Prospecting for Stories: An INKterview with Five First Readers from Apex Magazine

Apex Magazine is currently fundraising to come back from their hiatus. Before the break, they’d been a professional magazine publishing a wide range of award-winning speculative fiction. In an amazing outpouring of support from readers, they achieved their initial funding goal to cover the first two issues of the magazine. The next day, with minimal fanfare, they opened the gates for submission.

Writers rushed to sub, including some of our members here at INKubator, who had been planning submissions since we first heard the rumors the magazine was making a comeback. The initial stats were shocking:

Apex received 394 submissions in the first 3 days after reopening.

But editor Jason Sizemore is committed to getting at least initial rejections to authors within 30 days. But with such a huge mountain of submissions, there is no way Jason and his managing editor, Lesley Conner, are reading all these submissions themselves. So who is climbing this veritable mountain of submissions and doing the backbreaking work of prospecting for the shiniest gems?

Enter the often-unsung heroes of the literary world…

THE FIRST READERS

Like many other publications, Apex uses a team of volunteer readers. They face the painstaking task of picking and shoveling through the shale and granite to find the valuable gems–the best stories–that have the highest chance of enticing the Apex editors.

Lucky for us, five of these dedicated submission mountaineers took time out of their busy schedules to answer a bunch of questions for us about the process and themselves.

 

Can you tell us a bit more about how the reading process works at Apex Magazine? How many readers will a story go through before being rejected or passed to the editors? Are there any criteria used when evaluating pieces?

Eva Roslin: I think Lesley can speak more to how many readers a story will go through before it’s rejected or passed to the editors. There are definitely criteria used in the evaluation process such as if the story has a strong hook or opening, if it sustains the reader’s interest, if it follows the magazine’s guidelines and seems like its aesthetic would fit with what the magazine publishes, and so on.

As Eva Roslin suggested, we passed this question up to Lesley Conner, the managing editor at Apex.

Lesley Conner: Sure, I’d be happy to. Once a story has been submitted to Apex Magazine, the first person to read it is one of our slush team. Stories aren’t assigned to a specific reader, so which one reads a particular story is random. The slush readers are looking for several things:

Graphic displaying how Apex handles submissions

  1. Did the author follow our submission guidelines? Our guidelines clearly state that we’re looking for previously unpublished work. If your cover letter says that it was published, but the rights reverted back to you, then they know we’re going to pass on it.
  2. Is the writing at a pro-zine level? While we copy-edit every story published in Apex Magazine, we’re looking for stories that are already pretty clean. We aren’t looking to do heavy edits or story critiques, even if the idea is super clever.
  3. Is the story good? Is it a good fit for Apex? All of our slush readers read the magazine. They see what kinds of stories Jason and I are selecting for each issue. That is the best way to get a feel for what Apex is looking for.

If a slush reader does not think a story is a good fit for Apex Magazine, they will mark it as “not recommended” and I send out rejection. If they think it is worth further consideration, I bump the story up to my queue and notify the reader that we’re holding on to it. I read all of the stories that the slush readers recommend. All of the stories bumped up to me are good stories. My job is to narrow the good stories down to the great stories. I don’t send any stories up to our editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore that I don’t think could be published in Apex Magazine.

Jason’s story queue is the final … I want to say level, but seems like the wrong word. His queue is the final stop and he makes the final decision about every story published in Apex Magazine. There are some stories he and I will discuss in detail before he makes a decision, but it is his decision that determines which stories are published and which we turn down.

Do diversity considerations have an impact on the reading process at your level?

Mike Baldwin: It’s so important to have diversity in the things we read. One of the things I really like about reading slush for Apex is that Jason and Lesley do a great job of encouraging diverse voices. No matter the style, genre or theme of the story, I believe the story is a reflection of the life lived by the writer. At the slush reader level, the job is to help the editors find great stories, and I think the ones that really stand out are stories with a voice and tone that reflect diversity.

Eva Roslin: Speaking for myself as a disabled person with Middle Eastern ancestry, I’m very conscientious of diversity. I’m definitely vigilant of it as I’m reading through pieces sent for Apex’s consideration. It makes me glad to see more of it in pieces and in the authors who submit, and I hope we see more as time goes on.

Eileen Maksym: Yes, in that we are looking for a diversity of perspectives. Stories about other cultures and with diverse characters are more likely to get a second look.

