Saturday, October 24, 2009

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly - The Interview, Part 2

I've been asking my friends Adrian and Dave, editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, a few things about themselves, their reasons for starting the magazine, and their vision. You can catch Part One here -- it covers only the first question, 'cause these guys can talk, but they're never boring -- but I've endeavored to cover a little more ground in this portion.

So, without further explanation or ado, we continue the interview:

2) HFQ is compact, publishing only five pieces per issue (so far, three stories and two poems per edition). How did you arrive at the decision to keep it so small?

Adrian: Mostly it's a matter of practicality. HFQ is a two-man show.

And even with three months to do it, reading through the inbox to narrow down the tier-two submissions, and then reading through the entire manuscripts of those to get to the best of the best, and then to pick the ones we want to run, and edit them, all the while wrangling the artwork, fixing technical bugs, working day jobs, and keeping our own writing going, it takes a lot of time and energy.

On top of that, we have a limited amount of money powering this project, and we wanted to pay a respectable amount, so that was also a huge factor.

David: Right—publishing every three months just seemed like a manageable timeframe, both to go through submissions and to stay on readers’ radar. Time will tell on the latter.

So far, so good as far as the editorial/behind the scenes duties go, even if I sometimes wish there were four months between issues. But Heroic Fantasy Tri-annually doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

3) Do I assume correctly that a smaller quantity means a higher quality?

Adrian: We like to think so. There is a lot of good, albeit amateur, writing that we just have to pass on, and since we're only doing five items, if we miss something in the editorial process, we really feel bothered by it.

David: As we state on the HFQ website, one of our goals is to elevate sword-and-sorcery to a rightful high place. So yeah, we think publishing a smaller number of items will allow us to spend more time working with writers—if need be—during the editorial process.

We’ve seen everything from grammatically perfect stories that were real snooze-fests, to stories with great ideas but wherein the author displayed a complete lack of competency in assembling words on the page. We reject both of these varieties; I think it is the latter that Adrian referred to as amateur.

4) A lot of online magazines keep a shorter schedule, publishing monthly, or updating their content weekly. Why did you decide to go with a quarterly schedule?

Adrian: I tend to think that a weekly schedule is too much for the reader, honestly. I mean, I don't read every story at Strange Horizons (love it!) even if I do remember to stop by every Monday. Monthly publishing is a little easier on the reader, but again I don't read every month's worth of Internet Review of Science Fiction or Revolution SF or even LOCUS, for crying out loud!

Furthermore, a lot of "updates" are really just blog entries, or book reviews or whatever and we wanted to make the focus of HFQ the fiction and poetry—not our views on the latest movies, or wringing our hands about the state of the publishing industry.

David: Agreed. Correct or not, I also think too much content can be counterproductive to fiction e-zines. On the Internet, we all suffer from some degree of ADD or restlessness. We want to get in and get out, and on to the next thing. Or maybe that’s just me!

More importantly, I think it’s better for writers if their stories can stay up on the front page for a longer period of time. This is secondary to why we publish on a quarterly schedule, but it is something that has occurred to me since we actually published our first issues.

5) Your submission guidelines are clear (and funny), and the genre is in the title -- heroic fantasy. However, I know from experience that magazines receive material that has no place in the publication i.e. the horror magazine for which I read receives straight-up fantasy and science fiction, or outright dramas that are not horrific in any way. Are there any HFQ submissions that seem to have landed from some other plane of the universe?

Adrian: Actually, can we clear something up regarding our guidelines? People! We never said Tunnels and Trolls was a bad game. What we said was that nobody played it. Which is doubly ironic in that one of its claims to fame is that it has solo-player rules. We know people who own the game, but neither of us has ever met a single person who has played it.

David: Right. A little brother of one of my old D&D buddies bought Tunnels & Trolls. But we never played the game with him. I also never inhaled.

Adrian: The vast majority of our submissions are in the heroic fantasy/S&S genres. But even those clearly-defined genres get kind of fuzzy around the edges, so we do get some stuff that straddles the line. We also get the occasional story that has no business at HFQ. But honestly, we knew going into this that would happen, so we reject them politely and professionally.

David: I might disagree a bit on the clear definition of what constitutes HF/S&S. It can be hard to describe, but we certainly know it when we see it.

That said, I’m sure it is a bit difficult for writers to be sure of exactly what we want, and there is indeed a fuzzy area where stories straddle a line between high fantasy and sword-and-sorcery.

As to the original question, yes, we get stories that could never fit into even the loosest definition of heroic fantasy, but I actually don’t remember many of these. I tend to remember the HF stories that were near misses. I say if a writer has any doubts about what may or may not fit with us, just go ahead and submit it. Our rejections are quite cordial.

Adrian: Not to get on a high horse here, but not only were we spurred into creating HFQ because of the shabby treatment of the S&S genre, but more broadly, we were spurred into creating HFQ because of the shabby treatment of genre writers in general. We want to be defined by what we enjoy and publish, not (by) what we hate.

David: Agreed, agreed. But neither do we want to serve up easy targets for genre (or subgenre!) haters.

--- to be continued ---

Glossary of Abbreviated Terms
ADD -- attention deficit disorder (but I think we pretty much know that one!)
D&D -- Dungeons & Dragons, a classic role-playing game
HF -- heroic fantasy
S&S -- sword and sorcery, a fantasy subgenre

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