New YA Short Story Market: Interview with Verbal Pyrotechnics Editors

I stumbled upon Verbal Pyrotechnics–its name says it all–more than a year ago during one of my numerous internet searches for new YA markets. The humor on its blog made me chuckle, encouraging me to return for more, and I kept an eye on this promising online magazine as it worked its way to its first issue.

That day has finally come with its debut issue hiting the internet in March. So I’m especially pleased to have the following interview with the gang from Verbal Pyrotechnics–Poetry Editor Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz, Nonfiction and Comics Editor Benjamin Andrew Moore, and Fiction Editor Kathryn Holmes:

What do you look for in a submission? Are there any specific types of stories, poems or comics that you wish writers would send you?

Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz, Poetry Editor: In general I am looking for a poem that is impossible to ignore—a poem that even those who claim “not to like or understand poetry” will be drawn into. Sometimes it is the idea or emotion that engages me, other times it is a bit of sophisticated or witty word play. While I am open to all types of poetry, I find that narrative poetry resonates with teen readers more often than not.

Benjamin Andrew Moore, Nonfiction and Comics Editor: Frankly, I really couldn’t care less about the kind of story (or comic) I’m reading as long as it’s good. Obviously, ‘good’ can mean a wide range of things, but it usually involves originality and the general ability to write sentences that are pleasing to the eye and ear. In the case of comics, visual quality is a plus, to be sure, but I tend to give bad art a pass if the writing’s there.

Kathryn Holmes, Fiction Editor: I look for a compelling idea or a voice I haven’t heard before. Those qualifications can be found in any genre, of course, and the story can be structured in any way. I also want fiction that will speak to teen readers directly, or capture some essential element of the experience of being a teenager. I ask myself as I read submissions, “Why does this story NEED to be told?”

Why would you pass on a submission?

EDR: I would pass on a poem if there were no way for a reader to enter it.

BAM: Because the writing is bland, because the story is boring or unoriginal, because the author thinks he or she is hilarious but, in point of fact, he or she is not at all hilarious. That’s a big deal for me. Don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Suddenly, I’m feeling sorry for you instead of laughing at your jokes, which might actually be the complete opposite of laughing. Maybe.

KH:  I’d pass if I feel like I’ve read it before and the author hasn’t brought anything new. Also, though it may sound nitpicky, I have a very low tolerance for grammar and spelling errors; I might pass on a poorly-written piece even if the idea was great (though I’d give the author feedback to that end). It’s okay not to be naturally gifted in the grammar department, but please have someone read over your submission before sending it in, so that you’re showing us your best, most polished work.

What do you enjoy the most about editing Verbal Pyrotechnics?

EDR: Editing Verbal Pyrotechnics keeps me committed to my artistry. I can count on the emails, submissions, and conversations to connect me to myself as an artist and the community of which I am a part.

BAM: I love reading teen literature by up-and-coming authors, even when it’s not all that good. Plain and simple.

KH: I feel like we’re operating in a niche that needs to be filled—the literary magazine circuit isn’t so friendly toward writing aimed at a younger audience, no matter how well-written. Also, I wish that a magazine like this had been around when I was a teen.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why? Favorite short stories? Is there a story (or two) that was completely unforgettable… changed your life or outlook in some way?

EDR: Lately I have been reading a lot of Yusef Komanyaka, Emily Dickinson, Bob Hicock, and genre-bending authors like Kimiko Hahn, Michael Ondaatjee, and Laurie Sheck. Oh, and I also love a poem that makes me laugh. I think a poem that continues to resonate in my life is the classic Dickinson poem, “Hope is a thing with feathers”—or that limerick about the bucket.

BAM: I have a lot of favorite authors—Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Philip Pullman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Vladimir Nabokov, and so forth. Salinger’s “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” is possibly my favorite short story, but that’s a really, really difficult question for me to answer with full confidence on the matter.

KH: Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Audrey Niffenegger, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde… just to name a varied few. In terms of work that’s unforgettable: though they aren’t short stories, per se, the segments of the book-with-a-book in Nicole Krauss’s “The History of Love” blew me away. Each is a little magical parable about the pain, anxiety, joy and beauty of relationships, and some of the imagery is just breathtaking.

Anything new coming to Verbal Pyrotechnics this year?

EDR: Your submissions! That’s what will be new to Verbal Pyrotechnics this year! Send us your stuff. We want to read it. And we hope to have Issue Two out in Summer 2011.

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 (scroll down to “Pyra”). Volume 2 should be out this fall. (See my review of Pyra here.)

Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway: Sci-fi Graphic Novel Features Brave Young Heroine

Title: Pyra and the Tektites (volume 1)

Author: Story by Tyree Campbell; illustrations by 7ARS

Publisher: Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2011, $6.95, Buy

Ages: For readers 10 and older. Excellent selection for reluctant readers: story will pull them in and keep them reading.

Giveaway details: 1.) leave a comment, along with your email address, on this post by March 20  OR 2.) subscribe to Word Crushes by March 20 (current subscribers are automatically entered). A copy of the 12th issue of Crow Toes Quarterly (see my post) will also be given away. A winner will be chosen at random with the help of And be sure to visit the other Lucky Lepechaun participants.

From the publisher: Thirteen-year-old Pyra lives and goes to school on Ceres, the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt. Because she has received a couple of bad grades, she fears her parents may send her down to Mars to continue her education. Pyra, however, has other ideas. She runs away from home. She stows away aboard a cargo shuttle, falls asleep, and awakens in free fall. The shuttle has been stolen by a smuggler, and she is now in outer space.

Review: So begins this exciting graphic novel. Readers will not only cheer for the brave young heroine but will also want to join Pyra on her adventures.

Pyra and the smuggler Flanagan–a touch of Han Solo with a zig-zag scar on his cheek–fall into a testy friendship. He teases her, yet she brings out a protective side of his personality. Pyra finds herself confronting  fear, pitching in when blasts from an energy weapon threaten their lives. Danger, however, never leaves them alone, and Tektites eventually capture Pyra and Flanagan. They end up in Kublukan, where a mysterious woman tries to buy Pyra.

In a world created with precise details–complicated yet believable–author Tyree Campbell takes readers on a wild ride to the future. Characters with names like Mr. Block and Lay By come alive through 7ARS’ illustrations. Pyra’s pert bob and mischevously-tilted eyes reflect her personality to perfection. Each character is subtly revealed through the drawings–Mr. Block’s bald head gleams and Lay By furrows his unibrow.

Bottomline: Pyra is recommended for all readers who like fast-paced stories with strong drawings. It’s the first volume of her adventures and ends on a cliff hanger which leaves readers looking forward to the next installment.

And there’s more:  Serialized Pyra adventures can also be found in Sam’s Dot Publishing’s Beyond Centauri (a science fiction and fantasy magazine for all ages.)