Gabby Shriner: As far as I know, they didn’t impact the reading process before the magazine went on hiatus, but that might be an interesting and definitely welcome change. I doubt it would be difficult to implement, but some guidelines may be helpful for readers if that were to happen at some point.

How has your experience as a reader impacted you as a writer? Has it impacted your reading when not “on the job”?

Gabby Shriner: This is an excellent question, and one I’ve actually thought about a lot, especially when reading for Apex and another literary magazine I read (and interned for) during undergrad, The Literary Review. Reading submissions has, in some ways, enabled me to distance myself from my work and the editing process. This means that I am able to revise or rework aspects of my own writing with a more critical eye, as if I were reading through a story or  chapter written by someone else. It might sound like a weird dissociative experience, but it’s actually really helpful.

And since I’ve been using Camp NaNoWriMo this month [July] to make more progress on a series of science fiction short stories I have been working on, which revolve around the concept of virtual and augmented realities, that’s absolutely beneficial. Originally, this current project focused on two main characters, but I’ve since made plans to expand it to different perspectives, and in different points in time and place, when use of VR/AR is commonplace and widespread, including in gaming and entertainment, but also for people to take vacations, communicate, etc. in a kind of all-encompassing sensory experience. The ability to read through my own writing and think about where I want to go with it, since those are some things I keep in mind when reading submissions (plot, world-building, characters, internal consistencies, etc.), is absolutely helpful when it comes to considering my own work.

Mike Bell: Reading slush has made me more critical when redrafting, and while I try to stay true to my own writing voice, I do think about how a first reader will experience this particular piece. Does it contain the elements and qualities that I seek in great fiction? As for reading when not “on the job,” I’m afraid I am equally as critical! Though I find that I am more forgiving too, as it’s easier to remember that each work is someone’s labor of love.

Eva Roslin: One of the primary reasons I became a pre-reader was because so many other writers, including my writing coach, recommended this as a practice to improve my own writing. It helps me see why a story doesn’t grab me, or why one does. It has helped me have an ‘eagle eye’ to look for predictable plots, clichés, and other things that make stories a harder sell. I definitely read critically when I’m not “on the job” but thus far, I have retained the ability to read for pleasure.

Mike Baldwin: How has being a first reader impacted me as a writer? I came to life in the slush as a life long reader, and not so much a writer. Reading Apex slush has totally expanded my horizons as a reader, and lead me to exciting new writers and ideas. I’m still a voracious book reader, but the books have really shifted to anthologies and short story collections. As far as writing, when I was much younger I started a story or two, but never really committed to finishing anything. Over time, my writing efforts have ended up focusing more along the technical or research line for work. Since being an Apex reader, I’ve been inspired by the creativity and imagination I read, and have 3.5 stories in progress — one day hopefully I’ll be brave enough to submit.

What made you decide to become a first reader?

Mike Bell: As a writer with an impressive collection of rejection letters, I knew that experiencing the process from the “other side” would be an important part of my schooling. It has been so instructive for me, and I strongly recommend it.

Eileen Maksym: I first heard about slush readers at a con, and it sounded like a great way to contribute to the community, as well as improve my own writing by learning what works and doesn’t work in the stories I read.

Mike Baldwin: What lead me to become a denizen of the slush? I think it was burnout — work was crazy, I was working way too much, and I felt out of balance, majorly burnt out, and my batteries were almost dead. I started trying to find balance and recharge my drained batteries. Reading Sci Fi and speculative fiction, was part of recharging. Right about that time I saw a tweet from Lesley seeking slush readers — I’d read some Apex stories and really liked the Apex tone — the Apex vibe is strong. I reached out, and well, here I am!

Eva Roslin: I think the previous question addresses this part for me–I was encouraged to become a first reader or pre-reader to gain a better understanding of the structure of fiction: what works, what doesn’t work, and being able to point at why. As well, I’m a librarian and book reviewer, so I am very fond of reading (to put it mildly).

