It’s 2010. When I was a little kid I imagined that right now we would be at war with a race of intelligent machines that had broken free from their human creators to reek havoc on society. Who would have guessed how right I would be! The aughts were a decade that began in fear but are ending in, well, fear. I played my part in the poetic resonance of this decade by beginning it with a hangover and ending it with a hangover. I’ll survive. There is a all day puppy marathon on the tube.
First, some good news. The book is out! It looks great. Descended From Darkness from Apex Books is a collection of some of the strangest and darkest visions in science fiction today, and of course it has a story in it from your’s truly, so added bonus.
We finished our series of basics- from the concept to the completion of your story. To bookend this series it is my signal pleasure to throw some questions out to John Klima, editor and founder of Electric Velocipede. E.V. recently grabbed a Hugo Award for best fanzine. For those of you that don’t know it, the Hugo is the big prize of the science fiction and fantasy universe, and winners are nominated and then voted on by fans via the worldcon convention system.
I first took real notice of Electric Velocipede by accident while reading through the source bibliography and alternate selections of the twenty-fourth edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction in 2006. It was in the back, listed as the home for the honorably mentioned story The Way He Does It, by Jeffrey Ford. I was in the midst of working on a novel at the time and I was really out of touch with most markets beyond a few of the old standbys. The name stuck out to me, as a good name should, and I never forgot it. I have followed Electric Velocipede ever since as one of my “go to’s” for my morning reading. This morning was The Boy who could bend and fall, by Ken Scholes, which I highly recommend. The magazine, under direction of editor John Klima, has really grown into one of the most respectable markets in the business. They put out very high quality fiction that consistently land in anthologies and they have won several awards for their work (beyond the Hugo). When I approached John about an interview I really thought he had gotten beyond talking to people like me, but apparently he still cares for the soldiers in the trenches because he responded immediately and provides some some really good insight into the world of story publishing. So, for my readers (yeah, we’re growing fast! Thanks you.) I proudly give you John Klima!
AP: Okay, I want to get this out of the way right off the bat- did you go and change pants after you won a hugo?
JK: No, but I did almost fall down the stairs and had to sit down.
AP: What got you into science fiction and fantasy?
JK: I got into genre fiction as a fan wanting to do everything my older brother did. When he was 13 or 14 (late 1970s) he joined the Science Fiction Book Club and he got a set of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings both because of the Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit that had been on tv. He also convinced me that I should ask for Dungeons & Dragons (the blue Basic box set) for my birthday. We played a ton of D&D and I constantly stole his books so that I could read them. He hated it because I both read faster than him and I was a dirty little kid who wrecked his books. I borrowed tons of science fiction and fantasy books from the library (I know I read a lot of Andre Norton, John Christopher, Douglas Hill, Lloyd Alexander, etc.). I’ve always leaned more towards fantasy than science fiction, and there was a long period where I read nothing but horror.
I got into genre fiction as a career during college when one of my professors read an announcement of someone looking for interns who were interested in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The internship was with James Frenkel (currently a senior editor at Tor Books) and it served as an important s
tepping stone into the business.
AP: “In the latter days of the Corinthian Star Empire, the Falmortan Dissidence discovered the blasted remnants of Old Earth…” How does that make you feel?
JK: It makes me feel like I’m reading slush, and I think I’m done with that submission.
AP: So many markets that are currently accepting fiction have condensed the word count to less than one thousand words. In your mind, why is Flash Fiction on the ascendance?
JK: My best guess would be either that the markets are online and 1K of words online is a pretty easy, quick read, or, if you accept only up to 1K word submissions you can still be a paying market without going broke.
AP: Electric Velocipede allows up to 10k words, which is on the longer end of similar markets listed on Duotrope. Any specific reasoning behind this word count?
JK: I was getting a lot of subs that went beyond my previous 7,500 word count limit, and I wanted to be able to continue to see that work. 10,000 words is fairly abitrary, but that does take up nearly 20% of an issue, so I would never put two 10,000 word stories in the same issue. I’m seeing too many 10,000 word submissions, and that makes it harder and harder to get into EV with a submission of that length.
AP: Is the world ready for another “mutant pet flushed into the sewer story?” Man eating plants?
JK: No. That said, if someone can truly add something new to these, like tell the story from the point of view of the sewer pipes, then maybe you’ll have something. (Please don’t send me stories told from the point of view of sewer pipes)
AP: Does adding the word “Punk” to an word a sub-genre make?
