This week’s guest post is an interview with the editor of online magazine Weaponizer (and general polymath) Bram E. Gieben, also known on the internet as Texture.
He spoke to me about SF, online publishing and making a terrible discovery about Grant Morrison…
Can you describe Weaponizer for anyone that hasn’t come across it before?
Weaponizer publishes fiction online in several forms – flash fiction (stories under a thousand words), short stories (1000 – 8000 words), serial fiction (ongoing stories of novel or novella length), and webcomics. We also publish nonfiction articles and essays on everything from film to music to the occult.
We have a strong emphasis on genre fiction – ie. horror, SF and fantasy – but we are by no means a ‘genre only’ publisher. We publish any and all work with a strong narrative voice, from the highly experimental to more traditional literary forms. We work with over 90 writers worldwide.
All the writing is submitted to us and published under Creative Commons licenses – meaning it is free to read, distribute and remix for non-commercial purposes, as long as the author is given attribution. Recently, we’ve expanded to publish a magazine, and we have several interesting projects in the works for more solid-state releases.
How did it get started?
I started Weaponizer to motivate myself to write every day. Pretty soon, I started to receive submissions from other writers. At this point the site was a simple blog (I used Google’s Blogger platform).
In 2008, I decided we needed a site of our own – the site was designed by a friend, who was also a contributor. I spent a year and a half or so coding each page by hand, using the framework Monkeytribe Design had given me. It taught me everything I know about HTML coding! After a while, we overhauled the site and gave it a CMS (Content Management System), which made my job a bit easier – now the pages are auto-coded from templates.
At various points, I’ve looked for funding and investment in Weaponizer as a brand. In 2009 we started selling tee-shirts using a ‘print on demand’ (POD) model, but the revenue from these has been disappointingly low due to the percentages involved. I love the POD model, but I think to make proper money we need to invest in stock as well.
We’re still keen to expand the brand and publish a line of solid-state releases – the first of these was Weaponizer’s magazine, which did quite well, and was well-liked by the industry professionals who’ve seen it. In addition, Creative Commons-based businesses are a bit more common than they were back in 2007, and the world of POD publishing has moved on a fair bit… So we hope to continue to build the brand over the next few years.
Most importantly, we have a large list of talented writers contributing now, including a core group of regulars who I absolutely believe in. These guys (and girls) are the future professionals in the industry. I want to create a paying market for their fiction within the Weaponizer brand. This has always been the plan, and we’re closer than ever to making it a reality.
When you started blogging in 2007 you wrote you were planning to move away from journalism to concentrate on prose – what prompted you to do that, and is the process now complete?
Well, as a writer I think the process is never complete… you are always learning, always focusing on the part of the journey you are currently undertaking, rather than looking at the eventual goal. I’m writing a novel (my third – the first two were unpublishable, but taught me a great deal). I’m studying Creative Writing at Glasgow University, and really enjoying the course – it’s great to be in a community of writers ‘in the flesh’ as it were, and the tutors are excellent.
So, yes, I now write far more prose than journalism – the funny thing is, less of it is seeing the light of day. I’m sitting on stories and then sending them to magazines and publishers, rather than putting them straight online. So perversely, I look much less productive than I did in 2007! In actual fact though, I’m writing more than I ever have, and I even sold my first story recently – it will be published in a collection called ‘Finding Home’ from Timid Pirate Publishing in December this year.
I still do the odd bit of journalism, mostly relating to hip-hop. Back in ’07, the reason I wanted to quit journalism was because I’d been a section editor at a free paper for nearly three years. It was an unpaid post and took up a lot of my time. On reflection, it was an amazing opportunity, and it provided me with invaluable experience: for instance I learned how to use InDesign, which later enabled me to start doing layouts for the Weaponizer mag, and a book of poetry which myself and two others published in 2008. But at the time, I was just a bit burned out, and I felt I wasn’t really going anywhere with the free paper.
I think leaving the magazine to start Weaponizer was absolutely the right decision – my interest in fiction and the emerging Creative Commons culture is far more involving to me than my interest in interviewing hip-hop bands. I just didn’t want to be a journalist badly enough. It’s exactly like being a writer – a very cool, often badly paid job that you have to WANT with every atom of your being.
What do you look for in a submission?
Something that smacks me in the face and says: ‘I am here.’ It’s hard to define. I know a Weaponizer story when I read it.
How many submissions do you get a month on average and how long does it take to go through them all?
I’d say in the region of twenty to fifty. Submissions increase in months where I have more time to post articles. I try and email back writers within a month of their submission but it doesn’t always work out that way… I skim read stories without editing, request changes sometimes (but rarely), and then line edit when I upload.
