Mar's Market: Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Vision 64

Mar's Market Report:

Interview: Scott H. Andrews,

Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of

Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Copyright © 2011, Margaret McGaffey Fisk, All Rights Reserved
Continuing the interviews with editors mentioned in the survey I conducted for the January-February 2011 issue of Vision, Scott H. Andrews, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies ( has agreed to give us some insight into the workings of his online magazine.
--Margaret McGaffey Fisk
A little about the magazine and Scott H. Andrews:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS) is a SFWA pro-rate online magazine named Runner-Up for the Million Writers Award for Best New Magazine of 2008. In the last three years, BCS has published award-nominated stories both by established writers such as Marie Brennan, Richard Parks, and Holly Phillips and by emerging newcomers such as Saladin Ahmed, Erin Cashier, and Yoon Ha Lee. BCS is a 501c3 non-profit organization supported entirely by donations, which are tax-deductible. Editor/reviewer Rich Horton has called BCS "a very important source of fantasy."
Scott H. Andrews is a chemistry lecturer, an editor, and a writer. He was co-Fiction Editor of The William and Mary Review for two years. His literary short fiction won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review; his genre short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales and Space and Time, among others, and is forthcoming in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and On Spec. Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, nine guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world.
MMF: What led you to start a fantasy magazine when your previous editorial experience was in literary fiction?
I was always a reader of SF/F. I grew up on books like Tolkien, the Heinlein juveniles, and Dune--I loved the vivid worlds. When I was exposed to literary fiction, I loved its focus on the characters--showing something about who they were as people and about our human condition, what it means to be a person in this world we all live in.
My experience editing literary magazines came from my interest in fiction in general. To me, literary fiction wasn't "better" than genre or popular fiction, only different; just as valid or interesting as SF or fantasy. After all, a lot of what we consider literature, like Shakespeare or Dickens, was the popular fiction of its day.
When I got back into SF/F as an adult and a writer, I noticed that there were lots of magazines publishing gorgeously literary fantasy and a hearty few publishing traditional fantasy, but there was no magazine combining those styles. That's the stuff I love to read. So I started Beneath Ceaseless Skies to give readers a place where they could find fantasy that has cool strange worlds yet still says something about what it means to be who we are.
MMF: You brought forth Beneath Ceaseless Skies as a hybrid audio and text magazine, a style others have since adopted. What led you to that decision?
Audio podcast listeners have become a huge new audience for short fiction. I think a lot of that is readers who want to read short stories but can't find the time. Online fiction is great for catching them at work or other times they're online. But with portable audio devices now so common, podcast fiction can reach those readers, and voracious ones too, at times when they can't read but still want something they can experience--like while driving or at the gym.
I knew that a hybrid magazine doing both text and audio would reach the most readers. Several well-known podcasts had pioneered audio SF/F short fiction, and a few online magazines were doing occasional podcasts. I'm an amateur musician with studio experience, so the hybrid format of text and regular audio podcasts was a natural fit for BCS.
MMF: When so many markets have turned away from providing feedback, you have decided to adopt the practice. What led you to that decision?
I'm a writer myself. I have a stack of rejections going back twenty-five years. I understand why most magazines use form rejections--replying to five hundred submissions a month is a big chore.
But as a writer, a form rejection doesn't give you much idea why your story didn't work for them. Was it good but just not right for that magazine? Was it good up until the ending? Or did the beginning not hook them enough to keep reading, but the rest of it works? Information like that is a huge help to a writer in figuring out what to do with that story and what to send that magazine next.
We give feedback mostly to help the writers, because I know exactly what it's like to be on the other end. It also helps BCS because writers who can relate what we're looking for to what they're writing often come up with new stories that work much better for us.
I'm proud that numerous authors have revised their stories based on our rejection comments and later sold them, including to pro-rate magazines. I also know that many authors submit to us before other markets because they know they'll get comments.
MMF: You started out as a one-man show. How did adding an assistant change your processes?
Adding Assistant Editor Kate Marshall has been a huge help in handling submissions. As BCS has gotten more notice, like when we were approved by SFWA last year as a pro-qualifying market, our submissions have increased a lot. Because we do provide feedback on every submission, reading and replying takes a ton of time.
Kate does the first reads, the slush pile, and that has left me more time for things like producing the ebook issues and the audio podcasts. It has also brought her editorial viewpoint into the process. Kate is a fiction writer and works at a gaming company. She knows what I want for BCS, but she has her own insight on it. It's great to have her aboard.
MMF: What do you see too much of?
We see a lot of stories that use very common fantasy elements without bringing something new to them. For example, stories that open in a standard British-pub style fantasy tavern. If you're going to use something that's been done many times before, you need to add your own interesting flavor to it for it to engage me.
We also get many stories that are told in a more distant or external narrative tone, as though an outside narrator is telling the story and giving the description, rather than it coming through the main character's own eyes and attitude. BCS specializes in "literary adventure fantasy," by which I mean fantasy with traditional elements but told in a modern character-centered style. I also call it "Realism in worlds that aren't real." In order for me to feel that realism, as though I'm in the character's boots as they're making whatever difficult choice the story is forcing them to make, I need for the narrative to be coming from closer to the character.
MMF: What have you been hoping to see but haven't yet?
We don't get as much Weird West as I wish we did. We get steampunk and paranormal historical, but I'm always interested in more of those, especially if it has a unique take on the steampunk elements or the particular historical setting.
What I really love is stories where the setting is amazingly creatively unique, something or some mix of things I've never seen before. Some of my past favorites at that are "The Secret of Pogopolis" in BCS #43, which is set in a city that bounces up and down like a giant pogo stick, or "The Motor, the Mirror, the Mind" in BCS #36, which has steampunk elements but with a unique flavor of cognitive science woven in. I'm always excited to get something that's so creative and unique.
MMF: What is something that surprised you since starting your magazine?
The outpouring of writer interest has been wonderful. I knew writers would appreciate a magazine that gives rejection comments and posts slush updates, but BCS's reputation among writers has taken off to the degree that a dozen of our writers organized their own unofficial BCS reading at NorWesCon last April. That was very cool to see.
MMF: Whose books or stories do you reach for at the end of the day?
I love George R. R. Martin. His short stories from the 70s are amazing, and I think his background in short fiction is one of the things that make his current work so good. My favorites are his Dunk and Egg novellas--short fiction set in the world of his Ice and Fire novels.
For classic authors, I like Jack Vance and Clark Ashton Smith, two writers whose fantasy doesn't get as much attention these days as I think it deserves.
For new writers, one of my favorites is Yoon Ha Lee. She writes great otherworldly short fantasy and great literary short fantasy. I also love Paolo Bacigalupi's short stories--he is brilliant at putting you right in the character's shoes and making you feel the agonizing emotions of their situation.
MMF: What are your plans going forward?
This fall, we'll be releasing The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Year Two, our second e-book anthology, containing stories from the second year of the magazine. Like our first one, The Best of BCS Year One, it will be on Kindle,, and iBooks. We're having a Reader Poll right now to pick a story to go into The Best of BCS Year Two.
Lately we've been giving away signed novels by our authors, in conjunction with their stories appearing in the magazine. We're doing that right now with Erin Hoffman's Sword of Fire and Sea from Pyr, and I hope to keep doing it with all our authors who have novels out.
MMF: Is there anything else you wanted to mention?
Thanks very much to all the readers! Giving writers rejection comments and a good home for their work is great, but the whole thing is driven by readers. We're delighted that so many people are enjoying our fiction and podcasts.