JK: A sub-genre comes into being whenever someone points at a loosely similar group of writing styles and names it something. Other than cyberpunk and steampunk, I can’t think of a sub-genre that’s been successful or long-lived with ‘-punk’ attached to it. I think the ‘-punk’ suffix is something people use to parody existing genres or styles.
AP: A reader recently told me I am too focused on grammar. With that in mind I want to ask you about grammar. In your submissions page you say in effect that amateur text errors make it easy for you to “abandon ship” on a story and that you aren’t worried about missing “the next big thing.” Really, “THE” next big thing?
JK: I’m not sure what you’re asking. It takes exceptional writing to flaut grammar and make it work. Most of what I see that has flawed grammar—or excessive spelling errors—is not exceptional writing. If I pass on that submission and it wins the pulitzer or the Nobel or the Booker or makes $10,000,000 so be it. If I don’t like it, it doesn’t make it.
AP: E.V. seems to set a course between the perennials of horror/sci-fi and big-three mainstream sci-fi. What informed your editorial choice in this course? How have you tried to maintain it, or failed to maintain it?
JK: This is akin to the ‘where do you get your ideas’ question. If my mother is correct, I’ve been reading since I was two years old. So, everything I’ve read from then to now informs my editorial choice. There isn’t a theme or style I’m trying to maintain. If I like it, I publish it.
AP: You allow for, and seem to encourage cover letters. Do the contents of an author’s bio ultimately influence a stories inclusion in an issue of E.V.?
JK: Actually, I’d prefer to not get cover letters, but people always ask me what to put in them. I don’t read them until after I read the submission. I find that people often put too much information into their cover letters. The story has to be good and that’s all that matters. You can have no sales history and if your story is good enough, it’s in. You can have decades of publishing history and if the story isn’t good enough, I pass on it.
AP:Favorite up and coming science fiction outlet?
JK: I want to say Clarkesworld Magazine, but since they’ve been nominated for a Hugo and a World Fantasy award, they’re not really up-and-coming anymore so I’ll say Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which is a fantasy market. I have high hopes for John Joseph Adams new web magazine Light Speed which debuts next year.
AP: Coolest new writer?
JK: That’s a tough question. I really enjoyed Jedidiah Berry’s and Gail Carriger’s books this year. I just starting Greg van Eekhout’s novel Norse Code and it’s pretty awesome. I think Mark Teppo’s book Lightbreaker was over-looked this year and I hope people get into his story in the new issue of EV.
AP: You guys did an issue focusing on women writers. Why is the phrase, “I met this girl at WorldCon,” no longer a joke?
JK: Because women like science fiction. They always have. They just no longer care what you think. Women are awesome. I hope the field continues to have more and more women show up as creators and fans.
AP: The name “electric velocipede?”
JK: The zine was going to be called Placebo until I was informed that a co-worker of mine had run a zine named Placebo in the 1980s. Rather than cause any potential confusion, I decided to change the name. My wife and I sat up trying out names and I was trying to combine two words that didn’t necessarily make sense or even sound good together. My father-in-law has been known to refer to bicycles as velocipedes, so I blurted out ‘electric velocipede’ and it stuck.
AP: Has a poorly written submission ever made you question your value as a person? Have you ever wanted to write a rejection that let the submitter know that you were questioning your value as a person?
JK: No. What a strange question. I’ve read some pretty poor slush (I cut my teeth on slush reading on the Tor slush pile in the late 1990s) so I’m pretty inured to it.
AP: Rejection is part of selling your writing. I have friends who have made wallpaper out of their rejection slips, and now there is even an e-zine devoted to stories with a minimum of five rejections. I have discussed workshops and mutual support editing, but in your opinion, what other positive action can a writer take when getting rejected?
JK: Rejection is not personal. Think of the huge bestsellers that you hate but obviously thousands of people love. Are they wrong? Are you wrong? No, you just have different tastes. Your story might not work for me, but maybe it’s perfect for someone else. When you get a rejection, send it out to the next market.
AP: Do you actually have an electric velocipede? Is your electric velocipede hard to take care of? Does it have a name? Don’t lie to me.
I really want to thank John for the words and I hope that he and Electric V. have a big year. After the ’09 they had, 2010 has got its work cut out for it.I’m going to drink some water and take a tylenol so for now, that is the science of fiction.
Next up: I have not idea! But it’s going to be really great!! See you in a few days.