26 April 2010 ~ 11 Comments

Prepare to Launch: M.E. Ray

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.

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.

11 Responses to “Prepare to Launch: M.E. Ray”

  1. Dr. Phil 26 April 2010 at 12:10 pm Permalink

    As a recipient of a very well crafted (and complimentary) rejection, I for one eagerly await the launch of Redstone Science Fiction. Many attempt to offer a pro-rate market, but not everyone seems to have a definite plan. Here’s to their first big year!

    Dr. Phil

  2. Sam 26 April 2010 at 3:02 pm Permalink

    Very nice interview. In addition to longevity requirements there is also “Must have a print run or circulation of at least 1000 copies, or the equivalent in other media (e.g., demonstrated downloads in electronic media).” I don’t know what the equivalent/demonstrated downloads are for 1000 print copies, or how you demonstrate them to the SFWA, but I’ve heard it said from several authors that “online pro markets are worth their weight in gold” and I’m definitely looking forward to Redstone Science Fiction as well. For some reason Redstone didn’t get mentioned at:

    http://catrambo.livejournal.com/273746.html

    And neither did Lightspeed Magazine, another online pro market for science fiction opening in June which I’m also looking forward to:

    http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/

  3. Larry Hodges 26 April 2010 at 3:42 pm Permalink

    I’m currently reading the classic “Apollo” by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, which covers the Apollo program and the space and moon race. One of the major precursors to the Saturn rockets that were used in the Apollo program were the Redstone rockets (also Redstone missiles), which were descendants of the German V2 rockets. I’m guessing there’s a direct connection between the name “Redstone Arsenal” and the Redstone rocket program. I wonder if Redstone Magazine realizes just how appropriate their title was for a SF magazine! See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PGM-11_Redstone

  4. Steve Butler 26 April 2010 at 3:52 pm Permalink

    “And he’s also a writing with his first few publications under his belt”

    ‘Writer,’ in place of ‘writing’?

  5. Michael (M.E.) Ray 26 April 2010 at 4:00 pm Permalink

    David – This looks excellent, great job.
    @Larry – Absolutely! The rocket on our status page is a Redstone http://redstonesciencefiction.com/status/.
    My father worked on the Arsenal for a while during the sixties and we grew up with the Space Program.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj 27 April 2010 at 4:35 am Permalink

    Sam, for what it’s worth, when Strange Horizons was trying to get it SFWA-qualifying classification, we had a PDF download option in addition to just reading the magazine on the web, and sufficient people downloaded us to qualify. I don’t now if SFWA would have required us to jump through that particular hoop, but just in case, we made sure we had downloads available. People like ‘em — makes it easier to read on your iPhone in areas with low signal, for example.

    Best of luck to Redstone — delighted to see the field growing and expanding, and it sounds like you folks are making all the right decisions to create a strong magazine. Well done!

  7. Christopher Miller 28 April 2010 at 1:20 pm Permalink

    It’s really great to see a group of professionals tackle a sci-fi magazine both as a business venture and as an expression and extension of their love for the genre. It annoys me, for example, that publications offering 5$ and even 1$ per story, or dubious royalties, are still listed under duotrope’s “Paying markets.” There should be a distinction, some sort of qualifying process, for serious newcomers, like you.

    I’m torn on the whole rejects w/ critiques versus curt or form reject slips. I wrote the following some time ago tongue-in-cheek. Though it in no way pertains to your project or yourselves (you guys are the best), I still hope it helps in your decision-making regarding these no-win inevitabilities.

    How to Write a Rejection Slip

    With publishing’s gatekeepers now comprising the bulk of short fictions’ readership, I think it reasonable to say that for every story read at least one rejection slip is also read. The rare instances in which writers’ stories are not rejected and to some degree published and possibly read by others are offset by writers’ publishing their rejection slips on public blogs and forums and disseminating them in emails. Similarly, publishers’ returning the same rejection slip to many writers is offset by writers submitting the same story to many publishers. So even ignoring that rejection slips, unlike the stories that inspired them, are almost always read in their entirety, taken to heart and remembered, it all more than cancels out. Ergo rejection slips are the most widely and attentively read short literary genre.

    And while there’s a humongous amount of material available on how to write good short stories and also a lot of information on reading (i.e. coping with) rejection slips—which may be summarized as 1) consider that you might be a shitty writer who will improve, 2) consider that the rejecter is an imbecile and/or pandering to an imbecilic demographic, and 3) don’t include return postage on your SASE, or, in the case of email submissions, flag the “sent to” address as spam—nowhere (in my full minute of research) did I find anything on writing good rejection slips. So, as always and without further ado, here are my rules:

    1. Never write “keep writing” in a rejection slip. This is particularly irksome as the slip’s closing sentiment and even more so when followed by an exclamation mark. Your reader is already disappointed and doesn’t need the implication that your passing on the piece might constitute a reason to stop writing. In other words, this generic and ingenuous “chin up” just makes readers want to punch you in the face. It is beyond your rejection slip’s scope to provide personal or career counseling.

