I like the Absent Willow Review. I like the way it’s presented, the art; I even like the newsletter. There are many online zines featuring free content, but none of them are this accessible. It sounds picky, but I read a lot of short fiction online and it is really nice to go to a site and have a dozen stories right there at your fingertips. The stories range from elves to robots to elf eating robots and everything in between (which constitutes everything to my mind).
So with that said I present an interview with Rick DeCost of Absent Willow.
AP) Absent Willow Review? Does this name involve arboreal childhood trauma or is there another story.
RD) There actually is a story behind the name, but not as interesting as arboreal trauma. It’s in reference to a weeping willow I used to spend hours climbing as a child. We moved when I was young and I never saw the tree again (insert maudlin violins here).
AP) I just read “Thud,” which right now is my favorite story on the web. I am interested in reading “Space Vampires.” There is a conception amongst many genre writers that titles must be enigmatic. Obviously, you disagree.
RD) I neither agree nor disagree with that. Personally, when I write, I tend to use titles that are slightly more mysterious. As far as the works we accept for publication, little attention is given to the title to be honest. Our main focus is on the writing. That being said, we do have our share of “enigmatic” titles. Check out “The Mediocrity Principle” by Richmond Weems, and “Anhedonia” published in this month’s issue and authored by Chris Deal.
AP) What if the writing is piss-all weak but the title made your brain bleed with its depth and complexity. Would the title matter then, Mr. Fancy Pants?
RD) Still don’t care about the title as long as the story behind it catches my attention and makes me think.
AP) Absent Willow has one of the most art intensive front pages in science fiction reading. Why did you go that way? What are your feelings about the drift away from story art?
RD) Funny thing the artwork. We have an amazing relationship with the artistic community and are very lucky with the caliber of talent that allows us to use their work. When we first designed the site (it’s gone through a couple iterations) we agreed that we wanted it to be visually stunning, but not to the point of being distracting. We didn’t want to take it away from the words on the page – this is a short story e-zine after all. Shortly after launch we realized that there is a great interest in genre art. Our artwork page is consistently among our top draws and receives a good percentage of the hits we receive on a monthly basis. We also try to match the art that appears with a story to the content itself.
AP) If a writer is doing there homework they can’t help but notice trends in the market places such as the rise and continued dominion of dark sci-fi, but there must be other trends that are crawling out of the slush pile and going into the flush pile. Any heads up on what is working and not working these days?
RD) A good story with excellent writing and memorable characters works every time, without exception. We’ve even accepted stories that are slightly out of the genre we work in because the writing was so strong we couldn’t let it go. There is a huge trend towards zombie and vampire stories. I am personally not a fan of zombie stories but occasionally we receive one that is too good to resist. The aforementioned “Anhedonia” is one and wait until you see “Across the Ashes” by Robert Norton scheduled for publication in February.
AP) Can you tell from your submissions inbox what the latest hit science fiction film is? How about what book won the last round of Hugo’s and Nebula’s?
RD) Absolutely. On the horror side of things, vampires are all the rage these days, as are stories about the afterlife and the age old struggle between good and evil. I’m waiting to see what “Avatar” does to our submission box. Hopefully it will push more science fiction titles our way.
AP) I’ve noticed that there are a lot of markets out there that are calling themselves “speculative fiction” as opposed to sci-fi (or, sy-fy). Kurt Vonnegut once lamented that critics like to use the science fiction drawer as a urinal. Given the continued fears of not “being legit” amongst genre writers and markets, Absent Willow has charted a very different course. Why?
RD) Simple, we love the genre. We were voracious readers of comics (Marvel!), horror, and science fiction stories as kids, and that hunger followed us into adulthood. Calling it anything but what it is would feel like a form of betrayal.
AP) In an interview, Booker Prize judge John Mullen defended the lack of representation for science fiction in the Booker Prize big list by saying of science fiction:
“it is in a special room in book shops, bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other.”
Is he full of poo?
