LSQ Year 10 Special: Editor Interview — Meet Shel Graves

We are one month into our celebration of our tenth year of publishing and to continue the happy vibes, here’s another feature behind-the-scenes interview with one of our amazing editors of the Quarterly. Please put your hands together for Shel Graves!

LSQ: How long have you been an editor for LSQ? Tell us a bit about what drew you to the position and what you’ve learned while in it.

Shel: Since May 2018. I’m a huge fan of speculative fiction written by women. I wrote my master’s thesis on feminist utopias. As a writer, I’ve heard often that it’s a good idea to read submissions and — I agree.

Helping to select stories for Luna Station has crystallized some nebulous writing advice like “use a unique voice.” I see what draws me in and makes me shout “Yes!” — stories that are weird, different, specific, distinct.

LSQ: Do you mind telling us a bit about your background and writing/reading experience? Within the genre of speculative fiction, what are some of your favorite and influential books and authors? 

Shel: Some of my most inspiring adventures include attending Potlatch, a small speculative fiction convention which started in Seattle and has a Book of Honor (in lieu of a guest of honor), and attending WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention — I read off the Tiptree award list as much as possible.

I started writing seriously (for me, writing every day-ish and working my way through a long list of writing goals) in 2001.

My gateway book into speculative fiction by women was Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass. I woke up one day and realized all of my favorite authors (Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein) were guys, went to the library, and looked for women in the sf section. The next thing I knew, my favorite authors were Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler. Then, Carol Emshwiller, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nicola Griffith, Marge Piercy, and Karen Joy Fowler.

This year, my favorite novels were by Wendy Wagner, Becky Chambers and Catherynne M. Valente. I love stories (and novelettes!) by Susan Palwick, Mary Robinette Kowal, Sylvia V. Linsteadt, Brooke Bolander, and Cat Rambo.

LSQ: Where do you think women-identifying authors currently sit at the table of speculative fiction? What about as characters? What about in the future?

Shel: The future is female! And it is here. Women write amazing stories. What I hope for are more stories by those who get “othered,” which explore varied experiences with ethnicity, culture and religion, and include anti-racist, anti-ableist, and anti-xenophobic perspectives. I’m seeking this out in my own reading–so this may get reflected more in my future favorites.

In the future, let’s be bold about portraying feminist perspectives. Let’s be unapologetically ecological, social, psychological and emotional. The world needs our values of cooperation and communication. Smash the patriarchy.

Feminist heroes will do things differently. For example, I like to say: in a post-apocalyptic world, I would unite, share resources, and start anew. Not eat you. I was a Peace Corps volunteer; I can garden.

And while we’re being more inclusive: let’s bring more babies, non-human animals, and elders back into our stories.

Carol Emshwiller’s Carmen Dog is a swoon-worthy novel with an important baby in it and lots of animals.

I loved Luna Station‘s Crones issue and our crones stories! Some other great stories with older woman protagonists: Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette “Lady Astronaut of Mars,” Margaret Atwood’s story “Torching the Dusties” and Holly Schofield’s “The Call of the Wold.”

LSQ: As an editor for LSQ, tell us a bit about the top aspects you wish to see in a published story. Are there sub-genres that you feel are over-submitted or under-submitted? Is there a sub-genre or topic that you would like to see more of? 

Shel: More science fiction and all of its sub-genres! Really all are under-represented.

Let your freak flag fly in your writing. Take us out there. Push boundaries. Go wild and weird. Embrace the uncanny, surreal, and supernatural. Forget realism. Speculate wildly! A ghost or ghostly element is not enough.

I love Victoria Nelson’s literary criticism The Secret Life of Puppets, which goes deep into the heart of why we write speculatively and love to read strange fiction. It’s a great place to add to your weird reading list (Bruno Schulz, Angela Carter, Jorges Luis Borges).

It’s liberating to realize how much your quirky style and odd story is wanted.

Emotion also pushes a story to the top.

LSQ: What are the most common errors in stories that you come across (e.g., typos, plot holes, characterizations, etc.)?

Shel: So, I never really got the writing term “undercooked,” but I see it now. Some stories start with great, fun ideas that I adore. But then, there’s a key element—character, description, or plot—that falls flat, underdeveloped. Poof!

It takes me an agonizingly long time to write a story, so I hate saying this, as I must take my own advice . . . Writers, set that story aside and take another deep dive before you submit. Go for: distinct, specific, punch. For good nitty-gritty editing examples: I love the podcast Writing Excuses.

LSQ: Are you working on any writing projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?

Shel: Lots! But I really want to submit a story to Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters — and you should, too!

I love having a story in Solarpunk Summers and enjoyed working with editor Sarena Ulibarri and World Weaver Press.

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