I’d say I spend about two or three hours a day on the site, every second day on average. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I’ve only turned down a handful of stories – I can nearly always find something I like about a submission. Obviously the selection criteria for the magazine, or for a book collection, would be tougher. But online we have effectively got infinite space – so if I enjoy a story, I publish it. I think it’s good for writers to have a site where an interested community can find their work – where they can grow up in public. It spurs you on to write more if you have a place to put the work. at least in my experience.
What is it that appeals about flash fiction?
Quite simply, the length. Flashfics are easy to digest, read well on a computer screen, and lend themselves to punchy storytelling. It’s the best place to start for a new writer – if you can nail a concept, a character or a scene in 1000 words, and you get really good at it, there’s no limit to where you can take your skills.
What do you like most about scifi?
Spaceships, explosions and robots.
No, just kidding. What I like about good SF is the world-building. Someone like John Brunner or William Gibson can create such a vivid, enthralling world, and they do it by playing out the consequences of things that are happening now, into the future. It’s the literature of possibility, and it favours wild but realistic flights of fantasy over realistic depiction or emotional truth.
But then you have SF writers like Philip K. Dick, for whom the imaginative trappings are a device on which to hang complex psychological, metaphysical and even mystical explorations. Anything is possible in SF.
When I read ‘literary fiction’ it has to be quite experimental or plot-driven to capture my interest… I find most ‘literary’ writers very dry and uninvolving. That said, bad SF is among the worst fiction out there. Which is one reason I abandoned my first two novels…
When you were putting together Weaponizer Quarterly you found out quite quickly it was going to be pricey – would you consider doing it as a photocopied zine type thing to lower costs, or do you think that would do down the content?
This question will be answered in a few months – the re-launched, new look Weaponizer Magazine will be shorter, cheaper and easier to obtain. The Issue 1 we did through MagCloud is gorgeous, but too expensive. I’ve revised the design brief and am commissioning content for the new magazine now, and hope to have an announcement about it soon. We may sacrifice some elements of style, colour and length, but we intend to provide just the same in terms of the exclusive features, stories and comics.
How are you going with your mission to make Weaponizer “the foremost home of online and in-development fiction in Scotland”?
I think the fantastic Cargo Publishing probably win that prize. We’re still very much outsiders to the publishing industry at large. I have plans to change that, and I think we are well positioned both as a brand and a collective to move into the mainstream a bit more. What we need is product – physical books and magazines. That requires investment. So we’re still at square one in many ways, but we have a strong team, a great brand, and passion to spare… It’s just a question of timing everything carefully, and maintaining high standards. In terms of the ‘Scotland’ part of it, we’re proud to still be based in Scotland, but our roster of writers is truly international. We’re from the internet, sir!
What made you decide to sign up for the Creative Writing Masters at Glasgow?
Well, I have been writing for years now, but ‘publishing’ in many people’s view only counts if you sell your work, something I’ve just started to do. To be honest one of the big reasons I signed up to study again was that I wasn’t earning very much as a college teacher, and there were not that many opportunities to advance my career due to cutbacks and the recession. I figured as long as I was only earning the equivalent of minimum wage due to my hours, I may as well go back and study instead. Also, my parents volunteered to help with the costs, which made it a viable option financially. My little brother and big sister have both done postgraduate courses, so I was the odd one out!
Why Glasgow specifically: I liked the tutors, the course outline, and I love the city. The course is very open – you can write any form, style or genre, which is not the case for the other courses I looked at. Doing the course gets me writing every day, keeps me focused on craft, and gives me motivation to submit my stories to paying markets. I’m treating it as a launchpad for a career in writing – although I know I’ll be doing other jobs in the meantime, even if I do manage to sell some more work. It’s a long, hard road to being a professional writer, and very few people make their entire living from it. Now I’ve made peace with that fact, I feel ready to start the journey in earnest. I got my fingers burned when I was twenty three, and have shied away from trying to publish in paying markets since then… Now just seemed like the right time to go for it.
You’re an aficionado of hip hop – does that come across in your work? Can you tell someone else’s musical tastes from the way they write?
Ha! I wonder if you can tell if I love hip-hop from my writing? That’s an interesting question… I have no idea. I think I’m more influenced by techno. Rave culture had a profound effect on me growing up – the music, the drugs, the culture… I’m still trying to bottle and sell my experiences from 1995 to 2005.
As for other people’s tastes coming through, yes, I think I can spot influence. As to how far I’m reading into it and how accurate I might be…. who knows! Sometimes finding out what music a writer likes is a big fucking let-down. I just finished Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and boy, does his taste in music suck! I was absolutely horrified to discover that Grant Morrison loves Kula Shaker and My Chemical Romance… I keep trying to forget that. These days I write to dubstep, witch house and techno. I’ll leave it at genres… just in case I put off readers with the fact I’m a pure mad Salem fan, ha.