Friday, January 5, 2018

Six Questions for Andrew McCurdy, Editor, Gallery of Curiosities

Gallery of Curiosities is a speculative fiction podcast specializing in retro-vintage stories, such as one would find in the steampunk sub-genre.  Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Andrew McCurdy: This project is Kevin Frost’s, from the concept through to production, and while I know bits and pieces of how the Galleries Podcast came into being, it remains his story to tell. The earlier, or “old format” shows were public domain horror, produced for Radio Riel. I think he got tired of sifting through Gutenberg looking for new material, so he decided to buy new fiction to see what would happen. What I can say is that there are a number of us that have been tagging along for the ride since then because it is fun. I’ll get up on Saturday morning, pour myself a coffee and jump into the slush pile, our Google Docs submission folder, and chat stories with Jed and Kevin.

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


  • Does the story hold my attention? A story doesn’t have to be linear to hold my attention, in fact, strictly speaking, it doesn’t even need to be a story, but it has to be good. Making me care about the characters and objective is important but entertaining me, start to finish, is paramount.
  • Is the story well written? I’m not a grammar freak but if a story comes in and the opening sentence is incomplete with two spelling errors, I tend to become more critical of the content. Don’t send in drafts, or ideas, send in something complete that you are proud of.
  • Does the story surprise me somehow? Stories don’t have to end with an O. Henry-style, twist ending to surprise. Did the plot go in an unexpected direction? Did a mystery intrigue or trick me? Is it a subject I haven’t considered before? Did I smile at any point while reading it? Am I still thinking about it a day later?

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?


  • The incorporation of historical figures as characters in works of fiction. While it can work, I find too often it is either gimmicky or forced. Almost always it is unnecessary. We keep a scorecard because it can get that ridiculous.
  • Glued on gears. This is what we’ve come to call unnecessary steampunk elements tacked on just to sell the story. So, you think you have written a riveting story based on your last messy break-up, but figure it’s not the right genre for our podcast - adding the word ‘steam’ to common objects (like steam+phone, steam+cab, and steam+gun) doesn’t  change anything. It is still a cheesy break-up story.
  • Any form of political/religious/social agenda.  I’m not referring to controversial storylines or diverse characters and situations, I am referring to thinly veiled allegories where the focus is the underlying ideology rather than the story. While I have my own views and beliefs, and I appreciate those of others, that is not what I feel this podcast is about.
  • The pedantic weeds. One of the hazards of historical fiction is going for a documentary level of detail. We care that the hero took off his coat, but not that it was a Columbus Depot shell jacket with the gutta-percha buttons. Historians and reenactors get into this, but a general audience will tune out quickly. Which brings us to:
  • The writing style does not transfer well to the audio format. This is a fairly new medium for short stories, and there is a difference in how the story should be told. You can’t skim through the boring parts. Transitions between scenes need to be thought out. Try reading the story aloud before sending it in. If we lose the listener, there isn’t enough time to get her back. The story will run out as background noise until the next track cues up. The rule we came up with is no one rewinds while driving. 

SQF: What magazines/zines do you read on a “regular” basis?

AM: I like to read a lot but I would not say there is any particular magazine I read on a regular basis. One of the benefits of editing for this podcast, and seeing where authors have previously been published, has been the discovery of a number of online sources of fiction that I hadn’t been aware of. I always bookmark them, and while there may not be any I read on a regular basis there are several I do like to come back to from time to time.

SQF: Many editors list erotica, or sex for sex sake, as hard sells. What are hard sells for your publication?


  • The problem with sex scenes isn’t so much that they are a hard sell but that they are hard to write. Most sex scenes kill a story because they are awkward and more comical/improbable than erotic. That is not to say erotic elements can’t be used creatively or subtly to help sell a story.
  • Excessive violence, or sadistic acts, even when written well, can be a hard sell. Some excellent stories have explored these themes. You have my attention when you push the envelope, but if it comes across as gratuitous torture it won’t get a second reading.
  • Swearing can be an effective tool for character development and mood. My thoughts on swearing are very much in line with my thoughts on violence. Many of our stories have historic elements to them. Be creative. In a period piece, why describe someone a fucking piece of shit when it is more entertaining to call them a festering heap of steaming midden.
  • Space!  We get way too many “mainstream” science fiction stories. Only about a quarter of what hits the inbox are stories we might be interested in. 

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

AM: Q: What do you like best about editing a podcast of speculative fiction?

I like hearing the final production of the stories we have accepted. Some fantastic stories arrive in the slush pile. We can’t take them all, in fact, given the volume we receive, some really good stories will not make the cut. All of us take this part seriously because we know what it is like to be the writer, waiting to hear if a submission has been accepted. So we chat about the short list, we reread stories and we sometimes pair stories together. Then we discuss possible intros for each episode of the podcast. Any of us could write the intros, but Kris does an amazing job giving voice to Osgoode, the show’s host.

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

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