Thursday, June 27, 2013

Slush reading, long form

I’ve already told you about how much I love Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform that allows independent writers, designers, artists, chefs (and the occasional film star) to fund passion projects. I really need to do a better job of keeping up with the publishing area of Kickstarter, because there are a lot of authors and publishers putting out really awesome projects (whether or not crowdfunding is the best route to publication is a whole other question we won’t talk about tonight).

Almost a year ago now (how time flies!), I noticed that editor Mike Allen had put up a campaign to fund his next Clockwork Phoenix anthology. I have wanted to be published in Clockwork Phoenix for ages, ever since I heard that Tannith Lee always contributes, and especially after I read the description of the anthology on Duotrope:

Clockwork Phoenix is a home for stories that sidestep expectations in beautiful and unsettling ways, that surprise with their settings and startle with the ways they cross genre boundaries, that aren't afraid to experiment with storytelling techniques. But experimentation is not a requirement: the stories in the anthology must be more than gimmicks, and should appeal to genuine emotions, suspense, fear, sorrow, delight, wonder… bring something new and genuine to the equation, whether it's a touch of literary erudition, playful whimsy, extravagant style, or mind-blowing philosophical speculation and insight. Though stories can be set in this world, settings at least a hair or more askew are preferred. I hope to see prose that is poetic but not opaque. I hope to see stories that will lead the reader into unfamiliar territory, there to find shock and delight.
 That’s the kind of thing I want to write! But alas, nothing I had written at the time was right for the anthology. I went ahead and pledged to the Kickstarter anyway, so I could read the new volume when it came out. The campaign got over twice its goal, and every so often, we as the bakers would receive updates about the project.

And then came one email with the casual line, “And I’m going to need to find from slush readers.”

I immediately perked up at that. I’m a slush reader. I know how to slush. But I’ve only ever read stories 1,000 words or shorter, and I’d always wanted to read longer stories, but I certainly didn’t want to commit to reading for two magazines full-time. An anthology with a limited submission period, however……

I sent Mike an email, and amazingly enough, he told me he’d be happy to have me as one of two slush readers.

It was really, really, really fun. The setup was very different to what I’m used to at FFO. I did decline to read any flash-length stories to avoid conflict of interest. And, of course, I learned a few things along the way.

1) There IS such at thing as spending too much time on the computer
This might seem blindingly obvious. However, I’m a homebody and am computer-oriented by nature. I write scientific documents for work. When I get home, I surf the internet, and later at night I read FFO slush on the computer, and try to work on my writing as much as possible.

In general, I should probably spend more time in the fresh air (that’s what gardening is for!) but I’ve never actually dreaded picking up the laptop before.  It was very odd, given all the above activities that I do on the internet on a constant basis.  Luckily, I have since recovered (let’s never fight again, laptop!”

2) Slush really is the same, regardless of story length.
 I always had this vague idea in my head that reading longer stories would be somehow different than reading flash-length fiction. It really wasn’t. I don’t even recall being annoyed by how long some stories were – it was pretty easy to tell right away which stories were quality and which were not appropriate for the magazine, or were not up to the quality standards of the anthology.

3) But the stories were very different
The one thing about flash is that it's not a length that works well for everyone. Neither is short story length, to be fair (I personally favor novelette length in my writing), but the field of people who can accomplish short story form is much broader. Plus, this project is proof positive that a cool anthology attracts cool stories. There wasn't room in the anthology for all of them, alas, but it was inspiring to read so much good fiction. For example, see "The Bees Her Heart, The Hive Her Belly" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, one of the stories that did make it into the anthology, which features gorgeous prose and fantastic worldbuilding.

Clockwork Phoenix will be available for purchase in July, and is now available for pre-order at Reviews are here, here and here.  And if you like what you've read about Mike's projects, he has a new Kickstarter for a short fiction magazine called Mythic Delirium. Check it out!


  1. Congrats on the new gig. Sounds pretty cool, and thanks for the insights. It is always fascinating to get a peak from behind the scene.

  2. The anthology sounds great. I love short stories--both to read and to write. I'll have to take a look at this collection.

  3. That sounds like it was a lot of work, Sabrina. The book sounds amazing. What a great opportunity. Congratulations!

  4. Wow, what an opportunity. And do you know what I'm most impressed with? You made it happen. You took the chance and sent the email. Good on you!

    1. Aw, thanks Susan! I was pretty nervous sending the first email. But that is indeed a good reminder for myself, for every other time I'm hesitant, that being bold can really work out.

  5. Ah ah! This is what you are up to these days! I really like the blurb for Clockwork Phoenix too: "settings at least a hair or more askew are preferred." - grin!


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