Interview with Stephen H. Segal

Interview with Stephen H. Segal

by Devin Poore
to the sound of “Greet Death” by Explosions in the Sky…

As published in Sybil’s Garage No. 4


Stephen Segal serves as creative director for the Wildside Press magazine group, including Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror. I first met him at ReaderCon in 2005 where he was pitching a new magazine concept titled Earthling. After that, we continued to run into each other at conventions, conferences and readings. Our conversations always revolved around speculative fiction and media, how to get it out to a wider audience, why we would even want to try.

From our first meeting, I realized that someone should be writing down what Stephen had to say. Last year, prior to one of the fall KGB Fantastic Fiction readings in Manhattan, Stephen and I sat down to put this to paper. Incidentally, at the same time, Crispin Glover was being interviewed on a door stoop across the street. Stephen and I have yet to decide if that was a good or bad omen.




To start off on a less than serious note, an employee under the Wildside banner wanted me to ask you why you decided to give up the motion picture martial arts career. Along those lines, do you have many OFFICE SPACE, Michael Bolton-type moments with your name, even though you do pronounce your last name differently?

It’s funny — the bad jokes had finally tapered off a few years ago, and then, inexplicably, they came back worse than ever, despite the fact that Steven (spelled differently) Seagal (spelled differently) hasn’t actually been making any new movies. Yes, it’s a rare week when some bank teller, checkout clerk, or peruser of my business card isn’t moved to laughter by my name. I’ve long since grown past being irritated by it, though — hey, if something as simple as that can brighten someone’s day, far be it from me to rain on their parade.

I should point out that there’s also a Steven T. Seagle who writes some terrific comic books, and I’m occasionally asked more seriously if that’s me. Nope! I am Stephen Harry Segal, the Atlantic City kid turned Pittsburgh journalist turned speculative-arts creative director.

First real question: you started out as an Arts and Entertainment editor in Pittsburgh, which is a far cry from working at Wildside Press as manager and creative director. Or is it? While in Pittsburgh, how much of your job dealt with entertainment of a speculative nature? And if the job itself did not deal with it, were you able to turn it in that direction at all? And how much of that experience with the “regular” entertainment scene can you bring into play with your new position at Wildside?

I’ve thought about this a lot, because I’ve noticed how many of the most interesting sf authors today are current or former journalists: Gaiman, Doctorow, Scalzi, Sterling…

On the broadest level, basic reporting experience can be a great education. Your job is to meet lots of interesting people of all kinds and talk to themabout their lives. How cool is that? Is there any quicker way to come to appreciate, first-hand, such an incredibly broad cross-section of society? In seven years writing and editing for Pittsburgh’s alternative newsweekly and city magazine, I got to know artificial-heart scientists and 80-year-old blues musicians, millionaires and shit-poor kids itching for a better life, sleazy artists and open-minded ministers and honest politicians. And it’s hard to immerse yourself in getting to know real people without being forced to throw away lots of preconceptions about “these” people and “those” people. You come to understand that it’s a lot more helpful to approach the world with questions than with assertions — and that, to me, is the heart of all speculative fiction: the question, the “What if?”

To answer a different part of the question: As a lifelong science fiction and fantasy reader, I always felt that the field got short shrift in the mainstream media. So when I became part of the media, I tried to do my part to cover our unique art form just as seriously as I would cover music or theatre or filmmaking. I had the most fun doing it at the alternative newsweekly, because obviously s.f. has been an “alternative arts-based culture” every bit as important as, say, punk rock or hip-hop — and yet I found it was rarely talked about in that way. So that’s what I’d do. The week Samuel Delany was coming to town to give a university lecture, for instance, we ran a cover story about the close thematic links between science fiction and surrealist art. More importantly, I’d try to make sure that as frequently as possible, every issue included some casual, passing reference to a touchstone of s.f., just as another pop-cultural reference carrying the unstated implication that hey reader, you maybe oughtta know what we’re talking about.

Today at Wildside? The main area of overlap is that I’m working with our editors and contributors to introduce more nonfiction into magazines that identify themselves as fiction magazines first. It’s a simple matter of audience awareness — people today are far more accustomed to reading nonfiction magazines than fiction magazines, and giving potential new readers a whiff of comfortable familiarity makes it a lot easier to lure them in to be captured by the far-out weirdness of our fantastic universe.

