Wearer of Many Hats: Interview with Tyree Campbell, Sam’s Dot Managing Editor

In a blog devoted to the love of short stories, it was inevitable that I would eventually get around to Sam’s Dot Publishing and Managing Editor Tyree Campbell. When it comes to word crushes, Sam’s Dot–publisher of small-press speculative-fiction magazines, novels, and novellas–holds a special place in my writing heart.

Tyree selected one of my first short stories for Aoife’s Kiss. That story later became the lead in my collection of short fiction, The Curse of Blackhawk Bay (scroll down to “The Curse…”), also published by Sam’s Dot.

The wearer of many hats–author, managing editor, and editor of Aoife’s Kiss and Beyond Centauri–Tyree is always approachable, encouraging both new and seasoned writers. And in the following interview he proves both those points. His answers focus on Beyond Centauri, a quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine for ages 10 and up, and cover story wants, favorite authors, and what’s new for 2011:

What do you look for in a story? Are there any specific types of stories or plots that you wish writers would send you?

I look for two primary features in any story:  character development, and plot development.  I want to be able to experience the events of the story vicariously through the point-of-view character, usually the protagonist.  If I can do that, I think our readers can do that, and that quality keeps them reading.  Another way of saying this is that the story must engage the reader, and the reader has to care what happens to the character.  

Why would you pass on a story?

There are several reasons to decline a story, and each one will elicit that decline [we don’t reject stories, btw, we decline them…it’s more humane].  I’ll list them, in no particular order: 

1.  Lack of connection between the character and the reader.
2.  Lack of tension or suspense in the narrative [i.e., that quality that keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next].
3.  Lack of detail in the setting[s].  To elaborate, the setting is where the story takes place.  The descriptive details of that setting should take the reader there.
4.  Failure to read and heed guidelines.  I’ve received stories for Beyond Centauri that belong in, say, Sounds of the Night, our magazine of somewhat more romantic sf/f.
5.  Technical difficulties–spelling, grammar, repetitive sentence structure.
6.  Unclear or murky writing in the narrative. 
7.  The writer is too nice to the characters.  Advice:  be mean and cruel to your characters.  Give them problems during the story and force them to solve those problems.  That’s what makes a story readable.  Too many writers fall in love with their characters, and refuse to harm a single hair on their heads…and I tend to send their stories back.
What can writers do to make your job easier?
I’d appreciate their following the guidelines, and following the rules of grammar, spelling, and so forth.  Outside of that, not really a whole lot.  Once I accept a story, I’ll take care of formatting it for publication. 
Oh, and it does help if the writer includes contact information both in the e-mail and on the first page of the manuscript text.  Along that line of thinking, if I’ve already accepted 2-3 pieces from a writer, I still want that contact information.  The reasons are several.  One, it’s handier to look on the manuscript for the info I need, rather than have to search for it in previous manuscripts.  Two, the address might have changed since the last time I saw something from that writer.  And three, most important:  it is professional to show the contact information.  Remember, we’re a small indie publisher.  Eventually, we hope, at least some of our writers might produce work that is accepted by a major publisher.  Those guys want professional manuscripts.  In that sense, we’re training writers.
What do you enjoy the most about editing Beyond Centauri and other Sam’s Dot publications?
Every once in a while I’ll accept a piece and get a response that goes something like this:  “OMG, thank you, this is the first thing of mine that anyone has ever published, oh, I am so excited, this is so great” … and so on.  I know that feeling well; I was on Cloud 43 when I received my first acceptance…and the truth is, it still feels great even after some 150 acceptances.  There’s nothing that gives you a high like creative success.
Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
If you mean in Beyond Centauri, then:  K. S. Hardy for his poetry, because he takes such an offbeat view of things; Larry Hodges entertains with his stories, such as “Mummy at the Bat”; Emily Ross’ poetry is engaging; Lee Clark Zumpe has a good nose for science fiction and fantasy; Teresa Howard does good fantasy, when I can get her; Erin Fanning’s work is well-plotted and has engaging characters [oh, wait!  That’s you!].
If you mean me personally, in general, then:  For science fiction I like a lot of the familiar names, but my favorite writer of all is Jack Vance.  He really creates worlds, and take you the reader right into them, and won’t let go of you.  You’re there!  And you get to share the adventures of his characters, you keep turning pages…
If I might add something here.  If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things–and only two.  One:  write.  The other:  Read.  And I’m not talking about just the genres–science fiction, fantasy, horror.  I’m talking about a wide range of literature.  Read Ludlum and Kafka and Clancy and Orwell and Huxley and Tennessee Williams and Dostoyevsky and Khoury and Durrell and Miller and…well, you get the idea.  The more experience you have as a reader and in simply living, the better writer you will be.  Yes, it’s that simple.  And that difficult.
Any changes coming to Beyond Centauri this year?
We recently added a serial which [ahem] I wrote, called Pyra and the Tektites.  It’s about a 13-year-old girl who runs away from home in the asteroid belt because her grades were poor, and she’s afraid her parents will send her down to Mars to go to school.  So she sneaks aboard a shuttle to rest, and when she wakes up, she’s in space with a smuggler who has pirated the shuttle.  From there, Pyra is taken to the smugglers’ hideout, and the adventures begin.
The series is a bit reminiscent of the old comic strip, Terry and the Pirates, which began off the coast of China during the early ’30s, Terry being at that time a boy of maybe 10, 11. 
So one episode appears in each issue of Beyond Centauri.  But wait!  There’s more!  We’re also doing Pyra as a graphic novel for younger readers [say, 10 on up, although most readers will be in their teens].  Volume 1 just came out and, if I may, is available at http://sdpbookstore.com/storybooks.htm (scroll down to “Pyra”). Volume 2 should be out this fall. (See my review of Pyra here.)

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