Sometimes, a girl has to just walk up to someone and start talking to them. I have never had problems with that. Drop me in a room full of strangers, and I’ll have made a friend within the hour. If there’s a bar, I’ve probably also been offered at least one drink by someone. It’s my Dad’s genes. Well, that and my complete lack of filter.
And sometimes, just sometimes, a writer has to walk up to an editor (or two) and ask “Do you like tomatoes?”
Wait that wasn’t it. Sorry. Let me check my notes. One second.
Oh, here we go. “Hi. Would you mind terribly if we interviewed you?”
Yes that sounds about right. At any rate, the lovely H. Mattson and Dakota Caulder, editors of Hybrid Fiction, agreed to be our next victims. I mean guests. Yes, of course. Guests. Hah.
Let’s move on to the interview, people. Nothing to see here.
They Did the Mash, The Genre Mash: An INKterview with the Editors of Hybrid Fiction
INK: What drove you to start Hybrid Fiction?
HM: Quite simply, we looked around and we didn’t see anyone publishing the kinds of books we would like to be reading. We decided we needed to change that. We also decided that, the internet being what it is, we needed to occupy a niche in order to stand out. Publishing crossgenre work allows us to dig up stories that are at least superficially different from what everyone else is reading, and it gave us that niche.
DC: It’s also something we’ve been talking about since we were very young. We’ve known each other for a long time, and we used to talk quite seriously (and jokingly) about one day starting a publication. Also, the technical aspects of publishing we have always enjoyed as well. So, in the last year since H. left the Air Force, we’ve been researching and planning our approach in order to start this launch.
INK: What do you hope that Hybrid Fiction will offer to readers that is unique compared to other speculative publications?
HM: It’s hard to say what’s ‘unique’ because there are hundreds if not thousands of publications trying to do similar work, a.k.a. provide readers with an amazing experience while giving creators the compensation they deserve. The hybridization part makes us stand out, perhaps.
DC: I’d say the aesthetic aspect. We’re trying to make this as visually compelling as possible and to do so we have been drawing on the best practices of some of the old publications–like John Newbery’s–as well as best current practices.
INK: Hybrid Fiction looks for stories that lie at the intersection of different genres. Do you have a preference for one or another genre and/or combination?
HM: Not really! The list of combinations on our site is far from exhaustive on that point. There’s an almost infinite number of ways you can take genres and combine them, and we like to see unusual combinations.
DC: Nope! Honestly, as long as it’s a good story, we enjoy it. What’s been hard is that there are so many good stories, and we can’t possibly say yes to all of them.
INK: Are there any hybrids that simply don’t work together?
HM: I doubt it. With the right glue, you can put just about anything together.
DC: That honestly depends on the author’s skill. I’ve seen articles saying that some hybrids, like romance and horror, can’t be blended, but that hasn’t been our experience. If the author has the skill (or even the hint of potential), then any blend can work.
INK: Is there something you see too much of? A topic maybe that would be a hard sell because it’s so prevalent?
DC: Dark fantasy/horror and post-apocalyptic romances. We get a lot of those submissions. We like both (and I wrote my thesis on Gothic lit, so horror is right up my alley), but we get so much and we want to be tonally eclectic. At this point, a story in either one of those categories has to be really different to be accepted.
INK: Based on The Submission Grinder, it looks like there is a lot of author interest in your publication. Were you surprised by the number of submissions you received when you first opened? What is your selection process like and has it changed at all since you opened?
HM: Honestly, for the first day or so after we opened submissions, it was terrifyingly quiet. We came out of nowhere, I think, and it can be difficult to get any kind of traction when you don’t already have a foot in the door. The quietness didn’t last, however!
DC: I’ve been stunned by the response–and love the very kind, encouraging notes authors write in their submissions. Our process hasn’t changed too much except in terms of timing. We started out expecting a 1-2 week turnaround, but then the submissions started rolling in and it’s been hard to keep up with them, the day jobs, and then the other aspects of getting a publication together.
INK: Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to stories?
DC: Seeing the word “shit.” I know it’s a common word in everyday usage (and I personally cuss like anything), but something about seeing it on the page is a total turn-off. There’s so many great words in the English language; I feel we could rely on some of them instead.
INK: How do you feel about stories written from the second person point of view?
HM: I think it’s difficult to do in a way that feels natural. Some authors do well in it, some readers enjoy it and find it immersive. It’s just another thing that requires a bit of a knack.
DC: It’s interesting. As long as the story doesn’t sound too academic (which is usually the case), then I quite like it.
INK: What’s the best advice you can give to new authors who would love to have their work appear in Hybrid Fiction?
HM: Tell us what it is you’re hybridizing. Really, that’s it that’s my advice. Dakota will have better advice on that front.
DC: Make sure you’ve spent enough time with it and have gotten enough honest feedback on the story that it reads well. If a story’s incomprehensible, we can’t read it or accept it no matter how much we like the concept. Other than that, if it’s a good story then we don’t really care what stage you’re at in your writing career.
