Editor Scott Gable has been busy. As founder of Broken Eye Books, publisher of bizarre fiction, he's edited and released several anthologies as well as novels from some of the most talented authors in the business. He has also worked with some top artists for his covers and book design as well. And now he's talking about a magazine, too! I caught up with Scott to talk with him about his previous anthology, Ride the Star Wind, as well his current work, Welcome to Miskatonic University, which is currently on Kickstarter!
Melanie R. Meadors: What gave you the idea for Ride the Star Wind?
SG: In our minds, it was just a natural progression. We personally wanted the Mythos to be able to tell more modern and more inclusive stories, make it more relevant to our hopes and fears of today. Specifically, we wanted to trade the bleak lonely finality of much of Mythos fiction for the continuing struggles of an evolving humanity—more interpersonal drama and the promise of more adventure. We wanted to see what oddities there might be to find in space, to know that no matter how many mysteries we solve, there're more just ahead. And we wanted to hear different perspectives, new and diverse ideas. We wanted to have our minds blown with new possibilities.
MRM: Did you give the authors much as far as parameters or guidelines went, or did you just say something like, “Hey, I’m inviting you to write a weird story in space. Have at it!”
SG: The stories are a mix of those invited and those submitted to our open call. We wanted to give authors the feel of what we were looking for and examples, so we said, "Send us into space, away from earth, and bring the weird! Give us adventure and wonder, spaceships and monsters, tentacles and insanity, determined struggle and starborne terror. Whether sprawling in scope or tightly focused and personal, make sure to give us a taste of the greater universe of your story, such as the culture and politics. Make us long to know more of your universe."
We wanted stories to be set within or be inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, to see the Mythos continue to grow and evolve, to expand as a shared literary world with diverse voices. We wanted stories that meshed space opera with cosmic weird horror using modern space opera touchstones, like James SA Corey (Expanse series), Ann Leckie (Imperial Radch series), Iain Banks (Culture series), Nnedi Okorafor (Binti), David Brin (Uplift trilogy), and Becky Chambers (Wayfarers series), and the short fiction of Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monett, such as "Boojum."
But beyond that, we really just wanted to let the authors do what they already do so well and have some fun with it. Part of this, for us, was to see where it could all go, what directions would the stories flow naturally. We wanted as wide and diverse a pool of submissions as we could get so that our choices would be that much harder.
MRM: Did any of the stories in the anthology surprise you when you read them?
SG: All of the stories chosen from the open submission really. Especially those from authors we hadn't ever read before! And that's precisely why we do the open calls. There's always another amazing story out there that we couldn't find any other way.
MRM: You have some really awesome author talent in Ride the Star Wind. How did you decide who to invite?
SG: As with all of our anthologies, approximately half the stories were by invitation and the other half were reserved for an open call. For the invited authors, we have a long and constantly growing list of authors that we enjoy and know would tell an amazing story, and looking through for this book, imagining them writing space opera horror, if we got excited at the chance to read it, they were invited! Brian Evenson had just recently killed it with The Warren; Desirina Boskovich blew us away with her short "The Great Dying of the Holocene" in Tomorrow's Cthulhu; DaVaun Sanders wrote some fantastic space opera in the Dark Universe anthology; Cody Goodfellow has long been a phenomenal weird science fiction author; and the other invited authors were much the same in that we were already big fans of their work.
The open calls for the anthologies are also a vital component for us. They let us find those stories that we never would have found otherwise. We've published some really great stories that we wouldn't have known about without the open call. These give each anthology a certain unknown quality that is very exciting to us. We never know how the open submissions will shape things. We never know exactly what the final anthology will look like before diving into the submissions.
MRM: Do you use Kickstarter to fund your anthologies, or do you do it the “old fashioned” way?
SG: We just launched our campaign for Welcome to Miskatonic University! Kickstarter has been a great boon for us. We were able to fund the hardcover print run for Ride the Star Wind with it, and hopefully it'll fund two brand new anthologies of the Cthulhu Mythos. These are modern short stories of that most strange and magical of institutions, Miskatonic University. We're looking at the weird and (weird fantasy and weird science fiction) potential of a university drenched in the occult and weird science. But it's still a university nestled in the town of Arkham, so you have all the interpersonal drama that goes along with that—with parties and grades, with struggling to fit in and finding your place, with local tensions, with change clashing against tradition.
We're a small press, so the "old fashioned" way can be challenging at times. We can dodge and weave with relative ease, but if a book takes longer than expected to earn out, it can really affect our schedule. So we experiment. We try everything we can and see what works and then keep trying because just because something works now it very likely won't next time. We adjust our course as necessary and try to embrace the chaos of book publishing. But always spinning new tales and hopefully not taking ourselves too seriously.
MRM: Ride the Star Wind has really amazing artwork both on the cover and within. Everything seems to go together well to make a well-designed and attractive book that is cohesive. What is your process like as far as matching artists to stories? Do you tell the artists an idea of what you’d like the pieces to look like, or do you just hand them the story and let them have free rein?
SG: Based on an artist's style and body of work, we generally have a gut feeling of who can do an amazing job on a given story. We always try to provide one or more ideas to seed their composition, to see what inspires them—scenes from the story that we think might make for good visuals—and sometimes, they come back at us with better ideas, and that's great. We just want to inspire them and then get out of the way. They're artists and know their job better that we do.