The other aspect is that, as art director, I’m willing and eager to look waaaaaay outside the narrowly defined field of “fantasy art” for artists of all kinds who are doing awesome, mind-bending work that’s as unexpected, unsettling, and exciting in their own way today as Kelly Freas or Margaret Brundage were 50 or 60 years ago.

I’m often surprised by the unwillingness of people to deal with speculative entertainment because of what I can only broadly label as the “geek culture” associated with it. I was speaking with a neighbor last weekend about Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic book THE ROAD and when I told her the premise she said “I don’t read sci-fi” with the same speed and distaste as someone might say “I don’t watch porn”.

Yeah, it seems to me that that sort of vehement, visceral reaction usually comes from one of two places:

(1) As you say, some people are turned off by the fanaticism of geek culture — usually because they think of themselves as smart people but desperately fear being associated with the classic nerd stereotype, a key component of which is being laughed at by other people. See Exhibit A, “Urkel.”

(2) They pride themselves on being realists, and so they sneer at the “silliness” they perceive on the surface of any kind of fairy story, whether the fairies in question are elves or aliens (or angels, depending on whether they’re semi-honest atheists or hypocritically religious “realists”).

The former person is simply tragically insecure, too worried about being mocked to stand up and enjoy what they ought on their own terms. The latter person is missing the point — failing to understand that mythic narrative and imagery can be wielded with equal force in the service of either escapism or societal engagement.

(Or both. I’ve been saying ever since September 11 to anyone who’ll listen: I wish Berkley would release a new anniversary edition of DUNE onto the general fiction shelves, with a grand, full-scale marketing push but not one word about “science fiction classic” anywhere on the package. Instead, the cover would read something like: “The most important novel of our time — DUNE — a prescient tale of desert warfare, religious terrorism, and ecological catastrophe.”)

But now we are seeing the success of SPIDER-MAN and other superhero movies, acclaim for shows such as HEROES, LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, with more and more speculative books showing up on the “What’s New” shelf at Barnes and Noble. Is this a sign of the genre making itself more general and middle-of-the-road, palatable, or is the audience at large now simply more willing to accept what has always been there?

A bit of both — with the note that it’s not because the genre is making itself more “middle-of-the-road” or “palatable” in terms of content, but in terms of presentation. As far as the book world goes, I suspect a lot of credit is due to the success of the approach taken with Gregory Maguire’s books. WICKED wasn’t aimed at the fantasy market, despite the fact that it’s not only pure genre fantasy through and through, it’s Fanfic, for Pete’s sake. But Harper Collins recognized that it was a wonderfully written story with the potential to push the primal mythic button in the brains of a huge audience — and they gave it the sort of crossover marketing support it deserved. As a result, fairytales won back some of the adult cache they’d lost over the past century.

Similar story with SPIDER-MAN. The movie was, for all intents and purposes, utterly faithful to the comic-book source material — which was hugely popular to a general audience in 1965 but considered a primitive, juvenile medium by the average adult American in 1995. Our culture just had to wait for visual-effects technology to catch up with the fantastical requirements of the story, so that the appealing tale could once again stand up to the suspension of disbelief.

Speaking of visual updates, we have noticed some changes in design and presentation of some of the Wildside magazine titles, specifically WEIRD TALES, since your arrival. Is there more of that to come, and what are the specific reasons for those changes and updates?

It’s the first rule of magazine publishing: Have an identity. There are way, way too many magazines of all kinds out there on the bookstore shelves for a publisher to be able to get away for long with producing a magazine that isn’t uniquely appealing. So we sat down and looked at the Wildside magazines after I arrived, and we decided that their looks weren’t quite evoking their distinct editorial missions — and we needed to address that.

FANTASY MAGAZINE was the easiest, because its mission is very straightforward: It’s the magazine incarnation of our Prime Books imprint, dedicated to highly literary, intellectual, myth-driven fantasy, and propelled by the great talents of emerging next-generation writers who may not be familiar names yet — but will be soon. Our editor, Sean Wallace, had a very clean, modern, elegant look in mind when he first launched the magazine, and we’ve simply tried to streamline and develop that, making it a bit more typographically sophisticated so the visual style matches the literary style. The look works well for FANTASY, I think — it’s much more visual than the digest-sized F&SF, and much more fiction-centric than the glossy REALMS OF FANTASY.

