Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feminist Fiction Friday--Interview with Jennifer Parsons of Luna Station Quarterly

This week I have a very special Feminist Fiction Friday, an interview with Jennifer Parsons, the founding editor of Luna Station Quarterly.

Here's how she describes herself:  A highly-skilled pixel slinger and code monkey by trade, Jennifer writes speculative fiction and fairy tales because she loves stories, reads books as part of the Geek Girls Book Club, devours comic books because she's loved Batman her entire life, writes essays and reviews for The Loser’s Table, and edits the literary magazine Luna Station Quarterly because she believes women write awesome stories. When not doing those things, she makes things from yarn, cuddles her kitties, and goes on sporadic bouts of television watching and gourmet cooking. She's been known to swing a Wii controller like a Jedi. Sometimes, she sleeps.


This is what she had to say:

Kattomic: I love the look of the Luna Station Quarterly site, especially the colors.  Who designed it?  (I know you did, because I read the fine print, but I’m in awe of people who can do their own sites and/or book covers or whatever.)

JP: This is where being a professional web designer comes in handy. I do all of my own design and development work (LSQ is built on Drupal), so thank you, I’ll take all credit. LOL. The color scheme came about because the last thing I wanted on a women-authored fiction site is any hint of cliched pink. I wanted something that invoked a retro feel, a reminder of the wonder Sci-Fi authors of the past had for the future. Some call it Retro-futurism, that nostalgia for the future that has yet to come about. I didn’t want it to feel too masculine either, so the little stars and planets reflect that bit of whimsy that I often find in female-written spec-fic.

Kattomic: This is the third year of publication for LSQ, right?  Any plans for expansion—more issues per year? Print publication?

JP:  Oh, the plans that are in my brain! I want to expand LSQ, though what form that will take is up in the air. I want to keep the quarterly magazine as a quarterly, but I’ve had ideas since LSQ’s inception for ways to increase our output. As submission numbers grow, I’m asking myself this question more and more often, with a print anthology foremost in that thought process. Would you like me to be more vague? LOL.

Actually, my first priority before adding other editions or offshoots, is to find a way to pay my authors. Right now, web hosting costs come out of my own pocket and my personal finances don’t allow for much more than that. I’m incredibly hesitant to put ads on the site as I feel that it would be a distraction and possibly make it appear that I’m looking to monetize the site, which I’m not. I’m considering a donation button, but I have yet to make a firm decision. LSQ has never been about money for me. In fact, it’s never been about me at all, which is why I never publish any of my own stories.

Kattomic: How has the publication grown?

JP:  I’m thrilled beyond belief to be in our third year and receiving more and more submissions of higher and higher quality. Honestly, it’s been amazing to watch LSQ grow steadily with each consecutive issue. It makes my and Evan’s (my assistant editor, Evan Mariah Pettit) decisions that much harder, but I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Kattomic: Luna Station Quarterly is focused on up and coming women writers—why “up and coming” and why the gender exclusivity?

JP:  And now we hit the core of what LSQ is about. I’ll answer more in-depth in later questions, but in short, I wanted to give less experienced writers a voice and a chance to start getting their foot in the door. The gender exclusivity is based on my observations about what is being published in both print and on the web. There simply aren’t enough women being published in the short story medium nor in spec-fic. I think this is because, in my experience, women tend to write outside what the traditional idea of spec-fic looks like. We break boundaries and write things that make sci-fi look like romance, and I don’t think editors are attuned to that and instead only see the kissing and dismiss it.

Kattomic:  Who are some of your favorite women speculative/sf writers?

JP:  I will maintain until my dying day that Robin McKinley’s “The Hero and the Crown” is my favorite book of all time. An incredibly strong female heroine who takes on much more than she can handle and comes out a bit scarred, but stronger? Yes, please. 
I could list dozens of authors here, but some of my favorites are Jane Yolen, Elizabeth Bear, Kelly Link, and Mary Doria Russell.

Kattomic: Your publication and site are extremely supportive of your writers. Are there any writers you’ve introduced to readers who have moved on to publishing contracts or wider recognition?

JP: Some of our writers have gone on to publish with a variety of small publishers, some have self--published and some are still plugging away and I’m proud of all of them. I was very excited to receive an email recently that one of Joyce Chng’s stories is on the recommended reading list for the Nebula Awards.

