Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Feature: Interview with Eric Marin

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

Eric Marin is the publisher/editor of Lone Star Stories and the upcoming The Lone Star Stories Reader. He also has a number of fiction and poetry that have seen print in other publications.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, you're best known for the online magazine Lone Star Stories. What made you decide to start such a venture?

You're welcome, Charles, and thanks for the interview!

I started Lone Star Stories for two reasons. First, I wanted to publish an SF/F magazine back in college but did not have the money to do so. Some eleven years later, I realized that the web allowed me to start an e-zine with very little capital and keep it going for a long period of time with a small amount of money (compared to a print publication). Second, as a writer and reader, I saw some cool online and electronic venues back in 2003, but I also saw a lot of badly run, low quality e-zines. I thought to myself, "Hey, I can do that, and I can do it well." I asked questions of other editors and publishers, did a lot of research and planning, and then started the webzine. I knew it would be tough. (I still remember someone taking bets on how long it would take for Lone Star Stories to fold after I announced the creation of the webzine.) However, I was determined to make it work. So far, it has.

One of the problems when starting a publication is drawing some popular authors to contribute yet in your first issue, you have the likes of Jay Lake, Chris Roberson, and Kevin J. Anderson. Was it easy getting them to write for your magazine?

First, let me clarify something: while Kevin Anderson did send me a cool tale for the first issue, he is not the Kevin J. Anderson who has published numerous science fiction novels. I was, however, very fortunate to receive submissions from Jay Lake and Chris Roberson. Chris was kind enough to send me his tale unsolicited, while Jay responded to a request from me. I think it helped that both Chris and Jay liked the original Texas theme of Lone Star Stories. All of the stories in the first issue were written before Lone Star Stories was started, so I didn't have to worry about asking the authors for work custom-written for the webzine. (In fact, William Goyen was long dead, so asking would have been rather . . . challenging. I just had to negotiate the reprint rights from his estate's agent.)

What are some of the challenges you faced (past and present) in running Lone Star Stories? Is it a one-man outfit?

Yes, Lone Star Stories is run by me alone, and it has been since the start. That meant I had to learn everything myself: slush-reading and responding to submissions, editing, proofing, basic intellectual property and publishing contracts knowledge (made easier by my legal training), acquiring interesting public domain art to include with the works I published, basic web design and online issue formatting, and marketing. A lot of that involved serious trial and error and effort on my part. At the start, though, the tallest hurdle was finding enough quality fiction I liked to publish a complete issue. I was always running up on the publication deadline (the first day of every other month beginning with the first issue going live on February 1, 2004) with at least one fiction slot empty. I had to ask authors for work a lot in the first year, and I asked very, very nicely. Several authors agreed to send me work over time, and I managed to make every deadline. However, I realized within a few months that my Texas connection theme was not generating enough work to keep the webzine going. So, I broadened the Lone Star Stories theme to any type of speculative fiction (and speculative poetry by that point). That made all of the difference. I still had to ask authors off and on for work, but I received enough cool stuff in my in-box to keep Lone Star Stories going.

What's your criteria when choosing which works to accept? Do you have a conscious editorial agenda?

I look for well-written stories and poems incorporating or referencing elements of the fantastic, futuristic, mythic, etc. that engage me right from the start and keep me engaged to the end. That's pretty much my agenda, as that selection process appears to draw new readers and keep them coming back to the site as new work is published.

You're one of the venues that publishes speculative fiction poetry. Do you have anything to comment with regards to that particular field?

Speculative poetry is an area that gets little notice in the SF/F/H community or in the literary community, which is unfortunate, because there's some amazing speculative verse out there. I publish speculative poetry in Lone Star Stories because I want to expose readers to that work. (Along those lines, I was very happy to learn that a poem published in Lone Star Stories last year, Sonya Taaffe's "Follow Me Home," will be reprinted in the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #21.) I would refer those interested in learning more to the Wikipedia entry on speculative poetry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speculative_poetry and to the Science Fiction Poetry Association's site here: http://www.sfpa.org.

What's your take on online publishing? Is it feasible, the wave of the future, or a new medium to go side-by-side with print?

Online publishing is still in its early childhood stage, but it's growing fast. I don't think that online publishing or even electronic publishing in general will supplant print publishing anytime soon, but I expect that it will eventually. I'm certainly enjoying my present involvement in electronic publishing.

On the business side of things, how do you maintain Lone Star Stories? Is it simply money out of your pocket and a hobby or are you going to try out a business model that will make it a self-sustaining business?

I pay for Lone Star Stories out of my own pocket, which is something I can afford to do because of my full time law practice. It helps that I keep costs low, but that translates into lower-than-I-would-prefer pay rates for fiction and poetry. I am working to build the reputation of Lone Star Stories over time with the hope that I will find a way to leverage the growing readership of Lone Star Stories into a sustainable funding source to pay authors and poets more for their work.

Can you tell us more about your newly established LSS Press?

