Mistress of Minions: An Interview with Lesley Conner, Apex Managing Editor

Behind every codfish-brandishing rogue stands a strong, powerful woman. Holding the reins. In the case of Jason Sizemore and Apex Book Company, this badass lady is none other than the lovely, charming, and awesome Lesley Conner.

She works tirelessly to manage Apex’s minions program, edits books, and when Jason is off somewhere, facing off against illustrious codfish duelists, she keeps the Captain’s chair warm and the engines running.

But really, who is Lesley Conner? The INKlings were eager to find out, and when Lesley agreed to an interview, we pooled our resources, braincells, and pinkie fingers and came up with some questions for her.

I’d like you all to join me in discovering what she had to tell us.

INKlings: We’d like to get to know you as a person beyond your role at Apex. Can you tell us about three things you are passionate about other than Apex?

Lesley: Girl Scouts, reading, and coffee.

I have two daughters – 16 and 11 years old – and this upcoming year will be my 10th as a Girl Scout troop leader. I started because my older daughter wanted to join a troop and I wanted to make sure she could, but over the years it’s grown into something much more than that. I’ve seen firsthand the impact the organization can have – the opportunities it gives to girls to see and do new things, and to really grow into self-confident young women. That’s something I can stand behind. I now volunteer at the troop, service unit, and association levels, and that takes up a lot of my time.

If I’m not working on Apex or doing something for Girl Scouts, I’m typically reading. I’m a little obsessed with it. I read all the time! I listen to audiobooks, read paperbacks, and carry around my Kindle even when I know I won’t have time to read. I’ve been known to find a quiet corner at an event or social function, and read using the Kindle app on my phone. I keep track of what I’m reading both through LibraryThing and Goodreads, and each year my brother and I challenge each other to see who can read more (he always wins, but for the past three years I’ve read more than 100 books and I don’t think that’s too shabby).

And coffee … not sure what I can add to this other than I really like coffee. A lot. It fuels all the Apex work, Girl Scout planning, and reading that I do.

INKlings: If you had to take three books to a desert island, what would they be and why?

Lesley: Hahahaha! I can’t pick only three books to take on a weekend trip! How can you ask me to pick three to take to a desert island? Can series count as one book? No? That’s cheating? Well … hmmm …

Okay, I’m going to say 1. Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, because that book is a chunk and I preordered a copy in hardcover but haven’t had the time to crack into it yet because I am not dragging such a heavy book around with me on all of my summer travels (my Kindle is my best friend right now). 2. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I read it for the first time when I was in college and have really been meaning to read it again lately, but new books keep getting in the way. If I take it with me, I’ll finally have time. 3. Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus. I absolutely LOVE the world Maurice created in Pimp My Airship, and from what I’ve read, Buffalo Soldier is set in the same universe.

If you’d let me cheat and count a series as a book, I’d bring the Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton. They are funny mystery novels that I tend to read when I’m stressed because I find them super amusing. I have a feeling being stuck on a desert island would be stressful and I could use some amusement.

INKlings: Is there a book on your shelf you read again and again? What is it? What about it makes you return every time?

Lesley: There are a handful of books that I have read multiple times, but the one that sticks out to me most is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. The first time I read it, I had no idea what was going on. The anger the townspeople, the actions of the cousin, Merricat and Constance’s relationship, Uncle Julian’s bizarre behavior – it all felt strange and disjointed. Then at the end, things clicked and it was magical. Each time I’ve read it since then, I feel like the story reveals just a little bit more of itself to me. It twists and turns and I think about a character’s motivations or the emotional impact of the story in a slightly different way and the entire story shifts because what if? and it’s magical all over again. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

INKlings: Do you think of yourself more as a writer who also edits or an editor who also writes? How do you balance these roles?

Lesley: At this point, I think I’m an editor who used to be a writer who hopes that one day she’ll be an editor who writes.

I’m horrible at balancing. Maybe when my kids are a little older I’ll figure it out.

INKlings: When you’re reading through submissions, what type of environment do you work best in? (i.e., quiet, background noise, etc.)

Lesley: If I’m reading submissions, I need quiet. Any outside noise – whether it’s my kids, music, or the tv – distracts me. I want to give submissions my undivided attention, so I try to read when my house is quiet.