Kattomic: There was some controversy over the use of the word “girls” in Luna Station Quarterly’s “about us” section when you first started publishing. Do you think there was any merit to the criticism (the snarky reminder that “girls” means young women under 18?) or was it just a “hater” reaction?

JP: Merit? That kind of depends on what point of view you’re coming from, I suppose. I knit, I cook, I do “girl” things or tasks that were once considered “women’s work”, but I do them because they are nurturing to those around me. I also build websites for a living, a job that is more of a boys’ club than fiction-writing ever was. I like to think I found the balance in my gender role, as it were, and at that point, labels seem to become just that: labels.
As for the word “girl” itself, I use it because it is a reminder that I once was a literal girl, that I still have that child-like wonder about the world within me and I steadfastly refuse to let that go. Inside, I still feel like one most of the time, so I see no problem in embracing, and identifying with, that sentiment. It’s what lets me stay connected to stories and reminds me that life can be fun and joyous if we allow it.

Kattomic: LSQ solicits fiction within a specific genre range—why spec fic/fantasy/sci fi?

JP:  The answer is very simple and very selfish. I love spec-fic and I want to see more of it out there. LSQ germinated for a few years before I launched. New magazines launch every day, but many stretch themselves too far, too quickly and burn out before they get rolling. I wanted to make sure LSQ would be around for the long haul. A clarity of purpose and focus was essential for that and choosing a genre that I love reading ensured I would stay engaged and invested. So far, so good. 

Kattomic: Are there any spec fic sites you particularly enjoy?

JP:  Ideomancer is always a great read, but I also adore 365 Tomorrows. The Escape Pod, PodCastle and Psedudopod family of podcasts is great, too, because I still love to have someone read me a story. I also follow sites that I’ve been published in, like Eternal Haunted Summer, because we tend to be of a like mind.

Kattomic: Are there any up and coming spec fic writers you recommend?  Any you think are under-rated?

JP:  I’ve actually been reading a lot of classics in the last year, so I’m afraid I’m a little out of touch with who is new on the scene. Not new, but definitely under-rated, Margo Lanagan’s stories always blow me away and Kij Johnson is a name I had never heard of until I started digging a little deeper into the short story medium.

Kattomic: You come from a fan fic background, as do many writers (Cassandra Clare comes to mind and the late Susan Garrett).  Some writers are dead set against the idea of fan fic. Do you think they’re over-reacting?

JP:  Yes, I do. I frankly feel that unless a fan fic author is making money off your work, you should be honored. Someone loves your work so much that they can’t get it out of their heads. That’s miraculous. It doesn’t mean that people will stop buying your books. In my experience, fan fic actually attracts more readers to the original material.
On a similar note, it wasn’t until the Romantic era that originality became paramount. Before then, it was considered admirable to take another author’s work and build on it, or steal the plot wholesale. Times have changed, but this desire to be a part of your favorite works still lives on. 
My own experience in fan fic started out that way, I loved the world George Lucas had built and wanted to a part of it. On the way, I met a couple of wonderful friends who shared that love and together we all learned how to write. As a budding writer, I found that experience invaluable. To be able to learn how to put together a proper sentence without getting caught up in the insecurity that my plot or characters might not be “good enough to sell” was a blessing. I knew I couldn’t make money off those stories, so I was free to explore.

Kattomic: You’re very specific in your guidelines, do you find writers follow them or do you get your share of generic vampire/pirate stories?

JP:  Can I say that my authors are the best? After the first issue or two where I had a few guys stumble onto the site and submit stories, I have not had a problem with authors following guidelines. I’ve had a great experience working with my writers.

Kattomic:  What kinds of stories would you like to see more of in Luna Quarterly?

JP:  Fairy tales! I love them and they do not get enough attention. I don’t mean the new style of twisted takes on Snow White and the like, but real, honest-to-goodness fairy tales. I’ve been treated to a couple of wonderful submissions in the genre and I’d love to see more. I’d love to see more stories written from a male perspective as well. I do agree there always needs to be more strong female characters in literature. Still, I love it when a woman writes successfully from a man’s perspective. You can tell she’s stretching her creative boundaries.

Kattomic:  As a fairy tale enthusiast, do you have a favorite?

JP:  Yes, I do! The Norwegian “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” made me love a heroine who made a huge mistake and went on a dangerous and lengthy quest to fix things. There’s a little bit of “Beauty and the Beast” and a little “Hans, My Hedgehog” in there and I love the stark, wintery feel of it. 

