I’ve recently been made aware of the fine work Bastion Magazine is doing with science fiction short stories. Their work is part of the inspiration for Visual Signs Part 2: How Visual Design Builds Bridges from Content to Consumer and Visual Signs Part 3: SciFi Magazines, Covers, and Pitching The Story. I had an opportunity to do a blog interview with R. Leigh Hennig, its editor. (For a nice interview from a different perspective, check out The Little Red Reviewer’s: Interview with R. Leigh Hennig, Editor of Bastion Magazine)
Mr. Hennig recently moved with his wife and three young children from Rura Penthe, er, Rochester, NY to Seattle. Leigh works as a network engineer by day, and when he’s not working on Bastion in the night, he’s writing his own short stories as well. He’s also an avid soccer fanatic (center back for his Tuesday night team — a defensive rock, and about as fast as one as well) and is probably more dedicated to Arsenal than the Pope is to Jesus.
1. Why start a SciFi magazine now (2014)? What are the benefits and challenges of bringing to life a SciFi magazine now?
I love science fiction, short stories, writing, and any combination of those. I wanted to do something that mattered to people — both to writers, and readers. There’s a demand for new content, which is why markets exist that publish new stories every day. While the demand is there, I’m not confident the supply is. I’m doing my own small part to help fix that. From an author’s perspective, it’s a real challenge to get your work published and to gain recognition. One more (paying) publication out there and available to writers can only be a good thing.
For me the biggest reward is coming across fantastic stories that other publications either didn’t receive, or passed over. It’s almost like being a prospector and finding gold. You get excited for that, and I’m very proud of the stories we’ve published. I enjoy working with the authors and even getting to know them. Naturally I’m also very pleased to receive a good review, because it means that our readers are happy, which really is the ultimate goal: providing entertainment for readers. As far as challenges, right now the biggest among those is simply growing our readership. We’re new, so not a lot of people know about us. Getting the word out there and getting people to pick up a copy is easily the biggest problem we’re facing.
2. What’s unique about Bastion?
We’re a contributor focused publication. For the most part, when you send your work out to be considered for publication, you can wait weeks or months before you get a response, and when you finally do, it’s a form rejection. We provide meaningful feedback on every story reviewed in a reasonable amount of time —usually within a week. As we grow and receive more submissions, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we maintain that personal touch. The second difference is that we focus on only one thing: science fiction short stories. We don’t have interviews, podcasts, reviews, non-fiction, poems, art, or anything else. You also won’t find any advertising on our site, or in our magazine. Clean and uncut. No distractions. By not fracturing among other formats or genres, we’re able to provide a more focused offering. Like a good story, we want to get our readers as close to the action as possible.
3. Why do you love the short story format? What’s great about short stories from a readers, writers and publishers perspective. Why focus on SciFi?
I like the variety that short stories offer, and the concentrated dose of entertainment they provide. I liken short story authors to short distance sprinters. The talent, dedication, discipline, and training that all go into performing 100 meter dashes is no less than that of a marathon runner. It’s just different. Similarly, the short story format is challenging and rewarding in ways that are different than longer works like novels. Many famous and influential novelists throughout history were prolific short story writers themselves. Asimov, King, Salinger, Bradbury, Fitzgerald, the list is as long as you like. Short stories have helped to influence politics, society, entertainment, academia, and the literary world just about since writing became a thing. You can’t ignore that format. As for the focus on science fiction: it’s fascinating, thinking about what could be. At its best, science fiction helps prepare us for the next step in social and technological evolution. In 1968, during the episode of “Plato’s Stepchildren”, William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols wrote history by performing the first scripted interracial kiss on television. Star Trek was ahead of its time. Good science fiction is about being ahead of the times. Who wouldn’t want to be part of something like that, in their own small way?
4. Clearly design is important to you from the art work on your covers to the minimalist design of your magazine. How do you arrive at the design for the Bastion brand, if you will and for each issue?