With HP LOVECRAFT’S MAGAZINE OF HORROR, we decided that the original logo was coming across as too psychedelic — and even though that was one valid interpretation of the Lovecraft aesthetic, we thought the horror motif would resonate better with readers if we found a look that was simultaneously grittier and classier. So we went with the blown-up metal-type look for the logo and the headlines — and then we redesigned the interior pages around the concept of vertical lines and centered symmetry, which gives a very understated, subliminal sort of ancient-stone-tablet vibe that I think is even more appropriate to Lovecraft. The final result, hopefully, is a magazine that exudes moody, Lovecraftian darkness while standing out as very different from all the movie-horror mags that clutter up the newsstand.

WEIRD TALES has been the big, exciting challenge, because the original incarnation from the 1920s through the 1950s was so incredibly influential, launching not only Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard but Ray Bradbury and even, for Pete’s sake, Tennessee Williams. And the current incarnation, which is now almost 20 years old itself — while it’s published hundreds of outstanding stories by great writers like Ligotti, Campbell, and Lee, as well as oodles of terrific artwork by the likes of Barr, Fabian, and Rowena — has suffered over the years from the difficult realities of small-press publishing, changing ownership several times and never quite getting a handle on the modern demands of circulation and marketing. So we wanted to put together not just a new look, but a whole new vision for WEIRD TALES that incorporates all the best aspects of the recent run that our subscribers enjoy, while more consciously evoking the groundbreaking, subversive, counter-cultural mission of the original 1920s magazine, and simultaneously reaching out from the newsstand to fresh, young, new readers in the 21st century who may not yet self-identify as “fantasy readers” or “sf fans” per se. Goth kids, punk kids — they would love WEIRD TALES just as much as the devotees do if they noticed it and picked it up, but until now they haven’t. We want to fix that.

How to do that? Well, obviously, the fiction is still the heart and soul of the magazine. We’re bringing in Ann Kennedy VanderMeer as our new fiction editor, starting with the October 2007 issue. Ann is not only an incredibly cool person and a terrific editor, but she straddles both the traditional and the avant-garde sides of the genre. The surrealist-fiction magazine she founded and ran in the ‘90s, THE SILVER WEB, published several of the same authors and artists that WEIRD TALES was featuring — and at the same time, also reached far outside the sf establishment to find creative people who were producing works of speculative literature and art from very different perspectives. We don’t want to replicate THE SILVER WEB, but we do want Ann to mix up fresh and unexpected brews of strangeness, building upon the context of the Weird Tales tradition.

We’re restructuring the nonfiction content, too, in a way that I think old and new readers alike are really going to enjoy. First off, we’ve taken senior contributing editor Darrell Schweitzer out of his old duck blind hiding behind the editorial “we” so we can spotlight his insightful musings about fantasy in a first-person-singular bylined column, dubbed “The Cryptic.” The actual editorial, “The Eyrie,” will now run much shorter — just a page or so — so we can add a new, rotating guest essay titled “Weirdism,” devoted to the weirdness of real life. The debut installment is a piece by Caitlin R. Kiernan, marking her first WEIRD TALES appearance. We’ll be refocusing anew on conducting interviews with fantastic creators of all kinds, we’ll be including nifty historical notes on a page titled “Old Weird, New Weird,” and we’ll be launching a couple of art-centric series that I won’t spoil just yet, except to say that I don’t mean writings about art.

How much of your work towards luring new readers to the medium is focused at the existing adult demographic, and now much is focused towards grabbing the attention of young readers, where it seems that the affinity with the speculative is most likely to take hold? You once told me “You build new audiences NOT by initiating them into the existing arcane rituals and clubs, but by simply entertaining them and winning them over”. Isn’t that most prevalent when looking towards young readers?

It sure is. Just think about your own journey into sfdom for a minute, and you’ll realize that the organized structure of Fandom-with-a-capital-F is almost certainly the last thing you discovered, and thus the least important. Taking me as an example — and forgive me, these are approximations — I fell in love with DOCTOR WHO and STAR WARS and SUPERMAN when I was 5, D’AULAIRE’S BOOK OF GREEK MYTHS when I was 7, Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis and STAR BLAZERS when I was 9, Asimov and Tolkien and Marvel Comics and giant Japanese robots when I was 11. At that point, I leapt into my father’s bookshelf full of Heinlein, Clarke, Norton, Varley, Doc Smith, spent junior high devouring them all — and I was confirmed as a lifelong lover of the fantastic. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered STAR TREK conventions, and not until after college that I entered the world of organized literary fandom.

