Interview with R. Leigh Hennig, Editor of Bastion Magazine
Posted May 12, 2014on:
The other day I reviewed the second issue of a brand new short fiction magazine, Bastion Magazine. I was impressed by the quality of the short stories, but what was most remarkable was the sheer quantity of fiction the editor and staff insist on in each issue. Most of the stories are short, 5,000 words or less, but still, eight or nine in each issue? Great for the reader for sure, but that is a ton of work for any editorial team! I wanted to learn more about the magazine, and lucky for me, R. Leigh offered to tell me a bit about himself and answer a few of my questions!
R. Leigh Hennig recently moved with his wife and three young children from Rura Penthe, er, Rochester, NY to Seattle. Leigh works as a network engineer by day, and when he’s not working on Bastion in the night, he’s writing his own short stories as well. He’s also an avid soccer fanatic (center back for his Tuesday night team — a defensive rock, and about as fast as one as well) and is probably more dedicated to Arsenal than the Pope is to Jesus.
And as I just learned, Leigh and I are fellow beer snobs. But he lives within walking distance of the Diamond Knot brewpub. What a spoiled guy! But let’s get to the important stuff, shall we?
LRR: I have to ask. What possessed you to start you own genre fiction magazine?
RLH: I wanted to do something that mattered to people — both to writers, and readers. I love science fiction, and short stories in particular. As a reader, I could never seem to get my hands on enough decent short stories. I’d heard similar sentiments echoed from others. It seemed to me like there was room for another market. I think there’s probably room for even more. I also know a lot of writers who are putting out amazing stories, but for some strange reason they’re not getting published. It seemed reasonable that I could do my own small part to help out both parties: deliver fantastic new stories to the readers that crave them, and provide opportunities for talented authors, especially those who haven’t been published before, to get their work out in front of people. I’m passionate about the short story format. The publication only seemed natural.
LRR:What are your goals for the magazine?
RLH: In the short term, I’d like the magazine to be self-sustaining. Right now, I personally fund everything. Site maintenance, payments to authors, cover art, advertising, you name it. It would be nice if the magazine could stand on its own. Looking toward the future, I want to become a qualifying market in the Science Fiction Writer’s Association, and I’d like to be able to pay authors a decent rate. I’d also like to be known for putting out quality stories, where an author can be proud to have their story published. All of this I’m hoping we can do, and more, without losing focus on how we started: contributor oriented, providing meaningful feedback within a reasonable amount of time.
LRR: Where can interested readers purchase a subscription or single issue?
RLH: Readers can go to www.bastionmag.com/current to see links for the current issue. We sell on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Weightless Books. If they’re looking for a PDF copy, which is pretty snazzy, Weightless is the place to get it. Subscriptions are also available through Weightless. For some unknown and frustrating reason, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not currently allowing people to create periodical subscriptions, but we’re pestering them frequently on it so hopefully it becomes available soon. For now, aside from a yearly subscription through Weightless, only individual issues can be purchased.
LRR: Were there any surprises (challenging or positive) that you ran into while putting the first issue together?
RLH: I think the biggest surprise was that people would send us these stunning stories, and they hadn’t been published before. It’s amazing to me. I’m reading some of these and thinking to myself, How exactly has this person not won awards or appeared in other prestigious markets? As far as challenges, I’d say that right now our biggest challenge is just recognition. Getting the word out. I’m confident that if people only knew about us, they’d love our stories.
LRR: Can you tell us a little about your submission process and what types of stories you are looking for?
RLH: Our submissions guidelines can be fount at www.bastionmag.com/submissions. As for the process itself, currently when someone emails a submission, that’s manually acknowledged. It then gets assigned to a slush reader for review. If they like it, they pass it up directly to me. At the same time, I let the contributor know they’ve been short listed, so they’re not just sitting there in the dark. If I like it, I’ll circulate it around the rest of the staff for comment. Everyone weighs in. It’s a bit of a tribal decision making process. If everyone agrees, then I’ll contact the author directly and let them know. We’ll then take some time for edits and send the proposed copy back to the author. Once we agree on a final copy, I send them a contract to review. If the story doesn’t pass muster, then I’ll write back to the author and let them know why. I’ll try to point out specific things that worked and didn’t work, and make recommendations. As volume increases, we’ll probably be moving toward a submission management system. For now, it’s email. At the volume of stories we receive (200 per month?), this works for us.
LRR: You’ve got quite a team over there are Bastion! How did you put your team together, and what advice would you give other editors and genre fiction curators who are looking to put a top-notch team?
RLH: I met Brooke Johnson through a contact on Google+ and worked directly with her on editing some stories of my own. She’s a freelance editor. She also writes herself. I had been very familiar with the quality of Brooke’s insight and her capabilities as an editor, so when it came time to asking someone to lend a hand, the choice was obvious. I’d like to call out our slush readers in particular, though: Madison Abshire, Lauren Shipley, Nick Lazzaro, Gabrielle Vicari. These are not your run of the mill, first level slush readers. The insight and analysis that these people bring is really something else. If any of them are sending a story on up, I know it’s going to be a good one. As far as finding them: we put out a few calls for readers, and each responded. I interviewed all of them, spoke about my intentions with Bastion and had a general discussion, and sent a mix of trial pieces for them to pick apart in detail. We also talked about their experience in the field. It’s important that you bring on people who are of like mind and are aligned with your tastes, goals, and ideas of quality. In this way, I made sure I was bringing on qualified and competent staffers. I’m supremely grateful for the work they put in.
LRR: You’re obviously a huge science fiction fan yourself. Who are some of your favorite authors, and are there any titles you’d recommend to someone who is just getting into science fiction?
>RLH: Arthur C. Clarke, Hugh Howey, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov are all outstanding. I’m a sucker for the classics. I also really like Max Brookes. I know, I know — he’s all zombies, but he really is a talented writer. I met him once at an event. Hilarious guy, personable, down to earth. He made you feel like he actually appreciated you as a fan. As for novels for new comers to science fiction: Rendezvous with Rama. The way that Clarke builds up suspense and wonder at the purpose of the alien spacecraft and the secrets it might contain was sublime. It’s an accessible story as well, so younger readers could do really well to check it out. It’s the perfect story to jump start a young (as well as old) imagination.
LRR: Any favorite short stories or anthologies that have come out in the last year or so?
RLH: The End is Nigh is a newly released anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey, which deals with what the world might be like just before the apocalypse. I’m working on that now and it’s quite a set of stories, I really must say. They’re going to be following it up with others (it’s part of a series) that deals with the world during an apocalypse, and then an anthology dealing with the world after. Looking forward to how this series plays out.
LRR: What genre tropes are you totally sick of? What SFnal ideas do you wish authors would play around more with?
RLH: I’m sick of time travel. Anything having to do with going back in time, forward in time, stopping time, etc. Whenever I see a story going in this direction, it’s an almost instant groan. As far as what I’d like to see more of: getting back to predicting the future and how things might be, and then the impacts that would have on society. Sometimes I don’t think we do that as much anymore. I want to see more original, forward thinking ideas. If you look at old issues of If, Galaxy, or Amazing Stories and see some of the wacky things those authors thought of, it’s absurd and you can’t do anything but laugh, but the truth is they were using their imagination to predict what might be. To me, that’s a really exciting part of science fiction. Let’s get back to that.