Do you write horror, fantasy, or science fiction?
What about a combination of all three? If you’re looking for publication in these genres than this interview is for you. I was lucky enough to snag a few minutes at the desk of horror, fantasy, and science fiction editor, Rick DeCost who was happy to answer some of my questions about The Absent Willow Review. The Absent Willow Review is a Rochester-based business founded two years ago by long time friends, Rick DeCost and Bob Griffin.
“Our main goal is to revive the short fiction market for this genre,” Rick told Fosters Daily columnist, Conor Makem. “When we were young, there were a few big names out there and some have slipped into oblivion. The markets for short works of horror, fantasy and sci-fi are slim, yet the interest is growing.”
Let’s find out more about The Absent Willow Review and the job of an editor from Rick.
Rebecca: The Absent Willow Review has been publishing stories online each month since October 2008. How did the magazine come to life and what inspired its creation?
Rick: Being fans of the genre we saw that the market had shrunk somewhat over the past few years. This was our way to provide another means for beginning, and established, writers to get their works out there. It’s been a real labor of love.
Rebecca: It sounds a little like The Craft of Writing Fiction which is my own labor of love. It’s wonderful to see others out there who want to create opportunities for fellow writers. The switch from writer to editor can be tricky. How did you begin as an editor and how have you honed your skills over the years?
Rick: It’s like anything else – the more you do it the better one gets.
The first few months after the magazine’s launch was a real baptism by fire when it came to honing our editorial skills. It’s now second nature when it comes to spotting the gem in the slush pile. Pulling together the stories and editing our first anthology was a wonderful experience and went a long way in further improving our skills.
Rebecca: What kind of work goes into editing an online publication?
Rick: It is actually more work than one would think. Aside from the day-to-day server activities, we are constantly uploaded new images and
editing them for presentation. On top of that, and more importantly, is editing accepted submission for publication. This includes the normal editing activates any editor must face as well as the efforts entailed in formatting for the website.
Rebecca: The internet has created all sorts of new headaches along with the opportunities for publishers. I know I face similar issues with The Craft of Writing Fiction but there is a real joy in the work too. Online Publishing is a difficult field to become established within. Many companies fall apart within months of creation. You and Bob are about to celebrate Absent Willow’s second birthday, congratulations! What advice do you have for others who might be interested in starting their own magazine?
Rick: It’s all in planning and remaining focused. Before launching the actual site there were the administrative duties that needed to be
tackled. Things like establishing the business entity, registering the domain name, purchasing hosting space, and formulating a business plan that encompassed all of the activities going forward (reading submissions, editing, site design and upkeep, as well as future plans). My biggest piece of advice would be to remain professional at all times. Especially in your interactions with authors eager to publish their work. After all, we’re really here for them.
Rebecca: Authors aren’t the only ones you’re here for. The Absent Willow Review also publishes incredible artwork contributed by a large number of talented artists. Do you accept artist submissions? What do you look for in the cover art you select for the Absent Willow Review?
Rick: We do accept artist submissions and we also actively seek out artists whose work we admire. It’s a funny thing when it comes to the artwork on the site. Although we wanted a site that was visually appealing we never expected the artwork page to enjoy the focus that it has. Art is a personal thing and we usually know immediately whether or not the piece is something we’d like to use. That being said we also try to keep good a mix of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy works in rotation.
Rebecca: With a strong horror, sci-fi, and fantasy focus it sounds like you probably read a lot of dark or complex fiction. Each month the Absent Willow Review publishes a number of new stories. What catches your eye when you’re reviewing submissions? What makes your winners stand out from the slush pile?
Rick: I really look for memorable characters. Characters are a big thing for me. I have to like the author’s voice and/or character before finishing the first page. Then there are the things such as spelling and grammar skills. When the first page is littered with spelling mistakes or run-on sentences it says a lot about the rest of the manuscript.
I also look for originality. It’s hard to be original, and I don’t mean to say that an author has to come up with something nobody has ever thought of before. That’s pretty near impossible. The one tool an author has that can set them apart is their voice and the character(s) they give life to. All in all though – it’s all about the characters. What they feel and how they react to the situation they find themselves in.
Rebecca Of the stories you’ve published, which character/s stands out most in your memory? Why do you think this character is so memorable?
Rick: Finnegan Graves (from the story of the same name) was a standout character for me. The story itself was very Tim Burton-ish and the character reflected that.
Rebecca: We recently hosted a competition about story “hooks“. How important is it that a story grips you in the first few lines? What do you think makes for compelling hooks?
Rick: It is incredibly important. As editors we can often tell within the first paragraph whether or not our readers will appreciate the work. It
doesn’t mean that stories we reject wouldn’t be good fits for another publication – it’s a very subjective business. We are fans of the genre and enjoy a good read. When you have thirty or forty manuscripts sitting in front of you it is necessary for the author to grab our attention early on. A compelling hook often entails beginning the story in the middle of the action, or perhaps putting us in an ordinary situation that
immediately has an “off” feel to it like “this seems normal but I know something is going to happen…”
Rebecca: Thanks for your time, Rick. Before we finish, is there anything I haven’t asked today that you wish I had or anything in particular you’d like to share with fellow writers?
Rick: I would like to add two bits of advice. I can’t stress these enough.
- The first is to read. Reading enhances your skills as a writer in ways you can’t imagine.
- The second is to never give up. As a great hockey player once said (I’m paraphrasing here),
“You’ll never score a goal if you don’t take the shot.”
The Absent Willow Review is an online magazine that publishes short fiction, poetry, and artwork with a horror, fantasy, or science fiction edge. Check their submission guidelines and browse their published works to see if your work might be what Rick and Bob are looking for and to find out how your submission could win $50 in The Absent Willow Review Editor’s Choice Award for Published Stories.