So what does that suggest? To me, it suggests a couple things. First, that us grown-up literary sf fans damn well better embrace the onscreen “sci-fi,” of all flavors, that first grabs the attention of children with its glorious imagery. Whether that’s FLASH GORDON or STAR WARS or TRANSFORMERS or AVATAR, it’s a starting point from which the connections to increasingly mature works can be nurtured, and we shouldn’t mock it just because we’re perversely embarrassed that we used to have kid tastes when we were kids.

From a publisher’s perspective, it reminds us that, as an industry, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that every generation has their own material to enjoy as they grow through those stages. On the one hand, that means making sure the truly timeless classics don’t appear stale (e.g., in the 1950s Asimov’s robots may have been illustrated somewhat fancifully by Freas’ generation, in the 1980s they were illustrated photo-realistically by artists like Michael Whelan, and in the 2010s they probably ought to show a lot more anime influence). On the other hand, it means that we’ve got to remember not to only publish sf for ourselves. For me, that’s been one of the most exciting challenges with repositioning our Wildside magazine titles, particularly WEIRD TALES: working to ensure that it’s not just appealing to people who already know the cultural history of WEIRD TALES, but to an entirely new generation who ought to be able to discover the magazine for the first time and fall in love with it fresh, just like so many teenagers did in the 1930s.

You mentioned that DUNE is relevant to the state of the world today. In the past many have argued that the Cold War and the uncertainty it bred was responsible for the rise of Science Fiction and Horror in ‘50s and ‘60s. How much of the current social, real-world climate do you look to highlight in your book and magazine content. Do you seek it out, or does it just naturally bubble up out of the community?

Well… I think the best social commentary in art is the stuff that puts itself there through the artistic requirements of the work, rather than overt political propagandizing. But these days, I’m just a creative director, not an editor. Come back and ask me that question again after I launch EARTHLING, and I’ll have a much, much longer and more interesting answer.

You come across as one of those people who is never satisfied with “good enough”. Let’s say it is the year 2012: where do you see the Wildside magazines?

Hmmm — prognostication is dangerous. But I can tell you where I think the Wildside magazines ought to be in five years with a bit of luck. WEIRD TALES should have at least doubled its current circulation, by reaching out to new and younger audiences through new distribution channels — and that doesn’t just mean more retail stores, but also a truly awesome Web presence that takes online sf into currently-undreamed-of places. FANTASY MAGAZINE should be a well-established market where writers working in serious, sophisticated fantasy can know that they’ll find an enthusiastic audience. And H.P. LOVECRAFTS MAGAZINE OF HORROR should not only be wowing horror fans as the niftiest literary-horror magazine in print, but also as the online starting point for anyone who’s making any sort of foray into the Lovecraft Mythos.

For the field in general, where do you see speculative fiction, and entertainment in general, in the year 2012? Will advances in technology, especially the web, allow the medium to reach those that have no inkling of what exactly is available?

By the year 2012, I expect that narrative storytelling will undergo a convergence of all media, and will hitherto be composed by intelligence-enhanced cyborg monkeys and transmitted through touchpad sensors in our socks. At least, I hope so.

© Copyright 2007 Senses Five Press

Website of Devin Poore.
Website of Stephen H. Segal.

Kelly Link, Words by Flashlight

Kelly Link, Words by Flashlight

Interview by Lauren McLaughlin
to the sound of Sufjan Steven’s Decatur or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother and Aimee Mann’s Little Bombs and Calexico and Iron & Wine’s A History of Lovers and Yo La Tengo’s The Whole of the Law and Ella Fitzgerald singing Why Was I Born and The Winterpills, and lots of other good stuff…

As published in Sybil’s Garage No. 3


Kelly Link

Do you listen to music when you write? What kind of music?
I’ve gotten a little superstitious about listening to music when I write. Once a story is going somewhere, I keep listening to the same music whenever I work on that story. It seems to help me keep in voice, and alternatively, if I need to make some kind of dramatic shift, I’ll go and put on something different to shake myself awake, out of that particular set of rhythms. When I’m starting a story, I try to listen to music that’s going to help evoke a certain emotional space or speed or kind of complexity or spareness or loneliness that I want to access for story reasons. I guess it’s like inviting a story to dinner — you want to seduce that story into doing what you want it to do, and so you have to set the mood with the right music.