INK: Do you have preferences regarding whether stories are character driven or plot driven?
HM: I don’t think we do. We prefer that stories be well-written, and because we have a niche we prefer stories to be cross-genre.
DC: Not particularly. My only stipulation is that whatever is driving the story is strong and interesting.
INK: Do you consider literary speculative fiction to be a hybrid genre as well?
DC: Yes. Our first issue had at least once example of literary speculative fiction and our April issue is going to have a really fun Post-Modern piece. Our preference is more for magical realism, but we’ve no problem with other forms of literary speculative fiction. We will turn it down if it gets too academic in tone though.
INK: You mention that you don’t want stories with a modern political focus. Could you elaborate on this? For example, do you consider stories that feature marginalized characters and their struggles to be political?
HM: Featuring marginalized characters for the sake of making a political statement about marginalized characters would be political. Featuring characters who are from groups which are marginalized would not be political. It’s usually fairly obvious when a narrative is written with the intention of carrying a political message, and while we appreciate the place of this kind of fiction in effecting social change, we decided when we set out that we want to be an escape. It’s hard to be an escape when you’re working to underscore what people are trying to escape from, isn’t it?
DC: I want to elaborate on what H. said. We’re big on equity and socially conscious practices in our day-to-day lives. Characters from marginalized cultures or social groups are usually very compelling–but only if they’re treated like real people and like it’s natural to be in that group/culture. We’ve accepted plenty of those stories, but stories where these characters’ primary role is to be a vehicle for social change rather than an individual human being (which is a form of social change in and of itself) can feel a little too heavy-handed. Which is sad, because some of it is quite good, just not for us.
INK: Bzzzzt You were just transported 5 years into the future. What does Hybrid Fiction look like now and what are you working on?
HM: Hopefully we’ve expanded! In the next few years, we want to expand our publication to include novels, anthologies, and perhaps another magazine under a different title. Picture books as well and comics. Within the next couple of months we’re going to start serializing a re-work of Benjamin Pyle and Marc Rene’s Project Auroral, which was a contender for the Stan Lee POW Entertainment contest in its first incarnation. It’s been reworked from the ground up, rewritten and redrawn, and we think it’s going to be an amazing experience for their fans as well as people who are first being introduced to Marc’s and Ben’s work. We’re excited about this, we’ve always loved comics and it’s great that we get to serialize something that’s of such excellent quality so early on.
INK: What do you think the biggest mistake is that new authors make? How can they avoid it?
HM: Falling in love with your first draft seems pretty deadly. I’m not the one who does the writing, though, so I’d defer to Dakota on that one.
DC: (1) Not giving yourself time, (2) not asking for honest feedback, and (3) overworking a story. For (1), give yourself time between drafts. I’ve asked authors to revise and rewrite a story I liked, and then they re-submit it in under three days. That’s usually a major tip-off that they haven’t spent enough time to really make substantial changes, which is what a re-write entails. While I’ve been happily wrong a few times, usually all of the original problems are still in the work with minor tweaks. For (2), go out and find some people who will be honest with you. Most of the time, this means people other than friends and family. For (3), know when to stop. That’s a hard skill to learn, but if everything starts to read too perfectly and you’re bored with the story, then it’s probably been overworked. Keep multiple drafts of every story, too, so you can go backwards if you’ve reached the point of overworking it. For example, I have ten versions of draft nine of a story I’m working on. Which is great because I get to bounce around and go back to old drafts when I need to.
To sum all of that up: don’t be afraid of a messy, long writing process.
INK: What was the story that made you fall in love with speculative literature? Why?
HM: I can’t remember, honestly. I didn’t actually learn how to read until I was about seven years old or something, so you’d think I’d remember which books made me fall in love with reading fiction. Maybe it was Brian Jacques?
DC: You ask a reader that question–! There’s been so many good speculative books in my life! If I had to make some choices at random, I’d say: Goblin Walk by Toni Johnston and illustrated by Bruce Degen (a little goblin taking peppercorns and thorns to his Greenie in the woods and is scared by butterflies and bunnies), I Don’t Like It by Ruth Brown (a sassy doll who doesn’t like the new puppy who has usurped her role in the house), The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (just a beautiful romance and fantasy-action adventure), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (classic), and The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones (also classic). I have been nurtured on fantasy and science fiction stories. They’re great for the imagination, they connect you to deep truths and human experiences (a Tolkienite here), and they connect us to our past myths, legends, and folklore to carry them on into the future until humanity ceases to exist. I don’t think I answered the question.
INK: Do you have any stories about genre mashups that surprised you? Ones you thought “This could never work as a combination”, but were proven totally wrong?