Gabby Shriner: When I decided I wanted to be a reader for Apex, I was already a fan of Apex Magazine, which I kind of stumbled upon when looking for places to submit my writing, and while interning for TLR, a magazine I continue to read submissions and write book reviews for on occasion. Since I am a lover of science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, etc. Apex was immediately a magazine I wanted to read for, too. The stories are so captivating and surprising, with stunning worldbuilding in a short span of words, and characters who felt real, with each story being incredibly unique. Originally, I think also wanted to read submissions for magazines to kind of do detective work, and see what types of stories those magazines accepted — I didn’t initially have the thought that it might improve my own writing, expand my reading horizons, or make me much more interested in reading anthologies like Avatars Inc., edited by Ann VanderMeer, but it has.

Do you have any advice for writers hoping their piece will make it through the gauntlet and get to the editors?

Eileen Maksym: I usually know if I’m going to accept or reject a piece by the end of the first paragraph. So while you should aim for your whole story to be the best it can be, work on making that first paragraph spectacular. Make it so compelling that I will have no choice but to read on.

Eva Roslin: My biggest piece of advice, and apologies if it seems simplistic, is to follow the publication’s submission guidelines. It is still surprising the number of submitters who do not follow these. Beyond that, submit the best story you possibly can, after it has gone through preferably a few rounds of critiques from beta readers, a critique group, an editor, etc., and keep at it. This is a difficult business filled with much rejection, and perseverance is not always easy to maintain, but keeping at it is key.

Mike Bell: Read the guidelines and follow them closely. They’re not suggestions! An exceptional story might squeak through with unusual formatting, but why take that chance? Most importantly, read the magazine. Your story might be brilliant, but is this the market for it?

Mike Baldwin: Tips or advice for writers to make it through the gauntlet… A few things…a lot of things… Okay, a few things. First off, authors should read some Apex stories before submitting, There are a lot of stories I read in which it is very clear the author doesn’t have an idea about the Apex vibe, or what is being sought. The story can be a great story, and well written, but wasn’t sent to the right place. It really kills me to decline good stories because they weren’t sent to the right place. Second, authors should make sure the story is complete, and has a full story arc. It’s good to have a strong lead in to hook the reader, but I think it’s more important to have a solid and strong finish. Too many of the stories I read have a good, or even great start, but fade in the last third or quarter of the story — it almost seems like the story wasn’t done yet, or perhaps the author might not have known how the story should end. It’s a bummer to have invested in reading a story, and then have it lose its way at the end. Lastly, theme or content-wise, a sure thing that I reject is murder or violence porn — any kind of violence against others that is glorified and has no purpose other than for violence for violence sake. It’s always surprising, when those stories pop up. Otherwise, I think there are so many story possibilities out there, and one’s imagination is the only limit. Whatever you write — just have a strong voice!

How do you feel about coming back to work at Apex after the hiatus?

Mike Bell: So excited! When I heard from Lesley that the magazine was relaunching, it felt almost like receiving an acceptance on a new story.

Gabby Shriner: I am really excited about it, to be honest, and I think it will be such a welcome thing to get back to in the midst of the pandemic. I’ve been catching up on more current issues and reading through back issues, and just looking at previous cover art makes me feel thrilled to be able to read for Apex again. Since I’m also volunteering for an organization called the Librarian Reserve Corps, I am kind of looking forward to reading works that aren’t written exclusively by doctors or researchers about COVID-19 — it is important work, and so is the magazine — in a more literary, creative and own voices sense.

Mike Baldwin: It’s great that Jason, the Dark Overlord, is back and functioning once again within optimal operational parameters. I was thrilled to be asked back to the Apex family. It’s very exciting to be reading slush again. I knew I’ve missed the slush, but I hadn’t realized how much.

Eva Roslin: I am very excited. In my situation, I had only been with Apex a short while as a first reader before they announced that they were going on an undetermined hiatus, and I felt very concerned for the editors, for the other pre-readers, for the magazine’s readers, for writers submitting, and so on. I’m delighted they are bringing the magazine back and I have long been a supporter of what they do.

Can you tell us about a few of your favorite stories from your history at Apex that were published in the magazine?

Mike Baldwin: So many stories, that it’s hard to pick! Two candidates that come to mind, because I just reread them, are “Cherry Wood Coffin” by Eugenia Triantafyllou, and “A Priest of Vast and Different Places” by Cassandra Khaw. I won’t give any spoilers, because people need to read, discover and experience them. These are two drastically different stories, but really highlight the unique nature, range, and voices of the Apex vibe. “Cherry Wood Coffin” is a great piece of flash fiction, and a good example of how to develop a strong voice, that pulls you in and puts you in the heart of the story — with only 700 words. “A Priest of Vast and Different Places” is an equally tight speculative story that pushes you to really think about things differently. In both of these stories, every word matters, and isn’t wasted. Jason and Lesley’s vision of Apex has created such an important niche for writers, and for readers!