Aimee Mann is great for working to. Other favorites — Hem, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline, M. Ward, Magnetic Fields. Those are still my standbys. For a long time I was listening to Summer Teeth, one of Wilco’s CDs. Stupid or too-obvious lyrics drive me insane when I’m working. Mixes with singers and bands like Jenny Toomey, Sufjan Stevens, Postal Service, The Rosebuds, Neko Case, The Decemberists, Yo La Tengo, Mayumi Kojima, lots of others!

For the last year or so, I’ve mostly been writing in cafés, and then I mostly listen to conversations at other tables. I get paranoid when I have my headphones on in public.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer? Did you ever consider another career, perhaps as a performance skydiver?
I didn’t do anything as active as deciding that I wanted to be a writer. For one thing, I didn’t feel like I was the final authority on whether or not I was anything like a writer. (I’m a timid soul.) I just kept writing stories, because becoming a veterinarian seemed as if it involved too much dissection, too much memorization, too much work. The place that I’ve always felt most at home was in a group of people, or one on one, talking about books or short stories.

After I was already fairly invested in writing short stories, I took a geology course and passionately wished that I was a geologist instead. Library work always seems appealing, and I miss being the new book buyer at Avenue Victor Hugo in Boston. I took a course on writing musicals in college, but dropped out because I couldn’t seem to figure out how to write lyrics that were worth anybody’s time, including my own. Topiary has always seemed like a good occupation, comparable in some ways to writing short fiction. For a long time I took lessons in watercolors, and I loved that — the blotty, sketchy, all-your-sins-right-there-to-look-at aspect of it.

You don’t seem like the 9-to-5 type. Did you ever have a corporate sit-in-the-cube-for-eight-hours-a-day job?
No! Never! I had a noon-to-ten bookstore job, but that didn’t involve wearing pantyhose. Some days I forget to brush my hair. I don’t think I’m cut out for a job where you have to look professionally tidy. I prefer working in my pajamas and taking showers after lunch. And I know how lucky I am.
To protect the eyes
Who were your early influences? Who influences your writing now?
Early influences were the usual suspects — that is, pretty much everyone who wrote science fiction, fantasy, young adult fiction, short stories, etc, except for Isaac Asimov and Andre Norton. I didn’t read them until it was too late. One of my favorite YA novels, The Borribles, just came back into print. I’m rereading John Collier and Saki and Joan Aiken and Isak Dinesen collections right now, so I guess they’re late influences as well. And I just read a new collection by a writer named Joe Hill — 20th Century Ghosts — which has really gotten stuck in my brain. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Grace Paley and Eudora Welty put stories together.

Zombie movies and Diana Wynne Jones’ novels were both influences on stories in Magic for Beginners.

Is your writing influenced by the reading you did for SciFiction and the Best of… anthologies you edit?
Probably, although I’m not sure I can tell you how. I read voraciously, and there’s almost nothing I’d rather do, and so it’s been disconcerting in both good and bad ways to get paid for doing it. I don’t know if it takes any of the pleasure out of reading, but I do know that worrying about whether it’s taken away some of the pleasure out of reading has taken some of the pleasure out of reading.

And because mysteries, mimetic fiction, and science fiction novels can be considered in no way part of my purview, they’ve become my escape reading. (Although Lorrie Moore just had a short story published in The New Yorker which has a ghost in it — I had to shift gears suddenly, and instead of simply reading the story for the sake of enjoyment, I had to think about it in a new context.)

You mentioned in an interview the desire to write a novel, perhaps one in which people tell stories to each other. Is this still something you would like to do?
Yes, I would like to write a novel, or at least try to write one, although my motives are not entirely pure. For one thing, I get asked about writing novels so much that I feel guilty about never having written one. And although I have no strong desire to write a novel, I would hate not to try. That would just be silly. On the other hand, I hate the idea of slogging through something that turns out to be not good.

