M.E. (Michael) Ray is the editor of upcoming pro-paying publication Redstone Science Fiction. Keep your eye on this one: it has all the makings of a SFWA-approved market as long as they meet the longevity requirements, and if that happens, all the sales from the beginning of the magazine will be retroactively counted as SFWA-approved. (For those of you don’t know, SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization which requires a certain number of professional sales to become a member). Redstone opened for submissions in mid-March, and quickly got their first 200 submissions, closing the floodgate again in early April. Now they’re busy reading through the submissions and making their decisions in anticipation of the anticipated publication date of their premier issue: June 1st. They expect to open for submissions about the same time.
When he’s not sifting through the slush looking for valuable story gems, he teaches AP history and economics in Alabama. And he’s also a writer with his first few publications under his belt at publications such as Everyday Weirdness and Beyond Centauri. Check out his website, Gate Tree, for links to all the sundry nodes of his web presence.
Michael, thanks for taking the time for an interview.
David Steffen: Why the name Redstone?
Michael Ray: Redstone Arsenal is in Huntsville, Alabama just across the river from where I live, and NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center is on the Arsenal. So Redstone was a perfect name to represent my region, my support for ongoing space exploration, and my desire to see science fiction that look outwards, towards a future in space. And it does sound cool.
David: Why are you starting Redstone? Why now?
Michael: In the last year couple of years I have been writing and submitting to science fiction markets, listening to science fiction story podcasts, and collecting and reading science fiction anthologies. I learned a lot about the about the submission process and a little about publication. What I was most surprised to learn was that there were not as many professional-paying markets as I had expected and that many well-respected markets only paid token amounts. Then there was the controversy this past fall that sprang from John Scalzi’s comments about low-paying markets not respecting the authors, and ‘new authors’ complaining that there were a limited number of professional markets and that they had limited access to them. It certainly appeared that there was room for another professional-paying market. Science Fiction is one of my central interests. I’ve played around with making websites since the mid-90’s. My wife, a life-long SF fan, encouraged me to get on with it. I have a good friend, Paul Clemmons, who got very excited when I discussed all this with him and he immediately joined in. All those influences have gone into the mix and Redstone is coming out of it.
David: At what point will you call your Redstone launch a success?
Michael: Paul and I are very goal oriented, so success will be an ongoing process We established a list of goals we want to reach and have achieved several: 1) a quality website 2) on the major market lists 3) a legitimate business entity 4) a web presence beyond the site 4) a process for handling submissions 5) actually receiving quality submissions 6) accepting our first stories. Currently we are adding interviews, features, & columns and establishing contacts with publishers, editors, and authors. We want to get our issues online on-time and with quality content. We want our stories to be nominated for awards and in a year we want to be recognized by the SFWA as a professional market. We have a big list beyond that, but check back with me next year.
David: Are there any particular types of story that seem to tickle your fancy? Any you’re just plain sick of?
Michael: I think of science fiction in simple terms. How will individuals and humankind adapt to technological and other changes in the future? I like near-future stories of pervasive computing and far-future stories of galactic empire, as long as there seems to be a rational basis for the extrapolation. And I like things to happen. The story starts because something has changed. Show me what changed and how the protagonist is dealing with it. Halfway through our first slushpile, I’ve unexpectedly learned that I don’t like certain things, at least for Redstone SF. I don’t like cute. I don’t like to see the ending a mile away, but I don’t like a twist that turns out to be the point of the story. I don’t like lost love or romance to be the heart of the story (pun intended), but instead it should be a part of a whole story that is centrally science fiction. And no one wants to be lectured to about politics or religion.
David: How has the quality/quantity of stories compared with your expectations?
Michael: Truthfully, we had no idea what we would get. We have gotten several good stories, more than we can reasonably print in the beginning. Part of the plan was to offer a pro rate so that we’d get first class stories, and that has worked.
David: Like me, and many of my readers, you’re an aspiring writer yourself, trying to improve your skill and get some great publications under your belt. How has this affected the way you read your slush pile?
Michael: It has definitely affected how I respond to stories we reject. We try hard to provide feedback on almost every story we read. We know how it is to be rejected on 1/8 of a piece of poorly-scissored paper. Over time we will probably become calloused, evil distributors of heartless form rejection letters, but for now our empathy is still intact.
David: Conversely, how has reading the slush pile affected your writing?
Michael: As you might expect, I haven’t much time to write the last month. I believe that it will have a strongly positive impact. I know how high a standard we have set and I know the things that I don’t want to see anymore. If I can make my writing good enough for what we want in RSF, I should be able to get a few more complete pieces of paper with ‘accept’ and ‘publish’ printed on them somewhere.
David: Have you accepted any stories yet? Can you give us any hints?
Michael: The first story we accepted was a fait accompli. We all said, “Yeah. That’s the first one.” Ironically, it is a quieter story than what I usually like. I’m about to send out our second one. It’s a relentless story that makes your head swim with math, computing, and big ideas. We’re debating now over what else we want in the first few issues.
David: How is your own writing coming along? Any works in progress you’d like to tell us about? Any upcoming publications?
Michael: I’ll have an epic fantasy story, oddly enough, in Beyond Centauri this October and a ‘first contact’ story in Daily Flash 2011, out in December. I’ve tried to write each story in a different part of the SF & Fantasy spectrum. In a few of those stories I take a sub-genre idea and look at it from a ‘southern science fiction’ point of view, like my flash story ‘Service’, published in Everyday Fiction. Barbecue, cotton fields, trucks, southern geeks, and aliens. Those stories are out. We’ll see.
David: If you had the ability to raise one person from the dead for one minute (sort of like Pushing Daisies), who would you raise, and what would you say or do in that time?
Michael: Wow. I was ready for tree (hackberry) and color (forest green). At the risk of sounding maudlin, I’d like to meet my grandfather who, relatives say, I am a lot like. As a historian, I’d love to meet Ben Franklin. I’d just let him talk.
David: What was your favorite vacation of your life?
Michael: Not quite a vacation, but when I got out of the Army (knees) I was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. We drove across the country to Alabama on I-40, passing through the southern tier of states. It was great fun.
David: What was the last book you read?
Michael: I recently read ‘Storyteller’ by Kate Wilhelm and I’m reading ‘New Space Opera 2′ now. I listen to speculative fiction short stories almost every day while I exercise.
David: What are your favorite fiction podcasts?
Michael: I listen to Starship Sofa, which was just nominated for a Hugo and to Escape Pod, (who are on hiatus). I also listen to stories from Tor.com and to Cory Doctorow’s work at craphound.com. We intend to post our stories as audio files as well.
David: Your favorite book?
Michael: I love ‘The Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe, it’s so dense and it challenges you brain, and is fun, but it doesn’t get enough recognition. ‘The Baroque Cycle’ by Neal Stephenson was right in my wheelhouse. I studied British History and the Enlightenment, and I love his digressions and understanding of the politics of the period. Also, Gibson’s Neuromancer and Stephenson’s Snow Crash brought me back to Science Fiction.
David: Who is your favorite author?
Michael: The three author’s I mentioned above, plus Gaiman, Stross, and Doctorow.
David: What was the last movie you saw?
Michael: In the theater, The Crazies, which is an excellent zombie/plague story. On DVD we rewatched ‘Zodiac’, very 70’s feel. On-Demand, don’t tell anyone, but we’ve been watching Sparatcus: Blood and Sand. The story arc is actually well-written.
David: What is your favorite movie?
Michael: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bladerunner, Gladiator, and Pulp Fiction.
David: Thanks for taking the time for the interview. I’m looking forward to reading and submitting to Redstone for a long time to come.