Eva Roslin: This story is not from my time or as a result of my time as a pre-reader, but one of my all-time favourites is “For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough” by Eden Royce. Her prose is majestic, and hypnotic. She’s one of my absolute favourite writers, period, and this piece is told in such a unique and inventive style.

Mike Bell: My absolute favorite story that I encountered was Jo Miles’ “Choose Your Truth,” published in Apex’s Do Not Go Quietly anthology last year. An expertly crafted near-future look at the effects of media and news manipulation, this work takes you through a series of twists and turns until you don’t know what or who to believe. So relevant, so sharply written. Finding a gem like this in the slush is what makes this work so rewarding.

Is there anything in particular you are hoping to see more of when the floodgates open and stories flow into the slush piles again?

Mike Bell: My great love is hard sci-fi, and it’s something I feel I never see enough of. I crave stories that focus on the beauty and despair of our human condition–and everything in between! But I would love to see more of these pieces set against hard sci-fi backdrops.

Eva Roslin: I’m hoping to see more horror come through. I love dark fantasy done well, and although I’m not big on science fiction, I do enjoy some interesting combinations of science fiction and horror. I want to see more interesting and unique stories, and hopefully pass along some great ones to the editors to recommend them for publication.

If you could go back and give your pre-Apex self one piece of advice as a writer or reader, what would it be?

Eva Roslin: Probably it would be to start applying to be a pre-reader earlier, because I’ve learned so much, and it has helped me feel like part of a great community by being part of Apex.

Do you see waves of themes (outside of the theme of a particular call) inside the slush? If so, does it seem to be topical to world events? Or just something that many people converge on independently?

Eva Roslin: In my experience, probably the second case. Sometimes people seem to converge on something independently, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how different the themes and subjects are within the speculative fiction umbrella that we receive.

Mike Baldwin: Themes….since reopening, I’m a hundred stories or so in, and I haven’t come across any major themes yet. Before the hiatus, it was always amazing to see many people converging on a theme apparently independently. I can remember waves of everything based around alien invasions, unicorns, elves, or mermaids, mermen or selkies. Given the current state of the world, I have been expecting more stories reflecting current events. In particular, pandemic, plague and virus themed work, perhaps even more dark dystopian work — so far, I think I’ve only seen a couple virus/pandemic related stories. I wonder if it’s that we are living in a pandemic and dystopian world at present, and people want to escape and write something different. Whatever pushes people to write their stories, it’s exciting to see everybody’s imagination at work with very different and unique stories. I love seeing the way people’s minds work, and the voice they bring.

Are there ever moments where you doubt your decision after sending a story up to the editors?

Gabby Shriner: Definitely. It can be tough when a story someone submitted is on that line between good and excellent and unique – when the beginning is captivating and the characters are vibrant and honest, but maybe it tapers out toward the end, or it feels too much an echo of another story that I can’t quite place. Stories that are pretty good, or maybe a matter of taste, are tougher to send to editors and make me doubt some of my feedback about the work.

Eva Roslin: Quite often, yes. I always question if something was a matter of my taste, and have I made the right decision, but I ultimately remember that it’s just one opinion that gets taken into consideration, that this is a collaborative effort, and that the editors make the final call. So while my input is important in the overall process, it’s important to remember that we’re a team.

Mike Baldwin: When I first started as a First Reader with Apex, I remember agonizing over every story. I probably bothered the heck out of Lesley while I was fine tuning my slush skills. Now, after having read slush for a while, I think the decision is usually pretty clear. So, if I have a doubt, it’s the other way. Instead of doubting a story I sent up, I doubt not recommending a piece. Generally though, if I have a doubt about a story, I’ve learned that I made the right choice in not recommending it.

Mike Bell: I have never doubted sending a story up to the editors; I have faith that Lesley and Jason will continue to value my opinion even if they disagree with my vote of confidence. What gives me pause is the possibility of not sending a story up that feels like it is almost there. In these cases I usually give the author the benefit of the doubt and let the editors decide.