One of the most compelling aspects of your stories is their refusal to reduce down to metaphor or allegory. They seem to exist in a universe where the fantastic is mundane and the mundane fantastic. Were you ever tempted or encouraged to mold your vision into something more familiar, something easier to slot into a genre?
I’m fairly stubborn. I’m not easily tempted or encouraged. The thing is, I enjoy reading all sorts of writing. Some of the stuff I like to read is much more experimental than my own work, and some is much more traditional. I just finished reading Naomi Novik’s debut novel, The King’s Dragon, which is a sort of wonderful mash-up of Anne McCaffrey and Patrick O’Brien, and also something much more original, of course, or it wouldn’t stand on its own. It was a blissful reading experience. There are a number of romance writers whose work I genuinely love — Laura London, Georgette Heyer, Laura Kinsale, Eva Ibbotson. I wish I could do that. I wish I could write a novel like Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle or Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. I wish I could write a novel like Bel Canto or Liquor or Air or the People of the Paper. I like conventional narratives as much as I like unconventional narratives.

The thing about the stories I’ve already written is that I wrote them the way it seemed to me that they ought to be written. I don’t wish that they were particularly different, even though I might wish that I’d been a better writer when I tackled them.

I could reduce some of my stories down to their metaphorical or allegorical level, but why bother? I’m interested in things which are confusing or contradictory in a useful or enjoyable way. Even allegories don’t boil down to just one interpretation or meaning. Besides, as far as I can tell, nobody ever reads the same story.

When you’re working on something new, what constitutes the initial spark? Is it a bit of plot? An image? A genre convention you want to explore?
The initial spark usually has something to do with panic — I’m due to turn in a story to a workshop or an editor. It’s a terrible working method.

At the moment, I’m attempting to write at a steadier pace. I’m also aiming for a broader (or maybe I mean deeper) range of character. In terms of style, too, I think I’ve been working with a somewhat limited — although intentionally limited — set of tools. So I’m attempting to be a bit looser as I start stories off. To digress. To make interesting mistakes.

Can you tell me anything about your early publishing career? Did you find it difficult to sell your first stories?
Yes and no. I didn’t send my work out much when I was first writing short stories. I’d sent out two or three stories (the only one I can remember sending out was to the Writers of the Future contest, although I also had this strange ambition to be published in Playboy, even though I’d never bought a copy of the magazine). I got them back again and figured I ought to get better as a writer before I sent more out. One of my instructors in graduate school, Fred Chappell, told me I ought to send a story, “Flying Lessons”, to Ellen Datlow at OMNI. So I did, and I got a very nice rejection back. The next story I sent out was “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” — I sent it to Century (I’d seen a sample of Century at a World Fantasy convention and liked the typeface) and it was accepted just as I was applying to Clarion.

While I was at Clarion, Asimov’s took “Flying Lessons,” and Shawna McCarthy, who was the visiting editor that summer, asked me to submit two stories — “Vanishing Act” and “The Specialist’s Hat” to Realms of Fantasy. She published “Vanishing Act” and never mentioned “The Specialist’s Hat” again. I think that story just disappeared into the great slush sea that menaces all magazines. After Clarion nothing I sent out sold for about a year, even though I was pretty sure that I was writing more interesting stuff then I had been writing before Clarion. By that point, a friend who worked with me at the same bookstore, Gavin J. Grant, was starting a zine and I asked if I could help. We were just publishing stuff for fun, including work by most of our friends, and I gave him “Travels With the Snow Queen,” which had been bounced a couple of times. The next year Ellen Datlow bought “The Specialist’s Hat” and “The Girl Detective.”

Can you see the faeries?Do you complete every story you begin or do you abandon some of them as unworkable?
I don’t abandon stories once I’ve started working on them. Once I sit down and start a story, I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on it. But I do reject most of the ideas for stories that I come up with. I’m halfway through a story that I started last spring, and it’s a mess, but I hope to finish it fairly soon. Some stories take years to finish. Other stories I write so fast that my hands cramp up. “The Faery Handbag” was fast — I wrote it in under 48 hours. “Stone Animals” was slow (over a year). “Monster,” which was recently published in the McSweeney’s anthology Noisy Outlaws, was fast. I’m grateful when stories come in a rush, although I keep an eye on them afterwards, to see whether they hold together. It’s harder to judge the ones that took so long to finish. With those, I’ve lost perspective. Mostly I’m just glad that I can be done with them.

