Hi, all! I’m Alexandria Baisden, Pub Lab alum, published fantasy writer, former Curbside Splendor intern and Hufflepuff! I’m dropping by again to let you know about Apex Magazine and their amazing, hardworking editors!
Apex Magazine is an online Hugo-nominated magazine publishing dark, speculative fiction of science fiction, fantasy and horror. They publish some of the best stories out there (and I’m not just saying that because they published yours truly. ;)) Each issue is on sale the first Tuesday of every month and content can be read for free on the website.
Apex is currently re-launching their subscription drive and calling it Revive the Drive! This is a great opportunity to support a wonderful magazine. Let’s help them reach their goal of $10,000! In the Revive the Drive Store, you’ll not only find subscription opportunities but also signed books, writing critiques, art prints, Nate’s coffee and more!
I was lucky enough to get to interview the Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sizemore, and the Managing Editor, Lesley Conner. Want to learn about how the Apex editors got to where they are today? Curious about what catches their eye in a submitted story? How about what Apex has in store for the future? Read on, friends!
Alexandria Baisden: Your readers know you as the Editor-in-Chief and the Managing Editor of Apex Magazine, but can you tell us a little bit about what you were like before that? What was the journey like getting to where you are today?
Lesley Conner: Before I became an editor at Apex, I was a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I was also writing—I wrote the majority of my novel The Weight of Chains while my younger daughter napped—but being full-time mommy and wife were my focus. I have been lucky enough to experience being a working mom with a traditional 9 to 5 job, a stay-at-home mom, and now a work-from-home mom, and for me, staying home and not having a career was definitely the hardest. I love my kids but I can only take so many play dates and episodes of Dora the Explorer before I begin to lose it. So when the chance came up for me to help out at Apex, it was the perfect solution. Editing gave me something that was mine, something I did because I was passionate about it, not because my kids wanted to do it or my husband thought it would be cool. It was all me. And at the same time working from home allows me to put my kids on the bus each morning, be here when they get off the bus in the evening, and go on any and every field trip.
I started with Apex by volunteering to help out a couple of hours a week. As I learned more about editing and Jason and I built a working relationship, I kept taking on more responsibilities. This went on until I wound up where I am now—exactly where I think I’m meant to be. I didn’t set out to become Apex Magazine’s managing editor, but I like to think it suits me.
Jason Sizemore: Back in 2005, I had an early mid-life crisis. I was stuck at a dead-end job. I wanted…no, I needed a creative outlet or I was going to go bonkers. A writer friend in town ran one of those cool little DIY saddlestitch zines. I decided I would do one of those, but on a broader scope. Thus was born Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest (a precursor to Apex Magazine).
And now here we are twelve years later approaching issue 100!
AB: What catches your eye in a submission? What types of stories do you fall in love with? In a similar vein, what’s the fastest way to turn you off?
Lesley: A great opening line really snags my attention. Something that is interesting, maybe a little quirky. Something that promises this story is going to be different from the six or seven I read before it. Of course, the story has to follow through on that promise.
The stories that I tend to fall in love with are the ones that I need to read two or three times before I feel like they’ve revealed all their secrets to me. They’re the stories that say more than what’s on the page, and lend themselves to long discussions with other readers as we try to pick them apart.
And if a writer can make me cry, then I’m probably going to pass it on up to Jason. Because if it makes me cry, it may make Jason cry, and I love making him … wait … I think I’ve said too much. Forget I said that.
What turns me off of story? Long descriptions about things that aren’t relevant to the plot. I love fantastic world building. I can’t stand paragraph after paragraph of description. I start skimming at that point, and skimming is bad.
Jason: I’m not as attached to opening lines. What I look for is a reason to keep reading. When you write your opening couple of paragraphs, you need to step back and ask yourself as a writer “What have I provided that makes the reader to continue?” There’s a fun meme going around right now that places “And then the murders started” as your second paragraph. The reason it is effective is it opens a whole bunch of questions for the reader. What murders? Who murdered whom? Why are they murdering? And so on.
That’s about as simple an example as can be given. Obviously, your opening needs to have more depth than that, but it gets the point across.
A story that reads more like an auto-biographical sob piece will turn me off immediately. I tire of stories about the drudgeries of marriage, a job, or society. It’s okay to write about those things, but it must be more than an unloading of your experiences.
AB: What do you hope people take away with them after reading an issue of Apex?
Lesley: Excellent question! I hope people walk away from an issue of Apex realizing that dark speculative fiction doesn’t necessarily mean scary. Dark SF can be beautiful. It can be full of love and emotion and everything that makes this world amazing. It’s more complicated than many people think.
Jason: I want readers to feel challenged by what they read. If you’re thinking about one of our stories the day after you read it, then I think the editors have done the job properly.
AB: For the young people out there with a passion for genre and a desire to pursue a career in editing, what advice can you give them?
Lesley: Read. No, seriously, read. Like, a lot. And not only in the genre or form that you’d like to work in. Read magazines like Apex. Read novels that are currently being published. Read the classics. Read nonfiction. And everything in between. If the opportunity comes up, read slush for a genre magazine. This is the best way to explore language. To see what works, what doesn’t, and to give yourself the experience to figure out why.
Jason: What Lesley said times a million. I truly believe that if you aren’t a great reader, you won’t be a good writer. And you should read broadly (as Lesley pointed out).
Also, learn the basics of business and marketing. As an author, YOU are a business and brand. Know how to handle yourself professionally and socially.
AB: What can we expect from Apex in the future?
Lesley: More amazing short fiction and cover art! In August we’ll have a special issue featuring Native American/First Nations authors guest edited by Dr. Amy H. Sturgis. The January 2018 issue will be a double issue that our readers will help form by supporting the Revive the Drive campaign going on now. Beyond that … I don’t know. Lots of possibilities. I’m sure Jason and I will come up with some great ideas.
Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (real school with its own vampire) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2004, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, and usually can be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food.
Lesley Conner is a writer and the Managing Editor for Apex Magazine and Apex Book Company. She spends her days pestering book reviewers, proofreading, wrangling slush, doling out contracts, and chatting about books, writing, and anything else that crosses her mind on the @ApexBookCompany Twitter account. Most of her nights are spent with a good book and a glass of wine. Her alternative history horror novel, The Weight of Chains, was published by Sinister Grin Press in 2015. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.