Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview with Nathan Shumate

Today we're honored to welcome writer, editor, and founder of Cold Fusion Media, Nathan Shumate, to tell us about his exceptionally weird anthology series, Arcane.

W1S1: First off, how would you describe the Arcane anthology series?

Arcane is an annual anthology series, edited and published by me. And beyond that, we start describing it by what it's not. I don't want to sound like a pretentious git—"It's indescribable! Beyond all definition! The capsule description which can be capsulized is not the true capsule description!"—but it's not a predefined template into which I pour stories. It's not a themed anthology; beyond a general genre (which I give on the cover as "weird and unsettling stories"), all I can say is that it's a bunch of disparate stories which nevertheless, to my eyes, have literary merit.

W1S1: What do you like best about editing this series?

You means aside from crushing the tender and fragile souls of all those authors whose stories I reject? I like discovering that a story that I know nothing about, from a writer that I've never heard of, is terrific.

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

Number one is facility with the language. I'm coming to this story with no intro or warm-up; the writer needs to convince me that he/she is comfortable using the English language so I'll let my hackles fall and allow myself to be pulled along.

Number two is an awareness (on the author's part) of the story's originality or novelty. I don't think that complete originality should be any writer's goal (or at least, any entertaining storyteller's—if you want to be a James Joycean darling of professional academia, go for it); any story will bear some sort of resemblance to stories that have been told before, because that's what stories ARE: events which have been arranged into or related in a recognizable pattern. But understand that a story's debt to precedents is not what makes the story great. I have accepted Lovecraftian stories, for instance, and werewolf stories, but not BECAUSE they were Lovecraftian or werewolf stories, but because they used the familiar elements as springboards to something unfamiliar. It's the stories which are just "same old vampire/werewolf/whatever" stories (and for some reason, vampires and werewolves seem particularly prone to getting the "more of the same" treatment) that get tossed aside with an eyeroll.

Number three is... I can't think of a number three, so I'm going to repeat number one again, because it's REALLY important. If you're asking someone to pay you for your story (someone who expects to turn around and ask other people to pay for your story), then you can't send the prose equivalent of a crayon drawing on lined paper held by magnets to your mother's fridge.

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

90% of stories are rejected within the first 2-3 pages. (I did the math.) Either the author simply doesn't demonstrate a facility with the tools of the trade, i.e., the English language—and if there's any place you want to be able to show off your compositional skills, it's right at the start—or there's too much "pre-story" here. Sometimes inexperienced writers believe that there's stuff which a reader MUST know before they get to the "good stuff," the equivalent of eating your broccoli before you can have any of the steak. But a story should be engaging EVEN IF there's necessary exposition before anything happens (a dubious proposition in itself). I shouldn't need to convince myself that I'll be glad to have read page two by the time I get to page ten; I should be glad to be reading page two while I'm reading page two.

W1S1: When does the next Arcane submissions window open? What fresh ideas/themes would you like to see submitted to Arcane?

The submission window for the next volume opens in mid-summer. I don't have a wishlist as such, but I'm being drawn more and more to stories that show the influence of "the New Weird"—which, despite it's being sort of a non-movement movement, is characterized to me as involving counterintuitive but internally consistent settings or milieus. Beyond that, make your prose sing.

W1S1: Thanks, Nathan!


  1. It's interesting to hear what an editor looks for in a story.

  2. Wow! To the point. Truth is good.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. Nathan ROCKS! He's blunt, intelligent, AND helpful. I must admit I'm headed over to Google so I can look up "the new weird." I guess I was still stuck in the old weird so I didn't know there was a new one. :P

    Thanks Milo and Nathan!

  4. Thanks for the info, Nathan!

    It was exciting to see familiar W1S1 names on the TOC list--congrats, guys!