Anathema Magazine: Speculative fiction from the margins

Anathema Magazine is a Canadian short-fiction publication that accepts spec-fic stories, artwork and non-fiction work from writers and artists from across the world. Anathema published its first three issues in 2017, which included pieces by the likes of Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng, and Nibetida Sen.

Now they’re running a crowdfunding campaign until early March to continue work on years two and three. Anathema is filling a lovely role within the Canadian spec-fic space, so it’s my pleasure to chat with the editors and share their thoughts. Take a look at what they have to say and don’t forget to check Anathema’s fiction out.

Me: For those who are unfamiliar, what is Anathema Magazine?

Editors: Anathema is a tri-annual speculative fiction magazine for queer POC/Indigenous/Aboriginal writers and artists. The speculative element is very loose: we like a broad range encompassing everything from sci-fi, fantasy, and horror to slipstream, surrealism, absurdism, noir, etc. Mostly we want to see unbounded creativity.

Me: Tell me more about each of the editors. What have you all written/edited before? What makes each of you tick?

Andrew Wilmot: Primarily I make my living doing academic work—dissertation edits, mostly, in the areas of psychology, feminist studies, gender studies, and body dysmorphia/eating disorders. I also edit for a magazine called HOLO, which celebrates the cross-section of science/technology and art, do copy and substantive editing for several independent publishers, and review for subTerrain magazine and Publishers Weekly.

With respect to writing, I go back and forth between short fiction and novel work. I’ve had maybe 20 shorts published so far. One of which—“When I’m Old, When I’m Grey”—won first place in the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest back in 2015. My first novel, The Death Scene Artist, is set for release this fall from Wolsak & Wynn’s Buckrider Books imprint. Most of my work straddles the line between either horror and surrealism, or science fiction and surrealism. Lots of body horror, synaesthesia, and mental health in my work. Such are the things that make me tick, among others.

Michael Matheson: I’m just going to cheat and mostly fall back on my publication bio. Which is to say: I’m a genderfluid writer, editor, anthologist, and occasional poet. I’ve been longlisted for the Sunburst Award, and I’ve had work published in Nightmare, Shimmer, anthologies like Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, and a host of other venues. I edited The Humanity of Monsters anthology, and I’m a former Managing Editor with ChiZine Publications and former Submissions Editor with Apex Magazine.

A Clarion West (’14) graduate, I’ve been a freelance editor for far more years than I want to admit at this point. That’s entailed working in multiple genres with a lot of indie clients and publishers like Ravenstone, Publishers Weekly, Harlequin, and others. And I’ve done a reasonable bit of ghostwriting over the years in a few different fields, so tracking down publications can end up depending on what I’ve signed an NDA for or not.

Chinelo Onwualu: I was born in Nigeria but now live in Toronto, Canada. I mostly do editorial consulting for international development organizations in West Africa and I am also editor and co-founder of Omenana, a magazine of African speculative fiction. My fiction and essays can be found in a bunch of places, including Strange Horizons, The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Jungle Jim, Ideomancer, and the anthologies AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond, Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa, and Imagine Africa 500. 

I’d say what makes me tick professionally would be a need to put down my stories and those of others in the clearest ways possible. I want people to read work that best expresses what the writer—whether it’s me or someone else I’m editing—is trying to say. I used to be a journalist for newspapers and magazines so I approach my non-fiction editing like a reporter. The goal is to be as clear and concise as possible. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible, while making sure everyone understands exactly what you mean. I try to get writers to think through their ideas because one can’t assume that everyone will get what you mean.

Me: What would you describe as the perfect Anathema story? What makes a story a unique fit for your magazine?

Andrew: I don’t know that we have a story that perfectly represents what we publish or are looking for. We don’t want to set such expectations because the best thing in the world is reading something incredible that you had no idea you were looking for in the first place. That said, I’m happy to rattle off some of my favourite authors, if it helps give people a sense of my personal taste: N.K. Jemisin, Amelie Nothomb, Lauren Beukes, China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Roxane Gay, Charles Yu, James Ellroy, Amber Dawn, and Suzette Mayr. There’s not a lot of SFF in there, but that’s kind of the point for me: I love seeing genre work and lit crossing streams in unexpected ways.

Michael: It’s true, there’s no one quintessential Anathema story. As editors, we’re drawn to a huge range of styles and approaches partly because, as Andrew rightly noted, we love being surprised by things we didn’t see coming. Editorial taste will always factor into our decisions—we’re all drawn to strong prose work and solid and/or unusual structural choices, for example—but we’re driven more by a desire to find exceptional work and see how it fits together in the confines of an issue.