INKlings: When you read on your own time (assuming you are still able to do that) are you able to turn off your internal editor and just read for fun and pleasure?

Lesley: Oh, I can definitely turn off the internal editor! When I read on my own time, it is completely different than when I read for work. Most obviously because when I’m reading for work, I’m looking for something specific. Whether I’m reading a submission for an upcoming Apex project or doing a critique, I’m focused on a goal. When I read on my own time, that goal is to relax and have fun, and that’s what I do.

INKlings: Are there any snacks that help you while you work? Or do you prefer to not eat and work at the same time?

Lesley: Um, this is probably horrible to admit, but I work straight through breakfast and lunch. I work from home. I don’t have designated “work” hours, so typical days start at 5:30am. I work until I need to get my kids ready for school, then once they’re on the bus, grab something for breakfast and go back to work. At lunchtime, I warmup leftovers or make a salad, and just keep working. My day typically ends when my kids get home. I know I should take breaks to eat, but I like to walk my dog Oz during the day, so rather than rush through lunch and then walk the dog, I eat leisurely while I work, and then take a break to walk the dog.

INKlings: How did you and Jason start working together, and what made you want to publish anthologies?

Lesley: Jason and I met at a con years ago. I kept returning to the Apex table in the dealers room and buying more and more books (what can I say? I have a slight book buying problem.). After the con, we became friends on Facebook and would chat from time to time. This eventually led to me volunteering to run the Apex social media sites and helping with marketing. As time went on, I took on more and more responsibilities until one day Jason promoted me to managing editor. It’s a sweet gig!

As for editing anthologies, who wouldn’t want to do that?!? There is something about seeing an idea Jason and I were tossing back and forth come together that is incredibly satisfying. From having authors excited to write stories for the theme, to reading submissions and finding stories to fit any holes in the toc, to figuring out the layout, and finally getting the finished book into the hands of readers and having them love it as much as you do. It’s amazing! And I truly hope Jason and I get to do this over and over again! We work really well together, and I feel like the end result is pretty spectacular!

INKlings: We know you are busy at Apex with a lot of the social media stuff and with running the Minions program. But can you tell us more about what you do as Managing Editor? What the role entails in keeping Apex running?

Lesley: Being managing editor at a small press means wearing a lot of different hats. Maurice Broaddus likes to joke that I really run Apex, and we just let Jason write the checks. This isn’t true, but I definitely have a lot on my plate. I work on everything from acquisitions of new books, content editing, finding cover art, working with the authors to polish their manuscripts, sending out review queries, coming up with and running new promotions, marketing, writing newsletters, and more. If something needs to be done, I will jump in and do it.

Another huge part of my job is making sure that Jason and I come up with a production schedule and that we stick to it. This is harder than you’d think. It’s very easy to focus on the project that is right in front of you, but at any one time I’m trying to promote our newest release, line up marketing for the next book in line, working with authors for the books coming out over the next few months, and trying to find new projects for the next year. All while not letting sales completely die in our back catalog.

INKlings: Do you have any advice for women wanting to break into publication with places like Apex or into the publishing industry?

Lesley: Not really advice, but a hearty “Go for it!”

I think the publishing industry – both for writers and those wanting to work in publishing – is very open to women right now. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but don’t self-reject. If you’re a writer and a favorite publisher is open to unsolicited submissions, send something in! If you want to work for a publisher, ask if they have any slush reader positions open, or volunteer to help out in some way. A lot of times with small presses, you have just a handful of people doing a lot of work. If they can find someone who is passionate about the work, they may be open to having extra help. I started with Apex volunteering to work on social media stuff 5-10 hours a week. Now I’m the managing editor. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked Jason if I could help out.

Do Not Go Quietly CoverINKlings: The cover art on Do Not Go Quietly is very eye-catching. Is there a story behind the art or its selection?