Kattomic:  Do you watch either of the fairy tale shows on TV (Grimm or Once Upon a Time?)
JP:  I rarely watch television, so I’ve not watched these yet and I’ve heard mixed things about them. In a similar vein though, I read the comic book Fables, which is also a unique and new spin on the classic fairy tales. I highly, highly recommend it.

Kattomic:  Anything you’d really rather not see any more of?

JP:  No, I love the variety of stories we receive and I have yet to get bombarded with any particular type of story. Once again, I have awesome authors.

Kattomic: I love the idea of your Drabble issue.  How did that come about?

JP:  I stumbled onto the format (a story of exactly 100 words) while still writing fan fic and created a challenge for my fellow forum members. 100 drabbles in 100 days. I fell in love with the condensed format and the constraints of telling a whole story in that space, and this was in the days before Twitter made any kind of splash. I’ve used the form as a warm up exercise and also to write more experimental pieces ever since. When I started ironing out the details for LSQ, I just knew I had to get everyone on board. A drabble is more challenging than it seems at first, but something anyone can use to build writing confidence. It’s a gateway drug for those who always felt they had a story to tell but get intimidated by novel-writing.

Kattomic:  You’ve said you didn’t see a lot of support for the short story form when you first started LSQ. Do you still feel the same way?  If so, do you think it’s a genre thing?  The crime fiction community seems to be all about the short story.

JP:  I think things have changed very little for the short story format in the last couple of years, which really confuses me. If anything, things have gotten worse as publishers try to navigate the changing waters of ebooks and print. I think this is a shame and a mistake. In our internet-driven culture, you often hear from casual readers that they simply don’t have time to read. This is untrue as we read more words per day than we ever have before. Every email, every blog post, every tweet is made up of words, and people spend hours a day reading them. You can read a decent-sized short story on your lunch break. If it’s flash fiction, you can read it on the subway. People will bring story-with-a-capital-S back into their lives if they are presented with the right package.

Ask me again in a few years when the ebook format wars settle down and independent publishing gets more mainstream. I’m very curious to see what happens when stories are no longer bound by page count in order to balance a publisher’s idea of what a book is worth in printing costs. Did you know that’s the main reason books run in the 80,000-120,000 word range? It’s the current sweet spot for producing a mass market paperback. Personally, I’m looking forward to the return of the novella.

As for it being a genre thing? Spec fic, cci-fi and fantasy all have their roots in short stories. Why they have lost popularity in favor of multi-volume epics is rather a mystery to me.

Kattomic: What about support for women writers in general?  Do you think it’s there?  (The crime fic community has been VERY cranky about the lack of love for women crime writers lately.)

JP:  Maybe the female spec-fic and crime fic writers need to get together for an anthology. LOL. We’ll call it “Murder on the Martian Express”.

I think that there is support for women writers if we just show up to the table. I’ve not seen un-support, if you see what I mean. Many editors are women (Jane Yolen, Patricia Neilson Heyden, Ellen Datlow, Colleen Lindsay, and Terri Windling come immediately to mind) so I don’t necessarily think gender discrimination is the whole cause. I think there simply are not enough women writing traditional genre fiction and it does skew the question slightly. Take the new paranormal romance genre. Forget about quality standards and whether you like it or not for a moment and let’s have a big huzzah for the fact that stories, written largely by women, about ghost, vampires, werewolves, and the like are flying off the shelves. I think people chafe at the genre because it doesn’t fall into traditional definitions. I ask you, when did we all start drawing such hard lines about what spec-fic has to be? Can’t we just celebrate that the average mom is reading about stuff we knew was cool since we were teenagers?

I will give you a personal example of what I mean. The Star Wars fan fic community has an amazingly beautiful, disproportionate ratio of women to men. The majority of all fan fic writers are women. Now, in the case Star Wars in particular, there is no denying that my fellow authors were, by definition, writing some form of genre fiction. Within that Space Fantasy setting, I read horror stories, romances, hard sci-fi, comedies, tragedies, the full range of mainstream genres. It opened my eyes to what was possible within spec-fic and broke down my belief that writing sci-fi meant having to have a physics degree or write with an academic attitude towards my characters.