One of the best parts of shaping a table of contents for any project is how the individual works interact and play off each other. And we’ve had excellent luck with our issues so far, finding themes and topical works that have come together in some absolutely delightful ways. We never know what’s going to happen with the next issue, and therein lies the fun of the thing.

Me: Related to that last question, is there a particular story already published by Anathema Magazine that one (or all) of you think is somehow quintessential?

Andrew: I don’t think I can play favourites with any of our authors or their work. Fact of the matter is, I genuinely love what we’ve published so far. We wouldn’t have published any of it if we didn’t love it. As Michael said, I don’t think we have a “quintessential” story, nor do I think it’s possible for us to have one.

Me: You’re running a fundraising campaign throughout February. What goals are there for the campaign?

Andrew: Our current month-long IndieGoGo campaign ends March 2nd and is seeking $6,000 to pay for two more years of operating costs. We’re also using the campaign to raise our fiction and non-fiction rates to $100 (CAD). We obviously want to improve our reach and our subscriber base in order to become self-sustaining, But ultimately we fundraise because we believe it’s worth paying our content creators—and paying them as well as we can.   Because they’re worth it, and their work is worth it.

Me: How do you work together to run Anathema Magazine? Do you find that you have a particular working style together?

Andrew: It’s pretty symbiotic, really. We were all quite close prior to starting the magazine, and while we all have different ways of operating and different demands on our time, we’re pretty respectful and adaptable (ie: if someone is facing a terrible deadline or is under the weather, the others are able to help pick up what needs to be done).

We also all have our individual strengths and try to play to that as much as possible: Chinelo far outstrips both Michael and I as a non-fiction editor, and is also quite busy with her other magazine, Omenana, so she primarily handles that corner of things while Michael and I do the bulk of the fiction editing. At the end, we all proof each other’s work.

Michael is incredibly skilled at communication, and is knowledgeable about so many more aspects of the speculative side of things than I am (I come mostly from the lit side of the industry), so they handle a lot of the awards submissions and solicitations, as well as managing our Twitter account. I have, on top of editing, some experience with production, so I handle creation of the PDF and ebook versions of each issue, and also manage the Tumblr account. We both manage the Facebook account.

Me: What has your feedback from readers been like so far since the magazine’s launch?

Andrew: Incredibly positive. While we’re still growing our readership and have yet to hit any kind of mainstream awareness, those who have found our content have been universal in their appreciation—for which we could not be happier.

Michael: It’s true, the response to the mag has been incredibly encouraging—especially as there was some early concern that what we were trying to do might be too niche in a variety of ways. Which is not to say we don’t get random asshats on social media calling us racist because we won’t publish white content creators. But, delightfully, those interjections have been few and farther between than we’d expected. Much of what we’ve heard from the communities actually reading Anathema has been people happy to see themselves represented. To see positive queer relationships in the work. And to see a variety of genres represented.

Hell, we’ve had readers enjoy the work enough to have three stories on the 2017 Nebula Reading List, and to have multiple stories from our first year’s issues show up repeatedly in both established and more personal short fiction reviews online. That’s a pretty good start.

How do you feel that Anathema Magazine is in dialogue with the rest of the short fiction field in SF/F?

Andrew: This is a hard question for me because—and this is where I reveal myself to be a terrible person—I don’t read that many SFF magazines. I adore short fiction, both reading and writing, but for the most part I’m an anthology/short story collection sort of person.

For me, Anathema is as much in dialogue with anthologies and collections as it is with online publications, because it’s an answer, in some small part, to a problem that exists within both realms: a startling lack of diverse voices, and an associated pushback against such things from a small but irritating and obnoxiously loud segment of the industry. These are people who think that “diversity” and “identity politics” are ruining their fun, not at all caring about who they hurt in their dismissals and attacks. To which we say: fuck that and fuck them.

Michael: It’s definitely true that Anathema’s in conversation with the wider field—specifically many of the conversations around inclusion in editorial and fictional spaces that picked up in intensity after Fireside’s #BlackSpecFic report came out in 2016. In 2017 a lot of those discussions bore fruit in the form of decolonialist magazines like FIYAH, Arsenika, and Koru.

But the work of decolonizing creative spaces can’t be placed solely on writers and artists of colour. White editors, for all their good intent, gravitate more readily toward fiction they see as accessible, or “recognizable.” And that means they’re going to gravitate to white-authored content, especially where white writers are writing “diverse” work instead of making space for authors of colour.

Anathema, too, treads a difficult line in this, given that two of our three primary editors are white. Hence why our mandate calls for only intersectionally-authored content, making space for marginalized creators. And that’s our contribution to the conversation, and our part in that dialogue: being a platform for amazing voices that are still underrepresented.

And that’s that! You can read the first three issues of Anathema Magazine online or contribute to their crowdfunding campaign until early March.