Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Six Questions for Beth Wodzinski, Publisher, Shimmer Magazine

Shimmer Magazine publishes contemporary fantasy short stories, with a few ventures into science fiction or horror. Read the complete fiction guidelines here.

(Ceased publication)

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

BW: I'd always enjoyed working with other people's stories in critique groups, and thought I might be good at it. I also thought there was room in the publishing world for the kind of stories that resonated with me the most: stories with graceful prose, subtle and nuanced characterization, and a strong sense of yearning or loss. Kelly Link and Gavin Grant once described our tone as "elegiac," and I love that.  

Really I was very naive: there's so much more that goes into running a magazine than the editorial side. I've had to learn a lot about marketing and accounting and coordinating volunteers and taxes and printers and a hundred other non-sexy things. It's been a great learning experience, and I continue to learn as we've moved up to the ranks of magazines that pay pro rates. 

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

BW: We're looking for a quality of freshness, for an idea we haven't seen a thousand times already, for a voice that doesn't sound like everything else.  

We look for an elegance in prose—there's a particular tone that always stands out for us and makes a story not just good, but a Shimmer story. 

And we're looking for emotion, told with subtlety and nuance: most often, our stories are full of longing and sorrow, but are never maudlin or nostalgic. Check out the stories we've got up for free (including one whole issue) to get a feel for what we're drawn to.

SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?

BW: Lately we've been seeing a lot of submissions that start three or four pages too late—there's lots of static world-building and description before the story really gets going. In a 3500-word story, you really can't afford to waste that much time. Start where things get interesting, and work in all that lovely world-building and description as you need it. 

We see story after story after story where female characters are only there to be raped or abused. I encourage everyone to read Jim Hines's post at the Apex blog called Writing About Rape.

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

BW: We often provide comments; we aim to be friendly and helpful. I recently wrote a blog post in which I revealed the truth about our rejection letters.

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

BW: I've learned a lot about what doesn't work in stories technically—but what makes a story stand out remains magical and elusive. That magical element can overcome lots of technical flaws—but no technical mastery can overcome the absence of magic. 

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

BW: In response to the Weird Tales debacle last summer, Shimmer went pro. What was that like? 

For readers who aren't familiar with the background, here's a link that covers the situation pretty well.

That was an amazing day. One minute I was, like the rest of the speculative fiction community, aghast at the events; and then Mary Robinette Kowal talked to me and offered to subsidize us bumping our pay to professional rates. Half an hour later we made the announcement. Response was overwhelming and supportive; submissions tripled; sales went up, as well. Everyone on staff has really stepped up their effort, too. We're working to be professional in all ways, not just paying pro rates. 

It was life-changing for me: not so much because suddenly we were a pro magazine, but because it showed me that there's always hope, even when things are grim and ugly. You can choose to make things better. You can choose to light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness. You can choose fireworks. 

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

NEXT POST: 4/12--Six Questions for James R. Gapinski, Managing Editor, The Conium Review

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