Tori! I’m so excited to chat. I know you, but for everyone who doesn’t, tell us who you are and what you have going on.
My name is Victoria-Lynn Bell, and I’m the current Editor-in-Chief of The Helix magazine. The Helix is a completely undergraduate-run literary and art magazine on the Central Connecticut State University campus. Since its first publication in 1977, The Helix has published one magazine every academic semester. We accept literature and art from all over the globe; our latest edition features writing from our own students here at CCSU as well as pieces from India, Turkey, and New Zealand!
That is an impressively far reach. Congratulations on being able to work with such a diverse population of writers. What’s the editorial process like on your side of the table? What’s one thing that makes a submission jump out at you?
Finding quality submissions is the best part of this job. Our team is not looking for anything in a specific style or genre. What really draws us in is a strong lead to a piece or a poem and attention to detail and craft. We look for pieces that we haven’t seen before, something unique and executed well. When an author marries originality and quality, you know you’ve found a true gem.
And when you find that gem I bet it’s amazing. On the flipside, is there anything that is an immediate disqualifier?
Not reading through the submission guidelines. This is something that has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the artwork, but unfortunately causes some of our submissions to go unopened. If we receive multiple pieces in one document or open a poem that’s formatted in papyrus font for example, we reject the submission and encourage the submitter to try again when they’ve adjusted their piece. Reading through submission guidelines shows us that the artist or author is serious about their work appearing in our magazine.
Which they should be. In your time at Helix, what has been something that you’ve learned that you wish you had known when you started?
Something I didn’t expect was how long it would take up to go through our submission queue. I’ve heard horror stories about publishing companies with tangible slush piles—mountains of submissions that teeter by intern desks and constantly shift like a mud slide—and working at a literary mag is a micro version of that. Our Submittable portal opened about a year ago, and it was more successful than we had anticipated. In an effort to make sure authors didn’t have to wait more than eight months to hear back about their submission, we had to read through a lot of pieces each week.
Was there anything that was sort of eye-opening? Seeing things from the editor’s chair versus behind the writer’s screen?
As a writer, I’m constantly struggling to find ways to improve my pieces. It hard to see the strengths of your own writing when you scrutinize it so closely. During an initial read of a piece I’m reviewing for the magazine however, I find that I fall into a natural balance of enjoying the piece and analyzing whether it will work for The Helix. Seeing what works and what doesn’t work in other’s writing has helped me make decisions with my own craft.
So what would be the most challenging part of the job?
Being Editor-in-Chief is like being a spokesperson, a ringmaster, and an editor all in one. Juggling tasks is the most challenging part of the job. You have to be great at communication and knowledgeable about running a team of editors while communicating with authors and artists. In the weeks leading up to publication, I can be emailing our faculty advisor, meeting with the graphic designer, and editing pieces in the same day.
An impressive feat. Kudos. Taking a step away from the editor’s role, are you working on any projects in your downtime?
When am I not working on a project is a better question! But in all seriousness, I have a few things in the works, including a novel and a collection of poetry and nonfiction essays.
So, I have a very important question. What’s your weapon of choice in the zombie apocalypse?
What am awesome question! My weapon of choice would be a bow and arrows. In a fight-or-flight situation I tend to always flee if I can. A bow and arrows would mean I could protect myself from a distance while still looking completely bad ass. Think Robin Hood meets Daryl from The Walking Dead.
Okay, so before you go, rapid fire time. Answer without thinking. Ready? Set. Go!
Yeah, that is a God-awful word. Thanks for dropping in and shedding some light on the process of being an editor-in-chief. Congratulations with the success you’ve had with Helix and I can’t wait to read more of your work. Where can people get in touch with you if they want to find out more?
I have an Instagram @indexblog and blog tinybitofeverything.net and can be reached through my email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wow does time fly by. It seems like I was just here doing this exact same thing! Well, regardless, this week's short story choice was Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. Taking place at some point between the not-so-distant and still-kind-of-far-away future, Gray Wings follows a flyer competing in an aerial race. Think wing suits but surgically attached and connected.
While competing in this qualifying race, she gets caught in the draft of a plane and crashes down on an impoverished nation that is the stark opposite from the place she grew up. *Side note - I read this story prior to the "shit-hole nations" tweet that was spoken with such class and sophist--ugh, I can't even be sarcastic about this stuff anymore. Anyway, now that I'm revisiting this story after that incident, it's relevance has been renewed and it goes to show that good quality science fiction (and fiction in general) illustrates aspects of our lives and the world that we may not see all the time.
So, in the story, our flyer crashes down and befriends a son and his mother who live on a struggling farm. Repeated offers of money in exchange for assistance go unanswered, illustrating the noble, yet sometimes harmful characteristic of pride. And while that is one side of the coin, the other side that the reader can take away from these interactions is the very real barrier (though invisible) between people from different cultures, backgrounds, and lives. Things one person takes for granted could be something another individual scratches and claws for.
Though first being published almost half a decade ago, Gray Wings is still so relevant it could have been written and published yesterday. It was a great short story that captured and illustrated a side of humanity that still needs so much work. I strongly recommend people read it for the timeliness. Clarkesworld Magazine reprinted the story in 2016 and it can be read (or listened to) for free here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bunker_03_16_reprint/
And that's it for this week's short story reflection (review?) I'm still trying to figure out what I want to call this endeavor. Maybe I'll have it figured out next week when I talk about Lynn Coady's short story Play the Monster Blind out of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories which I picked up in Halifax either last year or the year before. Taking a break from the science fiction and fantasy side of things, this short story was extracted from Lynn Coady's 2000 collection of the same name. See you all next week!
