Interview/ Shimmer Magazine Editors

Shimmer Magazine

Magazines come and go quickly like passing thunderstorms, so when a print and on-line magazine like Shimmer has been successful for the past six years, I feel it deserves to be recognized for this accomplishment.  Shimmer Magazine publishes contemporary fantasy stories with some science fiction and horror genre thrown into the mix.  The magazine is the brainchild of Beth Wodzinski, Editor-in-Chief. They release several issues a year in both print and online format. Working with Beth on the magazine is Elise Catherine Tobler, Fiction Editor, as well as other talented staff, aka the Shimmery People.

Editor-in-Chief, Shimmer

Beth Wodzinski has had her fiction in Flash Fiction Online, Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, and Fictitious Force.

Fiction Editor, Shimmer

E. Cathering Tobler (Elise)’s stories were published in SciFiction, Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Talebones, Realms of Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and others. She is also an active member of SWFA. Check out her blog Here.

Following is an interview with these two amazing women. If you are an author interested in submitting your work to Shimmer: Speculative Fiction for a Miscreant World, I suggest reading below to see how the magazine is put together, and then go to their Fiction Guidelines page.

Interview with Beth and Elise:

Both: How did the two of you come together to do this magazine? And where does the name Shimmer come from?

BETH: It took forever to find the right name! I considered dozens, maybe hundreds, of possibilities, but nothing felt right. Then one day, I read a story in a writer’s group I was in. The author had some kind of ghost-type characters called “shimmers,” and that just clicked. I liked how it sounded beautiful and a little otherworldly.

Elise joined us in 2006 after a few staff members left. Our art director, Mary Robinette Kowal, put out an announcement on the Codex writer’s group and maybe a few other places. We ended up “hiring” three of the applicants: Elise, Lisa Mantchev, and Catherine Knutsson. I think we’d only planned to hire one, but those three really stood out.

ELISE: I remember seeing Mary’s call in the Codex group and I thought “hey, that sounds really fun.” I was somewhat familiar with Shimmer, having read the early issues and submitted a couple of my own stories. I remember agonizing over my application email and trying not to sound like a doofus. Being with Shimmer has been a great learning experience, because it’s given me a new appreciation for the small press, and for writing, and for fellow writers and editors.

The Shimmer Magazine has been up and running since 2005. In these days of magazines opening and closing like shutters on a window, what do you attribute your success for staying in the magazine business for past 6 years?

BETH:  I like to say it’s because of low expectations! We never really intended to become a giant and challenge Asimov’s or F&SF — if we’d expected that, it would have been really easy to get in over our heads with huge print runs, expensive distribution deals, staff salaries, etc. Instead we’ve stayed small and not taken on more than we could handle.

We’ve also had really good luck with finding people to volunteer to help out when we’ve had vacancies. There are parts of this I could never do: like learning layout, or all the web support; but it’s also essential to have good people helping out on the fun parts, too, like reading the stories.

What vision do you have for Shimmer in the future, say …five years from now?

BETH: Five years is a really long time! Who knows? I do expect to still be publishing in five years.

We’re definitely going to be putting a lot of energy into getting our electronic versions into new markets and new formats — and it seems like new markets and formats are emerging every day.

I also hope that within five years, we’ll have a few other offerings — novellas? novels? some kind of interactive web format? I don’t know yet what we’ll expand into, but I do know it’ll be something special.

Both: Please take us through the process of putting together an issue of Shimmer?

BETH: Here’s a blog post I did that gives one take on our process: Behind the Scenes.

A bit over 5% of stories submitted to us get picked out of the slush pile and passed on to our editorial forum for further review. I solicit comments from the rest of the staff, and eventually decide whether to acquire a story or not. (On rare occasions, I’ll contact the author to request a rewrite, or ask for clarification about a point in the story.)

Once we’ve acquired a story, we edit it. This involves two sets of eyes: mine and another editor’s. Each person has different strengths as an editor, so it’s been useful to have more than one set of eyes on a story. For example, I think I’m really good at clarity and focus, but I rarely notice repeated words; Elise will often catch those, and she’s also really good at livening up static description.

It goes again to the author, and often there’s some back and forth about how to tweak the story. We view our changes more as suggestions than demands; so we work with the authors to get a version that we’re both happy with.

That version gets a thorough copy edit (which again the author gets to review and adjust), and it’s on to layout. Eventually, all the stories make it through the editorial process, and it’s all up to the art director. In this stage, we do the layout and proofreading, acquire art, and get everything perfect. Once it goes to the printer, we have about a month to get the web site ready for the new issue: setting up the shopping cart, setting up the author interviews, getting the mailing ready.

That is probably more detail than you wanted. But it’s a hell of a lot of painstaking work! Luckily it’s fun.