You’ve explored a number of science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions, like zombies, witches and fairies. Are there others you’d like to tackle?
I’d like to write some actual science fiction. Or at least some space opera. I’d really like to write a romance novel. I’ve never managed to find a way to write about Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel or serial killers or trolls or to use the conventions of sword and sorcery. But I think I’ll always end up wanting to write more ghost stories. I’ll always come back to ghost stories.

What do you think is the role of the small press, in particular the role of magazines like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet?
There are a couple of different reasons for people to start zines like LCRW or do small press work. Mostly it’s to publish the work that you love. You’re not going to get rich doing it, so why publish anything that you don’t love? We started LCRW because it seemed like fun to start a zine, and by the time we were working on the third issue, we realized that there were short stories that weren’t quite genre or mainstream, which were difficult for writers to place even though they were wonderful stories. So we started soliciting some of the writers whom I knew had oddball work. We also wanted to showcase promising work by newer writers, to give them a foothold. And we wanted to publish different kinds of work as well, so that the magazine didn’t feel like too much of one kind of good thing.

As a writer who has published herself, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience which I don’t recommend, because there are too many ways that it can go badly. But I do think that it’s a good thing for a writer to become familiar with the way that publishing works. It’s good to read slush, to think about book production, to learn how copyeditors and proofreaders work, and to consider the book as a physical object. It’s good to think about marketing and about how bookselling works. You can choose your own level of immersion.

If you could assign genre short story projects to other writers, What would they be? For example: assigning William Gibson to write about selkies.
I would make all my favorite writers write ghost stories. (All the ones who don’t already write ghost stories). But really what I’d like to do is make certain writers read certain other writers. It’s the bookseller’s impulse, coming out strong in me, as usual.

Where do you buy your fab t-shirts?
Online! From Threadless.com and from Gama-Go. I like anything with a squid or a yeti or a movie monster on it.

One dry cell neededIt’s a Sybil’s Garage tradition to ask authors what they are listening to right now. So what are you listening to?
A mix CD I made for Karen Meisner. It’s got Sufjan Steven’s “Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother” and Aimee Mann’s “Little Bombs” and Calexico and Iron & Wine’s “A History of Lovers” and Yo La Tengo’s “The Whole of the Law” and Ella Fitzgerald singing “Why Was I Born” and The Winterpills. Lots of other good stuff. More importantly, it’s snowing! I’m in a cabin out in the woods, and later tonight I will have to make my way back out again by flashlight. Wish I had a sled.

The Jim Hans, Hoboken Extraordinaire Podcast

The Jim Hans, Hoboken Extraordinaire Podcast

Interview by Matthew Kressel
to the sound of “Time on my Hands,” a pop song from the early 1930s…

As Published in Sybil’s Garage No. 3.


The story goes something like this: One sunny early autumn day I was strolling down Third Street in Hoboken, heading towards Washington Street when I happened upon a small gate sale. I browsed the various items for a few minutes when a home-grown magazine from the late 70s called Time Machine caught my eye.Full of beautiful engravings and drawings from the early 20th century, as well as letters from Buckminster Fuller and other notables, articles of opinion, comedy, and history, the magazines begged to be purchased. And each of these treasures was only $1. I grabbed the lot of them and went to buy, when an innocent looking man named Jim said, “Oh, you like those? I got more in the back.”

He returned with a stack of several more, remarking, “Those were real fun to make.” I then connected the dots — rather slowly — that this Mr. Jim Hans was the creator of this wonderful magazine. I later found out, Jim holds more secrets. He was the founder of the Hoboken Historical Museum, and his book of history, 100 Hoboken Firsts was recently released by them.

An entire room of his home is filled with the most fascinating items from the beginning of last century. He currently lives in Hoboken with his wife, Beverly. This interview took place a few weeks after our encounter. (We weren’t expecting to release this as a podcast, so please excuse our “ums” and “wells” and verbal hopscotch. A (heavily edited) transcription of this interview is included in Sybil’s Garage No. 3

Jim Hans, Hoboken Extraordinaire – Part 1 (29:43)

Jim Hans, Hoboken Extraordinaire – Part 2 (28:42)