With the economy as rough as it has been in recent years, too many beloved magazines have gone under for economic reasons. It’s nice to have some good news to balance out the bad. A brand new speculative fiction magazine has published its first issue, and for those writer types they’re also open for submissions. They are known as Bull Spec, they’re edited by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, and they have nice broad guidelines (just the way I like them), so if you’ve got some high quality speculative fiction you’d like to send your way, you should give them a try. Check out their submissions page order a copy of issue #1. While you’re at it, leave some comments on the blog–they’re very approachable, so feel free to give them feedback.
Not only do they pay professional rates (5 cents per word), but authors get a share of the profits from donations for the story.
Stories will be published in a variety of formats including e-books and audio books (including English, Spanish, and Chinese), as well as the print magazine. (Also, watch out for my story Turning Back the Clock scheduled for Issue 3).
David Steffen: Why the name “Bull Spec”?
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn: First, thanks very much for the interview, and for your story,”Turning Back the Clock.” As to the name, each part of the name has more than one meaning. I’ll start with “Spec” for both “speculative fiction” — a catch-all umbrella for fantasy, science fiction,slipstream, etc. — and “speculation” to note that I’m looking for stories that ask “What if?” about humanity. “Bull” both for Durham (the “Bull” city) where I live and publish, and “bullish” to note that I’m looking for stories that are hopeful about the answers to humanity’s questions.
David: How long ago did you decide to create Bull Spec?
Sam: With my two children finally having a regular bedtime again last summer, a few hours in the evening suddenly became mine to dispose of.Â I wrote some children’s stories (they demand new stories every day) and started writing speculative fiction again for the first time in quite a while. By the fall I had an inkling that I’d like to try my hand on the publishing side, and in early November I put out the “open for submissions” sign, expecting to publish one story every 3 months.Â So many good stories came my way that I realized I could fill a magazine with them — so in early December I decided that this was exactly what I would try to do.
David: What are your goals for the magazine? At what point will you call your efforts to start Bull Spec a success?
Sam: Having the first issue actually in my hands is a good feeling, but my commitment is to establish Bull Spec as an SFWA market by following up with quarterly issues for at least a few years. I think the “pie in the sky” hope for me is that a first-time author I publish has one of their stories picked up by one of the big anthologies, or nominated for an award. That would be a great feeling, to have been a part of getting them started as an author.
David: Why now?
Sam: I had been looking at other publications closing or being temporarily closed for submissions for over a year from the perspective of a writer, when it started to dawn upon me that there had to be great stories out there which needed a home. Then I read an inspiring interview of Kim Stanley Robinson in which he said: “Anyone can do a dystopia these days just by making a collage of newspaper headlines, but utopias are hard, and important, because we need to imagine what it might be like if we did things well enough to say to our kids, we did our best, this is about as good as it was when it was handed to us, take care of it and do better. Some kind of narrative vision of what we’re trying for as a civilization.” Now, not to think that starting a magazine will change the world, but I thought that if I could find a hopeful human story to bring to as wide an audience as I could, we could all talk about it and engage and see how much we have in common. With that I asked Joe Meno if I could translate his wonderful short story “The Architecture of the Moon” and produce audiobooks in a few languages. He said yes, and so did a few more authors.
As far as a full magazine instead of a one or two stories a quarter, I started to get submissions of books for review, and authors contacted me to be interviewed. I kept telling them, “Sorry, I’m not really a magazine or anything, just an e-publisher.” Then D. Harlan Wilson sent me “Technologized Desire: Selfhood & the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction” and I knew right away I had to change my mind about interviews and reviews, and pretty soon enough content to fill a magazine started to come together.
The final stroke of luck and timing was finding my printer. I called a few printers of local magazines whose quality I liked and heard time after time, “Sorry, we don’t really work with print runs that small.”Â Then I called Publishers Press, who prints Durham Magazine, and read their pretty strong environmental policy. They were amazing from the first conversation, treating me like I was going to actually do this, and have been a great partner ever since.
More on the “why now” thing. I finally jumped into the world of Twitter, and found that authors actually would talk to me. I started finding new authors to read, like William Shunn, and new publishers to follow, like Featherproof. From Featherproof I found an amazing story and experience: a download, print, and fold version of Joe Meno’s “The Architecture of the Moon.” The tactile experience of holding it connected with me very deeply. Then while looking for novella markets for a story of mine, I found Panverse Publishing’s Panverse One novella anthology. I was blown away. It really drove home that a new publisher could put forth something absolutely amazing and gave me the crazy idea that I could give it a try as well.
David: How has the quality and quantity of submissions lived up to your expectations?
Sam: It’s been amazing to see the number and quality of submissions. I didn’t know what to expect and hoped for a handful. I got hundreds, scores of which I would have been quite happy to have published.Â Enough for an anthology! Someday…
David: What will set Bull Spec apart from other magazines?
