Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interview with Shimmer's E. Catherine Tobler

Shimmer Magazine publishes contemporary fantasy short stories, with a few ventures into science fiction and horror, and the stories tend to be tinged with sorrow (though they’re not averse to the occasional funny tale). Shimmer's stories have been reprinted in Best American Fantasy 3 and Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction.Today we're honored to welcome senior editor E. Catherine Tobler to Write1Sub1 for an insightful interview:

W1S1: First off, how would you describe your role(s) at Shimmer?

Most days, I have fingers in all Shimmer pies -- which, if you love pie, is awesome. I still read slush, though could probably back off, since we have an extraordinary bunch of readers at present. For the most part, I like slush and love finding those Shimmery stories within it. Once a story is passed up and out of slush, we as a full staff discuss the merits of each, but deciding how the stories fit in an issue, deciding which to buy, now rests in my hands. I send contracts to our authors, wrangle bios, photographs, and the various edits of the stories; I work with our editors and readers to be sure we've got a clean final copy, and coordinate with layout and art to be sure all is well on their end. Shimmer #15 was the first issue where I've seen the entire spectrum of the process and it's been fantastic.

W1S1: What would you say are the top three things you look for in a story?

The number one thing that will grab me is voice. Give me a voice I want to listen to, give me someone with an interesting way of telling a story. Even if a story itself is nothing terribly new, a unique voice can hook me in and keep me reading. You want the editor to keep reading.

I look for an economy of words. Shimmer prefers stories under 5,000 words. Those that come in at 4,000 or 5,000 words typically have me raising an eyebrow, because -- and I never thought I'd say this -- the chances are good the author could have told the tale in at least a thousand fewer words. Send us a tight, clean story.

I also love stories that do something unexpected, that surprise me. It can be in terms of plot, character, voice, setting, anything. Show me something unique. Show me something that is distinctly yours as an author.

W1S1: Typically, what makes the difference between a story's acceptance or rejection?

The line can be surprisingly thin between rejection and acceptance. If a story is passed up and out of slush, someone has seen merit within its pages. From there, the staff discuss the stories, and then Beth and I discuss them even more. Sometimes even stories we really love on an initial read end up falling apart the closer we look at them. It can be a matter of what stories are going to mesh best in a given issue; it can be a matter of already having published something similar a couple issues ago.

W1S1: What fresh ideas/themes/genres would you like to see submitted to Shimmer this year?

It's my feeling that if it's fresh, I don't see it coming. It's so fresh, it smacks me in the face and leaves me trembling (there's that element of surprise again). Beth recently hit upon the idea Shimmer strives for -- Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah." Cold and broken, but there's still something at the bottom that is beautiful. Show us that in your fiction. Show us what you love, make us love it, too.

W1S1: If you could change anything about the publishing industry today, what would it be?

This may sound odd, but I would slow things down. We live in a very on-demand society. The Internet is in your pocket if you have a smart phone -- you can order pizza, you can download books, you can stream movies right this very second. The idea that I can get nearly any book I want Right Now is astounding, but this leads to everyone wanting everything Right Now All the Time. The more I read ebooks, the more I miss paper books. One of the best reading experiences I had recently was The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente (Night Shade Books). The book is so beautifully made, with this brilliant deckle edge that you just want to keep touching as you read. You don't get that when you read from a screen. I would give people that Deckle Edge Experience whenever possible. Slow down. Take a book (or the most recent issue of Shimmer!) outside and sprawl under a tree. Breathe.

W1S1: Thanks, Elise!

Do YOU have a shimmery story to submit? Check out the submission guidelines here. Also, be sure to give Elise's story in Clarkesworld a read: "You Were She Who Abode." You'll be glad you did.


  1. I really enjoyed this interview and will definitely make a note of the magazine. Thanks, Milo and Elise!

  2. Oh yay, for Shimmer. I'm almost there, just give me a year or two.

  3. Great interview. Shimmer is definitely one of those magazines I aim to crack someday.

  4. Great interview! Like Debs and Beth, Shimmer is one of those markets i'd love to be published by.

  5. Thanks for running the interview. I'll join the chorus of those saying they hope they make it into Shimmer's pages some day before too long.