Well! Week one and I've successfully completed my New Year's resolution. Now there's only 51 more to go. But, if the rest of the stories are half as good as the first selection then this is going to be an awesome year. I picked Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan because of my love for her novella Agents of Dreamland. And this short story just re-infused my love for her writing.
Interstate Love Song is the story of our great nation's crimson soaked streets. Weaved through an interesting structure, this narrative follows our two main characters as something devastating unravels. And when something devastating unravels, so do people's lives. They flash before their eyes and in those seconds that stretch on like hours, all of the good and the bad shit they've done. In the case of Murder Ballad No. 8 it's, well, probably worse than you or I have. . . Maybe? God, I hope so.
Regardless of the actions or the motives, Kiernan glides us along this morbid love story with prose that literally sings. And with our twisted narrator. . . "We are moving along between the monotonous, barbarous, topography and the overcast sky, overcast at sunset the sky looked dead, and now, well past midnight, there is still no sign of moon nor stars to guide me, and I have only the road signs and the tattered atlas lying open beside me as I weave and wend through the Indian ghosts of Ozark Bluff Dwellers, stalkers of shambling mastodon and mammoth phantoms along these crude asphalt corridors."
Kiernan's mastery of lyrical language continues throughout the entire piece as she brings us deeper into the depths of this duos misfortunate and redemption. It's a dark tale. A morbid tale. And one that I would definitely recommend and read again.
So, Short Story Sunday #1 has set the bar high for the remainder of the year. The selection for Short Story Sunday #2 was done randomly (flipping through an anthology until I just decided to stop) and will lead us farther into my New Year's resolutions. For those keeping score, this week's story is Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. It's featured in The Year's Best Science Fiction Thirty-First Annual Collection. It was reprinted in this best-of after being originally published in the April/May 2013 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.
Till next Sunday folks. Stay safe, happy, healthy, and don't forget to praise the sun.
Diet. Exercise. Follow a budget. Sleep more. Drink less. Disconnect. Take time to breathe.
Actually, those all sound fantastic, hold on a second. . . . Okay, anyway, welcome to the part of the year where we all set our goals (and the gym becomes packed for a month or two and then goes back to normal come March). And with it the argument on whether or not people should have New Year's resolutions or if it's just a way to constrain yourself. Well, as with everything else in life, if it harms none, and makes you happy. . . You do you.
So, let's talk goals. Since, you know, this is a writer's website, I'll stray away from the diet, exercise, and save money resolutions, and focus more on ones revolving around say books and such. I just finished Ruth Ware's The Lying Game - review can be found here. This leaves my read pile for 2017 at 19. Not bad, but still short of my goal to read 24 in a year (I've had the same goal for four years. . . eventually I'll get there).
Fear not internal goal-setting reader man! I have two lined up for tomorrow in a hell of a kick-off for 2018: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark and The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (this sci-fi space thriller being read for Shoreline so review to come). But aside from novel reading goals there's something else I'd like to take on this year as a personal reading goal and one that will undoubtedly help better my own short story writing. Which, I have some news on, but that's for a different post because I can't talk about it just quite yet.
Anyway, what I was saying. . . One of the things I've amassed over the past few years whether as gifts or by my own volition, is anthologies and best of short story collections. As you can clearly see above. It's a great thing! . . . If I read them all. But I have a funny habit. . . haha. . . of reading a story or two and then putting the collection down, negating the rest of the contents. So, in an effort to rectify that and blow the cobwebs off of my backlog, I'm going to start Short Story Sunday. Where the goal is to have read at least one short story each week and post a critique/reflection about it up here. Hmmm, it's almost like this will help me blog more as certain people *wink wink* have said I should do. Even if only like one or two people are listening. The first selection is going to be Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan out of the collection Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror. Which, according to the contents of this anthology, was originally published in 2014 in Sirenia Digest 100. I loved Kiernan's novella Agents of Dreamland. . . it's one of the few works I read through 2017 that I still frequently think of. Having a personalized signed copy doesn't hurt either!
Now onto the writing portion of the goal setting. This is where I might be biting off more than I can chew with the full-time job, desire to play video games, and frequent bouts of leaving the state/country. But hey, in the words of the band Volbeat: "Mr. Perfect don't exist my little friend and I tell you that again. . . and I do it again."
For me, I'd like to see the finished, polished drafts of two more novels . . . not including the one finished last year that is currently with beta readers. Seven short stories. And at least the rough, rough, draft of the project I'm to scared to start (oh ask me about that sometime. . . it makes for a fun story). Can I do it? You better believe it. And I plan on posting quarterly goal updates to keep myself accountable. Doesn't mean it will work though!
So, thems be the goals. 24 books through out 2018. A short story and short post about said story each week. Two books. Seven shorts. And oh yeah, stop reading the news so much. . . Like still stay informed and be active about the world around me, but maybe not refresh the feeds every two hours (you think I'm exaggerating) and then groaning about the latest headline.
Oh, and since I mentioned that Volbeat song, it's called Still Counting and I'm including the video link below because I plan on singing the first verse well into 2018. "Counting all the assholes in the room, well I'm definitely not alone. Well I'm not alone-oh-oh."
And to all my heathen friends. . . . I'm ready to cause just as much shit this year as we did last year. We are far from done. The parties just get bigger every year. I love all of you and I can't wait for the continued Sunday mornings when we survey whatever house we threw it in and think Jesus Christ. . . Now we have to clean all this stuff up.