Sam: From a reader’s perspective, the “pay what you want” price and the Creative Commons licensing for the magazine as a whole, as well as a variety of stories from different genres and formats: Fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, whether in text or in graphic story form. The other thing might be the length and depth of the interviews so far is a bit more than I see in other magazines. From an author’s perspective, having their story in a glossy full-size magazine, and the work I am putting into promoting their stories.
David: How did the production of Issue #1 compare with your expectations?
Sam: I had hoped to somehow pick up editing help and particularly help with the magazine layout and design, but one danger of being of the age to be a parent is that most of my friends are as well, so I ended up designing the magazine. I’d never done work like this before, and it was painstaking and frustrating to spend hours moving a line a little to the left, making it a little thicker, making it a little thinner, then moving it a little to the right… and ending up where I’d started, looking up to realize it was the wee hours of the morning.
Looking back, it was much easier than I had expected other than the learning curve on the design side. It helped to have authors sending me great stories and to have found a cover artist and graphic story artist in Mike Gallagher who was professional, on time, and really carried the day.
David: What elements really set a story apart to make you decide to buy it?
Sam: I think the stories in issue #1 are all character-driven, but I’m not opposed to plot-driven stories. I do want to see a bit of what makes the character tick, whether they are human or clockwork and have a literal “tick” or not, and be along for the ride as they discover their role in the fantastic or speculative world where their story is taking place.
David: It may be too early to ask this, but are there any types of stories you hope not to see many of?
Sam: I know I won’t be publishing many (if any) stories with gruesome horror or violence, or explicit sex. I don’t mind reading those stories on occasion and have written a few myself, but something “R” rated would have to really blow me away for me to include it in the magazine.
David: Do you write fiction as well as edit?
Sam: I’ve not written many words since launching Bull Spec in November, but every once in a while I will steal some time to work on a story or two. An experimental bit of Twitter fiction called “Bad Elf” was serially published by Thaumatrope over the month of December and I have a piece of flash fiction coming up in 52 Stitches on May 30th called “The Man in the Mirror.” I have a few stories floating around out there, and a few more which need some revision before they’re ready to face the world.Â I wrote and designed for years for the online roleplaying game The Forest’s Edge as “Phule” (named after the Robert Asprin character). Those years of putting my best stories into an interactive game setting is probably why I so strongly consider the stories and settings behind games very much within the realm of speculative fiction.
It’s hard to quantify that in terms of stories or words, but suffice it to say that a decade’s worth of the stories I might have written went into the game, where people could join the story. Game design and world building have always been a love of mine. I’ve also written some World of Warcraft and Fallen Earth fan-fiction, but I should probably know better than to mention that.
My review of D. Harlan Wilson’s “Technologized Desire” was published in the NYRSF’s February Issue (#258).Â I won’t be reviewing many books at length, and if I do they’ll likely be more non-fiction. I tend to madly gush over novels I like far too much to write a proper review of them.
David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Sam: I’m certainly not someone to offer writing advice, but I’ll pass along a few bits which have resonated with me: (1) Neil Gaiman’s advice that when someone tells you a scene isn’t working, they are probably right, but that when they tell you specifically what it is or how to fix it, they’re probably wrong; (2) David Mamet, writing in particular about screenwriting, but I think it is applicable to much short fiction, who said that each scene must be dramatic, it must be essential, and that it must advance the plot.
David: What’s your plan for the Zombie Apocalypse?
Sam: First, I hope they are “slow” zombies. If they are “fast” zombies, my best bet is probably to try to ingratiate myself with a local neo-feudal lord and gain my family safe harbor in his or her impenetrable compound. And then, when all else fails, hope that life as a zombie is interesting.
David: What mythical creature do you think would taste the best?
Sam: The minotaur. Two words: Flank steak! It might be a little tough, but not as hard as getting through the labyrinth in the first place.
David: What was the last book you read?
Sam: If audiobooks count, Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl.” As far as printed books go, cover-to-cover, I last read the Panverse One novella anthology. I’m currently reading (a few pages a month is all I’ve managed — story submissions keep coming!) “Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman” by Walter M. Miller and Terry Bisson. It’s the decades-later sequel to “A Canticle for Leibowitz” and the story of its completion compelled me to finally pick it up after years of delay.
David: Your favorite book?
Sam: It is hard to pick one, but Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” has stuck with me for many years now. As a sentimental, I doubt very much that it could be displaced, though Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem” really deserves it.
David: Who is your favorite author?
Sam: As far as short stories go, Terry Bisson takes the prize for me. For novels it is Neal Stephenson. Yes, even “The Big U.”
David: What was the last movie you saw?
Sam: The kids picked “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” It was much, much stranger than the children’s book.
David: What is your favorite movie?
Sam: Again, so many, but for many reasons, not the least of which is more sentimentality, it is “The Princess Bride” and will likely always remain so.
David: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I got my copy of issue #1 in the mail not too long ago and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Sam: Thanks for all your encouragement and for following Bull Spec along the way so far!