June 26, 2012

Stronger, Smarter, Darker, Weirder: an interview with Nathan Shumate

Nathan Shumate is the editor of Arcane, an anthology highlighting stories from talented up-and-coming dark fiction writers, published by Cold Fusion Media. You can click here to read my review of the anthology, and here for my thoughts on the sampler that preceded it. For today, I had the chance to ask Nathan a few questions about the anthology, dark fiction in general, and short fiction in particular. Enjoy.

Gef: For you, what's the draw towards short stories?

Nathan: Short fiction is a great venue for single-idea stories -- where the point is to explore a discrete situation or sketch a single character. A lot of story ideas simply won't sustain a novel, and that's fine; they're not bad ideas, they're just not as expansive. Short fiction allows a reader to get in, get the nut, and get out.

Gef: Arcane highlights my favorite kind of fiction: dark fiction. What drew you to the more macabre elements of speculative fiction for this anthology?

Nathan: I love dark fiction, too. And in particular, I love ominous fiction, which can be dark without being transgressive or "extreme." I like fiction that evokes a mood rather than showers me with guts. I just find it more entertaining and satisfying to read. So that's what I wanted to publish: an anthology of well-written, evocative fiction which focused on being weird and unsettling instead of gruesome. Gore has its place, but it's place is not the dead center of the spotlight.

Gef: Arcane was initially envisioned as a periodical before becoming an anthology. What was the mitigating factor behind that decision?

Nathan: I got smarter. With the new e-publishing models, it's very possible for a small press to reach an audience which would have been out of its reach just a few years ago, thanks to strictures on breadth of distribution and the costs associated with economies of scale. However, as e-publishing is in its infancy, the information available to practitioners is scarcely comprehensive. One of the facts that emerged from the data in the span after I published the first issue of Arcane as a magazine is that e-publishing success relies on the "long tail" -- the idea that a publication doesn't need to sell stupendous numbers out of the gate, so long as it sells consistently over a longer span. Unfortunately, publishing Arcane as a magazine would have made each successive issue seem "stale" as soon as the next one was out; people can be a lot more excited about an anthology published a year or two back than they can be about back issues of a magazine. The anthology format helps avoid the "disposable" connotation which a magazine can carry.

Gef: How has Arcane differed for you compared to previous editorial stints, namely Arkham Tales? Or is it just another day at the office?

Nathan: Well, the difference between the two mentioned is very little, aside from the name; for the last three issues of its run, Arkham Tales was owned by an outside publisher, with me staying on as editor. When it folded (and the publisher subsequently declared bankruptcy), I decided that there were too many legal hassles trying to take Arkham Tales back, so I decided to start another venue with an intentionally similar name. The only real difference in the editorial requirements is that I'm not as overtly inviting to Lovecraft-influenced fiction with Arcane, mainly because I found out from Arkham Tales' slushpile that there's a lot of really, really bad Mythos fiction out there.

Gef: As a guy who has become a fan of the weird western lately, I noticed a few stories in Arcane that fit nicely in that genre. Is that a particular favorite of yours, or was it just that they got included on account of the quality of each story?

Nathan: It just so happened that more than one excellent story with that "weird western" vibe crossed the transom while I was putting Arcane together. I like westerns too, both weird and traditional, but I honestly hadn't even noticed that more than one story in the anthology shared that flavor; I was just focused on quality of storytelling.

Gef: In the introduction to Arcane, you mentioned how themed anthologies can sometimes fence in authors and fail to impress. But is something like that you're open to in the future with the Arcane label?

Nathan: I think that the Arcane series of anthologies will continue to showcase an eclectic mix of dark and weird fiction, without any "special theme volumes" in the future. However, I'm not entirely opposed to thematically linked collections; by the end of the year, Cold Fusion Media will publish SPACE ELDRITCH, a collection of Lovecraftian pulp space opera novelettes from a team of hand-picked authors. I think that's as specific as I'll ever get in putting together a book, though; there are plenty of other small press operations out there who plan extra-specific anthologies, "gay vampire/werewolf erotica set during the JFK administration" or whatnot.

Gef: There's a second Arcane anthology on the drawing board. What should readers of the first anthology expect from the second? A continued focus on dark fiction in all its varied forms, or do you have a different game plan in mind?

Nathan: What is this "game plan" of which you speak? No, the second Arcane anthology will be much the same as the first -- that is, well-written tales whose only similarity is a focus on intriguing "weird fiction." So if you liked the first one, you'll like the second. And if you didn't like the first one, there still might be plenty to enjoy in the second.

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