Eileen Maksym: Oh god, there was this ONE STORY I ran into early on in my slush reading career that was an ultra-violent war story about Christmas elves and was stuffed full of horrible Christmas puns. It was terrible, but I could not stop reading it! It was like watching Santa’s sleigh plunge out of the sky and crash into the earth in a massive fireball. As I generally have a rule that if I make it to the end of a story I send it to the editors, I passed it on to the editor at the time with a note of profound apology that I was subjecting her to it.

Describe your perfect opening line for a story.

Eva Roslin: This is difficult. I don’t think there is a perfect opening line, because so many stories have opened in such unique ways that I’ve read, each of them wonderful for their own reasons. Still, I have yet to see any openings that top this one:

“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims.” (this is the opening lines of Beloved by Toni Morrison)

Eileen Maksym: An opening line needs to grab you by the throat and not let go until you’ve read the closing line.

Mike Bell: I believe the opening line is one of the most crucial elements of a good story. It sets the tone of the piece and is the very first impression the writer makes. What I crave in that opening line is both poetry and urgency: I need the beauty of the author’s words and an immediate understanding of what is at stake, even if just a hint. I want opening lines to reach off the page and grab me by the throat. Don’t skimp in the beginning! (And don’t forget that closing lines are almost as crucial!)

Have recent world events had any impact in your personal reading preferences? Do you expect anything to change in your perspective as you return to work?

Mike Bell: Recent world events have me reading even more than usual; I’ve been adding history, biography, and personal essays to my steady stream of fiction. The fiction will always be crucial: we need worlds not just to escape into but to help us imagine what could be. At the same time, global issues that have always been pressing but are now in the spotlight need to be addressed. Speculative fiction has always been a genre that perfectly marries the fantastical with the reality of our lived experience. In reading slush, I think I will still hope to find these genuine personal voices in beautiful (and grim!) speculative landscapes.

Eileen Maksym: There are certainly aspects of current events that I would have rolled my eyes at had I found them in stories I was reading before 2016 or so. Cartoonish villains and plotlines that beggar belief with ridiculous twists that make you want to throw down the book and yell “OH COME ON!” Now, unfortunately, they won’t be unbelievable, they’ll just be boring. Dystopias are going to have to be really unique to catch my interest. And just forget about plague narratives. The Andromeda Strain would not play well right now.

Gabby Shriner: As an aspiring library worker and librarian, I’ve been seeing so much in my social media feeds about reading joy and escapism during the pandemic, as well as the importance of reading antiracist and own voices works, or works by authors with backgrounds that reflect their characters, circumstances, etc. in the wake of an increasing awareness of police brutality and systemic racism. I totally get reading for “an escape,” but that hasn’t always been what I’m into. I thoroughly enjoy horror, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism and more but reading these is not always an escape — writers like Ursula le Guin, Jeff VanderMeer, Elizabeth Acevedo and Tomi Adeyemi often use other worlds to reflect our reality, and to examine it in a way that only seems different or changed. But it is very much reading about the world, and I love that about different authors and genres, and what they can bring. The same is true of Apex, and I think if anything recent events have made me more actively seek out writers and authors with diverse perspectives, including works I might not otherwise seek out or read, but often when I take that chance I end up thoroughly enjoying them.

In starting to read for Apex again, I would be interested in thinking more about the writer behind the submission, and in hoping to read through more amazing, innovative works by emerging writers and those with diverse backgrounds. I’m hoping for a limited amount of stories about pandemics, but we’ll see.

Of course both are important, but if you had to choose, would you prefer a story with a strong beginning or a strong ending?

Mike Bell: Strong beginning. You can’t wait until the end of the story to make that important first impression. (I’ve also been told by editors that my strong beginnings do not always result in strong payoffs, mostly because I struggle with the idea that stories ever actually “end.” But that’s my issue to work on!)

Mike Baldwin: Strong beginning or end? Definitely a strong ending! I can tolerate a mild start, but it is so frustrating to invest in a story only to have it disappoint you at the end. I don’t have to like the ending, just as long as it is strong and fits with the story arc.

Eva Roslin: I generally prefer a strong beginning because it gives me momentum to keep reading.

Eileen Maksym: Assuming the beginning isn’t terrible, I would prefer a strong ending.

What was the story that made you fall in love with speculative literature?

