always fun to read what people have to say about their own work, and what else they’re up to in the meantime.
If you have any questions for any of these artists, poets or authors, or would like to say anything nice about their work, please feel free to leave a comment below this post, and we’ll make sure it gets seen.