Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Samuel Mae of Comets and Criminals

As you may know, W1S1er Samuel Mae has recently started his own speculative fiction magazine : Comets and Criminals. Samuel kindly agreed to discuss his new venture and the sort of thing he is looking to publish.

W1S1 : Can you give us your vision for Comets and Criminals? What sort of thing are you planning to publish?

My initial goal is to produce four issues of C&C over the course of 12 months. Of my long-term goals, my biggest is to build a successful zine, one which writers will look back on fondly later in their writing careers and say, ‘that’s where I got my start.’

Another goal is to pay pro-rates. I can’t afford to at the moment, but hopefully at some stage in the future I will be able to. In aid of that, I’m investigating available grants, and will be giving readers an onsite opportunity to donate. I’ll also be releasing the full issue of each zine, in a number of electronic formats, at the beginning of the relevant quarter for a very affordable price, so people will be able to support the zine that way. I’m looking at a subscription service, too. Of course, the content of each issue will be released free onsite over the quarter, but why wait thirteen weeks for a particular story if you don’t have to?

Seeing as the zine is based in New Zealand, I’d like to include stories from Kiwi writers in each issue. NZ doesn’t have a lot of genre fiction markets, and while the electronic age means we can sub almost anyplace in the world, it’s still nice to know there’s someplace local that will look at your work.

As far as what I’m planning to publish, well, I guess ‘good fiction’ is probably too generic an answer. But that’s really the crux of it. I’ll admit to being a bit selfish here, because I want to publish fiction I enjoy. Hopefully other people will enjoy it too, but that wasn’t a prerequisite for me going into this.
At a minimum, I want to see ten short stories and five poems and/or flash pieces in every issue of C&C. I’ve decided to spend right up to my budget for each issue, so hopefully I’ll be able to fit a few more in.

My plan for each issue is to have a spread of stories across the genres we represent, and a fair few that cross and straddle those boundaries. Of course, much of that plan is dependent on the submissions I get, so (hint, hint) send me your stuff.

I have other ideas as to what I’d like to include in the zine after it’s been up for a bit, but it’d be better for me not to get sidetracked with them now ;-)

W1S1 : Any advice you'd give writers thinking of submitting? Are there things you've seen too much of? Or not enough? Any pet hates?

Basically, my advice is: Send in the stories you have that fit into the genres we represent. They don’t even have to fit the whole way. Just as long as part of them does. But, to expand a little on likes and dislikes and wants and so forth:

I love whodunits and amateur sleuth stories. In fact, I’d really love to have a recurring sleuth feature in our pages each issue.

I love science-fiction. However, my definition of SF is fairly loose, which is to say that the science doesn’t have to be pivotal to the story. But, if it is, enough rigor to get me to suspend my disbelief would be appreciated.

Send me western fiction that’s not set in the old American west. I was very tempted to state in the guidelines that I was looking for frontier fiction rather than western fiction, but decided to go with the latter as a genre definition. For now, at least.

Historical fiction. I want it. Alternate histories are fine.

I have yet to see an adventure story in my slush pile (which is only a couple weeks old, but still).

I love stories that are set somewhere other than America and Europe (or space-versions of America and Europe). A couple of things to note when subbing those to C&C: please avoid racial stereotypes, or stereotypical tropes (race/culture exists to offer wisdom to hero; race/culture needs hero to save them because they can’t possibly do it themselves, etc).

And definitely, definitely send me stories that cross and straddle genre boundaries.

Oh, and any story that is just a platform for spewing hatred toward any group of people will be automatically rejected.

W1S1 : You're doing something many writers will have thought about - starting up their own magazine. What are your reasons for doing so?

This is something I’ve been thinking about, on and off, for the last eighteen months. However, while I’d thought about it seriously, it was never really a serious thought, if that makes any sense. Then, a couple months ago, the idea reemerged, and this time it wouldn’t let me ignore it. I sat down, examined my finances, thought, ‘I can do this.’ And so I am.

Why am I doing it? Well, the challenge, for one. But it’s more than that. When I was six, I used to go out into the back-garden of the house we were renting and dig big holes. When my folks asked me why, I told them it was because I was digging for treasure. When I was twelve, I used to watch guys wandering up the beach with metal-detectors and a little thrill would skip along my shoulders while I fantasized about what they might find. I’ve never lost that desire to discover treasure. And I think I have more chances discovering treasure this way than I would have digging holes in my backyard (as far as I know, no pirates buried their bounteous bounty anywhere in New Zealand).

W1S1 : Has seeing things from a publisher's perspective given you any fresh insights into being a writer?

Well, I’m still very new at this, but it has already given me some insights, and will continue to do so, I’m sure. Chief among these is that there are a lot of writers at a similar skill level. And also that a lot of writers struggle with similar things (things I also struggle with). Oh, and I can often pick whether I’ll like a story or not from the cover letter. As far as cover letters go, I much prefer brief and professional to longwinded and flowery. One more cover letter hint: please don’t include a logline or description of your story. If you tell me what happens why would I want to read on?

W1S1 : Where can people go if they want to find out more about Comets and Criminals? is the main spot. From there, you can sign up for our RSS feed, either via reader or via email. You can also follow us on Twitter. The zine is @cometsandcrims, and my personal one is @samuel_mae. We have a rudimentary Facebook page (, too.

Thanks again, Simon, Milo and Stephen. Hopefully I’ll see lots of submissions from you and all the other W1S1ers soon!

And thanks to you, Sam! The very best of luck with C&C.


  1. Thanks Sam. This is energizing and I wish you well in the endeavor.

  2. I never thought about stumbling upon stories and novels that I end up loving as finding buried treasure. I love that idea! :)

  3. Best of luck with C&C, Sam. Always great to see a new market open up!

  4. Thanks, peeps :)

    As an aside: we're now launching 1st of October this year rather than the 1st of January next year. I've still got some slots available in issue #1, so if you're considering submitting, don't hesitate!

  5. I love the genre mix, Sam. I can't wait to read issue one.

  6. Looking forward to October!

  7. Thanks, Debs and Milo!