Interview with the editors of Mothership Zeta
Interview with the editors of Mothership Zeta
I’d like to welcome Mur Lafferty (Editor), Sunil Patel (Assistant Editor), and Karen Bovenmyer (Nonfiction Editor) from Mothership Zeta
Mothership Zeta is the new digital magazine from Escape Artists Inc, crammed with the best, most fun speculative fiction four times a year. Check it out here:www.mothershipzeta.org
Mothership Zeta is a fun and fresh new voice among the more traditional – and often quite staid – sci-fi magazines. Tell me a little about how it came about?
Mur: When Alasdair Stuart took over Escape Artists, he had a vision to expand the company. In the time he’s been publisher, we’ve taken on the YA podcast, Cast of Wonders, and started our first ezine. He’s driven the whole thing, and I’m just honored I can bring Mothership Zeta to readers every quarter. “Fun” fiction was what drew me to Escape Pod, so I wanted to keep that mindset going with MZ.
Humour is often such a subjective thing. What makes one person laugh, will make another groan. Do you ever have disagreements about what to go in the magazine?
Sunil: I love puns! Mur hates them. But humor is subjective in so many ways, and your framing of this question speaks to a very common misconception people have about our magazine, which is that we are a humor magazine. We are not! We publish funny stories, it’s true, but we also publish stories with very little humor at all that still fit our positive, warm, uplifting, satisfying aesthetic. To be honest, funny stories have a much tougher time getting past me because we get so many of them, and I might not have the same sense of humor as the author, or even the slushers. You’ve got to be doing more than just making me laugh, you have to engage me on a plot and character level as well. And there have been some stories that I’ve liked more than Mur or she’s liked more than me. As the Editor in Chief, she makes the final decision, but she also respects my tastes and judgment so that we work together to define what makes a good Mothership Zeta story.
Mur: As Sunil has said, he loves puns, and I hate them. Well. I don’t hate puns. I hate bad puns, and it’s hard to find a good pun to impress me. But we work well together to try to not only keep true to what we see as a good MZ story, but also to keep in mind what our audience wants to see. If Sunil likes a story, and I think our audience would go for it, but I am less enthused, I will strongly consider it anyway.
What you first open a new submission, what do you hope to find?
Karen: The first thing I’m looking for is a character or situation I can bond to, something that engages my curiosity with either “who is this narrator/point of view character? I need to know them better,” or “how is this character going to resolve this situation they’re in?” I also look for some concrete physical sensation or grounding of me-the-reader in the setting. I like to feel what the characters are feeling and be able to picture where the action taking place. However, an engaging voice telling me the story (such as Fade Manley’s “Q&A: An AI Love Story,” in which the reader only “hears” the answers to a question and answer session) can trump anything else. Give me the sense that you-the-writer really know the character and story you are telling and me-the-reader will be engaged with your story by sheer curiosity of discovery.
Sunil: For me, I am always drawn to a strong voice, either the author’s or the character’s. Pretty much every story I’ve loved has grabbed me from the first paragraph, even the first line. I’m looking for something fresh and original, something unexpected that’s then explored in a fun way. I want a story that hooks me immediately, never lets me go, and gives me a satisfying ending, preferably one that I don’t see coming but in retrospect I should have.
Is there anything that’s an instant turn off for you?
Mur: People who don’t read the guidelines! Seriously, our turnoffs are right there, so if people send us hardcore sex, sexual violence, tons of gore, etc, they’re not paying attention (or sending us rejections from other magazines without paying attention to our guidelines – the first part is fine, every writer does that, but make sure the story fits the guidelines!). Otherwise, not really. The minute I say I don’t want vampire stories, someone is going to bowl me over with a fresh vampire concept. So I’m open to pretty much anything within our guidelines.
If you had the chance, what’s the one story you would love to have published at MZ? For example, I’ve always loved Terry Bisson’s comic story Made of Meat.
Sunil: There are far too many stories to choose from, but the first story that came to mind was John Wiswell’s “Foreign Tongues,” which I beta read months ago and Flash Fiction Online snagged before we could! Another great one would be Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo- and Nebula-nominated “Cat Pictures Please.” Or Amal El-Mohtar’s “Pockets.” (I think you wanted more classic SF, but there’s so much exciting new SF that is fun!)
Mur: I have always thought that Will McIntosh’s story “Midnight Blue” was one of the perfect Escape Pod stories in the realm of “fun.” It wasn’t funny. But the concept was fun, and the ending was very satisfying. It’s what I hope for when I read a new story. Connie Willis’ Even the Queen is also one of my favorites. Hell, almost anything by Connie Willis. CONNIE PLEASE SEND US A STORY.
Karen: I love “They’re Made Out of Meat” and assign it when I’m teaching creative writing classes at Iowa State—short, funny, and speculative… and entirely dialog (see my answer above).
What message would you give someone thinking about sending something to MZ?
Karen: Write from the heart in some way—add something to your characters that rings true for you personally, that really helps you empathize with them personally. Then add something totally messed up and weird and build a mini-world for me in which this new thing is possible, and that small emotional connection you built for yourself and for me takes me on an adventure through your new situation/landscape. Make it fun. Make it uplifting in some small way. And don’t be afraid to submit it when the time comes.
Slapstick or satire?
Mur: Both are tough, but satire definitely over slapstick. Let’s just say slapstick writing is like puns. Most will do it poorly without a visual accompanying medium.
Sunil: Remember how we were talking about humor being subjective, and Mothership Zeta not being a humor magazine? Slapstick is very, very hard to do well, and it’s not likely to be a good fit for us unless, as I said, the story is working on a plot and character level, so that the slapstick humor is enhancing the enjoyment, rather than carrying the sole burden of the enjoyment. Satire is also very, very hard to do well, especially if the reader does not recognize it as satire. I am more drawn to satire myself.
Politics or pop culture?
Sunil: Pop culture. Always pop culture. I am a pop culture fiend, and I am not much of a politico. That being said, science fiction and fantasy politics and science fiction and fantasy pop culture are both well worth exploring, and the latter doesn’t get explored enough, in that so much of SFF pop culture is simply real-life pop culture given an SFF veneer, rather than an imagined product of the world the author has created.
Mur: I’d prefer pop culture. It’s tough to make a fun political story, but Aaron Sorkin can do it, so if someone sends me something on Sorkin’s level, I’ll be thrilled!h3>
Fiesta or siesta?
Karen: I love a story with lots of action (probably from years of gaming and roleplaying) but a quiet story can really draw me in too, as long as the setting and situation are sufficiently speculative to raise my curiosity. I think great stories have a little of both action and introspection, and the balance can be far to the action side or far to the thoughtful side, but the writer has to keep my trust that they know what they are doing through skillful use of language, layers, and their knowledge of the POV character. The action has to connect to the emotion of the story, and the introspection has to move the character toward making a change that also cycles into setting and the speculative “what if” of the story. This is why writing is so very difficult and so very delicious—all the elements need to fit together like a puzzle, or a huge Jenga tower, something that surprises but still works because every piece is connected with and integral to the next.
Thank you for your time!