It's impossible to talk about new science fiction short stories without referring to Interzone . This UK-based fantasy and SF mag was launched in 1982, and is now run by TTA Press, which publishes other titles including The Third Alternative and Black Static. Many key genre writers, including Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, started out having stories published in Interzone.
Since earlier this year SFX has been asking industry insiders to answer a Q&A about the fiction-writing life, and as experienced editors the Interzone team were a perfect choice to tackle our practical questions. We spoke to Andy Cox, Jetse De Vries, Andy Hedgecock and Dave Mathew:
SFX: So what is Interzone looking for in a good SF or fantasy story submission these days?
Interzone team: "Ambitious and compelling storytelling. Sustained feats of imagination distinguished by a vivid prose style or formal sophistication or inventive approach. Originality, depth of character, believable dialogue, new ideas, sensawunda... not much!"
SFX: Is it worth a new-comer submitting stories? You must get loads of submissions from established authors!
Interzone team: "All fiction magazines should be looking for the different and the new, we certainly are, and Interzone has long prided itself on the discovery of new talent. Several SF novelists were unknown authors in Interzone once. Story is everything, it makes no difference to us if it's your first or thousandth: we will reject a story by a famous author just as easily as any other."
SFX: Is there a perfect way to start a short story that will catch an editor's eye?
Interzone team: "A strong opening is important because editors always have a great many manuscripts to work through - if they're not quickly hooked the chances are that they're not going to persevere. But a strong opening isn't necessarily a big opening, a story can start quietly and still grip. It doesn't necessarily have to start at the beginning either. And 'white room' openings should be avoided at all costs - 'he woke up and everything was white' or words to that effect - because that's just the author staring at the blank page unsure of what to write, and can often be followed by too much boring and pointless routine. Write everything down by all means, but edit it out later. All that detail can still be useful even if it's not on the page, it'll help you as the author make your story and characters more convincing."
SFX: How much "editing" do you actually have to do? Do stories always come to you fully formed and polished to perfection?
Interzone team: "It still amazes that there are some incredible new talents who can nail a story straight out of the blocks, but accepted stories always get an edit, even if it's just a few very slight corrections. Sometimes, if we see potential, and if we think we know how a story can be fixed or improved, we'll suggest a rewrite and will work closely with the author during that process."
SFX: What's the most powerful lesson you've learned about the SF writing business in the time that you've been working on the mag?
Interzone team: "There are many, many talented writers out there who deserve a much bigger audience than the dross-peddlers hogging the shelves of the major bookstores, and it's a massive struggle trying to bring quality short fiction to a wider audience... so don't quit the day job."
SFX: What do inexperienced writers need to think about when trying to get into the SF scene?
Interzone team: "The first thing a writer seeking publication has to learn to deal with is rejection. As disappointing as this is it's worth remembering that every writer has their work rejected, and that it's not personal. Simply take any advice you're given, send the story off to another magazine and try the first editor with something else. Don't bombard editors with emails telling them how stupid they are, or ring them up demanding an explanation, that'll get you nowhere."
"But if you show a willingness to learn and a genuine interest in SF the scene will be wide open to you. Keep trying, you will improve and so will your success rate. Improve your chances even more by doing some research. Learn something about your market, the magazine you're submitting to, even if it's just the editor's name. Read as much short SF as you can, know what successful writers are writing about. This should be easy because, after all, if you don't enjoy reading SF you can't enjoy writing it."
SFX: If you could give one new writer any single piece of creative advice, what would it be?
Interzone team: "Read. Read as much as you can. And spend the rest of your spare time writing. PG Wodehouse knew a thing or two about the lonely job of creating stories. His advice to aspiring writers was straightforward: 'Apply the seat of your trousers to the surface of your chair'."
SFX: Thanks guys!
Interzone is bi-monthly and a six month subscription costs £21. Find out more over at http://ttapress.com . SFX is coming to the end of the current run of writing tips and advice, but we have some other exclusive Q&As planned so watch this space for regular interviews from the world of SF and fantasy.