ELISE:  We also interview each author prior to the issue’s release, getting some background on them as well as the story we’re running (what inspired you to write this, who are your influences, which writer would you eat first if stranded on an island during a zombie apocalypse–the basics). We invite authors to give us audio or video goodies too, which usually involves them reading a piece of their story.

Both: What advice can you give to new writers submitting their work to Shimmer, or any other magazine for that matter?

BETH: Keep trying! We try to offer a few helpful comments with rejections; we hope that this gives authors a better sense of what we’re looking for.

One of the authors in our upcoming Issue 14 submitted at least 25 stories to us before he got accepted. Here’s a blog post he wrote about the value of persistence: http://www.shimmerzine.com/2010/10/06/on-persistence/

Just keep at it.

ELISE: Take risks. You never know if something is going to succeed until you get it on the page and toss it out there. Every Wednesday, the Shimmer blog features advice for newer writers, from Shimmer staffers as well as established authors. Read the blog, follow staffers on Twitter; we often talk about slush, what we see too much of, what we want to see more of, etc.

Both: How has working on publishing a magazine changed you as a writer? And visa versa?

BETH: Actually I think part of the reason I started Shimmer was to have a good excuse to procrastinate on the writing. It’s certainly been successful from that perspective!

Seriously though? I think it’s shown me to stop fretting about whether a story is “good” and just write it as well as I can, because every editor’s perception of what “good” means totally varies. Fretting just gets in the way, so have faith and write.

ELISE: Overall, I think it’s made me more thoughtful. It has made me reconsider the way I structure my writing; leap in, be bold, do wacky things, and trust that the editor and reader will go with you. It has also made me considerate in the rejections I send, because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such; if I can give even one little piece of advice on a story, I try to.

To Beth: In a blog on Apex publications, you mention how publishing is personal, just as much as writing is for you. Can you tell us in what way they are personal for you?

BETH: I think the main thing was getting at is that anything you voluntarily put this much time and effort into has to be personal, just like running a marathon or climbing a mountain or collecting stamps is personal. There has to be something about the endeavor that speaks to your heart. You can’t just go through the motions; it’s way too much work for that.

It’s also entirely true that different editors have different tastes, and to the extent that our tastes describe us, our fiction selections can be very revealing. When we’ve worked with guest editors, I’ve been fascinated by the choices they’ve made.

Elise is going to handle the editing for Issue 15 (which will be released sometime early next year), and I can’t wait to see what she’ll pick.

To Beth: Tell us something about your writing process? Who has been an influence on you?

BETH: I’m gonna skip this because I’m just not writing much these days. Alas.

To Elise: You are also a photographer as well as a writer, and you have mentioned that photography is another way to tell as story.  What similarities / and / or differences do you feel you have in approaching the creativity of both writing and photography?

ELISE:  I would say both require you to approach a subject, and find the right angle for capturing it. You need to know where your light comes from, you need to know what to focus on and what to leave in the background. Quite often, it’s trial and error with both writing and photography, and at least with digital technology, we have the ability to erase easily and start over, if we haven’t stumbled upon the right focus.

To Elise: Tell us about what are “ghostpigs” and how do they relate to writing a good short story?

ELISE: “Ghostpigs” came from Catherynne Valente‘s blog and has become shorthand for “your cool idea.” If you bury your cool idea–whatever it is–on page five, the editor may never get there to discover it. Share that cool thing as soon as you can. It makes me think of The Sixth Sense in some ways, because the ghostpigs are there from the beginning, only the viewer doesn’t know it until the very end (okay, okay, some people say they knew all along!). Same with Katy Perry’s “E.T.” video; your viewer presumes one thing to be true and in the end, it’s something else that was there all along. Your cool thing should be just as vital, and woven through every part of your story, if possible.

Both: Who are your favorite authors?

ELISE: Ray Bradbury, Mary Doria Russell, Borges, Elizabeth Hand, E.B. White, Karen Joy Fowler, Laura Kinsale, Lovecraft, Kage Baker, Edgar Allan Poe, Connie Willis, Charles de Lint, Alice Hoffman, Nick Bantock…and so many more.

BETH: Yes to all those! plus Shirley Jackson, Lynda Barry, Caitlin Kiernan. Peter Beagle. Campbell nominee Dan Wells. Christopher Moore. World War Z, by Max Brooks. Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn. Jeff Ford. Jim Thompson. and a million more.

Both: Please give us an eight-word description of your life?

ELISE: Not the life I expected, but still shiny.

BETH: Oooh, I wish I’d thought of that first.

Check out the Following Links for Shimmer.

Issue #13/Shimmer

Blog (highly recommended reading)

Fiction Guidelines