There have been a lot of writers on this blog recently, which is absolutely awesome! But I thought it'd be fun to look at writing from the other side of the business. So lovelies, this week's interview is with one of the most feared creatures that make writers all over the world quiver in their boots: an editor.
Alex Khlopenko is a Ukrainian writer, freelance journalist, and Editor-in-Chief of a literary journal - Three Crows Magazine. He has a lot of opinions on fantasy books and publishing industry which he never hesitates to share on his twitter, his blog, and other people's blogs.
Interview with Alex Khlopenko
What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
I moved to Poland from Ukraine, so everything is new here. The Three Crows editorial team is working on Issue 3 and there are so many interviews, stories, articles, and new design. Everything is exciting so far!
Most people who love books dream of becoming writers and the hell that entails. What made you decide to become an editor?
I’ve been a long-time fan of Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Grimdark Magazine (kudos to Neil Clarke and Adrian Collins), but at some point I became dissatisfied with their direction. So, I thought that my taste and enormous ego would be enough to start my own magazine, with me as a gatekeeper and changer of fantasy and science fiction landscape.
Can you tell us about what you're currently working on?
I'm currently working on Three Crows Magazine Issue 3. We have a very particular vision for the magazine and want to try something different from what even the biggest SFF pro-markets are not daring to do – creating a platform for the oppressed and silenced voices, while giving a visual delight to the readers. We followed in the footsteps of the classics, but now our design will aim somewhere between La Boussole and 1920s soviet Futurists’ literary magazines. But with more dragons and cosmic horrors.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
I love when the story I’m reading challenges me, challenges what preconceived notions and misunderstandings I had, even more – if it proposes a new way of thinking about a very established and too-big-to-fail concepts. For me these were novels by Ursula Le Guin (in regard to gender and ecology), Ian M. Banks (post-scarcity world), Steven Erikson (possibility of first contact), and China Mieville (limits of genre) that changed how I think about things I thought I knew. These novels are rare and usually leave a lingering aftertaste, where you come back to some concept or problem months, years, after you finished the book.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
If we put aside obvious red flags like rape, racism, ableism, faux-feminism etc. I’d say - those goddamned awfully cliched fantasy intros, e.g. “In the year 476 of the Age of the Golden Dragon, in the Kingdom of Somethingness some nonsense happened…” Utter Bullshit.
Waking up in the morning, arriving at a tavern, and “this was all a dream” follow in my top pet peeves. It shows that writers are not sure about the theoretical side of their story, did not sort out the priorities of their narrative, and thus waste the readers’ time with unnecessary information.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in editing?
When people who submit stories don’t read submission guidelines. Even worse when they don’t format their manuscripts and our editors have to bleed from their eyes all over the keyboard just to read the story before rejection.
Proper formatting and following submission guidelines: more important than most writers think.
Are you an early bird or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else required for your creative process?
Damn, why would you attack me like that?! :D
My peak hours for writing and editing are before 11am, so I’m trying to start as early as I can, though it is torture. I’m doing my day job/freelancing and business side of the magazine over the rest of the day and try to catch up with the ever-growing TBR pile in the evenings.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
Well, currently there are two sides to why we need reviews. First one – idealistic. We need readers’ reviews because nothing helps a book reach more readers than the word of mouth. Be it twitter, Goodreads, or Amazon, it helps people decide what goes next into their TBR, and this works better than any critique or magazine review – it is the opinion of people you trust.
The more cynical aspect is that the number of reviews and ratings on Amazon and Goodreads drive the position of the book in the search results and recommendations, ad views and placement, and thus directly influence the sales of the book. This is truer for self-published authors, now more than ever. When you write a review, you help your favorite creators to earn more and be more independent to create more awesome content for you while not going insane from hunger and cold.
What kind of impact do you want your book(s) to have on readers?
When I select stories for the issue of Three Crows, I ask myself several questions:
1.How well does it fit my vision and direction for the magazine by helping create a platform for writers and narratives that are not present anywhere else?
2.How does this story fit in into the bigger socio-political discourse that is prevalent today? Does it enhance it? Does it add a fresh perspective?
3.Will it stand the test of time? Does it leave that aftertaste I mentioned before, the one that stays with the readers long after they finish the story?
The above kind of story should change how readers perceive the world around them, even if in the smallest things.
Also, personally, I want our readers to @ me angrily on twitter and want to kick my and my writers’ asses for breaking their little hearts with our stories.
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
Not writing, or forcing themselves to write while sacrificing their mental wellbeing.
Also – agreeing to work for exposure.
Seconded. "Exposure" doesn't pay any bills.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
I can go on for days talking about writing advice. Most of them are hurting people who are only making their first steps in writing. Take the famous “write what you know” – it did no good for fiction, except for allowing thousands of white, male English professors around the world to sell their fantasies about fucking their female students as kitchen sink dramas. Or the hostility towards passive voice and adverbs that can be traced back to Stephen Kings’ On Writing, or even worse – to the godawful Elements of Style. Both are useless to the modern writer, or a writer whatsoever.
Instead of listening to anyone and trying to apply someone’s standards, categories, and tastes to what you want to create, just create. Write volumes and volumes of entirely shitty stories and be free in your journey to find your voice, your style, and your narratives. Don’t be afraid to research, to ask, to make mistakes.
Be honest to the world around you, be honest to yourself, and don’t be afraid to use adverbs sparsely.
If you could have a dinner with one fictional person, who would it be? Why?
Orhan from Anna Smith Spark’s Empires of Dust, because he knows how to organize a fancy party, or Solas from the Dragon Age games – just to be able to stick a fork in his shiny bald head.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
Basic English spelling ability would be a superpower. Just see my tweets – I might as well be typing blindfolded and my hands tied behind my back.
Dude, most native English speakers have way worse grammar than you. You're fine.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
A year ago, I knew nothing about design, editing, or publishing and would laugh at the idea of starting a magazine of my own. I still understand like 64% of what I do.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
It is easier than people think:
2.Vote for people who expand human rights and make basic needs like education and healthcare accessible and free.
3.Educate yourself and help others educate themselves. Never judge people who don’t know something – help them learn about it instead.
I can see more people choosing kindness and sincerity and positivity and it warms my heart. Even the harshest and most unapologetic niche of fantasy – grimdark - offers hope and resolution today.
Who in your life has truly inspired you?
(This feels weirdly like I’m getting an Oscar or something.)
When I was thirteen, I read “Invisible Monsters” by Chuck Palahniuk and it inspired me to become a writer.
China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station inspired me to embrace the genre I loved but was somehow ashamed of.
Adrian Collins’ work on GdM inspired me to try running a magazine myself.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Dragons are cool, but I’m a firm believer that we are still not sure if aliens would be a carbon-based life form or something entirely foreign and inconceivable for us, something beyond our wildest imagination. That makes aliens the best for both real life and fiction.
And I always thought that zombies are somehow racist.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!