Design shouldn’t get in the way. Keeping the site and magazine as distraction free helps with this. As for the art itself, I wanted to bring back memories from the golden age of science fiction. There was a lot of chaff then, as there is now, so don’t take me for being hopelessly lost in nostalgia, but many might consider that time period to be the roots of science fiction. I take a lot of inspiration from magazines like If, Galaxy, and Amazing Stories. My father read those magazines growing up, my grandfather read them. I read them. The art was important. It’s important now, as well. When you see something from Frank R. Paul, or Klaus Bürgle, it brings you back. If you’re a younger reader, maybe it brings you back to a place you’ve never been before. Isn’t that what fiction is all about? I think it’s just fantastic. The art of the time was, like the fiction behind it, forward thinking. Today, it’s classic. Our own covers have a more modern approach, but the site itself, and the art of our first issue, tells our readers something about what we’re about, and what we’re trying to do.
5. Where do you want Bastion to do in the next few years? Do you see yourself staying focused on SciFi?
My ultimate goal for Bastion is to become a qualifying market in the Science Fiction Writer’s Association. I want to be able to pay contributors a minimum of $0.06 per word. That’s a far cry from what I think they deserve, though. Used to be a decent writer could sustain himself from his writing. Not so much anymore, which is a shame. I’d like to pay more. I’d also like to be known for publishing high quality stuff, especially from authors who haven’t been published previously. Not for the sake of the magazine itself, but for our contributors. I’d like to be able to do all this without losing focus on how we got started: contributor oriented, with meaningful feedback in reasonable response times.
6. What’s your favorite part about being an editor?
Reading a story that blows you away, and knowing that you have to publish it and show it off. Even more so when it’s from a new author.
7. What’s your least favorite part?
Sending rejection letters. These are people’s babies, their hopes and hard work. I do not enjoy telling someone that despite all their effort, all their time, it just wasn’t good enough. That’s crushing. I’ve been on both sides of that fence.
8. Where do you see the future of SciFi going in all forms. Do you see more cross-over collaborations (film/book/magazine)?
I think short stories are starting to make more of a comeback, especially anthologies. I don’t know so much that the format is going to evolve — there’s writing, movies, television, graphic novels, comics, games, etc. The evolution of science fiction is going more toward content, rather than presentation. Good science fiction pushes boundaries. My hope is that there’s more work done, more stories written, which contribute to societal advancement. Equality for women, different races, and members of the LGBT community is an ongoing series of battles people fight today. Science fiction writers need to do their part. We know writing, and the short story format, is incredibly influential. Just as Kirk kissed Uhura back in 1968 for the first time on television, helping to fight racism and segregation, so too must science fiction today do its part in presenting the societies and cultures of tomorrow. A better society, and a better culture.
9. If there’s anything you could influence in publishing today, what would it be?
I wish I could publish more stories that involve different races and genders. I just don’t receive them. Firstly, it’s more interesting to have characters that aren’t you’re standard white middle aged American male. Secondly, there needs to be more representation in science fiction. Scott Ridley’s Ripley, the female protagonist in the Alien series, is probably one of my favorite characters of all time. Her character is written so well. She routinely stomps Colonial Marines, aliens, prison thugs, corporate henchmen, you name it. She has a mental and emotional toughness about her that is as dynamic and rugged as it is impressive. What makes Ripley such a good character is that she isn’t just a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, either. There’s complexity in her character. Subtleties and weaknesses, mistakes and flaws. I wish there was more of that being published.
10. What are you reading now? Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming authors?
In addition to the dozens and dozens of short stories I read for Bastion every week, for myself I’m reading The End is Nigh, an anthology of short stories about the world just before the apocalypse. It’s edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. Quite good. I’m also reading Aliens, the official novelization of the movie, by Alan Dean Foster. The writing is average if I’m being honest, but I’m such a sucker and fan of the Alien franchise (we don’t talk about Resurrection, and only occasionally about the third one) that I couldn’t help myself. As far as upcoming authors: is it a cheating if I call out some of those we’ve published in Bastion? G. J. Brown, Gary Emmette Chandler, Kurt Bachard, David Austin, and Benjamin Sperduto are all authors you should be watching out for.
Thanks for spending time to do the interview with me. I enjoyed the first two issues and look forward to many more. I’m sure many will agree that once introduced to the joys of Sci Fi short stories in Bastion, they’ll want to subscribe to Bastion, or better yet subscribe and donate.