Lesley: Thank you so much! I am absolutely in love with the cover art. The artist is Marcela Bolivar and she is one of my favorite working artists. I came across her work when I was searching for cover art for Apex Magazine, and instantly knew that I wanted to work with her more. We used her artwork for Damien Angelica Walters’s collection Cry Your Way Home, and when Jason and I started discussing artists for Do Not Go Quietly, I instantly knew that I wanted a piece by Marcela. Jason wasn’t immediately sold, because her artwork doesn’t scream resistance, but I convinced him that it could work. Personally, I think it’s perfect. The art captures the spirit of someone fighting against forces that threaten to overwhelm them.

INKlings: We asked Jason about his favorite piece in the collection. What piece is the one you can’t stop thinking about?

Lesley: I absolutely love E. Catherine Tobler’s story “Kill the Darlings (Silicone Sister Remix)” but that’s not the story I’m going to talk about. Just read it. Trust me.

The story I can’t stop thinking about is Sarah Pinsker’s. “Everything is Closed Today.” It’s a quieter story. Not a giant revolution, but one librarian at a loss for what to do because the libraries are closed. Information about what is happening isn’t available. Kids are out of school. Stores are closed. And no one can give her a clear idea of what is happening.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I really connected with the main character Mae. I feel like in her situation, I would have reacted the same way.

INKlings: Working with a co-editor must be challenging. Is there a story you had to fight for to have included? Perhaps you dueled to first blood with fine-point fountain pens or bargained your soul to the dev… err… Sizemore to keep it?

Lesley: Some would say I bargained my soul to Sizemore the day I signed on to be part of Apex. Did I? I can’t say. I signed a non-disclosure agreement.

But to be serious, I’ve heard horror stories about editors working together on a project. That’s not something I’ve experienced working with Jason. There have been times when I’ve read a story and mentally prepared myself to fight Jason if he didn’t love it too, but I can’t think of a time when that’s happened. Sure there are stories I like more than he does. Ones that maybe if he was editing the anthology on his own, he wouldn’t have included in the final toc, but if I’m in love with a story that didn’t grab him, we discuss it. I tell him why I love it, how I connected to it, what makes that particular story standout to me. Then he tells me where he thought it fell short. After talking about it for a while, we typically end up on the same page about whether or not it should be included. (And all this goes both ways. Sometimes there are stories that Jason connects with that don’t do it for me.)

INKlings: Do you already have ideas and topics for future anthologies?

We do. Nothing set in stone, but we have ideas. And I’m really excited to start fleshing them out more.

Yes, that was intentionally vague.

INKlings: The Apex airship is boarded by a hundred miniature codfish wearing pirate outfits.  Via their talking parrot translators they demand you sacrifice one of the crew. Sizemore and Broaddus share a pointed glance. Which one of them walks the plank?

Lesley: I like that you acknowledge that I will not be walking the plank. I am no one’s sacrifice!

Jason would tell you that we’d sacrifice him, because he’s certain that Maurice and I are planning to overthrow him and take over the world! …. Erm, I mean Apex. And who would blame us if forced to choose by miniature pirate codfish? It’s the perfect time to move forward with our evil plans! Right!?!

BUT Maurice is sure to be lounging in the Apex airship in a super dapper suit – as Maurice does – and if he walked the plank, I am certain he’d whip out some sort of steam powered contraption that would allow him to survive the fall. Maurice always has something up his sleeve! So in the interest of keeping the Apex team all whole and alive, I’d sacrifice him. Walk the plank, Maurice! Jason and I will see you on the ground once we deal with the cod pirates. Anyone up for a fish fry?

 

Dear Lesley. On behalf of all INKlings, thank you so much for joining in on the fun. We’d like to offer you the title of honorary INKling. I’m sorry to say we ran out of complimentary codfish. One too many duels lately. But we still love you!

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September 2015. She is the co-editor of two anthologies: Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 and Do Not Go Quietly, both of which she edited with Jason Sizemore. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Resistance. Revolution. Standing up and demanding to have your space, your say, your right to be. From small acts of defiance to protests that shut down cities, Do Not Go Quietly is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories about those who resist. Within this anthology, we will chronicle the fight for what is just and right, and what that means: from leading revolutions to the simple act of saying “No.”

Edited by Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner.

3 Comments

  1. scribbles “Get something published in Apex so you can work with Lesley Conner” on her writer dream list Thank you so much for all the time you invested answering our questions! I laughed several times reading these answers.

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