I believe that this is the strength that women writers can bring to the spec-fic table. Many of us grew up reading Judy Blume or Laura Ingalls Wilder along with Anne McCaffery. We can bring a versatility and an ability to see the heart of the characters, even while we gleefully describe laser blasts firing all around them.

So, in short, LOL, I think the support is there if we shuffle the definitions a bit.

Kattomic: What personal writing projects are you working on?  On your site you mention that you’re polishing a large batch of short stories. Will you indie-publish or are you planning to submit to traditional publishers?

JP:  You’ve caught the fact that my site bio really needs to be updated! I will admit in writing that I have not put pen to paper to write fiction since NaNoWriMo ended in November. I’m one of those feast or famine writers with a million interests and a full-time, non-writing job, though that’s not to say I haven’t been involved with words.

Right now, I am editing a friend’s first novel, writing essays for a group blog, and doing my editorial duties for LSQ. The beginning of the year tends to be very web-development for me as I get all of my various sites redesigned. In another month or so, I’ll be picking up all those stories and digging back in to get some words down. Just take me as proof that not every writer is meant to put down a thousand words a day.

As for my publishing thoughts, I’ve got a couple of themed volumes of stories and a short novel very close to publication-ready. I had considered trying to go the traditional route, but I’ve been watching the writing on the wall and now I’m almost positive I’ll be self-publishing.

Kattomic: Can you talk about your epic, world-building project?

JP:  I’ve always described that project as my own, personal Middle Earth. It’s space opera, with a vast, galaxy-spanning story, a huge cast of characters, and a deep, complicated history. In other words, everything a drabble is not. This is the story that I pull out when I want to feel at home in my work, though I honestly don’t know when it will ever take a form that’s publication-worthy. I just dip back in a couple times a year and have fun playing in my sandbox. Sometimes its a drabble, others a bit of a novel, and sometimes it’s just a little bit of character history. My persistent, never-ending WIP.  

Kattomic: You write poetry as well as prose. Why do you think some ideas seem to be poems and others stories?

JP:  I write poetry, but I do not consider myself a poet. For me, poems come only very occasionally and are like little flashes that I scribble down before they’re gone. They are rare creatures and things unto themselves. While I can make a story happen, a poem cannot be forced into a mold nor controlled. If I can see where it can expand, then it’s not a poem.

Kattomic: You changed your twitter handle from @talesandstories to @pixelpaperyarn… why?  What’s the significance of the new handle?

JP:  I had scattered all the bits of my creative life to the four winds and this is part of my process of moving it all back into alignment. For a while, I thought my design work, my writing, my little bits of me, all needed to have separate homes. I finally figured out all I was doing was making more work for myself and started judiciously condensing things.
The handle itself speaks to my three main areas of interest, design, writing/reading, and knitting/crochet.

Kattomic: You haven’t updated your website http://jenniferlynparsons.com/ since October.  Too much to do?

JP:  Is it too simple to just say “Oh, yes”? It’s rather embarrassing, I admit. I’ll be redesigning it in the next month or two, and I’m hoping to add some new projects. There’s also a delay as I’m weighing what I want to use as give-away stories under Creative Commons and what I want to keep under traditional copyright. Having a few more hours in my day wouldn’t hurt, either.

Kattomic: How much do you think social media helps a writer?

JP:  I think it’s a tremendous help when used with discernment. A Twitter feed that’s full of nothing but promotional tweets doesn’t engage me. It’s about finding that balance between sharing fun bits of flotsam and jetsam and selling your wares. In the end, the work itself needs to hold a reader’s attention, but I do think social media can get them to your stories in the first place.

Kattomic: How do you balance the needs of your day job (as a code monkey?) with your need to write?  Do you have a specific time you write (before work, after work, at lunch)?

JP:  I’m kind of an unusual case as a writer. I don’t so much work with daily discipline as write in intense flurries a couple times a year. I get very, very focused for shorter spans of time. When work gets busy, I tend to lose touch with that more-freely creative part of my brain and get very logical in my approach to things. It makes it difficult because I do miss that flow of words and story, but I suppose I can be an example that you can still be a writer, even if you don’t act in traditional writerly behavior.

Kattomic: What prompted you to write a short story a week for a year?  That’s an incredibly ambitious goal.