Gabby Shriner: That is a really hard question! As far as stories go, I hope I’m not too predictable in saying “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges. I was first exposed to his work in a creative writing class that focused on invented worlds, and the rhythm and imagery in Babel is incredible. Come Closer by Sara Gran is a short novel, but it feels more like a story and is still a work that I think about: it focuses on a young woman in a struggling relationship who may or may not have been possessed by a demon. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to mention Tillie Walden, who started writing webcomics but is also the author of several graphic novels, my favorites being On a Sunbeam and Are you Listening? which came out recently. Walden’s characters and settings are absolutely magical, and these two elements alone tell incredible stories that are at once speculative, vibrant and heart-wrenching, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Eileen Maksym: I’m not sure I can pinpoint a story, but I can definitely pinpoint a writer: Ray Bradbury. When I was a kid I would check out Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man from the local library over and over. I was fascinated by how each of the stories was a glimpse into a world that was just slightly different from mine, which made me want to seek out other writers and stories that offered the same experience.

Eva Roslin: I can’t point to just one, but I think the Legacy of Kain series of video games, particularly the opening video of Soul Reaver (the second game in the series) made me fall in love utterly.

Mike Baldwin: I don’t know if I can remember one story in particular. As a kid I remember watching the old monster movies like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy. But the one that really made an impression was The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Reading wise – I remember as a kid (8 – 9 years old??) the teacher read the class A Watership Down, about the same time I remember sneaking out of the kid part into the adult section of the public library and coming across one of the Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs but I can’t remember now. That opened the possibilities of whole other unique worlds and possibilities, and the likes of Tolkien, Bradbury, and so many others.

You read a story. It has an intriguing hook, a solid middle, and a punchy end. Character arcs are solid and engaging, the plot moves along swiftly and reaches a satisfying conclusion. BUT–the piece has a bunch of ‘ings’, ‘thens’, ‘justs’, and all sorts of other typical line edit atrocities. What do you do?

Eileen Maksym: Tough question! The problem is that the awesomeness of the hook, middle, and ending can be completely obscured if the prose isn’t able to carry its weight. As such, I will probably reject it.

Eva Roslin: I might mention this in my overall notes to the editors. When the overarching elements you’ve mentioned that are vital for whether a story works, such as the hook, plotting, etc., are in place, the more micro line-editing factors are easier to fix, and that would be something for the editors to decide.

Do you have strong opinions about the concept of octopus riders? If you were to choose a watery steed, what would it be?

Mike Baldwin: I like the idea of octopus riders. However, I fear the elder gods would never tolerate such a thing. The repercussions could lead to unimaginable horrors for all. So, I think a trusty shark steed is the way to go – very functional, a type of shark for every need – stealth, speed, or whatever. Just name it!

If you were a book, what format and bind would you be?

Eva Roslin: This is a tough question because I minored in Rare Books and Manuscripts when I did my master’s degree in Library Science. If I were a book, I would be an illuminated medieval manuscript with ornate gold leafing, on vellum paper, with a lavish morocco leather front and back cover. I would have an engraving pattern stamped into the middle of the front and back covers. I would also be written in Middle French and contain epic love poems because I’m a sap.

Tea or coffee?

Gabby Shriner: Also an excellent question, I have been an avid tea fan since my mom would make me tea with honey whenever I was sick as a kid. Tea in pretty much any and every form is my deal. I tend to drink English breakfast in the morning with honey and gasp milk, and herbal or fruit-based teas later in the day. I’ve been really into strawberry green and mango tea lately, as well as frothy Earl Grey lattes in the afternoons. Since I live in the Sonoran desert now, though, the majority of the tea I drink is iced and sweetened with agave, which is absolutely the perfect write and chill beverage.

Mike Bell: Coffee before noon. Tea after.

Eva Roslin: Tea. Earl Gray. Hot. LOL

Mike Baldwin: Tea or Coffee… When younger, it was definitely coffee. Now it is definitely tea – especially plum tea!

Eileen Maksym: Starbucks iced coffee, venti, with half and half and toffee nut syrup.

By popular vote of the entire human species, you’ve been exiled to live the rest of your life on Ceres. What did you do?

Mike Baldwin: I was exiled for a shameful mistake of youth. I’m guilty of dog earring and cracking the spine on a borrowed book…a mistake I regret, and a shame I shall have to live with…

Your spaceship is about to explode. Alarms blare all over the place and you only have time to grab two items before crawling into a claustrophobic, octopode-infested escape pod. Which two items do you pick?

