Interview with Steve Davidson (Amazing Stories)

I am blundering around in the dark before dawn trying to keep my appointment with Steve Davidson, publisher and editor Pro-Tem of Amazing Stories magazine.

SD: We’ve (fortunately) got weird hours around here. I’m generally up at 4 am (EST) and back to bed between 7 and 8 pm.

SCy-Fy: That’s fortunate?

SD: I say fortunately because Amazing’s audience is world-wide and those hours let me communicate in real time with the vast majority, regardless of where they’re based, from China to California.

SCy-Fy: So what’s first up?

SD: I generally start the day with a good couple of hours of reading various blogs and websites. Of late, File 770’s Daily Puppy Coverage has become a must-read.

I do this for two reasons: first, to find items for inclusion in our Sunday news post and also to stay in touch with what’s happening in the SF community. We’re a (growing) weird bunch of untypically intelligent and articulate people and there’s always at least a dozen interesting things going on. No way a single individual can keep up, but it’s worth trying.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

SD: The primary target is to get back to regularly publishing fiction, paying a professional rate and using that to support short fiction writers.

I’ll take this opportunity to make the first formal announcement of one step towards that goal:

Amazing Stories will be hosting a bi-annual short fiction contest, starting “real-soon-now”.

We’ll be accepting up to 100 submissions over a 30 day period, winnowing those down to 20 likely candidates and then submitting those 20 to our team of professional judges that we’ve just secured.

SCy-Fy: Sounds great! Who are the judges?

SD: Cat Rambo, short fiction author who has recently released her debut novel. Cat is the current SFWA VP;

Dave Creek, SFWA member, author and anthology editor; and

Jack Clemons, SFWA member and former NASA rocket scientist, as well as a regular contributor to Amazing Stories (he writes a bi-weekly column about working on the Apollo and Shuttle programs).

I’m very pleased with the line-up of our judges – especially considering that our theme for the first contest is stories about what our solar system will look like 250 years from now: exploration, expansion, colonization. I’m hoping for stories that treat this subject positively, ones that riff off of what is taking place in the development of space technology in the private sector.

SCy-Fy What is the precise format for the competition?

SD: Our judges will select ten stories, and will rank them from 1-10. First thru third place will receive payment of 6 cents per word. All ten will be published by Amazing Stories, and we’ll put an anthology together as well.

All the fine details will be available when we make a formal announcement. Consider this a teaser (and maybe a hint that you ought to get cracking on that short story. But please, no submissions yet.)

We’ve got several other irons in the fire that I am (reluctantly) unable to mention; some involve social networking, others the publishing side of things.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF magazines?

SD: Retaining, much less growing their audiences. It’s beginning to seem like the short story (which is really where the genre came from) is becoming the red-headed stepchild of the genre. (Apologies to red heads and stepchildren.)

Meanwhile, particularly over in parts of Asia, the short short is undergoing a renaissance (apparently a form growing in popularity is the short one can read on their cell phone during a train ride) and, almost as a counter to that, serialized stories (also delivered electronically) are rising in popularity.

SCy-Fy: And with particular reference to Amazing Stories?

SD: I’m beginning to think that the “magazine” as a form or medium, is going to need to change in order to continue to reach an audience. Some of what we’re (trying) to do at Amazing reflects that.

The primary reason we started with multi-daily blog posts on a variety of subjects related to fan interest was a response to this: in the electronic publishing world, you need daily content (and I’d argue, multiple pieces of daily content) in order to capture and retain an audience. I don’t think anyone has the budget to publish multiple pieces of short fiction every day of the week, 365 (though I think Daily Science Fiction is proving that there is an audience and it will respond to such a thing).

SCy-Fy: Tips for writers?

SD: Yeah. Stop writing. Maybe if enough of them heed that tip, we can get back to the good ol’ days of my being able to keep up with the entire field. Other than that, yeah, a few things:

If you want to write science fiction, please be familiar with the genre. In many ways this genre IS a literature in dialogue with itself. Many stories are inspirations drawn from earlier works on a particular theme; or takes that offer an opposing view, or are “continuations of the story”. Many ground-breaking stories are ones that took a theme that everyone thought had been done to death, but the author managed to find a new way to approach it. If you aren’t familiar with what has gone before, you run the risk spending effort on what will turn out to be a re-hash of familiar tropes. Masters of any craft are those who have mastered the tools of that craft. The body of SF works is a major tool, probably akin to a carpenter’s hammer.

Please, please please please PLEASE! Read a publication’s submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM TO THE LETTER. Don’t go outside the system, don’t try to work around the system. Spend the time to format your MS properly. Sure, run spellcheck, but also print it out and read thru it – slowly – looking for errors, and correct them before submitting.

Don’t become the editor of a daily multi-author blog.

SCy-Fy: On that last point, do you sometimes find it difficult to keep going in hard times?

SD: I think the only real issue is being able to maintain one’s interest and enthusiasm. I’ll go through periods when “not enough is happening” to satisfy my need to feel progress is being made, but then I look at the progress that has been made and I’m pretty much over it.

There’s a song called “Tubthumping” (I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down). I’m irrepressible. I love this genre, I love the fan community, its history, its quirky, interested-in-everything nature, its usually positive vision of the future (despite all the talk about the dominance of post-apocalyptical stuff). It’s very hard to find “hard times” with all of that going for it.

SCy-Fy: Posts on the site that have had the most impact or controversy?

SD: We’ve had two posts that caused a lot of on-line “heated discussion”. I don’t mind the “heat”, I just wish more people would stick to discussing the subject, rather than veering off into personal attacks.

I think we’ve published some excellent reviews, interviews and essays on everything from the relationship between religion and science fiction to what’s going on in the world of fandom.

We’ve had some straight news pieces (coverage of a con-gone-bad for example) that have been very positively received.

I think, overall, Amazing Stories is becoming an archive of some very interesting and insightful views on the field.

SCy-Fy: Can you tell me your personal favourites among what you have published so far?

SD: Nope. Sorry. Everyone contributing to Amazing Stories is a volunteer and I value them, and all of their work, equally. Their willingness to contribute is by itself a fantastic testament to this community and the kind of people that inhabit it.

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books and stories you have read recently?

SD: You’re kidding, right? (laughs) Like I have time to read after all the reading I do. Can’t help you here. I get maybe 40 to 60 minutes a day to “read for fun” and I spend most of that re-reading old faves from the “classic era”. I’ve got to do something to maintain my sanity.

SCy-Fy: Anything to add before the sun comes up?

SD: Yes. Thanks for the opportunity!

Amazing Stories is free to join, and all of our content is free as well, from the daily blog posts, to the new fiction, the reprint fiction, the artwork and everything else.

We’ve got over 20,000 registered members and are growing, and I think the site is an excellent resource, and a source for genre-related entertainment.

And of course we’re always looking for new contributors!

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Steve.

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