LSS Press is intended to provide a book length, print and e-book publishing avenue for Lone Star Stories works and, sometime in the future, original speculative fiction and poetry. The first, still-in-development LSS Press project is the The Lone Star Stories Reader, an anthology of fiction selected from the first 25 issues of Lone Star Stories. I plan to publish additional Lone Star Stories-derived anthologies in the future. My goals for the press are to garner more attention for Lone Star Stories and to raise funds for future LSS Press projects and for Lone Star Stories.

What was your criteria in choosing the stories for The Lone Star Stories Reader? What made you decide to finally take your stories to print?

I selected fantastic/weird fiction from the first 25 issues of Lone Star Stories that works together thematically, that has not yet appeared in print, and that gives a strong taste of the type of work I publish in Lone Star Stories. As I noted above, I am saving other, nifty Lone Star Stories work (science fiction, poetry, etc.) for future anthologies.

I had planned on publishing an anthology of Lone Star Stories works in print and e-book formats eventually, and I felt comfortable with making the plan a reality with a pool of 75 stories to consider for an anthology.

What got you into science-fiction and fantasy? Who are some of your favorite authors (or what are some of your favorite books/stories)?

I started reading fantasy and science fiction at age nine when my father was reading The Lord of the Rings to me and my brother. I decided I couldn't wait to see what happened next and began to read ahead. After finishing the trilogy, I moved on to works by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Madeleine L'Engle, and others, eventually reading adult fantasy and science fiction. I read all genres of fiction in novel form, but I always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction the most, although my tastes in science fiction and fantasy have changed over time.

I'm not sure I have favorite authors or books so much as a long list of authors whose work I admire and enjoy. Not counting all of the terrific writers and poets I have published in Lone Star Stories, I quite like the work of Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Theodora Goss, Ellen Kushner, Kelly Link, George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, Michael Swanwick, Gene Wolfe, and a list of other authors too long for this interview.

Let's talk about your writing. Not to box you in or anything but right now, do you see yourself more of a writer/poet or an editor/publisher? Lately, which endeavor do you find yourself devoting more time to?

I definitely see myself as more of an editor/publisher than a poet/writer at present. I wrote a great deal of short fiction and poetry from 2003 to 2005 or so, but my interest in writing waned, while my interest in editing and publishing continued (and perhaps increased). I spend most of my creative time with Lone Star Stories and The Lone Star Stories Reader, but I still write on occasion. (My interest in writing seems to be returning, so I may become more productive on that front.)

What made you decide to write speculative fiction poetry? Which is harder for you, writing fiction or poetry? So far, what field are you finding yourself more success in?

I had written speculative free verse and haiku poetry off and on since college but never thought about writing it for publication until I started reading it online in 2003. I started playing around with it, sent some of it off, and discovered that editors liked it enough to buy it. That got me actively writing it, and, although I've slowed down a whole lot since 2005 or so, I still enjoy writing speculative poetry.

Writing poetry is much easier than writing fiction for me. In terms of publication success, I seem to have placed a little more poetry than fiction, although I've not been very active in submitting my work for a while now.

Considering you've published a wide variety of authors and poets, have you considered publishing your own work?

Only long enough to realize it would be a bad idea. I wouldn't be able to be objective about the quality of my own work.

How is it trying to get your own work published by others? Are you still actively pursuing a writing career? (If so, where can we read some of your upcoming work?)

As noted above, I am not a very active submitter any longer. However, when I do submit works for publication (almost all poetry), I receive the same responses I always have: some rejections and some acceptances. My most recent sale was a short poem, "A Fate Avoided," which will appear in a future issue of Ideomancer.

Several years down the line, where do you hope to be? (Writer, publisher, editor, some combination of all three, or pursuing something entirely different?)

I hope to remain a combination of editor, publisher, and writer/poet (although I'd like to be writing more in the future than I am now).

Any advice for aspiring writers/poets?

Read a wide variety of fiction and poetry with an eye toward improving your own writing; keep submitting to respected markets, even if you feel like you could wallpaper your bathroom with rejection letters and emails; and remember that many times a rejection is a subjective decision on the part of an editor, not a judgment of your ability as a writer or of the quality of your work.

Any advice for aspiring editors/publishers?

Do your homework. Ask (politely) editors and publishers you respect about what they do, how they do it, and the paths they took to reach their current positions. Gain an understanding of the time, money, and energy needed for the editing/publishing work you would like to do.

Do you have any weird legal advice for us?

If anyone offers to sell you real estate on an extraterrestrial body such as Mars, politely decline the offer, then go share the information with a government attorney who works in the consumer protection arena.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

Something I've heard and read many times is that cool fiction and poetry gets read when it receives positive word-of-mouth and the electronic equivalent. So, I urge the readers of this interview to let people know via blog, email, or in person when when they read something they really like. Everyone benefits from recommendations of nifty work.


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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview, gentlemen. LSS is a terrific venue. Eric, I admire that you do this out of pocket. I'll definitely order an LSS Reader.

Eric Marin said...

Thanks again for the interview, Charles!

Thank you, Laird!