Mike Bell: A piano and octopode food. I do not want to become their meal, and though this leaves me without some way to write, I’ve heard octopodes have good memories. I will woo them with J.S. Bach’s French Suites and then sing them my stories for safekeeping.

Eileen Maksym: The ship’s cat and a fully loaded e-reader.

Mike Baldwin: With the klaxons blaring, on my way into the octopode-infested escape pod, I grab some emergency air just in case life systems start to fail, and a ton of shrimp snacks – octopods just love a good crunchy crustacean snack. A hungry octopod is a grumpy octopod. One wants happy octopods in a tight spot.

inktopus divider

On behalf of all the members of INKubator, I would like to thank Eva Roslin, Mike Bell, Gabby Shriner, Mike Baldwin, and Eileen Maksym for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer all our questions. We know you’re all already hard at work picking through the mountain of submissions for story gems.

We’d wanted to offer you some brib–ahem–REFRESHMENTS, but those are forbidden by our current pandemic safety protocols. It appears I am only allowed to…

checks paperwork

offer our sincerest thanks for your time, honorary INKling status, and some words of encouragement from our INKtopus, Boris:

Suck it up, Buttercup!

Uhm. Sorry. He’s a bit salty.

 

About Our Interviewees

Eva Roslin

Eva Roslin writes dark fantasy and horror fiction. She is a recipient of the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship, awarded by the Horror Writers Association, and is a Supporting HWA member. Her work has appeared in such publications as Dark Heroes (Pill Hill Press), Murky Depths, Ghostlight Magazine and others. Her reviews and articles have appeared in Cemetery Dance and Hellnotes to name a few.

Website: evaroslin.com

Mike Bell

Writing as M. Ian Bell, his work appears in Shimmer, Apex, and Stupefying Stories. He splits his time between New Jersey and New Hampshire, mentoring adolescents during the school year and co-directing a boys’ overnight camp in summer.

Twitter: @m_ianbell

Gabby Shriner

Gabriella Shriner earned her MLIS degree from Rutgers University. She is from New Jersey but moved to Tucson, AZ last summer. She was an intern at the Pima County Public Library, and hopes to soon be a librarian in a school or public library. If not knitting, she tends to read 3-4 books at a time and is currently working on a collection of sci-fi stories about virtual reality.

Twitter: @GabbyShriner
Instagram: @GabbyShriner
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gabby.shriner/
Website: gshrinerwritingblog.wordpress.com

Mike Baldwin

Mike Baldwin is a life-long Alaskan. After studying clinical psychology and working as a behavioral health clinician, he currently works in evaluation and planning. He has been a fan of sci-fi and spec fiction forever, and a slush editor for Apex Magazine for 5-6 years. When he’s not working he is usually reading or being curious about stuff.

Twitter: @akmrbaldwin

Eileen Maksym

Eileen Maksym (Boston, USA) studied philosophy at Yale and theology at Boston College, and now uses both to write fiction. Currently she is an academic nomad, following her astrophysicist husband around the world, three kids in tow. When not writing or kid wrangling, Eileen is a hopeless fangirl, and the creator and host of The Hopeless Fancast.

Twitter: @eileenmaksym
Website: eileenmaksym.com

About Apex Magazine

Apex Magazine Banner

Returning in 2021, Apex Magazine will publish a range of speculative fiction as a bimonthly electronic magazine. Editor-in-Chief Jason Sizemore and Managing Editor Lesley Conner are aided by editors Maurice Broaddus and Shana DuBois. Apex additionally offers a podcast produced by KT Bryski.

As their Kickstarter says:

For ten years we published works filled with marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful. Creations where secret places and dreams are put on display. After taking a year hiatus, we’re ready to bring more such stories into the world.

The magazine itself had been nominated for Hugo awards three times and stories have received or been nominated for Hugo awards, Nebulas, and much more.

AN SFWA pro market before the hiatus, they intend to return at professional fiction rates and continue to create covers with amazing artwork.

As of this publication, Issues 121-124 have been funded through the Kickstarter and they are close to funding Issue 125. Subscriptions are available through the Kickstarter, their website, and will be provided through a selection of retailers.

Website: apex-magazine.com
Twitter: @apexmag
Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/apexpublications/apex-magazine-2021

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