JP:  As crazy as it sounds, it never felt like a crazy idea. What felt nuts was the companion projects of reading a short story, essay and poem every day for that same year. 
I was unemployed at the time (this was the same time period I founded LSQ) and wanted to do something productive with my writing in between the draining task of looking for a job. I found a talk that Ray Bradbury gave about how to be a better writer that was incredibly inspiring . He set the whole “writer’s diet” out there, with the idea being that this is a habit you form for a lifetime. I figured doing it for a year would be a good experiment. In the end I came out with a mixed bag of finished and unfinished stories, some I love and some that just kind of sit there. I definitely became a better writer, though, and a better reader as well.

Kattomic: Do you listen to music when you write?  If so, what?

JP:  I don’t always, though when I do I tend to listen to post-rock music, which is usually instrumental, or sometimes movie soundtracks, though they are often too evocative. My utter go-to music is by a cellist named Zoe Keating. I can always write when her music is in my ears.

Kattomic: Is there a story or a poem you’re particularly proud of?  And why?  And is there a link to it so we can all go read it?

JP:  I wrote a fairy tale that I still maintain is the best thing I ever wrote. Interestingly enough, I’ve had no luck placing it as the poor fairy tale genre is out of favor at the moment, despite the success of Susanna Clarke and the like. If you’d like to read something of mine, I would send you to read “Frogging” over on Eternal Haunted Summer. I’m very proud of that piece and it’s my favorite published work.

Kattomic: And the silly questions: What’s your favorite word?

JP:  I’m a Libra, you can’t make me choose just one! Okay, fine, currently I’m in love with the word discernment.

Kattomic: Dog or Cat?  (Or bird or fish?)

JP:  Having three, I guess I would be in trouble if I didn’t say cat.

Kattomic: What’s the most you’ll pay for a paperback book?

JP:  For a mass market? I think anything over $8 is getting excessive. I’ll go up to $17 for a trade size. And, can I just take the opportunity to say that the prices of traditionally published ebooks tick me off? There are no printing costs and very little production costs in producing them. In general, the authors are not getting a larger cut, so someone is making a nice profit on those suckers.

Kattomic: You’ve been given an all-expenses vacation to any city in the world you like.  Where would you go?

JP:  London! I would do research and see St. John’s Gate and Temple Church. Oh yeah, and the Tower of London would rock, too.

Kattomic: Anything you’d like to say to a young woman who wants to be a writer?

JP:  Stories don’t come from some miracle shop. They are already inside you, you just have to open yourself up to them. Sometimes they are hard work, sometimes they come easily. 
Make sure you are telling your stories, not someone else’s. Just because you love zombie stories doesn’t mean that you aren’t better suited writing Sci-Fi. 
Learn good sentence structure and don’t rush to try and publish right after you finish a story, come back and read it again after a week, you may find things you could say more succinctly or with more clarity or more beauty. And run spellcheck! 
If you can, find a writing buddy who will be honest with you. When they tell you something doesn’t work, do not take it personally, but use it as an opportunity to learn. I prefer a buddy or two to a writing group because you get to know each other’s habitual pitfalls.
Read widely and in quantity. I hold to what Stephen King said about writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Reading will make you a better writer and prime the pump of your imagination.

Most importantly, make sure you are writing for yourself first. If you are writing a story only because it’s popular to write about vampires or pirates, it will ring false. Tell the stories that make your heart dance.

Read the new issue of Luna Station Quarterly here.
Find Jennifer at her web home here


Thanks Jennifer!

4 comments:

  1. Great interview! I think Jennifer's got a wonderful thing going with LSQ, and I'm proud to have had a story published in one of its early issues. I think there's a large audience for these sorts of stories, one that's just starting to be explored. As you mentioned in the interview, short-form stories are growing in popularity, and so I hope LSQ can be part of that groundswell.

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  2. I've just been published in the most recent LSQ issue and I can absolutely relate to what Jennifer said about fairytales being a hard sell at the moment. Mine was a myth and I'm so glad it found a home at LSQ. Excellent interview!

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  3. Thanks for commenting Christine.

    And Stacy, you're too modest.

    Read Stacy Larner's story "The Minotaur's Tale" here

    http://lunastationquarterly.com/issue-009/minotaur%E2%80%99s-tale

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  4. I've also been published at LSQ, and this session with Jennifer makes my heart sing! This is a wonderfully articulate interview. I'm very proud to be part of Jennifer's creative journey.

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