The latest installment of Imitating Order is dedicated to the writers out there, toiling away and pounding out the stories they have to tell. I was lucky enough to pick the brain of one Jason Sizemore, editor-in-chief at Apex Publications, and one of the hardest working guys in the business. He’s been fighting in the trenches for a long while now, publishing some of the most exciting, genre-busting fiction you’ll find out there today.
Matt: Stories are integral to human nature. We’re a storytelling species. Why do you think that is? Where does the human obsession with stories come from?
Jason: Without stories, we’re boring. And we’re bored.
That might read like an arch response, but I mean it earnestly. Naturally, there are practical reasons for some forms of storytelling such as the passing down of history and lessons, but I think it all comes down to entertainment. Despite my lofty goals of making our readers think and challenging their perceptions, my ultimate goal with Apex is to entertain people with out stories.
M: It’s been said there are no new stories, just new ways to look at them. How much truth is there to that? Does it maybe have to do with the ever-growing diversification of genres, and sub-genres?
J: This is a subject that’s been addressed by deeper thinkers than I. Some say there are only five basic stories, others say seven, and another group cops to nine. I think it’s all a matter of indexing. Stories are layers. Take the five basic stories…and under them are hundreds if not thousands of smaller branches of diversification. Picture it like a family tree graphic gone bonkers.
We’re only bound by the imagination of the human mind. And the human mind’s imagination is boundless. So it is safe to say we’ll see a continuing creation of new sub-genres as time passes.
M: You’ve got a pretty unique perspective, as a publisher. What do current trends in the market, and in stories, tell you about the way things are flowing? What genres are flourishing, while others seem to be quietly fading? And, of course, why?
J: The single biggest influence is the cultural zeitgeist. What is on the minds of people who read? These days it tends to be ecology, multi-culturalism, and the place of media in our culture. All three are, interestingly, rooted in fear of our future. Climate change. Big Brother. The fear of people who don’t look like ‘me.’ We read to be entertained, but we also read to learn, to accept. To see protagonists overcome these problems.
M: From that publisher’s unique perspective, what would you say to a fledgling writer? Someone just taking those first tentative steps towards finishing a manuscript that they’re considering shopping around. Don’t pull any punches.
J: That there is a 99% chance your manuscript is not ready for submission. I do workshops and work as a mentor at a local writing center along with my work as Apex overlord. The most common question I receive is “Do you think my manuscript is good enough for an agent or editor?” I can count on one hand where I honestly felt the answer was “Yes, mail this out posthaste!”
If you can find someone who understands the construction of a novel, they will be the most valuable person to look at your manuscript. They’ll understand the parts of a novel: themes, setting, characters, conflict, resolution, and plot. How to tie all those elements together at a high level. They’ll be able to help you understand how to construct an introduction, your denouement, and everything in between.
The quality of your writing matters. Agents don’t want to spend much time copy editing your manuscript. Professionalism also matters. You can be an asshole online, but you better be a pro when it comes to the business side.
M: At Apex, you push some of the coolest, most bleeding-edge genre fiction out there today. The thing is, there’s a ton of content being put out there these days. How do you do it? How do you recognize that spark that lets you know something is special?
J: It’s a combination of two things. First, I need to feel an emotional investment with your protagonist. Second, I need to be fascinated by some aspect of your novel. This aspect can be your setting, your characters, the plot…the more of these you make outstanding, the better!
M: I’m a great big movie junkie, and one of my favorite things ever is dreaming up movie adaptations to my favorite books. The casts, crew, what it might look like. If you had an unlimited budget and means to turn one book into a movie, what would it be? How would you do it?
J: Without a doubt it would be Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus. It’s a steampunk story set in an alternative Indianapolis. There are airships, lots of chiba, and most importantly, a character named (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Bong Joon-Ho would direct. Although Maurice disagrees with my casting, I’d have Tessa Thompson as Sophine Jefferson (a wealthy young heiress), Sleepy (poet and unwitting revolutionary) played by Wendall Pierce, and Knowledge Allah would be played by John David Washington.
M: Another one of my favorite fantasy games: What if? What if the world were ending, pick your favorite style of apocalypse. Got it? Cool. Now, right at the last moment you and the rest of humanity are saved from annihilation. You’re being taken to a new home where you’ll be safe and humanity will thrive but you’ve got to go fast. You’ve only got time to grab three things to take with you. What are they?
J: My cat (Pumpkin). My MacBook. And my phone (because it has all my photos on it from the last 8 years).
M: And very last but certainly not least, I’d like to offer you a small platform to do two things. One: push something you’ve got going on that you’re passionate about. Two: push something of someone else’s that you think should be in front of more people.
J: Do Not Go Quietly: Victory in Defiance is an anthology that I co-edited with Lesley Conner. It contains stories of people standing up, who make their voices heard. It just came out and I’m incredibly proud of it.
I mentioned Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus that is out through Apex, but did you know he has a fantastic middle grade novel that’s out? It’s titled The Usual Suspects and is a great read for all ages.