MRM: You have an excellent gender balance among authors in the anthology. Did you find this difficult to attain? I’ve heard several editors saying that they have had trouble recruiting female authors. In your experience, did female authors seem to have more going on in life than their male counterparts? Do you have any tips for editors who are trying to do better?
SG: It's very important to us to have inclusive anthologies with stories from as many different voices as possible. That's what we want to read. Our invitation list included diverse authors that we knew would write amazing stories, and the open submissions contained stories from diverse authors. We offered pro rates and were very clear in that we wanted diverse voices. We had no shortage of submissions from women or from folks of all walks and from all over the world.
If editors want more diverse authors—and authors know that—they aren't likely to have a shortage of diverse submissions. If an editor is unaware of the diversity existing in a field already, it would greatly benefit them to expand their reading list. That makes inviting authors that much easier.
MRM: What do you think the attraction is with weird/bizarro fiction? Why would someone want to pick up a story that is labeled as “weird”?
SG: I see weird fiction as speculative fiction sandwiched between fantasy and science fiction, between realism and the absurd (or bizarro fiction). I think people take notice of weird fiction because it's in an "uncanny valley" of expectations. It's definitely not completely realistic, not the world we live in, but it also hasn't pulled so far away from reality (not as far as fantasy or bizarro) as to be clearly something else; it's not the probable of science fiction, but it's also not the impossible of fantasy—it's somewhere in between. It's disconcerting because of this state of not being as obviously something else, and many readers enjoy that, being taken out of their comfort zone, being confronted with the existential questions of the era, of their consensus reality.
MRM: if an author was interested in writing a “weird” story, do you have any suggestions for them?
SG: Because of its "between" state, it plays well with other speculative fiction. My point being that many venues for speculative fiction might have a place for a weird tale, even if it's not explicitly named. Many primarily fantasy or science fiction venues are open to stories that blend in some of the weird. And weird horror fiction has almost become synonymous with weird fiction (though I don't feel weird fiction has to also be horror), so I don't think there's a shortage of places open to weird fiction submissions.
And there're many publishers putting out weird fiction (through anthologized short fiction and longer works). Though at the moment, despite the seminal anthology The Weird by the VanderMeers, it's primarily the small press that's using the term "weird fiction." I think the small press is where much of the weird fiction surge is happening—at least using the term "weird." And that would be a great place to continue your reading.
But I think the weird is everywhere, hiding, like it always has. In longer works, it blends more seamlessly into the whole, so you'll find elements of the "weird" in many of your favorite books that might otherwise be branded simply as fantasy or science fiction.
MRM: What is your favorite book of all time? Do you have a sort of defining piece, where people can read it and “get you” more?
SG: In the early, formative days, certainly the works of Sr. Seuss. In high school, some of my game changers were that first Lovecraft collection from Del Rey, Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Datlow & Windling's Snow White, Blood Red, Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer, and comic books—I was a huge comic fan. In college, some of the big ones for me were Robert Anton Wilson, Neil Gaiman, and Philip K. Dick. (As much as I read, I would always find myself coming back to speculative fiction. That's where my heart was.) More recently, VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen and the VanderMeers' The Weird anthology, both of which brought a lot into focus for me regarding my love of weird fiction—even giving it a name.
But I've still got defining pieces out there to find. I'm fascinated by new and emerging authors I'm constantly reading. It's the change and evolution of speculative fiction that's most compelling to me. It's the next thing, which likely hasn't been written yet, that in some ways is most defining for me—that potential. I love the novelty and evolution of it all.
MRM: Are there any authors out there who you’d love to work with, but haven’t had the chance yet?
SG: Too many to count really. (And really, as many as I can.) But not in a general sense, more in that I'd like to work with them on a specific project. For instance, for a particular anthology theme, there are authors that I feel would tell an amazing story.
MRM: Can you tell us a little about Broken Eye Books? What can we look forward to seeing in the upcoming months?
SG: We're an independent press based in Seattle, here to bring you the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction. Our stories tend to blend genres, blurring the boundaries of sci-fi, fantasy, and the weird.
And we're going to keep that up. Wrapping up the Welcome to Miskatonic University Kickstarter and fulfilling that are the top priorities right now. After that, we'll be continuing with Eyedolon Magazine and have several new novellas in the pipeline. And even a novel and new publishing imprint for later this year. There might even be another open call coming soon.
MRM: What do you have on your own plate in the next few months?
SG: Edit Welcome to Miskatonic University. Copyedit The Queen of No Tomorrows and Catfish Lullaby. Promote our authors. Launch an open call. Sell books at conventions. Finish writing The Faerie Ring RPG for Zombie Sky Press. Hopefully a nap at some point.
MRM: Thanks so much for chatting, and best of luck with all of your ventures!
SG: Thank you so much for having me!
Scott Gable lives in the beautiful underwater city of Seattle, where he works in publishing. He is currently co-editing (with C. Dombrowski) his fifth anthology, Welcome to Miskatonic University, and their previous anthologies include Ride the Star Wind, Tomorrow's Cthulhu, Ghost in the Cogs, and By Faerie Light. He runs the independent press Broken Eye Books, publishing the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction from many wonderful authors, and is lead designer on the forthcoming The Faerie Ring roleplaying game from Zombie Sky Press.
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her fiction has appeared in Circle Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis. She studied astronomy and physics at Northern Arizona University and has published some non-fiction in the field of astronomy and library sciences. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and editor of Hath No Fury, and she is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.