RD) I’m aware of Professor Mullen’s comments. But all it really says is that he is out of touch with the genre. I believe he also referred to it as a “self enclosed world”. Given comments like that I think it is a world that wouldn’t welcome him as a visitor don’t you think?
AP) Should we throw poo at him?
RD) Perhaps some primordial sludge.
AP) If so, how much poo?
AP) Favorite up and coming writer?
RD) From our stable of authors I have a few favorites and when I see their names in our submission box I tend to take notice. But I can’t single any out as “the” favorite.
AP)Best up and coming market?
RD) You mean the competition? Hmmmm… it’s early and I haven’t had enough coffee to answer that one without sounding biased.
AP) Okay then, best old, decrepit, “I was winning Hugos and Nebulas while your venue was still in diapers,” venue?
RD) There have been a lot of great sci-fi mags that have unfortunately disappeared. This is one of the reasons we started Absent Willow Review. Some favorites that spring to mind that are still in existence… The ever present Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Analog. One newer one that I like is Apex Digest. (ed note: Apex Digest issue #1-2005, Asimov’s iss. #1-1977, Analog iss. #1- 1930!!)
AP) I ask editors this all the time, and I’m going to ask again: mistakes that make you want to crumble a good story up and fashion a bad one into a paper golem and send it to abuse its author?
RD) Poor grammar skills. Things like sentence structure, the use of quotations, etc. I’m all for experimentation in one’s art but it’s obviously not artistic license when the first paragraph is filled with typos and/or cringe-worthy grammar mistakes.
AP) “I was just sitting at the bar, minding my own business when I notice this sweet honey staring at me from past the register. She was so hot! She was dressed all in red and was one of those girls that don’t ruin her skin with any tanning. I noticed she wasn’t drinking anything, so I offered to buy her a drink. “No,” she says in an eastern European accent, “I’m not thirsty… yet.” How does this make you feel?
RD) (eyes rolling as I prepare my paper golem)
AP) I want to get generic for a second. What, to your mind, is the single best exercise a beginning writer can do to improve their craft?
RD) Read, read, read. There’s nothing better to prepare the brain for its own act of divine creation.
AP) Emulation is stock and trade in writing, and even more so in genre writing, but now and again a truly original idea comes along. What is it like when you open a story and realize that something new has come under the sun?
RD) Exciting. We receive, on average, 50 stories a week. We only accept a small percentage of these for all of the above reasons. Every once in a while I will begin reading a story and it is so good that I forget the time.
AP) Ever have a good story in your queue only to have an author withdraw it because they sold the story elsewhere and if so, is their name still on your wall?
RD) It does happen but it can be a mixed blessing. Sometimes it saves us from writing a rejection letter (the worse part of the job – hands down). When it happens with a story we otherwise may have accepted we simply shrug our shoulders and move on. We always reply with a letter of congratulations to the author. Seeing others succeed in our genre and finding quality fiction is why we’re here in the first place. If another market beats us to it then c’est la vie.
AP) What are the ratios of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that you try to strike and, how does that work out for you?
RD) Great question. This one bothers me. Of the submissions we receive I would have to say that 65-70% fall squarely in the horror genre. A while back we began to really solicit from our readers and authors more science-fiction related titles. We did this via our newsletter, Facebook, and even Twitter. We did see an increase of science fiction submissions but not of the quality we were hoping for so the ratio of what is published still sits in favor of horror. While we love horror, it would be great to see more representation from our future-thinkers out there. Our very first published story was a science fiction tale.
AP) One more question. Your mascot, the scarecrow pumpkin guy; it scares me.
RD) It scares us too.
Notice he told you to read. See, I’m not crazy, read you fools! Also I appreciate the Marvel shout-out. Take that you DC freaks. DC nerds are the nerds that other nerds pick on. Yeah, I played D&D… no, I played AD&D.
That is the science of fiction.
Next time: Stories that need to be told, maybe even by you.