DC: No? There’s been a few stories I was personally surprised I liked after I read the summaries (so I’ve stopped reading the summaries and just read the stories now), but I’m willing to see how anything will play out and I know the others are the same. (However, do send a summary; we use it for promotion of accepted work and in our table of contents.)
INK: Speaking of mashups, are there any food hybrids that have exceeded your expectations? Korean Tacos? Indian-Italian food?
DC: There’s an awesome Korean-Mexican-American fusion place near where I live. It’s like my favorite restaurant! The best is the California burrito–avocado, french fries, sriracha, sauce, cheese, and bulgogi beef (or any meat of your choice). There’s also this great ice cream parlor where there’s Cookie Monster ice cream and cool tea ice creams (jasmine, thai, etc.). Hybrids make things better and more interesting.
INK: Chocolate is better with some kind of nuts in it, true or false?
HM: True. Almonds are the superior fruit.
DC: Chocolate of all kinds–excluding white which isn’t chocolate–is amazing. Fruit and nuts added in are even better. Chocolate with chili pepper in it is also surprisingly good. Have you tried that?
INK: As writers, we appreciate publications that offer a fair pay rate, and many of us were happy you opened at a high semi-pro level. We see you have a patreon and offer subscriptions. Is this your main source of funding or do you have other funding plans in mind? (We do love plugging funding campaigns for our favorite publications).
HM: For now, subscriptions are our main source of funding. And of course, people buying single issues. We try to run our business ethically, and we couldn’t ethically low-ball writers for something we intend to make money off of. When we were doing our research, we were a bit stunned about how many markets want people to work for free. While our rate for artists is on par with other publications, Iron Circus for example, we do hope that we can afford to raise our rates for illustrative content soon. In the near future, we’re going to try crowdfunding in the form of a Kickstarter, and try to get the funds to start expanding our page count and raise our rates for artists.
DC: We’re also discussing branching into selling some merchandise on TeePublic and discussing other options available to us.
INK: You are stranded on a desert island and only have three books with you. Which books would you want those to be and why?
HM: Who’s the horrible person who asks this kind of question? Honestly, to a book lover having to decide something like this is a kind of torture.
DC: My Bible (my day isn’t right if I haven’t spent time doing bible study) and then… I can’t honestly finish answering this question. I have an amazing Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones collection I’ve spent years compiling, could I take that? But then that would leave off a lot of the other one-offs that are also amazing, and I don’t think I could live the rest of my life without re-reading.
INK: Where does Hybrid Fiction stand on the idea that ants are engaged in “busy work” and are really longing for something more meaningful to do in society? Would you ever consider hiring some on your staff?
HM: Having been attacked by a colony of ants at a young age and scarred for life, no. Same goes for geese.
DC: I don’t fully understand this question?
INK: Would you ever want to host an award event after party? If so, which award event? Also, would you consider hiring penguins as waiters? (Penguins being naturally gifted at hospitality.)
HM: Host? A party? That sounds dangerous. What happens when someone discovers that one of your super-villain guests has been murdered in the sauna by a super-spy? Who does the cleaning up?
DC: No. I hate hosting parties. The clean up sucks. (If the penguins do the clean-up though… Are these Muppet penguins?)
Thanks again for joining us, H. and Dakota. Please accept the title of Honorary INKling. Now where’s that complementary cake?
What? Again? Guys, seriously. Who stole it this time? It’s not funny anymore.
How about some salted codfish instead? It’s only a little bit dented from dueling practice but it’s still good…
At Hybrid Fiction, we are interested in the intersection and cross-pollination of genres, specifically in the realm of speculative fiction. To us, the fantastic is a lens to see our world in a new, sometimes better and sometimes terrifying, light.
Monthly we publish highly quality content that falls into the realm of speculative cross-fiction. Our issues include both original stories, art, and comic content as well as serialized novels and comic books that fall into the realm of dark fantasy, space westerns, urban fantasy, weird west, science fantasy, and more. We deliver 50 pages of all-new content every month, introducing readers to new creators while keeping them abreast of their favorite serialized adventures!
If you are interested in supporting this publication, you can subscribe, purchase issues, or sign up for their Patreon. They even have some nifty merchandise. Remember that markets can’t survive without support.
About Our Interviewees
H. Mattson has been doing scifi and fantasy illustration for twelve years, and recently served in the United States Air Force, usually working on 300 ton aircraft. Mattson can now usually be found under a localized mountain of cats.
Dakota Caulder teaches composition and works as a freelance academic editor. Her main love has always been fantasy and all its iterations. She can usually be found with a red tabby on her shoulder and a silver tabby on her lap.
In the next 1-2 months, H. (as artist), Dakota (as writer), and Eden “Ed” Richards (as colorist) will be launching a paranormal detective-fantasy-science fiction mash-up web comic called Thorns & Snares. The first issue, “A Jenny and a Baby,” will include a fey assassins, half-fey baby, and Jenny Greenteeth (and it’s probably not as hokey as it sounds).