Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.
I came on board as the managing editor of Apex Magazine in October, 2014. I’d been involved with Apex for a while before that, but it wasn’t until then that I was let into the shadowed world of the slush pile and started sifting through to find stories to bring into the light. Because of this, and the fact that Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 covers the first six years of Apex Magazine, I missed that magical moment of discovery for many of the stories that ended up in the anthology. But not all of them.
Today I’d like to give you a peek behind the publishing curtain and share the journey that some of the stories in Best of Apex Magazine took from the slush pile to the anthology.
“Remembery Day” by Sarah Pinsker: I’m pretty sure that one of the first things I told the editor-in-chief of Apex Magazine Jason Sizemore after I became managing editor was that we needed to publish a Sarah Pinsker story. Sarah lives pretty close by to where I do, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her, hanging out at Balticon, and listening to her both read one of her short stories and play music. She is amazing. Her music is amazing. Her stories are amazing. And up until that point, she hadn’t made an appearance in Apex Magazine. I wanted to fix that.
It so happened that Sarah had already submitted a story to Apex and it was sitting in the slush pile.Jason and I just needed to read it. “Remembery Day” is a wonderful story. Beautiful and sad, with just enough of hint of darkness to make it a perfect fit for Apex Magazine.
When Jason and I were selecting stories for Best of Apex Magazine we started by individually making lists of stories that we thought should be included. Any stories on both lists didn’t need to be discussed, they were put on the final toc. “Remembery Day” is one of those stories that was on both of our lists. I can’t say for certain why it was on Jason’s list, but for me, any story that can still bring a tear to my eye after I’ve read it half a dozen times is magical. This story is magic.
“Going Endo” by Rich Larson: Rich has this way of creating immensely rich worlds – with their own unique language and social structures – within these perfect little bundles of three to four thousand words. “Going Endo” is a perfect example of this.
I very clearly remember the first time I read the story. It was bold, sexy, and a little dangerous. It’s the kind of story that leaves you breathless and wanting more. I immediately sent it up to Jason, with a note saying, “Love, love, love!” When Jason read it – maybe a week or two later – he sent me a message saying that it made him blush, and I had to smile, because yes, it is exactly the kind of story that would leave the reader blushing. It didn’t take long for us to decide it was perfect for Apex Magazine, and we both voted for it to be included in Best of Apex Magazine.
“Blood on Beacon Hill” by Russell Nichols: When I send stories up to Jason, I always leave him a note with my initial thoughts. For “Blood on Beacon Hill” my note said, “To Kill a Mockingbird mixed with a soap opera. With vampires.” Sounds like a combination that wouldn’t work, but everything in this story works so well. The thing is, when I first opened it, I really did not want to like this story.
First, “Blood on Beacon Hill” is long, bumping right up against Apex Magazine’s 7,500 word limit. I don’t have anything against long stories – if I’m reading for pleasure, I actually prefer longer stories – but when I’m looking at a pile of 100+ stories and I know authors are waiting for us to make a decision about whether or not we’re going to publish them, long stories have a way of yanking a groan from me, because I know it won’t be a quick read. Time is against me and long stories require more time.
Second, it’s about vampires. Vampires are a very hard sell for me. I’ve read way too much of them and I am burned out.
But one of our slush readers thought it deserved closer consideration and I was going to do just that. I started reading. Wow! Thoughts of how I didn’t want to like this story were brushed aside as I was quickly drawn in. Political manipulation, carnivorous plants, necrophilia, suicide hotlines, and a court case that makes it oh-so-obvious that this story is about much more than vampires. Russell had delivered a story that seems so straight forward at first glance, but that has so many layers, so many angles, that when I finished it I immediately wanted to start at the beginning and read it again. If I’m remembering correctly, Jason wasn’t as sure about “Blood on Beacon Hill.” He wasn’t 100% sold on the ending. We went back and forth but in the end, I convinced him that Teddy Attucks made the only decision available to him.
When coming up with the final table of contents for Best of Apex Magazine, there were only 5 or so spots that Jason and I had to spend a good deal of time debating. I’d fallen in love with “Blood on Beacon Hill” and threw it in for consideration for one of these spots. Happily, it stuck.
I’m not sure how closely most editor-in-chiefs work with their managing editors when making decisions on stories, but with Jason and I there’s usually a lot of discussion. Of course, Jason makes the final decision with the magazine, but together we look at the stories from all angles, questioning any bits that don’t feel just right, weighing it against our goals for Apex Magazine as a whole. A lot of stories fall away during these discussions, just missing that last step that leads to an acceptance letter. The ones that do end up getting an acceptance are usually the ones that excite me the most. The ones that made me cry or made me blush. The ones that made me forget myself as I got lost in the story. And those are the stories I wanted to see in Best of Apex Magazine. Looking at the final product, I can confidently say we were successful.
Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 is out today from Apex Publications.