Friday, October 17, 2014

Six Questions for R. Leigh Hennig, Editor-in-Chief, Bastion Science Fiction Magazine

Bastion publishes science fiction 1000-5000 words in length. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

R. Leigh Hennig: I love science fiction short stories. I’ve been in the scene for a while, as both a reader and author, and just kept coming across so many fantastic stories that were going unnoticed or otherwise passed over. Sci-fi readers have a voracious appetite, and it’s just not being satisfied, despite the many fantastic markets that already exist. I wanted to do something that mattered to people, something that was meaningful, rather than just spin my wheels with another social media connect-authors-and-readers kind of site. It was only natural from a number of angles that I create a science fiction magazine. This time however, rather than publishing issues which contain a few fiction stories, some non-fiction pieces, interviews, podcasts, etc., I wanted to deliver to the readers a higher dose of pure, uncut, classic science fiction. Like a good story, I wanted the magazine to get as close to the reader as possible. No distractions. That’s why when I created Bastion, I decided that we would focus solely on science fiction short stories. No advertising appears on our site, or in our magazine. When you read us, or visit our site, there’s just nothing that gets in the way between you, and the content. Of course, that makes things a little harder for us. We turn down ad revenue which would go a long way to keeping us afloat. I think it’s worth it, though. Bastion is absolutely unique in these regards.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

RLH: Firstly, the story needs to be compelling. That’s a polite way of saying we don’t like boring. It has to hold the reader’s interest. More than that, it has to captivate the reader, to the point where they’re almost falling over themselves to get to the next word to see what happens. Secondly, there has to be a strong emotional engagement. On some level, you need to really care for the characters, and the plot. If the reader doesn’t care about your protagonist, then the story is dead in the water. We don’t publish stories where the readers feel “meh” about the characters. I want to read stories that just make your heart ache, one way or another. Finally, we want stories that challenge something, or is otherwise forward looking. Science fiction is about imagining what could be, so the same plots and tropes just won’t fly here. Think about the future, and come up with something new, some different approach to your characters, ideas, or plot.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission (besides the converse of the above)?

RLH: Juvenile writing. Stories that don’t take themselves seriously. It’s okay to have fun, humorous pieces that are light-hearted. We love those. But we’re not interested in submissions where the author is acting like a fool. Don’t just throw needless vulgarity or filth into a story for the shock factor. If you’re going to have graphic scenes, then justify them, and treat them with the weight they deserve.

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

RLH: Absolutely. We try to be a contributor-oriented publication wherever we can. This means, in part, that each submission received gets a meaningful, personalized response within a reasonable amount of time. If a story gets rejected, then the author is notified why, and we try to be specific. This isn’t license to argue with us on our thoughts for a piece, however. As much as we’d like to discuss with authors what they did or didn’t do correctly, or how something could be interpreted differently, we just don’t have the time. 99 times out of 100 this isn’t an issue though, and many authors are thankful for our comments. We wish we could do more, but for now we do what we can.

SQF: Based on your experience as an editor, what have you learned about writing?

RLH: After reading hundreds or thousands of short stories, you get to see trends. You learn to identify very quickly whether or not the story is going to be a good one, and why. You also learn about what works, and what doesn’t. For instance: novice writers will use death or despair as an emotional hook for a story, which is a fairly cheap tactic, easy to implement. However, if you can write a story that’s uplifting and about life or something positive, where it’s not all gloom and doom, then you’re going to be in a much better place to make your readers (and editors) happier and more excited for your work (provided that it’s well-written to begin with).

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

RLH: Ask us about how readers can best support us. Ask us what we need! My answer: we need of course readers to buy copies of our magazine. Donations are naturally welcome (and we even have some benefits for various donations, which you can see at at the bottom of the page), but even more important for a new market is word-of-mouth. If someone reading this stops by our site, enjoys our sample story, and picks up an issue, fantastic! That’s at least one issue sold. But if that reader then tells 10 of their friends, and even one friend out of those 10 goes and buys a copy, then immediately we’ve doubled our sales and subsequently our ability to support and pay our authors. So, what can you do to help Bastion? Tell your friends and family to check us out. You can even share your own PDF/mobi/epub copy of our magazine freely—we are DRM-free and want to engage our readers. If someone you shared your copy with decides it’s a worthwhile publication and picks up their own copy, then we consider that a huge win.

Thank you, Leigh. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/24—Six Questions for Johnny Damm (Founder and Editor) and Matthew Nye (Editor), A Bad Penny Review

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