    2. Never critique work you are rejecting. It just makes you look stupid, even when you’re right, which usually you are not. It is beyond your rejection slip’s scope to teach creative writing.

    3. Never say a piece is “not right” for you. This rule may be excepted if you actually really did like the submission but have had all your creative joie de vivre and artistic license crushed out of you by having to cater to the dreary formula upon which your publication is based and you can convey this in some credible way. Similarly, unless you can say who, do not point out that someone else might like it. The reader would not have sent you the piece if they didn’t like it. The same rules of concision that apply to all writing apply to rejection slips. Be specific. Avoid stating the obvious.

    4. Never chirp how you “enjoyed the read.” You have just injured your reader. “I dozed off while reading your submission and chipped a tooth on my coffee mug” might be more uplifting.

    5. Never metaphorically equate a piece’s acceptance with its finding “a home.” The story you are rejecting is not some derelict bumming spare change, eating out of dumpsters and sleeping on benches and grates. Particularly offensive and almost as bad as “Keep writing!” is “Good luck finding a home for it!” Really you should avoid bestowing any sort of hope, wish or prayer for success on your reader. What you need to keep in mind is that, no matter how you sugarcoat them, rejection slips hurt. And so, if only briefly, your reader is your enemy, and doesn’t want your gloating condescension.

    6. Avoid saying you hope the author will submit more of their work in the future, even if you really do. This is a toughie, I know. But if you really like the piece that much, then ask if you can hold onto it in the hopes a slot opens up. Or send a follow-up invitation. Most times, if you solicit work from an author, he will comply. But consider that your reader is reading in a temporarily bummed out state. His best efforts have just been found wanting. Even ephemeral depression twists all emotions into negative forms. So, instead of interested, you just sound greedy. And instead of uplifted, your reader just feels used, like you’ve walked up to his promotional free-sample display in the supermarket where he works weekends on commission, and, after gobbling down all his carefully prepared little sausages, crackers, cheeses, dips or whatever, exclaimed how delicious they were, burped and asked when more will be available.

    7. Conversely, do not be afraid to write things like, “We would appreciate if you didn’t submit any more of your work to us,” or “We only barely read the first paragraph,” or “We receive thousands of submissions each month and yours was second worst!” Honesty is always the best policy. Writers can smell bullshit like weed at a concert. A miss is as good as a mile.

  8. David Steffen 28 April 2010 at 2:01 pm Permalink

    Good list, though I don’t agree with every entry.

    I agree with #1 most emphatically. I grind my teeth whenever I see “Keep writing!” It always comes off very condescending, like patting a kid on the head after his peewee team loses a game “Keep your chin up, sport. You gave it your best and that’s what matters. Now, let’s go get some consolation cake!”

    #2 I disagree. If an editor has a specific reason for hating a story, I’d like to know why. “The beginning was too slow”, “I didn’t find the protagonist sympathetic,” or “the Nazi elephant was a bit over the top” are all useful to know. I may not change the story based on that lone critique, but if I know why the rejection then that helps me understand what that particular publication is looking for.

    #6, I somewhat disagree. If it’s the same form letter that you send to everyone, it should NOT say send again, because it’s inclusion in EVERY form letter negates it’s meaning and makes it into something condescending. But, if it’s a personal rejection, or a form letter selected from a Hierarchy of form letters that indicate the warmth of the reception, this can be encouraging.

    #7, I disagree. Honesty is good, but if I had to constantly read rejections that say “Wow your work really sucks” or “Don’t submit to us again” it would be hard to keep writing at times. Feedback can be useful, but only if it’s constructive. If I can’t channel it to improve my writing, and only serves to tear down my confidence, then it’s worthless. Also, if I were an editor I would never tell someone not to submit again based on the quality of their work. Everyone writer is working to improve and if you cut someone off early in the curve they’ll hold a grudge against you and won’t submit when they’re better and may reach your quality threshold.

  9. David Steffen 28 April 2010 at 2:05 pm Permalink

    A couple more for me personally:

    –When you write up a form letter, check your syntax and writing to make sure it doesn’t make you sound like a moron. For instance “We regret to have to inform you that we will be declining acceptance at this time.” Declining acceptance? Who came up with that phrase? And apparently they don’t regret rejecting you, but regret the necessity that they have to inform you of this rejection. They’d rather just leave it unsaid but then those darn query letters would just pour in.
    –Don’t apologize for “the necessity of using a form letter”. I understand that a huge volume of submissions would make this impractical but don’t apologize for the choice you’ve made. Keep in mind that though you as an editor only have to write this once, each writer might be reading this dozen of times.


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